Federal Job Applications

Published: Tues., March 10, 2020

As you begin to think about your future career plans, has the Federal Government been on your list of potential employers? It is certainly an option worth exploring, as different agencies hire students from across every discipline. The Pathway program offers students and recent graduates with a chance to gain valuable experience through internships and fulltime employment. And many federal jobs offer advancement opportunities for those looking to progress beyond their starting position. But in order to land one of these jobs, you need to be aware of what sets the federal application apart from others in the employment sector.

Your standard one- or two-page resume won’t cut it when applying for a job with the federal government. Federal hiring managers are looking for a much more comprehensive review of your experiences. Think of it as a cross between a CV, resume and cover letter. Since you don’t have to submit a separate cover letter, your resume is the one document that will tell your story to hiring managers. Kathryn Troutman, a leader in writing federal resumes and the author of “Student’s Federal Career Guide”, recently spoke with students and staff at UNL. Here are some of her main pieces of advice for drafting a federal resume:

Keywords and the Human Element

Identify keywords by looking at the “requirement” section of the job description. These words must be found throughout your resume if you want to be considered. If they use a specific phrase, be sure to mirror their language. Hiring managers aren’t allowed to assume anything, so you need to spell it out clearly that you have the qualifications they are looking for. If the qualification section asks for experience “utilizing GSA schedules” you need to use the words “utilizing GSA schedules” on your resume. With that being said, make sure your skill set really does match what they are looking for. If using their language will give the reader the impression that you have a different skill set than you really do, don’t change it.

Most federal agencies don’t use computers to filter applications. That means a person, usually a Human Resources specialist, evaluates all of the resumes. During the initial sorting, they spend 10-15 seconds looking at each resume, so it’s critical that the key words stand out and that you clearly show that meet the basic qualifications. Put the most relevant, important information at the top. For students and recent graduates, that’s the education section.

Selling your Experiences

Remember to tailor your federal resume to each job you apply for- just like you should for regular resumes! Because keywords are so critical, you should find ways to emphasize how your abilities, skills, and experiences make you the perfect fit for each specific job you apply for.

One a typical resume or CV you might break down your experiences into different categories such as “Research Experience”, “Professional Experience”, and “Volunteer Experience”. On a federal resume, these will all fall under “Work Experience”. This is the part of the resume that will change the most when compared to the standard format. “For each work experience you list, make sure to include:

  • State and end dates (including the month and year).
  • The number of hours you worked per week.
  • The level and amount of experience-for instance, whether you served as a project manager or a team member helps to illustrate your level of experience.
  • Examples of relevant experiences and accomplishments that prove you can perform the tasks at the level required for the job as stated in the job announcement. Your experience needs to address every required qualification” (USAJOBS, Help Center-Resume).

Avoid leaving large gaps in your timeline, as this will likely raise red flags. Even if the job isn’t directly relevant, find the transferable skills it helped you develop and emphasize those. If the posting requires five years of experience but you only clearly show three, you will not be considered. Remember, you can use coursework to meet qualifications. Include this information in your education section, as HR specialists can’t see your transcripts during the review process.

Use the CCAR format, or Context, Challenge, Action, Result, to explain experience and accomplishment on your resume. The context of the experience should include the role you played, your job title, and the timeline. The challenge is the heart of the experience- why were you doing it? Action should describe what steps you took to meet the challenge, and how you made a difference. Lastly, you should include the results of your actions. Be as specific as possible in each element, and use numbers to highlight your accomplishments.

Additional Information

  • One element of federal job applications that can be confusing is the General Schedule pay scale, or GS, found on all job postings. “You can qualify for GS-9 positions if you have a master’s degree, and for GS-11 positions if you have a doctorate” (USAJOBS, Help Center-Pay). If there are different scales on an application, make sure to address the qualifications required for the highest level you qualify for. This is how your pay is determined, and can be a difference of thousands of dollars.
  • Once you apply for a federal job, be sure to check your email regularly. Some agencies will send you a time sensitive email asking you to complete an additional step. If you miss the deadline, you are unable to move on in the application process.

If you have additional questions about federal applications, or would like someone to review your resume before you apply, feel free to contact Erin Omar at eomar2@unl.edu.


USAJOBS, Help Center- Resume. What should I include in my federal resume? Retrieved from https://www.usajobs.gov/Help/faq/application/documents/resume/what-to-include/

USAJOBS, Help Center- Pay. What is a series or grade? Retrieved from https://www.usajobs.gov/Help/faq/pay/series-and-grade/