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Overcoming Federal Resume Fear: Tips From a Career Coach

Overcoming Federal Resume Fear: Tips From a Career Coach

Learn more about degree programs at American Public University.

By Leia O’Connell, MSW, GCDF
Contributor and Career Coach, APUS

Prior to becoming a Career Coach, I wasn’t even aware that a resume submitted to USAJOBS.gov should be “federally formatted.” When first starting as a coach, I asked myself, “What does that even mean? Federally formatted?” After learning more about it, I admit I was intimidated. A federally formatted resume is very different from any other resume, and every training session I’ve attended mentioned that if the resume didn’t include all of the required information, it would be disqualified. It was borderline terrifying!

After reviewing many federal resumes (and creating one of my own), I finally feel comfortable. When I speak with students who are starting their first federal resume, these are my tips for overcoming that initial fear:

Break the process down in steps. You don’t have to tackle the entire resume in one sitting; in fact, you shouldn’t. Start with formatting. USAJOBS has a help center article titled, What should I include in my federal resume? You don’t have to wonder about the formatting, USAJOBS will lay it out right for you. Don’t worry about the content just yet. Focus on formatting each section and making sure all required information is included. Once you’ve formatted your resume and added the appropriate headers for your work experience, we can work on…

Creating content. As a first step, I strongly recommend using a short paragraph format for your work experience sections, as seen in the APU/AMU federal resume samples. Each paragraph should start with a strong action verb (ex: Investigate, Collaborate, Design, Supervise, etc.). From there, start with the tasks you do most often, and then move on to your accomplishments. As an example, let’s review a paragraph from federal resume sample 2.

ANALYZE and REPORT on service bulletins and aircraft logbooks to Project Director. Present findings and new project ideas to management based on analyzed data and proposed work. Propose ideas to streamline repair processes to save money and time. Recommendations for streamlining estimates by project managers accepted and resulted in a 20% saving from the previous 12 months.”

This paragraph starts with two strong action verbs, speaks to the tasks and then finishes up with an accomplishment. This should be the general structure of each paragraph within your work experience section.

Beyond the basics. Once you’ve formatted your resume and added content to your work experience, you can start looking at other skills and additions to your resume. Volunteer experience should absolutely be added; use the same format as your work experience header and paragraphs. Bilingual? Make sure to add it to an “Additional Information” section and include that you can read, speak and write in that language. Don’t forget certifications! If they’re relevant and you’ve got ‘em, add ‘em.

Creating your federal resume can be intimidating at first, but once you start making progress, it will become easier and easier! If you’re an AMU/APU student or alumni, you can send your federal resume to resumehelp@apus.edu and we would be happy to review it and provide suggestions on how to make it even better!

Learn more about degree programs at American Public University.