Mastering the USAJobs Resume in 2017


The New Year is Sunday. One of your resolutions might be to finally transition from the private sector to civil service. If you appreciate job stability, fiscal predictability, excellent benefits, and a good deal of mobility once you’re part of the team (85 percent of Federal jobs are outside the Beltway, across the country and around the world), Federal service might be right for you.

If you’re heading in that direction, then you probably already know that USAJobs.Com is the place to start your search. And once you find some appealing openings, it’s where you start your resume, too.


When I started trolling Federal job waters after retirement, I turned my nose up to the USAJobs resume builder. In my view, it produced some sort of ho-hum looking three to five to eight page list of experiences, responsibilities, and accomplishments that looked wordy, confusing, and, well, bland. Not distinctive at all.

Like many transitioning from the military, I took a few good classes on effective resume writing. When I started looking for jobs in earnest, I researched resumes online. I spent days and days perfecting my silver bullet. I composed three or four nuanced versions of a very handsome resume—one I thought would resonate in the general writing and editing market, one for executive assistant jobs, one tailored for strategic communications, and one for straight executive speechwriting. . . . all beautifully articulated in one succinct, hard hitting, attention-getting page. I was convinced that my sharp-looking resume, more business than bureaucracy, would get the phone ringing, would be a breath of fresh air for the poor old civil servants sifting through piles of dead-looking resumes.


Wrong. I remember one respondent telling me, “Based on your resume, we couldn’t really tell if you are qualified for the job.” It was a speechwriting position at a Federal agency. And here I was speechless. No joy. But she was right. If you have a beautiful, crystal clear, powerful one-page resumes formatted professionally on fine linen paper . . . you’re not going to need it in the USAJobs application process. If you’re looking for a Federal job, put the masterpiece aside (don’t throw it away . . . just set it aside). Surrender yourself to USAJobs’ Resume Builder. Here’s why.

While all the rhetoric about the government looking for experienced leaders is probably well-intentioned, if not literally true, the government’s first looking for people who can do the job. The job. Not a job, but the job. “Federal jobs often require that you have experience in a particular type of work for a certain period of time.” USAJobs explains. “You must show how your skills and experiences meet the qualifications and requirements listed in the job announcement to be considered for the job.” The job.


So, the Federal resume isn’t really a resume, not in the sense private sector professionals think about resumes. In the private sector, the resume is a one-over-the-world snapshot of your professional grandeur that screams the immense contributions you can make to the company’s bottom line. For the Feds, the resume is the application: “The Federal Government does have a standard job application. Your resume is your application.”

That’s why, for instance, you’re encouraged, “Include dates, hours, level of experience and examples for each work experience.” That’s why, for instance, you’re encouraged, “For each work experience you list, make sure you include: Start and end dates (including the month and year). The number of hours you worked per week. The level and amount of experience . . . . Examples of relevant experiences and accomplishments that prove . . . .”

And if you’re thinking, Wow, sounds like my experience needs to address every required qualification just to get a phone call! Well, “Your experience needs to address every required qualification.”


On USAJobs’ “How to create a resume” page, you’re offered three choices. Upload a resume you already have. Nope. Write a new resume from scratch. Nope. Build a resume using USAJobs’ resume builder. Bingo. Click that link and you’ll land exactly where you need to begin: “How to build a resume.”

USAJobs offers an abundance of important tips you should follow in constructing your Federal resume. You should tailor it. You should check it and recheck it for errors. You should make it easy to understand (within the limits of the format). And you absolutely have to make sure that your resume answers the job requirements in the announcement. In fact, you should spend some time ensuring key words in the application are appropriately reflected in your resume.

It’s not fun. It’s not pretty. But it’s what Federal agencies are looking for if you want your foot in the door. Then, you can impress them in the interview.

Good luck, and Happy New Year!

Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.

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