How to Craft a Winning Federal Resume

News flash: Hiring managers won’t savor, consider and cling to every word of your next job application as if they were reading a page-turner of a suspense novel.  Instead, they will almost certainly race through your application, ruthlessly searching for any reason to reject as part of their aim to quickly whittle down the application pile and complete the onerous selection process.

So to make the cut, craft your résumé to instantly win over hiring managers.  Some ways to do so:

  • Upload to your application a well-formatted, fast-read PDF version of a WORD résumé, if possible—rather than submitting a USAJOBS résumé. This is important because USAJOBS résumés don’t accommodate text formatting features, such as bold text or varied fonts, or alternative ways to sequence information that could help you craft your resume to stand out from the pack.
  • Don’t expect hiring managers to search for a needle in a haystack—they won’t. Just give them the needle.  Do so by emphasizing in your cover letter and résumé your credentials and soft skills that parallel those described in the job description of your target job—and omit those that don’t.  Unsure whether to include a particular credential in your application?  Then, ask yourself, “Will this credential realistically help me land this target job?” If it won’t, purge it from your application, no matter how personally important it may have been to you.
  • Print your name at the top of your résumé in a large, bolded font, followed by the abbreviations for any graduate degrees and certifications you may have.
  • Immediately below your name and degrees, identify in large, bolded font your profession/specialty such as “Expert in X” or “An “X with Advanced Expertise in Y.”
  • Consider opening the meat of your résumé with a concise “Career Highlights” section comprised of several bullets that quickly summarize your professional and academic credentials that are most relevant to your target job. A sample “Career highlights” section might consider the following information in bullets: 1) Top Secret security clearance10 years of supervisory experience; 2) Respected communicator: Published five articles on XXX in top publications such as X, Y and Z and delivered presentations at five national conferences; 3) Excellent reputation: Consistently receive outstanding annual evaluations. 4) Master in Public Administration from X University.
  • Use formatting features in your résumé, such as bold and headings, to emphasize the names of your employers, job titles and academic degrees.
  • Devote the most space in your résumé to your most recent job(s), unless an earlier job is more relevant to your target job. If necessary, emphasize an earlier, more relevant job in your cover letter and “Career Highlights” and expand its summary.
  • In the job summary of your most recent/current job, group your achievement-oriented bullets under bolded headings that match the main requirements described in the announcement for your target job—such as “Communication Skills”, “Strategic Planning” and “Leadership Skills.” By doing so, you will make obvious the parallels between your experience and the target job.
  • Structure each job summary as a set of snappy, achievement-oriented bullets. Each bullet should begin with an action verb, such as led, developed, initiated, created, or streamlined.  (Find lists of action verbs by “Googling” for them.)
  • Eliminate from your job summaries mealy, vague verbs and phrases, such as helped, participated in and contributed to. Instead, explicitly state what you actually did to help, participate or contribute. For example, rather than stating that you “Helped organize a conference,” say, “Selected 10 nationally renowned speakers (including X, Y and Z) to speak at X conference, which was attended by 100 top federal decision-makers. Conference received top scores on evaluations by attendees.”
  • Provide relevant specifics about your achievements. For example, if you are a communications expert, your resume should say more than just, “Wrote press releases.”  It should, for example, also review some of the topics your press releases covered; discuss your ability to translate complex information into accurate, reader-friendly text; identify what news organizations covered your press releases; and cite the number of press releases you generated.
  • Accompany descriptions of your achievements that prove how important they were and provide objective validation of your success. For example, did a report you edited contribute to a high-profile decision or was it distributed to an important audience, such as Congress?  Did your work draw verbal or written praise or awards from a senior manager?  Did your ideas for streamlining a process yield cost or time savings?  Did you consistently meet tight and/or quickly changing deadlines?
  • Generate additional sources of objective validation of your success to include in your application by asking yourself these questions:  How do I know I have been doing a good job?  How do I do my job differently or better than my peers?  What positive feedback have I received?  What oral     and written praise, excellent annual evaluations, or promotions have I received and why do I deserve a promotion now?  How have I improved this organization?  What would this organization have missed if I had never worked here?  How have I gone the extra mile?
  • Recent grads: Include in your application your GPA or the GPA in your major if it is impressive. List courses and academic papers/projects that are particularly relevant to your target job and the feedback they drew. Identify merit-based scholarships you received. And review any leadership roles you carried out.
  • Give your résumé to a trusted adviser to review for 10 seconds, and then ask him to explain why you are uniquely qualified for your target job. If he can’t do so within that time limit, edit your résumé to sing out your credentials louder and faster.

By Lily Whiteman, author of How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job; Trainer on career issues; twitter: @Lilymwhiteman 

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