7 Federal Resume Tips that Produce Interviews and Jobs
Writing a great federal resume is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. It involves both art and science. Art and creativity is needed to turn a dry document into something that hiring decision makers find appealing, interesting, and readable. The science is more practical. It’s the specific information that indicates your qualification for the position to both machines (applicant tracking systems) and humans. It’s the intentional and thoughtful combination of the components – the way the puzzle pieces fit together – that gets your resume read and produces interviews that lead to job offers.
Like a jigsaw, creating a standout resume for a federal job can be complicated and time consuming. With corporate resumes, there’s pressure to pack a career’s worth of information into a cramped space – two pages of 11 point type. It’s still necessary to be concise when writing a federal resume, but the challenge involves precision more than compression. There are lots of pieces to a federal resume and they must fit together in a fashion that’s coherent and makes your unique qualifications immediately evident.
The Devil is in the Detail
Anyone who has glanced at an opening on USAJOBS knows that the position descriptions found there can be lengthy, with detailed qualifications that a candidate must meet to qualify for the job. The initial sort of applicants for most federal positions is based on a structured set of criteria that are included in the position description.
To be considered for the position, your experience, background, and credentials must meet the prerequisites. You’ll have to provide the details and the process is designed to weed out applicants that can’t follow instructions. If you don’t meet the criteria and include all of the specifics that are required, your application will wind up in the digital trash.
Assuming that none of the components is missed and you meet the qualifications for the position, your application undergoes a second evaluation and is rated and categorized according to how closely it meets the criteria for the position:
- Best Qualified – Applicants with a background that closely matches the evaluation criteria (95% – 100% match).
- Well Qualified – Applicants with experience that satisfactorily meets the criteria (85% – 94% match).
- Qualified – Applicants with the basic qualifications, general knowledge, skills, and abilities (70% – 84% match).
It’s easy to guess which category is most likely to get an interview and receive an offer, so the obvious question is how to write an interview that is likely to receive a “best qualified” rating.
7 Steps to Produce a “Best Qualified” Federal Resume
How much qualitative difference actually exists between the top 5% of candidates and the top 15% or the top 25%? Some, but it’s equally likely that extremely well qualified candidates may fall into the lower qualification levels simply because their capabilities aren’t clearly communicated. Getting the edge in a tight competitive field may come from the way your information focuses on the key requirements and how easy you make it for decision makers to recognize your fit for the position.
What works? Here are 7 steps to help you piece together the federal resume puzzle:
1. Read the federal job announcement, then read it again
– Make a list of the requirements for the position. Look through the body of the position description including the overview and the job requirements. Make sure to click the accordion boxes on the right to review application and document requirements. You’ll also want to take a look at links to any application forms or questionnaires that are required as part of the application. Make a checklist and review it before submitting your application.
2. Analyze the keywords
– The keywords used in the position description are your best clue for the words that will be used for automated selection by applicant tracking systems and for what human readers will be looking for. Again, make a list. You’ll want use the most prominent keywords in your resume and application responses.
Keywords and phrases are pretty easy to recognize, but you can also use an online platform like textalyzer.net or tagcrowd.com to confirm your selections. Keep the list nearby as you compose your federal resume. Use the keywords appropriately and avoid “keyword stuffing.” Overuse of keywords probably won’t game the ATS systems, and human readers make the final decisions about interviews and federal job offers.
3. Customize your federal resume for the position
– While it makes sense to work from a master resume that includes descriptions and stories that you’ve developed to emphasize your experience and capabilities, you’ll want to structure a new resume for each application. Use the online resume builder to write each resume. You’ll also be able to save and recall the resumes as needed to re-customize for other positions.
4. Keep it your federal resume relevant
– Emphasize information and narratives that meet the position requirements. Leave out activities that don’t clearly relate. Few agencies specifically require knowledge, skills, and abilities statements (KSAs) as part of the resume packages, but there may be questionnaires that require the same kind of information.
At CareerPro Global, we typically develop “mini-KSA’s” that are included in the resume and in the Additional Experience section of the USAJOBS resume builder. These short narratives reinforce questionnaire responses by integrating KSA information within the body of the resume. Keep the language relevant and clear, especially if you’re making a transition from the military. Avoid acronyms, jargon, and “resume speak.”
5. Keep your federal resume concise
–Federal resumes can run 5 pages or more, but you’ll want to keep your information concise and easy to scan. Key information should jump off the page. If a decision maker can’t scan your resume in 10 – 15 seconds and quickly identify your capabilities, then you’ll need to make some edits and revisions. At CareerPro Global, we use a headline format that includes keywords and highlights your specialized experience and core competencies to make sure that decision makers can quickly understand your qualifications.
6. Emphasize accomplishments, avoid descriptions
– Traditional job descriptions don’t convey your contributions. You’ll want to use short narratives or stories that illustrate results and achievements. CareerPro uses a CCAR format that describes challenges, context, action, and results to link descriptive narratives to the capabilities and knowledge required in the position description.
7. Submit the federal application and all of the supporting documents on time
– Double and triple-check the USAJOBS description. Make sure that you submit SF-50 forms, transcripts, and other documentation listed as requirements. Also pay attention to the closing date at the top of the description. While faxed and mailed applications may be permitted, most agencies prefer online applications; so you’ll want to submit your resume, documents, and questionnaires online unless there are specific instructions to do otherwise.
Is there an easier way?
You can see that assembling a federal resume requires an exacting combination of art and science. This kind of writing exercise isn’t for everyone. You might not feel comfortable with the detail required to craft an effective federal resume or your first tries may not be producing results. The Master Career Counselors and Resume Writers at Career Pro Global can provide the assistance you need to select the positions that meet your qualifications and to produce a resume that is more likely to land in the “best qualified” stack.
CareerPro Global has been practicing the art and science of federal resume writing since 1988. We’ve learned a lot about the USAJobs application process over the years and we’ve had the benefit of feedback and data from literally thousands of clients in federal government careers. Our methodology is validated and documented through our ISO certification process. It’s worked for our satisfied clients and it can work for you. We hope you’ll get in touch for a free personalized consultation if you need help with your first or your next federal government career move.