Does the federal hiring process have you scratching your head?
I don’t blame you.
In fact, I never finished the federal application when I applied for a U.S. Postal Service job years ago. It was a part-time job in a rural community, so I figured the process was no different than any other part-time job application I’d filled out. This was early on in my resume writing career and long before I was introduced to federal resume writing.
It’s a bit embarrassing, actually.
I gave up in the middle of the Application Questionnaire. Forty questions or so into that questionnaire, I decided that the job wasn’t worth it.
I couldn’t understand why this job required work history dating back 10 years with details never asked of me on any other job application. I couldn’t understand why the questionnaire sounded so repetitive with so many questions that were so specific to the job description rather than asking about my customer service experience (like most job applications for a customer service job did).
In hindsight, I gave up too quickly. If only I knew then what I know now.
What I know now is that your federal resume and Application Questionnaire are graded like a test. If you start a federal job application with that mindset, the process becomes less formidable (unless you’re an anxious test-taker, of course!). Here are five signs indicating that you need help with the first piece of this “test:” your federal resume.
1 | You’re Using The Same Resume For Both Public & Private Sector Job Applications
This is a HUGE problem. Not only do private sector job applications require less information than a public sector job application, but your resume is seen differently. Companies in the private sector typically use ATS or Applicant Tracking software to collect, read, store, and rank your application against other applicants. Public sector agencies, however, don’t use software. The first person to see your resume will be the HR Specialist.
When software is the gatekeeper, your resume needs to be designed to get through this software first then stand out once seen by a human reader. When HR Specialists are the first to see your resume, you need to include all of the details they will be looking for and make those details easy to identify quickly. Federal resumes have a completely different design and layout for this reason.
2 | You’re Using The Same Federal Resume For Every Public Sector Job Application
Let’s say that your federal resume has the right design and layout, you really can’t use it for every public sector job application. There is no “cookie-cutter” resume, and this is especially true for federal resumes. That federal job announcement may look similar to other job announcements since the Office of Personnel Management dictates the responsibilities of each federal job; however, the agencies can vary the level of experience and KSAs a bit.
Your federal resume is a test and how well you target it for the specific job announcement will determine your grade. If you are using the same federal resume for every job application, you may get a 70% or higher but that doesn’t mean you’re being ranked Best Qualified; the Best Qualified candidates (90% or higher) are referred to the hiring authority and get interviews.
3 | Your Federal Resume Is Less Than 3 Pages Long
When it comes to federal job applications, a 5-page federal resume is the sweet spot. If this seems unattainable, remember that your federal resume should be written differently than a corporate resume for a private sector job. HR Specialists need to see at which level you have demonstrated the Specialized Experience and KSAs, so providing lots of detail and context is a must.
The exception is if you’re a college student or recent graduate. When you only have three or less years of any work experience at all, you’re not expected to have a 5-page federal resume. A 3-page federal resume is realistic if you elaborate on relevant coursework, projects, internships, volunteer experience, and transferable experience from your work history though.
4 | Your Resume Is One Long List Of Bullets
It doesn’t matter if you’re applying for a public or private sector job. Your resume should never be one long list of bullets. This approach makes a human reader spend more time searching for your qualifications, skills, and achievements than he or she will want to spend. For your federal resume, using bullet lists will dissuade you from adding appropriate detail and context as well.
Don’t be afraid to use multiple short paragraphs (4-6 lines each) to provide the detail and context necessary to demonstrate that you have required Specialized Experience and KSAs. Describe how you demonstrated these requirements, what resulted, and why it was necessary with context instead of using short, one-line statements to highlight results.
5 | A Reader Can’t Find Your Specialized Experience & KSAs Quickly
HR Specialists are grading your resume based on the list of Specialized Experience, Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities in the job announcement. If you or a friend can’t look at your federal resume and find these details quickly (within a few seconds even!), your federal resume is a chore for those HR Specialists to read.
But you just said to use paragraphs and give lots of detail?
Yes, I realize that providing detail and context while making your federal resume easy to skim seems like an impossible task. It’s not, I promise. Creating keywords that reflect the Specialized Experience and KSAs required and using those to organize your job summaries in paragraphs will be appreciated by HR Specialists and boost your chances of being ranked “Best Qualified.”
So, does your federal resume need help?