Writing a federal resume is no easy feat. Don’t let yours hold you back.

For those who have never considered a job in the public sector, federal job openings can appear to be all but invisible. And yet, the government is the nation's largest employer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are nearly 22 million federal, state, and local government jobs. That number represents a tremendous amount of opportunity!

Although government agencies hire tens of thousands of people every year, getting a job isn't easy; candidates must be prepared for a tough race. To make matters even harder, the application process is different from what a private-sector professional might be accustomed to, making many qualified candidates feel as though their experience and value go unnoticed.

The good news is that it's not you! It's about knowing what crafting a federal resume entails and, of course, executing in a way that will impress employers — which isn't easy. Here are four signs that your federal resume could use some extra help.

You “recycled” your private resume for a federal government job

Many applicants don't realize that the rules of building a federal resume are different from what's expected in the private sector. Those who use a conventional private-sector resume for a federal job application have a high chance of getting rejected.  

But what makes a federal resume different? To start, it's longer — the “two-page maximum” rule from the private sector doesn't apply in this public sphere. Candidates should know that resumes of three-to-seven pages aren't unusual, with specific length dependent upon the requirements of the application.

Similar to the private sector, the federal resume format includes sections for education, professional certifications, professional job history with position details, and more. The education section of a government resume, however, tends to be longer to accommodate a list of completed classes, credit hours, GPA, awards, and much more. Specifics of past jobs are expected to be similarly detailed.

Usually, candidates are caught off-guard by the fact that crafting a government resume requires a moderate-to-high amount of research. You may have to dig through your file boxes to locate old college transcripts, request copies of school records and professional certificates, or email past employers' HR departments to confirm a detail or two that you might be unsure of. The bottom line is that a federal resume isn't something that can be pulled together on short notice! Plan ahead and allow yourself sufficient time to accumulate and double-check the information you need.

Related: How to Write a Federal Resume

You aren't getting interviews

Applicants should be prepared for the initial application phase to take several weeks — or even months. However, if you aren't getting a satisfactory level of interest, your federal resume may be to blame. Government agencies use specific terminology, so analyze the choice of words in job descriptions and incorporate them into your resume to highlight the alignment between your skills and the position you are interested in.

Just as in the private sector, the practice of “keyword stuffing” is frowned upon. In most cases, federal resumes are reviewed by people (although some agencies, such as NASA, do use artificial-intelligence algorithms to perform an automated scan). Be mindful of using the right language in a way that's organic to a human reader.

It is also wise to be selective about the jobs you apply for. Get clear on what you are looking for and choose positions that best align with your skills and qualifications. Hand-picking the openings will also allow you to dedicate time and effort to customize each application, which will improve your odds of being selected for an interview.

You aren't using a checklist

Beyond the conventional spell check, a federal job application requires exceptional attention to detail; using the right forms and completing all the right fields is critical. Skipping or misunderstanding a requirement could put you behind someone with similar qualifications who followed the process requirements more diligently. This applies to every piece of your overall application including transcripts, letters of recommendation, writing samples, etc.

Many candidates find that a checklist for core elements of the application is a helpful tool to ensure that no detail is overlooked. Consider crafting a “cover page” for your application file with space for every requirement. Then, use it to track outstanding transcript requests, essays to write, or additional questions to answer.

Your situation or career path is unique

Governmental agencies can be formulaic and systematic in their approach to filling open positions, and many hiring managers come to the task with ideas of what a perfect candidate should look like. Therefore, professionals with an unusual situation or a unique career path must be sensitive and thoughtful in how they present their cases. If you believe that you are a great candidate for a federal job opening but your work or education history isn't conventional, consider working with a professional resume writer who specializes in federal resumes and can get you on track.

Don't let your federal resume hold you back!

With high competition for federal jobs, candidates should expect longer waits for interview invitations. However, if you are disappointed by the low level of interest in your applications, take a step back to reassess your approach. For some, the solution might include making small changes to their resume; for others, it might include more dramatic changes. But it is critical that you present your candidacy in optimal light.

Although core professional competencies are certainly important, public-sector job candidates are judged in part based on their ability to follow the application process. You need to invest time in researching federal resume requirements and create a checklist to ensure that you comply with each one of those. It's also a good idea to complete all additional requirements (even ones that are listed as optional), like submitting college transcripts, letters of recommendation, or writing samples. Finally, be mindful of application deadlines and get to work on your resume early!

Writing a federal resume is still a challenging task, and in the end, you may be better off leaving it to a professional. When each small detail can make a difference, you can't afford slip-ups. TopResume will pair you with a professional resume writer who knows the ins and outs of the federal resume-writing process.

Learn more about our federal resume-writing service so you can submit applications knowing your resume is in tip-top shape.

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