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What You Need to Know About Applying for a Federal Job

What you’ll need to know before you apply for a federal job.

Searching for a new job has never been more competitive than in today’s job market. Companies no longer want team members who will or can do the job. They want someone who can bring more to the table and help the business excel. This is even truer in the government realm. Federal jobs are few and far between, with all the budget cuts and layoffs around the country. Hiring managers look for federal employees who can do more than one job, have advanced leadership skills and show a commitment to the agency. If you want a job in this sector, here are a few things you’ll need to know before applying.

Know the difference between a federal and standard resume.

You may think you know how to write the perfect resume, laced with action verbs and achieving language. Before you apply for federal jobs, toss that knowledge out the window and start fresh. Federal resumes take another route, sometimes similar to curriculum vitae (CV). Standard resumes summarize your skills, experiences and education into a one- to two-page document. Federal resumes are another beast altogether. They focus on your entire life and all the nitty, gritty details. The federal resume format uses the same information as a typical resume, but goes into more depth about your skills, past duties and accomplishments.

Government resources like USAJobs.com and the U.S. Department of Labor offer specific templates to use during the application process. Do not deviate from these templates, or you will risk losing the chance for an interview. Many career coaches recommend having a professional resume writer create the documents for you because they train and stay up-to-date regarding the process of applying for federal jobs. If you want to write your own resume, ask a professional resume writer to critique and edit your project before submitting to the agency.

Federal agencies want more than a fancy resume.

Creating a well-written and designed federal job resume is only half the battle. Hiring managers want you to jump through a few hoops before granting access to their schedule. Most job announcements include detailed instructions and a questionnaire designed to weed out any intruders. Be sure to read the instructions more than once. Seriously, read each one at least three times. Some hiring managers are known for including hidden questions just to make sure applicants read the instructions.

Prepare for the interview.

Like corporate jobs, federal agencies use interviews to make the final selection. There is a twist though. The interview process quite often includes several rounds of interviews. While corporations use similar techniques for high level team members, federal agencies send the applicant through the numerous interview stages because of bureaucratic red tape. Practice for your interview using a mirror or friend as a sounding board. Some local career centers and colleges offer mock interview practice. Take advantage of these resources for a better chance at obtaining another interview. Here are a few tips to guide you in the long process:

  • Do not make jokes about the federal red tape and paperwork. It is an old, tiresome joke. Hiring managers face the bureaucracy daily, and they may think you are making fun of their important work.

  • Treat each interview as if you were speaking with the director or secretary of the department. Be careful not to brownnose. Hiring managers know when you are spreading it too thick.

  • Dress appropriately, and do not act as if you are tired of the process, even though you are tired. If you start yawning, the hiring manager might think you are not committed.

  • Bring a copy of your resume, a notepad and pen, business cards, and folder. Federal agencies love those who look professional and are prepared for anything.

What is next on the list?

Federal resume, check; application completed, check: what comes next? First, if you don’t receive a response from your application, don’t start thinking it was sucked into a black hole. Federal red tape takes a long time to spin. Or, the hiring manager may want to give more time for applications. Be patient, and follow up within three to four weeks with a gentle call or email. Remember that good things come to those who wait.

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Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!

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Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!