Powerful Federal Resume Best Practices to Succeed Now

Five Federal Resume Best Practices for 2019

Finding a federal job can be a challenge for a number of reasons. First and foremost is knowing where to look for open federal jobs for which you are highly qualified and of which you can apply as a US citizen, Veteran, Schedule A or status candidate. Also, once you commit to USAJobs and build your profile, you may miss a good opportunity due to job search inactivity. The next obstacle is the job announcement itself, sometimes seemingly written in such a complicated manner that an Enigma Machine is necessary for deciphering purposes. Once you decide to apply, you must then make the all-important decision of whether not to use the USAJobs resume builder and, finally, there is the question of federal resume length. Following are five tips providing up-to-date information to help you get a federal job in 2019.

1. Visit USAJOBS.gov to find open federal job announcements, not commercial websites (data scrapers):

US Government Federal Jobs Website
Official US Government Job Site

When looking for a federal job, it is essential to start your search with the right government job announcement data.

If you type “federal jobs” into your browser, you will get a mixed bag of irrelevant and inexplicable results. For example, Microsoft Edge offers Customs and Border Protection jobs as the top result while Google Chrome correctly lists USAJOBS.gov. All search engines include both official “.gov” websites and for-profit websites with commercial extensions as well.  As a rule, look for the  “.gov,” not “.com“ extension when searching for federal jobs on the Internet. The commercial sites are not always accurate in real-time, especially when it comes to filtering out different hiring statuses (Veteran, Schedule A, Status Candidate, etc.)  and often contain jobs that have already closed. Also, many of the commercial sites contain ads or services not necessarily conducive to an effective federal job search.

For the most part, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has successfully established USAJOBS.gov as the one-stop shop for almost all federal job announcements. It also serves as the initial portal for government agency application processes. There are still a few exceptions, notably the FBI, CIA, and FAA, that doggedly hanging onto yesterday’s agency-specific HR technology platforms but, except for the FBI, you will find all federal job announcements on USAJOBS. Once you go USAJOBS, you’ll never go back.

2. The “Saved Search” Function in USAJOBS.gov is vital to not missing federal job opportunities:

USAJobs Saved Search Feature
Creating a Saved Search in USAJobs

Using Saved Search should be an integral part of your Federal Job Search Strategy.

Launched in 1996 as the single entry point for federal employment, USAJOBS.gov continues to evolve and improve at an adequate to moderately effective pace.  Every year, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) launches invaluable new tools for federal applicants using the USAJOBS.gov website. Besides converting to a mobile-friendly responsive site in 2016, perhaps one of the most powerful of these tools is “Saved Search.” Having enough time to correctly apply for a federal job is crucial to your success in being referred, interviewed and hired. Up until 2017, the rule was, if a federal job announcement was open less than two weeks than it was already filled through internal or nepotistic channels. This is no longer true. Today’s job announcements might be open for 3 days or close when a certain number of applicants have submitted their applications. Learning of an open job announcement the day it posts is now necessary to have the time to review the job announcement, ascertain your level of qualification and then edit your federal resume specifically to the job. In editing your resume to a specific position, you must provide quantifiable evidence of your skill sets and accomplishments according to the summary, responsibilities, minimum qualifications and occupational questionnaire of the announcement. To do it right, you need time.

Per OPM, all federal vacancies must be offered to a pre-defined hiring pool of job applicants. This is known as the Hiring Path and is classified as the following:

  1. Open to the Public
  2. Federal Employees
  3. Armed Forces
  4. Senior Executives
  5. Individuals with Disabilities’/family of Overseas Employees
  6. Native Americans
  7. Peace Corps and AmieriCorps Vista
  8. Special Authorities

Some jobs might be open to all US citizens and some are only open to existing agency employees or Veterans. For this reason, you need to know immediately when a job post that meets your federal job query parameters.  You can save a search to help you look for jobs in your area of interest. When you save a search, USAJOBS will automatically look for jobs that match the keywords and other criteria in your search. Notifications can be set up for daily, weekly or monthly email when there are new jobs that match what you’re looking for. You can create and save up to 10 saved searches expiring one year after creation. While you can sign up to receive daily, weekly or monthly email notifications, please get daily notifications or you will miss federal jobs with constrained suspense periods.  Let USAJOBS do the work for you to find the right job at the right time.

3. Always review the entire Federal Job Announcement:

Review entire job announcement for a federal job
How do understand a federal job announcement.

The single most important step prior to applying for a federal job is ascertaining whether or not you are highly qualified for the position you are seeking.

The federal job announcement, if reviewed correctly, will save you a great deal of time as well as less disappointment from not being referred) if reviewed correctly. There is both a wealth of valuable data and a dearth of redundant, irrelevant, and misleading information in each federal job announcement. Job Title, Grade, Hiring Status, Service,  Appointment Type, Salary, Work Schedule, and Eligibility are all vital considerations.

Regarding Salary, it is very challenging to make a greater annual salary in your first federal job than what you are making in the private sector. Please review the promotion potential section and develop a 3-year promotion plan.  

The Summary and Responsibilities sections are a good initial indicator of whether the job is a good fit for you. You must meet all qualification, not just some or even most. Basically, if you do not have at least one year of full-time paid experience for any job above grade level 9, unless you have a technical college degree, you will not meet the qualifications to be referred to the hiring manager. Next, review the Qualifications and Education sections to assess if you meet the minimum qualifications. Finally, review the occupational questionnaire. If you cannot answer at least 95% of questions as an expert in that skill, move on to the next job. Be smart and get hired.

4. The USAJOBS Resume Builder is not as effective as the Federal Presentation Resume:

What is the proper format for a Federal Resume?

To build or upload, that is the question. The USAJOBS builder offers a step-by-step completion process with all possible data elements included such as salary, hours per week, supervisor name/phone for each job as well as a character limit of 5,000 characters for job duties and, more importantly, accomplishments. However, we have found that y includes these and addition resume elements, the Federal Presentation Resume is more effective in generating the most possible points while maintaining veracity to the applicant’s background.

Although sometimes not apparent, the federal government does evolve. Gone are the brilliantly constrained SF-171 and equally frustrating OF-612. Resumix, with its keyword stuffing capabilities, is also no more. Avue, alas,  is in the rearview. Today, the best federal resume writing format is known as a Federal Presentation Resume generated in MS Word, Pages or Google Docs and converted to Adobe .pdf for submission. The USAJOBS resume builder is constrained both in formatting and character count, don’t use it unless forced to by the hiring manager as listed in the job announcement. Also, not all agencies accept uploaded resumes or documents from USAJOBS. If the agency does not accept uploaded resumes or documents, you will skip this step during the USAJOBS application process. You may be asked to upload a resume when you enter the agency application system.

The Federal Presentation Resume is a hybrid of the USAJobs format with compelling content, resume sections and formatting normally found in private sector resumes. While the data included in a Federal Resume is more detailed than for the private sector, the resume should still be eye-catching, easy to read, and persuasive. In short, your resume should stand out.

5. Federal Resume Length: Medium is the new Long:

Federal Resume Length-How long should you make your Federal Resume
Federal Resume Length-It matters not so much

The Federal Resume has evolved and is no longer epic in length.

As of this year, OPM now recommends your resume should be 5 pages or less using a minimum 11-point font. Some agencies are even going to five-page maximum Senior Executive Services (SES) packages with the resume, Executive Core Qualifications (ECQ) and Professional Technical Qualifications (PTQ) all included. Gone are the days of a 16-page resume for a GS-07 Supply Specialist as well. Mercifully, Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSA), separate narrative essay responses, have been eliminated and replaced by the multiple-choice Occupational Questionnaire.

As a rule, focus on the last decade of your experience with the last five years getting the most attention and detail. In addition to your duties, always include at least three quantifiable accomplishments in each job description. Do not repeat yourself. Do not include job descriptions that have nothing to do with the position you are seeking. Articulate your skills and accomplishments clearly and succinctly without feeling a need for convoluted or repetitive verbiage. Always only add sections that will help you get more points. Think Hemingway, not Tolstoy.