The Federal Job Search

The federal employment process can be confusing and overwhelming at times. Though it is complex, taking time to understand the federal employment process can increase your effectiveness and likelihood of landing a position.

The most important thing to know is the federal job hunt involves both a different process and style of resume from those used in the private sector. The process is dictated through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the independent agency that oversees all government civilian hiring. Most federal employment opportunities are listed on the OPM job site, USAJobs. The site also contains a resume builder for creating a federal resume.

Federal resumes differ from conventional resumes in a number of ways. First, they are longer; usually three-to-five pages, sometimes more. They also require more detail and leave little room for individualized formatting or creativity. While it is not required that you use the USAJobs resume builder, it is advisable to use it for your first draft. That way, you will be sure to include all the necessary information. For subsequent versions, it is fine to revise your document in Microsoft Word and upload it into your application. Doing so will allow more flexibility in formatting and field length.

In a federal job search, there is no such thing as a general resume. When submitting a resume, it must address the specific position or vacancy announcement. You can begin with a “basic resume” to address the general requirements for a position type or job classification, but you should then tailor it when applying to a specific position. This is vital because resumes are scored against a position’s requirements.

When reviewing opportunities, read the job announcement carefully and pay particular attention to the closing date, information on who is eligible to apply, and any specified instructions. In addition, make note of key qualifications and required specialized experience, as this is information you will want to incorporate into your federal resume. When relating your experience, use keywords and verbiage mirroring those that appear in the announcement. This will help the HR specialists with reviewing your information and matching you to the position’s requirements.

When writing your resume content, focus on your knowledge, skills, abilities (KSAs), and results, rather than just the duties you performed. Provide specific examples that demonstrate your skills and knowledge, and include measurable and quantifiable information whenever possible.  Find a way to include information supporting every key requirement you identified in the job announcement. It is not necessary to address every key requirement for each position you held, but you want to address each key requirement listed in the job announcement somewhere within your document. It is OK to use school and volunteer related experiences to meet the requirements, so do not let lack of work history deter you – you must find a way to demonstrate the required skills! Be thorough but concise in providing your information.

Additionally, understand that the process can be a lengthy one that requires efficient, consistent, and persistent effort. Federal hiring is very competitive, and often times there are hundreds of applications per position. However, increased understanding of the federal hiring process can greatly improve your job hunting efficacy, potentially saving you time and effort in securing a federal position.

For more information on the federal job search, check out a recording of a my recent Federal Job Search webinar.

Visit CareerQuest today to explore UMUC’s career tools and resources available to assist in your career progression. If you have any questions about these career events, please contact your UMUC Career Services office at 240-684-2720 or

Ann Martin is a career advising specialist at University of Maryland University College where she has worked for more than five years. She holds a master’s in mental health counseling from Bowie State University.  As a mid-life career changer, she feels uniquely qualified to assist adult students in transforming their lives and finding their place in the workforce.