If you’re considering applying for your first federal job (or if you’re hunting for a new one), don’t plan on using a traditional resume. There are a number of specific things the feds are looking for that don’t usually apply to the private sector. What follows are some tips on how to rework your resume to help make yourself a viable candidate for federal employment. Keep in mind that a lot of the basic rules of resumes still apply. For example, format professionally and make sure it is easily readable, use bullet points sparingly (use them only to callout particularly relevant information), proofread (and then proofread again), and follow all instructions and answer all questions in the job posting.
- Length: If you’ve worked in the private sector, you’re likely used to the one- to two-page resume. Those submitted for federal employment can easily run from two to five pages. This is because HR managers at the federal level are looking for greater detail and more information on how your past experience, education, skills and qualifications make you the right candidate for the job. That said, if you’ve just graduated, or you’ve only had a job or two, don’t feel like you need to ramble or add fluff just to get to five pages—as with any resume, brevity is best, but be sure you don’t miss anything essential. Each open position can receive upwards of 400 applications, so make yours shine.
- Tailor your experience: The feds only care about what you’ve done in the past 10 years. And they only want to know about experience relevant to the position you’re applying for. Sure you might be great at organizing a filing cabinet (and maybe you spent a year doing it fresh out of college), but unless you’re applying to be a professional file sorter, this type of information doesn’t belong in your resume. Look at the duties listed on the job posting and then match how your previous experience stacks up. If your college internship from four years ago has nothing to do with the job you’re interested in, leave it out of your work experience. But, if you gained a lot of experience in a certain computer program, for example, you can always list that knowledge in a separate skills section.
- Quantify when possible: Be brief, but be descriptive. This includes giving hard data, if it’s available. If you were in charge of managing a budget, how big was the budget? (If you can show any way you saved money or stayed within allotted timeframes, that is something always considered important to the feds). Create a picture of your previous duties for HR—what tools did you use that were vital to your previous positions? How did you help accomplish the goals set by the organization? If you are planning to use data, just be sure you can back it up in the event you are called for an interview.
- Share your accomplishments: In addition to your work history, include awards and accomplishments. These show that you can back up the skills and experience you claim to possess. But, don’t simply indicate that you were named Employee of the Month or helped your previous employer receive national recognition. Include key details—what did you do to receive the honor? What obstacles were in your path and how did you overcome them? Ensure that your description makes clear why the accomplishment is relevant to the position you’re seeking.
- Keywords, keywords, keywords: Read the job posting—what words appear multiple times? Have you included these keywords in your resume? If not, find a way to incorporate them, specifically within the first few lines of your work experience section on the first page. If you can’t, it’s likely that your qualifications don’t accurately match the position.
- Read, then re-read all of the requirements in the job posting: Some jobs have specific formatting requirements. Others require you to use the USAJobs resume builder (you’ll fill in little boxes, and your resume is automatically generated). Don’t disqualify yourself because you failed to follow instructions.
- Include the necessary information: On your first page, you’ll want to include all of your basic contact information as well as your citizenship (many jobs require U.S. citizenship), your federal employee information (if applicable), and whether you claim veteran status. It also doesn’t hurt to add the name of the job you’re applying for or any other identifying information. Under each position in your work experience section, you’ll want to include the name of your employer, your position title and how long you were in that job (start date and end date), how many hours you worked per week, where the position was located, and, if you like, you can include your salary information and your supervisor’s contact information. The latter two will not hurt you in any way if you choose to add them (unless, of course, the job posting specifically states that you should exclude this information).
- Use your first page to your benefit: Start your resume by listing your key qualifications, then talk about your past experience and education. Those skills and abilities you have that best align with the job you are seeking are what HR wants to see. If you consider that someone might receive 400 five-page resumes, you can bet they aren’t going to dig too deep into anything that doesn’t instantly make an impression. And the best way to do that is to be sure you make it clear that you are the right person for the job from the start.
- Optional information: If it’s relevant (and if the job posting doesn’t state otherwise), include information on training you have completed (with the hours, course names or certifications received), language skills, volunteer projects, professional associations, speeches you’ve given or publications you’ve authored.
- Understand how the system works: The HR employees who read resumes will score your resume on a 100 point scale, with each number equating a certain level. Scores of 90 to 100 are considered Best Qualified for the position; 80 to 89 are Qualified; 70 to 79 are Minimally Qualified; and everything below will not be considered.
[…] how to strengthen your overall resume for government. GovLoop has a number of resources to help you government-ize your resume. But what if you are just entering the government workforce or barely have job […]