How to Craft an Effective Resume for Federal Government Job Applications

By on September 16, 2013 in Current Events, Leadership with 22 Comments

With the Partnership for Public Service estimating over 50,000 federal jobs and 60,000 paid internships openings in the next year, there’s plenty of opportunity in the government sector. Generally, people envision a federal job in the greater Washington D.C. region, but the reality is that an estimated 84 percent of these jobs are scattered throughout the United States.

The opportunity to serve through these positions is an excellent way to utilize your skills – and receive excellent pay and benefits in the process. For many, the opportunity to travel, make a difference, and serve our country through a government job makes it one worth applying for.

However, because of the nature of the job, not to mention the lucrative benefits, the application process is extremely competitive. Crafting an effective resume for a government position could be the difference between whether or not you earn the position. When it comes to resume writing, applying for a government job is different from your previous job applications. Here are some practical tips when it comes to preparing a resume for a federal job position:

  1. Filter your experience. When creating a resume for a federal job, it’s vital to only include recent and relevant positions. Even though other employers might be impressed with 14 years of experience in a particular field, federal personnel don’t want to sift through your resume for a life history. Rather, the work experience you list should only reflect positions similar or related to the position for which you’re applying. Still, you can include these experiences in the Additional Information section of your resume at the end, but leave them out of your listed Work Experience, which is a primary focal point.
  2. Be concise and powerful. Did you know that HR specialists receive up to 400 (or more) resumes and applications per open federal government job opening? The average resume length is 4 to 5 pages, and HR specialists must work overtime to slosh through all these federal resumes. If you need 4-5 pages to craft an effective resume, then go for it. But if you can list your qualifications, related experience, contact information, and any additional information on less paper, then that’s what you want to do. Be succinct. Be powerful.
  3. Be descriptive. The IRS suggests that their applicants be as descriptive as possible – and we think this should apply to all federal resumes. Instead of simply listing your experience and responsibilities, describe specific projects you’ve worked on. Don’t be vague. Did you balance a budget? Then how much money did you work with? Were you previously a market analysis? Then what was your primary method of research and data sampling? In other words, create a concrete visual of your experience and describe specifically what your duties, goals, and accomplishments were. The easiest way to be descriptive is to quantify everything.
  4. Think in terms of money. If you’ve read or watched the news recently, then you know about all the hype surrounding government spending. Regardless of politics, the reality is that the federal government wants to cut spending and boost efficiency just like any other organization. If you have had experience working with money, saving costs, acquiring a client, etc., then list that experience on your federal resume and job application. Again, be prepared to quantify those figures.
  5. Focus on keywords. Want to showcase your expertise in a particular area? Then be sure to use vocabulary and keywords related to the position you’re applying for on your federal resume. For instance, if you’re applying for a FEMA position, phrases or keywords that you would use include:
    • In-depth analyses of disaster logistics
    • Analyzing data
    • Coordinates logistical actions
    • PowerPoint and presentation skills
    • Leader of logistics professional team
    • Ability to implement and coordinate plans

See how all these phrases would directly relate to a FEMA Logistics Management Specialist position? Likewise, think of phrases and keywords you can use to boost your own resume.

  1. Tailor. One of the biggest mistakes that job hunters do is create a resume template and use that for every job application. This is a major no-no – especially when applying for a federal position. Instead, tailor your federal resume to meet the requirements of the specific opening. Highlight related skills, requirements, and other information needed to prove your ability to perform on the job.
  2. Job information. While the focus of your federal resume is certainly on you, don’t forget to include the job information! The announcement number, title, and grades for the open position should be included in the federal resume. Failure to do so could result in your resume getting lost in the mix or completely ignored.

Crafting an effective resume for a government position certainly takes a lot of time and thought. While there are many ways to boost a resume for any position, these are certainly the top 7 factors to consider when writing a resume for a federal position. Still, there are unintentional mistakes that many professionals make when applying. Here are three common federal resume pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Blocks of text. Your resume shouldn’t read like a novel. Sure, you want to highlight your related work experience and want to be specific about your skills, but you want to be concise as well. Use bullet points, short paragraphs, and key phrases to get your points across. In other words, make your federal resume easy to scan.
  2. Lack of focus. When you’re applying for a federal position, you only want to highlight the experience you have that’s necessary for that opening. Too many people spend too many words on irrelevant jobs for the position. Instead, quantify and elaborate on your related work experience that can help you get the job.
  3. Weak presentation. You’ve listed your work experience and education – almost everyone does. But you know what’s missing? The accomplishments. People fail to show what they accomplished at their last job. Showcase your achievements at a previous position – this makes you a more desirable candidate for the government job opening.

© 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. SkepticBob says:

    I received a PhD in biomedical engineering from a major U.S. university, in 2008, and I gave up applying for the fed jobs a couple of years ago because, frankly, I strongly suspect that the hiring process is, indeed, is rigged and, also, despite the federal government’s claim to be most nondiscriminatory in hiring based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, or disability, I still believe that many federal agencies do discriminate based these factors when hiring. And with the state of the economy and job situation being what they are, the federal job prospect sure doesn’t seem any brighter. I would heartily welcome any reply from any former or current federal employee, especially with their valuable advice based on their own experience!

    • Steve Neal says:

      Don’t join us if you can’t handle the way we have been treated for the last four years… Additionally, the federal system is rife with ineffective leadership (AKA “managers”) who are very slow to reaction to personnel issues or policy changes, and (as you know) there is no prospect for annual salary raises to keep pace with inflation. And finally, if you are new and have no veteran’s preference, you’ll be the first to get furloughed or let go when the budget gets cut again.

      However, if the only satisfaction (self esteem / self actualization) you need is serving your fellow citizens as best you can and you are not discouraged by what everyone else says about you or by how little take-home pay you really get, then by all means, get back on USA-Jobs and get your foot in the federal doorway. Once you are “in”, you can apply for bigger and better jobs every week…

    • J.R.M says:

      This is not directed at you personally, but this is my opinion. I think it comes down to relationships to the people in the hiring process. If they sense an attitude they are not going to hire that person. They want people that fit in. The federal government does discriminate any more than other companies and the hiring process actually makes it quite hard to discriminate, so they probably do it a lot less than a small company with 100 employees or a mid sized company with a 1000 employees.

      Also, focus your search on openings that meet your qualifications and that you have some experience and match-up well with the job duties. Make sure you include outcome statements in your resumes.

      I’m sure it happens (discrimination), but federal laws makes it a crime if they catch them and they can face a fine. If you have disability or a veteran it’s actually much easier to get hired in the federal government. Over 30% of new hires last year were military or combat veterans. There’s also hiring procedures in place to hire those with disabilities.

      Don’t give up your dream of becoming a fed. You obviously would not be on Fedsmith.com if you did not want a government job and responding to articles on federal hiring. Good luck.

      • EP says:

        I disagree with your optimistic opinion about the fairness of government hiring. As a fed with 35 years of diverse experiences, I have to agree with skeptic Bob on this one. And since I had a career pre and post disability status, I can see the direct punitive results of having a disability (especially an invisbile one, albeit well documented for the last 15 years) and seeing how it hurt my federal career (I am now a GS-12 and was a GS-14 prior to my disability!) I cannot agree with JRM’s rosey picture. Furthermore, doesn’t anyone but me see the disgrace in the color/gender divide in federal employment? In both DC and field offices around country, black African American women crowd the lower graded administrative positions while Europian American (white) men occupy the majority of the professional ranks despite over a half decade of college graduates (including STEM trained) where women outnumbered men in the ranks of graduates. Give us a break!

  2. SkepticBob says:

    I received a PhD in biomedical engineering from a major U.S. university, in 2008, and I gave up applying for the fed jobs a couple of years ago because, frankly, I strongly suspect that the hiring process is, indeed, is rigged and, also, despite the federal government’s claim to be most nondiscriminatory in hiring based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, or disability, I still believe that many federal agencies do discriminate based these factors when hiring. And with the state of the economy and job situation being what they are, the federal job prospect sure doesn’t seem any brighter. I would heartily welcome any reply from any former or current federal employee, especially with their valuable advice based on their own experience!

  3. R Shaw says:

    Are you kidding me? This process is going to have to be dummied down (a lot) because I don’t think you are going to get some college student or a Ph D to apply for a government job. Think welfare/food stamp recipient.

  4. Keeg says:

    One sure way is to get the hiring manager to craft the job to your resume. That solves the issue there, as long as the person makes the list of course.

  5. Janet Jones says:

    As an HR person, I agree with the 4-5 pages. We’ve got a guy who applies to everything and his resume is 49 pages long! That’s a lot of paper. I like what the author says about tailoring the resume. I’ll be looking at resumes for an Admin Assistant and at the top of the resume it says, “My long-term goal is to be in law enforcement.” I would also add to take the time to proofread your resume. We can’t DQ you because you can’t spell or use capital letters, but the manager may just put your resume to the side.

    • Andy2x says:

      Mine is nowhere near that long, but we get conflicting messages about this. If you don’t have everything in your USAJobs resume, you are eliminated. If you add too much, HR complains and doesn’t read it. One way to get shorter resumes is to stop letting the managers write such specific announcements (usually designed to hire a particular person).

  6. Devsfan says:

    At my agency if you are applying for an internal posting you won’t even get referred if your resume is less than 5 pages in most cases. For the higher paying jobs most people have anywhere from 6-14 pages for their resume. If you don’t you end up being left in the cold.

  7. Soonershooter says:

    4 or 5 pages???? Has this person used USAJobs?? I have 2 resumes loaded, once is the complete, no crap everything I have done since age 17 ..it’s 12 pages long. The second resume is severly shortened and condensed, but with 21 yrs military and 9 yrs civil service it is still 9 pages long

    • Fella says:

      As it should be… I love how rule #2 is be concise and powerful and #3 is be descriptive. While I understand they aren’t completely mutually exclusive, they kind of are.

  8. Peter Sperry says:

    Has this author ever filled out one of USAJobs automated resume forms? The ability to customize as she suggests is nonexistent. You fill in the online forms, answer all questions completely and the automated resume tool does the rest. Yes, the system allows upto 5 resumes but the constraints of the system make them all come out so similar, it is rarely worth the effort.

    • HRS says:

      You can create and upload your own resume in the the form of a Word Document. So tailoring is very possible.

    • Steve Neal says:

      Yeah, what HRS said… Do all the automated stuff and download the specific Knowledge & Skills questions they’ll usually tack on to the announcement, so you can draft those answers before applying on-line. Then build your resume around the announcement’s job keywords and those KSAs. Showcase your results-based specfics that support what the job-details spell out in your 1 – 5 page resume. Because HR-types are screening these, make sure you avoid over-technical jargon unless it is in the job description or KSA questions

  9. irdeggman says:

    Also since most jobs are filled via USAJOBS (on-line) guidelines should be tailored to this system instead of the general resume used by most other places. It has formatted experience sections and other pre-formatted areas to use.

  10. NoOneCares says:

    Excellent pay and benefits? Travel? Make a difference? Any young people who are stupid enough to believe such garbage deserve their time as a Government lackey subject to constant furloughs and denigration.

    Best and the brightest? More like the timid and stupid only. Read the news you cretins and try to comprehend.

  11. PublicCitiZen says:

    How to craft an effective resume?
    First- Don’t ever use mandinka as a reference……..

  12. lvmra says:

    Mr. Kay ought to do his homework, in this article he states about the “excellent pay and lucrative benefits”, and his last article was “What to do while on forced leave from the Federal Government”. Sounds like business isn’t doing very well!!!

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