Federal Resumes and Job Applications

What is a Federal Resume?

A Federal Resume is required for any federal job with the U.S. government. In comparison to the typical 1-2 page resume required for most jobs, a federal resume details a more comprehensive overview of your work credentials. It will vary in length depending on your amount of experience; yet, is often 4-10 pages in length. To create and format a Federal Resume specifically, we recommend using USAJOBS.gov’s resume builder tool.

Apply for Federal Jobs

Applying to jobs is already complicated; yet, there’s even more steps to apply for federal jobs! Equipped with knowledge about the process and dedication to staying organized, it’ll be no problem though. To get organized, go step by step with the drop-down text below:

This website is where you will search and apply for any U.S. federal job. As part of your account creation, you’ll set up a profile with current contact information, citizenship, and any previous federal or military service. If you fill out additional optional sections in your profile, such as work experience, then you can allow the system to help suggest relevant positions and for recruiters to search for you directly – plus those sections will automatically pull into the resume builder.

For a video presentation by a federal employee about creating Federal Resumes, check out this Coffee with a Ranger.

Navigate to “Documents,” select “Resume” tab, and then select “Build Resume.” The resume builder will walk you through the required sections of a federal resume. It does not generate the prettiest resumes; yet, it is recommended to use this tool because federal HR is familiar with the format and it will ensure you do not forget to include vital information such as start / end dates and # hours / week for each of your listed work experiences. Without that level of detailed information, you will not receive credit for work experience when their Applicant Tracking System (ATS) reviews your resume. To learn more about what is involved in the hiring process and how your application will be reviewed, check out the FAQs.

Add Work Experience, Education, References, Job Related Training, Language Skills, Organizations/Affiliations, Professional Publications, and Additional Info. If you already have a “Comprehensive Resume” that acts as a running history of your work, academic, volunteer, and extracurricular experience, then you can easily copy and paste information from that into this resume builder and simply add any additional details that it requires. If you filled out the profile section for work experience, it will automatically pull in each of those experiences to this resume. If you have not yet written out bullet points for each work experience, see our recommendations on crafting skill statements here!

It is so important to craft descriptions of your work experiences and skills with keywords that match the federal job announcement that you are applying to, as matching language will improve how the ATS scores your resume – so why are we having you set up this federal resume BEFORE completing a job search? Federal jobs are extremely competitive and sometimes have short application windows from 1 week to as little as 1 day. Many will list that they will close once they reach a max number of applications. For this reason, once you have found a position that you are interested in then you need to be able to quickly submit an application. Having a federal resume draft already created in USAJOBS will help you quickly submit an application, even though you will need to take some time to tailor language once you have found a specific position. Uploading commonly required documents in advance, such as your official college transcript (which you will need to request from the university so it can take some time for you to obtain), copies of any active certifications you have (such as First Aid, CPR, etc), or recent performance appraisals from a current job, can also save you time when you get to the step of submitting your application.

For a video presentation by a federal employee about how to Search for Federal Jobs, check out this Coffee with a Ranger.

Like most job search engines, USAJOBS has many options for helping you narrow down your search. You can set up the following options below then save a search and set email alerts to get updated about when new positions that fit your interests are posted! The most important filter is “Hiring Paths.” You can only apply for jobs whose “hiring path” you qualify for, so be sure to always filter by applicable options. All U.S. Citizens and Nationals qualify for “Open to the Public” (and there are a few exceptions for non-U.S. citizens). Current students qualify for “Students” and recent alum for “Recent Graduates.” Additional common paths are “Individuals with Disabilities,” “Peace Corps & AmeriCorps Vista,” “Veterans,” or “Special Authorities” (for alum of certain educational programs or people who work in programs that qualify for Public Land Corps, etc). To learn if you qualify, review their “Hiring Path” resource. The more you fill out your profile, the more the system will also be able to automatically narrow down searches for you.

On each job announcement, there is a ton of information. They will include a “Summary,” “This Job is Open to,” “Duties,” “Requirements,” “How You Will Be Evaluated,” “Required Documents,” “How to Apply,” and “Fair & Transparent” legal considerations. There is also an “Overview” where you can check the closing date for applications, a salary range, location, remote / telework eligibility, appointment type (review what those mean here), work schedule, supervisory status, and more! Ensure you fit into one of the Hiring Paths listed in the “This Job is Open to” section and consider if your experiences will fulfill the “Requirements” section.

If you decide to apply, you will want to match keywords from the “Duties” and “Requirements” sections to make it obvious that you are well qualified. Reviewing the “How You Will Be Evaluated” and “Required Documents” sections will give you a sense of what additional documents, questionnaires, and assessments will be required for this application and therefore, a sense of how much time you will need to spend acquiring, uploading, or completing those tasks. Finally, follow all steps in the “How to Apply” section to ensure you submit a complete application. This section will also often include an agency contact whom you can reach out to with questions. Calling or email this contact with a couple questions is a great idea as it will put your name on their radar and demonstrate your invested interest in the position. Caution – only ask 2-4 thoughtful questions, not ones that could be answered by reading through the job announcement, because you want to demonstrate that you understand the position well and are being respectful of this professional’s time.

For a video presentation by a federal employee about how to Apply for Federal Jobs, check out this Coffee with a Ranger.

By this step, you have identified one or more federal jobs to which you are excited to apply – congratulations! You now want to revisit your resume draft and ensure you match keywords from the job announcement to describe your experiences. Refer to the job announcement’s “Duties” and “Requirements” sections as well as the preview of an Occupational Questionnaire if that is listed in the “How to Apply” section. If you are applying for jobs across agencies or with very different duties, you will want to tailor specific resumes with different keywords. You can save up to 5 different federal resumes in USAjobs. The more you truthfully match the description of required knowledge, skills, and abilities (sometimes federal employees will refer to this as KSAs) from the job announcement to your resume, the better you demonstrate you are qualified and are more likely to be ranked highly by the ATS.

After completing a federal resume in Resume Builder, you will also want to write an one-page cover letter specific to each job. Remember to check the “How to Apply” section and if it states a cover letter is required, you must submit one; yet, even if it does not, is is recommended as a way to help you stand out. For tips on writing a good cover letter, review our guide.

Finally, the application will prompt you to upload any supporting documentations. Ensure you upload everything that is required from the “How to Apply” section plus anything else that can help verify the experience and qualifications you have described in your resume.

Many, though not all, federal jobs will also require submission of an Occupational Questionnaire to complete your application. If so, this will be specified in the “How to Apply” section and it will give you the ability to see a preview of the questions if you would like to review them in advance of completing your application (this is also a great place to get keywords and task descriptions to use while tailoring your resume). These Questionnaires help HR managers assess candidate’s fit with the job requirements. Applicants with the highest point totals in response to the questionnaire will be categorized by an ATS system as “Best Qualified,” the next highest group as “Well Qualified,” and the rest as “Qualified.” A human then reviews these assessments to verify that your resume supports the response you chose. If your resume does not provide evidence of your experience, then you may be moved down to a lower category. If a high number of applicants are categorized as “Best Qualified,” sometimes that is the only group of applications referred or forwarded on to the Hiring Manager for consideration.

For those reasons, it is important to be truthful and ensure your resume and your responses match; AND, it is also very important to rate yourself on the Questionnaire confidently. Across industries research has found that women are less likely to self-promote than men, even with equal work qualifications, and that occurs with this Questionnaire as well. Be confident! If you’re feeling unsure about rating yourself as an “expert,” listen to this federal employee from minute 20 to 24 in this Coffee with a Ranger (or better yet, her whole series on Searching for and Applying to Federal Jobs linked above)!

Once you submit this, you will have the chance to review your application. If there is a red X for any component, instead of a green checkmark, than it means you are missing something. Once you have all green checkmarks, you are ready to finally submit your application!

You already submitted your application, so you are done…right? Well, maybe. Some federal jobs will state in the job announcement that they also require Competency Based Assessments. If so, you will receive an email within 24 hours after applying that provides a link for the 1-3+ assessments that you need to complete. Don’t forget to check your spam folder if you do not see it! The email will tell you by what date you need to submit the assessment, typically 48 hours from when you receive the email. Plan to give yourself considerable time (2-4 hours minimum) to complete these in one sitting before the due date. These assessments are long and confusingly worded; they range from asking about your math, reasoning, decision making, integrity, and interpersonal skills, so you will want plenty of time to think. For a few example questions, check out USA HIRE through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

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When you apply for a federal job, you will first need to submit an application through USAjobs (see Steps 1-7 above). Once your application is received, a computer Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and human HR team will typically both review your resume and other application materials. At this stage, you will receive an email that your application has been received and is being reviewed.

Review of your application and the results of the Occupational Questionnaire & Competency Based Assessments, if required for the specific job, will all determine which applicants are deemed to be the “Best Qualified” pool of candidates. That pool, and sometimes the subsequent categories of “Well Qualified” or “Qualified,” will be referred – which means the applications will be forwarded on to the Hiring Managers for further consideration. At this stage, you will receive an email and your application status in USAJOBS will be updated to reflect if you have been referred or not.

Hiring Managers will review your resume and other application materials and determine who will be offered an interview. The number of interviews involved in the hiring process will vary. At this stage, you will receive an email and your application status in USAJOBS will be updated to reflect if you have been offered an interview and are in consideration.

After the 1 or more interviews have been conducted, you will receive an email or phone call about whether or not you are being offered the job! Your application status in USAJOBS will then ultimately be updated to reflect if you were not hired or were selected for the job. Detailed overview of the hiring process is also available on USAJOBS.

In addition to salary, federal government jobs offer competitive benefits from health / vision / dental insurance, to federal student loan repayment, to one of the best retirement systems in the world. Check out full details at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

For a full breakdown, checkout USAJOBS’ Hiring Path resource. If you are interested in pursuing a career with a Land Management Agency (National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, or Bureau of Land Management), two hiring authorities that allow you to apply under the “Special Authorities Pathway” but that are not specifically listed on that website are the Public Land Corps and Land Management Workforce Flexibility Act.