Top 5 Federal Resume Mistakes

Federal Resume Writing, Featured

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Anyone familiar with the search for a federal job will at some point recognize the need for a targeted federal resume. The many ins and outs of federal resume writing can make the application process seem intimidating, but avoiding the following 5 common pitfalls can help position your federal resume for prime viewing by your potential employer. 

  1. Submitting a Private Sector Resume Instead of a Federal Resume 

In the private industry, conciseness and aesthetics are the primary attributes that make an impactful resume. Private sector resumes should be 1 to 2 pages and focus on short descriptions of your work history and bulleted quantifiable achievements. The federal resume, however, is expected to be much longer and can span from 3 to 8 pages or more, especially if it is a Senior Executive Service (SES) level resume. In addition, the federal resume is a skills-based resume describing in detail how your accomplishments align with the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that are expected of a federal job applicant. 

  1. Failing to Customize Your Federal Resume to the Vacancy Posting

As with a private industry resume, it’s crucial to fine-tune your phrasing and focus on important keywords and characteristics outlined in the job description of your desired position. In other words: keywords matter. The use of exact words or similar phrasing is critical in a federal resume. Make sure that your federal resume showcases those KSAs that are prominently displayed throughout the vacancy posting. 

  1. Not Providing Enough Detail About Past Positions

A properly written federal resume is expected to be highly detailed and lists the General Schedule (GS) level of each of your past positions, exact dates (month/year and sometimes day) of employment, hours worked per week, supervisor names and contact information, and salary. Additionally, the ideal federal resume is skills-based and presents your work history as a general outline focusing on how each position aligns with specific KSAs described in the vacancy posting. Unlike the private sector resume, short and concise bulleted achievements are not the focus. Instead, lengthier prose in paragraph form is used to describe how your past and current duties and accomplishments align with specific skills and characteristics.

  1.   Using a GS-level Resume to Apply to an SES-level Position

The Senior Executive Service (SES) level represents the highest-level federal position second to presidential appointments. While the general rules of federal resume writing apply, SES jobs have more extensive and specific requirements for applicants, including 5 Executive Core Qualifications (ECQ) – Leading Change, Leading People, Results Driven, Business Acumen, Building Coalitions – and accompanying minor keywords that must be present. The vacancy posting will inform you what materials need to be submitted, with some requiring a 10-page document in proper format asking for you to describe how you and your accomplishments align with the 5 ECQs. If you use your GS-level resume to apply to an SES-level position without including the 5 ECQs, your resume will not even be considered. 

  1. Not Making Your Federal Resume Compatible With Resume Builder 

You may have seen USAJobs’ Resume Builder if you have applied to a federal job in the past. A text-only interface, Resume Builder asks the candidate to enter the content of the resume without formatting. Simply copying and pasting the contents of your resume into the text boxes can produce very confusing results and substantially affect the readability of the federal resume’s content. Avoiding a flashy design and drafting a straightforward federal resume without much styling and graphics makes this process significantly easier. Although only some federal positions require the use of Resume Builder, it’s important to keep the possibility in mind when writing your resume and to have a version on hand that can be quickly converted to the necessary format. 

The federal resume writing process can be challenging but by avoiding these common 5 mistakes, you can help to ensure that your resume meets the stringent requirements required for federal job applicants. To learn more strategies for creating and optimizing your federal resume, review our comprehensive USAJobs Resume Guide