How to Get Your Resume Government-Ready

There’s no shortage of government resume tips out there. Whether it’s a federal or state and local position, it’s important to understand how to strengthen your overall resume for government. GovLoop has a number of resources to help you government-ize your resume. Hiring freezes may make it seem hard enough already to get into government, but what if you are a millennial who barely has any job experience as it is?

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For millennials who have yet to attain government experience, fear not! You can still break into public service. The key is to find your golden ticket into a government volunteer position, tailor your experiences to fit the vacancy and make sure your resume doesn’t have some easy-to-avoid-mistakes.

Find Your Golden Ticket
You have academic experience from college, you’ve held some leadership positions on campus and you have had some private sector experience here and there, but maybe you haven’t even encountered government-related work yet.

The first step is to find your golden ticket. And no, I don’t mean buy a bunch of chocolate bars to find that lucky one. I mean find any government-related volunteer position and use it to help you get into public service. It can be as easy as volunteering at a public shelter, a political campaign or applying to a local Congressman’s office.

My golden ticket was an unpaid internship at my Congressman’s district office near my hometown in Oregon. Prior to that, the only job experience I had was a waitressing position and leadership positions I had assumed in college.

Attaining the internship was as simple as a phone call. A friend of mine formerly interned at the same office and told me about it, so I called to see if they had availabilities, and – sure enough – they did. I was fortunate to be the only intern in the office with two supervisors who were the field officers. I gained a wealth of exposure to government and attained great experience at the local level.

Looking back, I definitely don’t think I would be where I am in my professional journey had it not been for that internship. Find your golden ticket into government and use it as your catalyst into public service. Pay attention, no matter how small the position may seem, as future potential employers will ask what you learned from those first experiences.

Remember, you don’t necessarily need to work in Washington to have a career in government. Be flexible and open-minded about volunteering. Even if it’s not the agency of your dreams, there’s a lot of experience and knowledge out there to gain.

Apply Your Experiences
Now, how do you assemble a government resume when you have virtually zero government experience?

Tailor your experiences and apply them to government. Whether you were a football team captain, or president of your school journal in college, think of how your educational and leadership experiences would apply. Maybe you learned about teamwork, management or delegation – all of these are applicable. Even waitressing can be applied to government (i.e., provided customer service, designated tasks to team of waiters, etc.).

When writing resumes for government, keep these tips in mind:

  • Include details in your experience section. When listing your work history, be sure to provide the following information for each position:
    • Job title
    • Employer’s name, city, and state
    • Duties and accomplishments
    • Supervisor’s name and phone number
    • Starting and ending dates (month and year)
    • Hours per week
    • Salary or be sure to mention if it’s unpaid
  • Provide keywords and emphasize results. Look for keywords, repeated verbs, or technical terminology that are listed in the job announcement. Once you have identified these keywords, use them in your resume where applicable. While it’s a little more advanced, let’s use this previously listed Staff Assistant Position at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for example.

The Vacancy listed: Serves as liaison with the Secretary and other top Department officials in the resolution of controversial problems that influence the image of the department.

Think about positions you’ve held in school or in the private world where you had to problem-solve or address a conflict. Make sure to draw from professional experience. Now, was there a time when you served as a representative of other interests or people in some capacity? Maybe you were a vice president of the student union, which means you acted as a liaison between the President, the students and the university. You may think your positions don’t relate, but in many ways they can. Use this as an exercise to practice tailoring your resume for a government position.

  • Be Concise. Eliminate unnecessary or repetitive words, such as “in order to” or “it was my responsibility to.” When considering submitting to USAJobs, or any government position, ask yourself the following:
    • Can a hiring manager see my main credentials within 10 to 15 seconds?
    • Does critical information jump off the page?
    • Do I effectively sell myself in the top quarter of the page?
  • Use Your Power Words. Weak verbs like “communicated” or “assisted” don’t stand out on a resume. It’s important to remember that, even for government, you are selling yourself. Be sure to use any of these 100 power words to stand out. 

Resume Don’ts
Finally, it’s important to know what not to do for a government resume. Don’t make these mistakes:

  • Give yourself glowing reviews. Using terms about yourself like “exemplary employee” or “visionary leader” can bring up red flags. Let your references say that about you and stick to the facts about yourself.
  • Leave too much gap time between positions. Unemployment gaps also raise red flags for hiring managers. While it’s more common to have gaps as a millennial in this economy, try to fill your gaps with relevant experiences. You can volunteer, take a community college course, or shadow a friend or family member at their workplaces.
  • Give too much history. Government resumes are longer by nature, but this doesn’t mean you should go in-depth into experiences you had in high school. If you’re a recent graduate from college, then your professional history should not be older than that period of time. Make sure it’s relevant, and for federal resumes, keep it to no more than five pages.
  • Ignore formatting requirements. If your resume doesn’t fit the formatting requirements presented in the vacancy notice, then don’t bother applying. The resume will most likely be ignored. Be sure to read the formatting requirements for every position and reformat accordingly. It may be tedious and time consuming, but it’s better than wasting time on an application that won’t even make it past a round of computers.
  • Generalize too much. When resumes are too general, the screener has to wonder whether an applicant is actually qualified or not. But the screener doesn’t have time to dig for more information and will most likely leave the resume in the “no” pile and move on. This is why keywords and tailoring are so important. Be sure your resume is catered specifically to each organization you apply for. Don’t just shoot off 15 generic resumes for different posts. Yes, the positions are filled fast, but taking the extra time to cater your resume better guarantees you a spot.

 

This blog post was originally posted in September, 2015.

For more reading about millennials in public service, check out this weekly GovLoop series, First 5: Advice from millennial to millennial

 

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Karen Munze

My story of how I got into my current state agency involves the golden ticket and applying my experiences.

When I was in high school, I agreed to help a friend – who had been pressured by his father (an appointed county official) – to stuff envelopes for an elected official’s re-election campaign. Not many people showed up, so my friend and I pretty much stuffed hundreds of envelopes for hours by ourselves. Some time later, I received a letter of thanks from the politician.

A year later, I applied for a summer job with the county. Unbeknownst to me until many years later, my name floated to the top due to the word of my friend’s father, who was thankful that I helped make a deadline by delivering on a mundane but enormous task for the politician who appointed him. I got a clerical type job in a social services office where I was responsible for helping them account for children placed in foster care. With the system in place at the time, it was impossible to know how many children were in foster care, or how long children were kept in foster care without examining each individual record. I spend a few summers helping them transition from a decentralized paper tracking system to a computerized system (computers were new at that time). Nobody wanted that job; but I did it, and got to know how the “corporate structure” worked at that agency.

After college, the national political scene made it impossible to find a job in my chosen career -environmental protection. I took every civil service test for which I qualified, including caseworker. When an opening came up in the same agency I had spent my summers, I was at the top of the list. The hiring committee told me that if I, with my intimate knowledge of the problems the agency faced, and my familiarity with their infamous cantankerous staff (whom I found delightful) was willing to come back anyway, they would love to have me as part of the professional team – and I was hired as a county child abuse investigative caseworker.

Fast forward several years: although I loved the people I worked with, social work was not my career goal. My studies focused on the natural environment. Finally a regulatory position opened up in a state environmental agency in my state. I was up against many professionals with experience. There were many applicants, due to a multi-year hiring freeze at that agency. It appeared that I had little in the way of relevant experience. Recognizing that at the social service agency, I had no prior experience, I learned that success was in great part based on personal qualities. I drew parallels of my skills to the new job: they both involved compliance with regulations (minimum standards of care for children, meeting standards for getting a permit near a wetland). Both involved being able to engage people so they would be comfortable sharing information, and being able to explain complex rules in a simple way and to explain the relationship of the rules to the individual situation. Both jobs required an understanding of the authority and limits to authority of the position, an ability to manage conflict, to work within a chain of command, and to know when to involve superiors and when to act autonomously. In both jobs there was a possibility of legal proceedings, so an ability to write legal case notes was critical as well as being able to testify. Being able to prioritize was also common as both jobs had more work than possible by one person. An ability to fact check was important in both jobs, as was the ability to adapt a personal writing style to the style of the agency. Both jobs required an ability to coordinate work with other professionals in-house because multiple professionals with different responsibilities were involved in each case or permit. Even though I had no experience in permit processing, I was able to show I understood the concepts of the job. Granted, I did have an educational background and a good test score; however, I was up against dozens of others with the same or higher level education and similar scores. It was my ability to equate my intangible skills to the job I wanted that got me that job.

It’s important to not be too narrow in assessing your own skills when selling yourself to a prospective employer. Try to identify some transferable bit of knowledge you’ve learned in each job or volunteer activity you’ve had and you’ll find you have a more robust resume than you think.

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Dennis Martin

Your statement about “screeners” is an important point to note. Federal job applications are almost always screened either by someone who knows (or cares) nothing about the position or even the agency…or by a computer looking for keywords. This means that it’s vital to create a resume short on fluff and long on facts, duties, results, programs etc.

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