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9 Federal Resume Myths to Ignore

By Nancy Segal

Interview Question: What Is Your Current Salary?Myths about about applyling for a job with the U.S. Federal Government are widespread.

Many of those myths are associated with the resume you submit when you apply for a Federal job.

Federal and private sector resumes do share some similarities such as the use of appropriate and relevant keywords and the inclusion of your accomplishments to demonstrate the skills and experience claimed.

However, substantial differences exist between federal and private sector resumes -- in the resume length, the level of detail, and the actual content.

Common Federal Resume Myths

One myth we learned in school was that a resume should be no more than two pages -- and one page is even better! This shows just one of the major differences between federal and private sector resumes.

Take a look at this and other myths about resumes:

1. Less is more -- well, sometimes.

As far as federal Human Resources (HR) specialists are concerned, if any experience is not on your resume, you did not do it.

Federal HR reviewers cannot make any assumptions or draw conclusions about what you did or did not do. Exactly spell out your experience so that it is clear. A good federal resume is usually four to six pages, while a strong private sector resume is only two pages.

2. Resumes do not need to include names of supervisors, starting and end months, hours worked per week, etc. -- again, sometimes.

As you have seen above, federal resumes require much more details about experience and qualifications than private sector resumes.

This includes information such as:

  • Citizenship
  • Hours per week worked
  • Supervisors’ names (and whether they can be contacted)

This information should not be included on a private sector resume. If you use the USAJOBS resume builder (rather than uploading your resume), the builder will require you to include all information.

Known as “compliance” information, federal HR personnel can eliminate people from consideration who do not include all required information -- do you really want to take that chance?

3. Uploading resumes is always better than using the builder -- wrong!

Resume builders are used for private sector organizations for a reason: application reviewers want to see this information in a specific order. Although it may take more time to copy and paste from your Word document into the resume builder, this is sometimes how organizations want to view it.

The USAJOBS resume builder requires you to include the information HR is looking for.

4. Resumes should reflect your duties -- yes, and...

Also include the accomplishments related to those duties to demonstrate how well you performed your job, regardless of whether the target is federal or a private sector position.

Showing that you simply have done a task is not sufficient. Show your accomplishments so that reviewers see the value you brought to that organization while completing your work.

All accomplishments should show how your experiences mattered and made a difference for that organization.

5. Generic resumes work -- wrong.

ALL resumes should be customized for individual job postings, meaning it includes all of the job posting’s key words.

If you are not sure how to find the key words, you can use a “word cloud” application like Wordle (www.wordle.net) which provides a visual display of words appearing most frequently in a text.

6. Your email address doesn’t matter -- except that it does!

For example, if you are still using aol.com or bellsouth.net, that shows that you have not updated that part of your life, and begs the question whether you have updated other parts of your work life.

The smartest approach is use a professional email address, preferably, one that has your name (without the year of your birth). Also, verify that the display name is appropriate (avoid nicknames). Your email is the first impression most resume reviewers will have of you -- make it count!

[More: Don't Let Your Email Address Ruin Federal Job Opportunities.]

7. Formatting should be attractive -- it depends.

Typically, private sector resumes can be a bit more creative; however, most application systems will not accept embedded tables, certain fonts, PDFs, and borders.

Federal resumes are not heavily formatted, and the USAJOBS builder does not accept formatting such as bold, underline, small caps, italics, etc.

For federal resumes, use short paragraphs and use capital letters to highlight key words. At times, it is also wise to avoid bullets, as online systems might turn the bullet graphic to unintended symbols.

8. Your resume should include every job you ever held -- wrong!

Most recently, resumes (federal and private sector) only refer back roughly 10 years.

If you are using experience from more than 20 years ago to qualify for a position, you will not likely be rated as best qualified. Many things you learned 20 years ago are assumed to be out-of-date now.

9. Education belongs at the top of a resume -- not usually.

This is only acceptable if you are targeting an academic position. Most employers want to see your experience rather than your education. Your experience is valued more highly.

However, the exceptions are those who have just finished school and have limited experience, or those interested in positions in the academic field.

Bottom Line

This is NOT your private sector job search -- in terms of process, time frame, or paperwork. Carefully follow the directions provided. Make sure your resume matches the target position to optimize being considered for it.

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About the author...

Nancy Segal is a Certified Federal Resume Writer and Certified Employment Interview Consultant who has spent more than 30 years in Human Resources with the US federal government, serving as Personnel Officer, Deputy Regional Administrator, and Special Assistant in the Departent of Defense, the U.S. Treasury, and other government agencies. Now, Nancy is a career coach, speaker, and trainer on the federal hiring process, from entry level through Senior Executive Service. Learn more about Nancy on LinkedIn and through her website SolutionsfortheWorkplace.com.