5 Worst Government Resume Mistakes

By on March 21, 2012 in Current Events, Leadership with 8 Comments

So you are interested in applying for a government job – great! As you probably know already, they are positions that come with all the bells and whistles that most job seekers are after. You can probably expect at least a decent salary, some good benefits, and a better round of holidays off than in non-government positions. But when it comes down to landing one of these jobs for yourself, your resume can make or break your chances of being chosen for one of these positions!

Many people find that their resume never makes it past the first screening panel. It’s usually because they have done something that results in it immediately being tossed into the “no thanks” pile, as the screener promptly moves on. That’s right, when you submit your resume for a government position, it likely goes before a panel of screeners who will determine whether you should even be considered for the next round. This makes it imperative that your resume be just what they are looking for.

Here are the 5 worst government resume mistakes that people often make, and how to avoid them:

  1. Not tailoring the resume. People often write up one resume and then blindly submit it for every vacancy they are interested in. This is a quick way to get your resume ignored. It is imperative that your resume be tailored for every single vacancy for which you are submitting it. When you review the ad for the opening, look for keywords regarding what they want. Be sure to tailor your resume to that specific position and use the same keywords that they used in the ad. If you are applying for 10 different government positions, you will need to take the time to custom write your resume for all 10 positions. If you don’t, it’s probably not worth your time to submit them in the first place.
  2. Giving too much history. Resumes for government jobs are, by nature, longer and more inclusive. This is a given. While private-sector jobs typically prefer sticking to a one- or two-page format for a resume, it is common for resumes aimed at government jobs to be five or more pages long. However, this does not mean that you should go back to 1970 and list all the job information you have ever had. Instead, list enough job information to demonstrate that you have the experience necessary for the position you are applying for. While they want to see a range of experience and skills, they are not interested in what you did when you were in high school 25 years ago. You will also want to try to skip gaps in employment dates, which can raise some eyebrows.
  3. Not following format requirements. Sure, you may think that your resume looks amazing. But if it doesn’t fit the formatting requirements set forth in the vacancy notice, then it really doesn’t matter how nice it looks. When people submit their resume to a government job and haven’t followed the correct formatting requirements, the resume is destined to be ignored. Be sure to read the formatting requirements for every vacancy you are applying for, and tailor your resume according to their specification. If you are not going to take the time to do that, there is a good chance you have set your resume up to be ignored anyway. If you submit a resume where you haven’t followed the directions on how to apply, there is a good chance they will see that as a reflection of how you will respond to following directions on the job.
  4. Lying or exaggerating. Many people like to “beef up” their resume by lying or exaggerating about their education, skills and experience. This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Always be truthful about all of the information on your resume or it could come back to haunt you later. You don’t want to ruin your chances of ever being considered for a government position because you falsified something on your resume. Stick to the truthful facts and let your record speak for itself. Even if you do not have stellar experience, you can still make the most of it by using good keywords, highlighting things you have accomplished, and focusing on relevancy to the position you are applying for.
  5. Being too general. When people submit resumes for government positions and they are too general, it leaves the screener wondering whether they actually meet the qualifications for the position. Rather than dig for more information, the screener will likely relegate the resume to the “no” pile and move on to someone who has been more specific. Again, watch for keywords in the vacancy ad and tailor your resume, providing specific details about your experience, skills and education. Use resume action verbs to demonstrate things you have accomplished in prior positions. Focus on being specific and tailoring your message to the position you are applying for.

In addition to these issues, it’s important always to make sure that your resume is error-free, including grammar, spelling and syntax. Putting together a good government resume takes patience, time and attention to detail. If you feel it’s not something you can do, hire a professional resume writer to put it together for you. It will be well worth the investment since it will help keep your resume out of the “no” pile and cause the screeners to be more interested.

Think of your resume as a proposal that you are preparing and submitting. All of this will certainly take you additional time as you prepare and submit your government resume. But it will help increase your chances of landing an interview for the position. Once you get hired, you will not have to worry about jumping through such hoops again, and you will probably be able to let the resume gather some dust for a while. Besides, as we said in the beginning, government positions are usually worth all the extra effort it may take to get them!

© 2016 Jason Kay. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Jason Kay.

About the Author

Jason Kay is a professional resume writer and regular contributor to KSADoctor.com, a professional federal resume service and repository of sample KSA statements.

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  1. cotapper says:

    Face it, we all know 99% of the Federal Govt. jobs are preselected so it doesn’t matter if you tailor your resume or get the formatting right, or even submit the right paperwork or length of job information. The Govt. needs to downsize now so the average tax payer is not continually paying for it and letting them in their business. Your resume is computer scanned and if you didn’t answer the highest multiple choice on every assessment question, a real person won’t even be looking at it. The Govt. forces you to lie on the application to get past the first screening if you’re smart and really qualify anyway.

  2. best resume builder says:

    You are not going to take the time to do that, there is a good chance
    you have set your resume up to be ignored anyway. If you submit a resume
    where you haven’t followed the directions on how to apply, there is a
    good chance they will see that as a reflection of how you will respond
    to following directions on the job.

  3. DarthDana says:

    The first point is a lot more critical these days than it used to be since very resume is run through an automated screening system first.  If the key words aren’t there it will automatically go into the “no” pile without a real person ever seeing it.

  4. Kim Bauhs says:

    I would also add: cutting and pasting your position description. I don’t care about what your PD says your tasks were supposed to be….I care about what you accomplished!

  5. booger says:

    Wow, I am a Classification Specialist and I want Jason’s job about the KSA’s.  Guys, just go to the OPM Classification Website and look up the series you are applying for and read, read, read, the duties and requirements.  This is exactly where the vacancy announcement and and KSA’s are derived from.  There are factor levels which tie into each grade level.  You must be able to show that you can perform at these particular levels to reach the grade of the position.  The Introduction to Position Classification Standards on the OPM Classification Website will give you the most appropriate factor levels for the grades and it is up to you to justify how you meet these.  This is the best advice anyone can give you to apply for a Federal job. Be honest and always do the right thing.

  6. HR Manager (Retired) says:

    Good points; especially the first point.  Applicants need to realize that their resume is their potential employer’s first look at them.  Unfortunately, too often applicants use the “one size fits all” approach to writing their resume instead of highlighting their experience which relates to the job opening.  This approach does nothing but show the employer that the applicant wasn’t interested to the point of offering related information on which to base an employment decision; thus making the “do not hire” decision the only applicable one.

  7. steve5656546346 says:

    LOL!  The whole purpose of eliminating KSA’s, and allowing resumes, was so that the application process would be more applicant-friendly:  they could just use their standard resume!

    Another brilliant government move…

  8. Richard Jefferson says:

    Good points. Especially today when the few jobs that do open end up generating hundreds of responses. Only comment I wish to make is that the one – two page resume in the private sector is a thing of the past. Depending on the position, three to five is normal for entry level managers and below while managers and upper managers routinely submit six to ten pages.