Target Your Resume

How can you win over hiring managers? By submitting a fast-read, error-free, concise application that is targeted like a torpedo to each opening.

If you do, you are virtually guaranteed to vault ahead of most of your competition.  Why?  Because almost all applicants for federal jobs submit long-winded, generic applications that draw about as much attention and excitement from hiring manager as your junk mail draws from you—and for many of the same reasons. I know this from my own experience as a hiring manager and from my interviews with 100+ other hiring managers.

Tips for creating a targeted, reader-friendly impressive application for federal jobs:

  • Upload to USAJOBS a well-formatted resume instead of using the USAJOBS resume template, which generates hard-to-read resumes.
  • Identify qualifications required for your target job from the duties defined for your target job and qualification factors described in its vacancy announcement.
  • Include in your application a cover letter.   Feature in your cover letter a table: one column of the table should bear the heading, “Your Needs,” and the other column should bear the heading, “My Credentials.” Fill out the table by entering the top requirements for your target job in the “Your Needs” column and entering a concise summary of your best qualifications for each job requirement in the adjacent cell in the “My Qualifications” column. More advice on creating such tables is here.
  • Describe in your cover letter and resume only qualifications required by your target job—not qualifications you wish were required by your target job. Remember: No matter how many irrelevant credentials your application describes—impressive though they may be—they won’t compensate for missing required credentials. For example, an application for a speechwriting job will probably fail if it omits or merely glosses over an applicant’s experience writing speeches but waxes on about his/her experience writing technical manuals and fact sheets
  • Format each job summary in your resume as a series of fast-read, achievement-oriented bullets. Each bullet should begin with an action verb, such as produced, consolidated, increased and advised. (Google “resume action verbs” for more verbs.)
  • Describe in each job summary in your resume specifics that match the substantive requirements of your target job. For example, if you were applying for a speechwriting job that will address environmental issues, your application should identify what environmental topics your speeches covered, who delivered your speeches, the audiences who heard your speeches and the positive feedback drawn by your speeches.
  • Describe “acting’ positions in your application.
  • Include headings in the job summary for your current job that correspond to the qualification factors in your target job’s vacancy announcement. For example, if your target job’s qualification factors include “leadership,” “communication” and “strategic planning,” use these terms as headings in your job summaries, and group relevant bullets under each heading.
  • Sequence bullets under each heading according to their relevance to your target job—not according to how much time you have devoted to the activities they describe. Likewise, provide the most details about your most relevant bullets, regardless of how much time you actually devoted to the activity they describe.
  • Don’t expect hiring managers to look for a needle in a haystack—they won’t. Give hiring managers only the needle without the haystack. Scrupulously edit from your application credentials that won’t help you land your target job—no matter how much they personally mean to you.
  • Hyperlink your updated LinkedIn profile to relevant materials—including documents and multi-media products you produced, and online praise of your work, such as reviews of presentations you delivered.  Identify your LinkedIn address in a “Career Overview” or “Highlights” section of your hardcopy resume, and state that it contains relevant hyperlinks.
  • Grade yourself liberally on self-assessment short-answer questions in job applications; give yourself the highest rating for each of them that you possibly can without lying. For example, if you have solid credentials in a required subject area, rate yourself as an “expert.”

By Lily Whiteman, author of How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job

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It would be great to see an example of a “mediocre” resume transformed into a “great” resume and a mediocre; highlighting all of the points above

Violet Ungemach

Great post Lily! I worked with a recruiting company for my last internship and many of these points where essential when scanning through the piles of resumes we would receive. I specifically like your point on starting each point with a verb, this is a great way to grab attention for a recruiter and something I have overlooked on my own resume, love the idea. Thanks!

Ramona Winkelbauer

In this age of doing more with less, most job applicants would like it to be possible to apply to multiple openings with a single resume. What I see when I read one of these “Target your resume to the job application” is “Spend every free moment of your time re-writing your resume so it’ll meet the requirements of an individual application”.