Introduction to Careers in the US Federal Government and the Federal Resume

“A good federal resume should clearly outline your key work, volunteer experiences, academic accomplishments as well as extra-curricular activities. It should also highlight the unique skills that set you apart and make you uniquely qualified for the position.”
— Department of Homeland Security Website

If you are interested in a career in the United States Government, it’s best to start by exploring USAJobs.gov, the federal government’s job website. We also recommend that jobseekers explore Go Government, which has information about different federal government careers by field as well as comprehensive information about how to apply for a federal job through USAJobs. 

The federal government employs a formalized recruiting process to fill open positions. It is important to follow directions carefully and submit all required documentation. State governments are less centralized; however, most states have agencies that correspond with the federal counterpart. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (federal) and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (state) serve overlapping functions. Most state agencies typically hire directly, though that will vary depending on the state and the agency.  In fact, some states have a central location where jobs may be found. It is important to monitor state government websites for open requisitions. If you are focused on local and state government searches, please make an appointment with Nicole Park, as the hiring process is not standard across all local and state governments.

Legislative Branch jobs are found through a different process. Please see bottom of document.

To search and apply for federal government positions, please visit the USAjobs.gov webpage. This is where you will create a profile and submit your application for all federal positions. As mentioned above, it is important to read instructions in detail. There is also an option on the website that allows you to upload or build your resume as needed.

As you navigate your search, we strongly encourage you to schedule an appointment with the Career Education office to support you through this process.

 

Navigating USA Jobs

Source: How to Use USAJOBS.gov, makingthedifference.org

Creating an Account
Once you find a job that you are interested in, create an account in order to apply! Create an account on USAJOBS.gov. Having an account allows you to use the federal resume builder and create up to five customized federal resumes. An account also allows you to generate specific searches and have the results e-mailed to you automatically!

Students Page
StudentJobs webpage can be found from the homepage of USAJOBS.gov. This is a great starting point when searching for specific federal student programs. You can also take advantage of the following student resources offered on the StudentJobs webpage:  Federal Jobs by College Major, formerly known as the EI-23 Form, features federal jobs that are often filled by college graduates with various academic majors. This resource will help you to learn which federal jobs are appropriate for someone with your background and skill set. Entry-Level Employment by Graduation explains the amount and level of education typically required for each GS-level. The Student and Recent Jobs page is here.

Where do you fit?
To assist applicants in narrowing down a career path in the federal government, there is a reference guide that outlines what roles are available for different majors (link below for the full list). This serves as a great starting point to identify positions that are available in the federal government based on your interests and skills. Please note this does not mean that if, for example, you are an economics major that you cannot apply to the Foreign Service series. This is meant to serve as a general guide that gives students options and demonstrates that there are many opportunities available to students in all majors, and may give you insight into the coursework that can add value in a desired field.

Here are some examples:

Economics Majors International Relations
Community Planning Series 0020   Foreign Affairs Series 0130
Outdoor Recreation Planning Series 0023 International Relations Series 0131
Unemployment Insurance Series 0106
 Trade Specialist Series 1140
Economist Series 0110  

Reference Link: Federal Occupations by College Major

Searching on USA Jobs
Successfully navigating USAJOBS.gov and taking advantage of the tools the site offers is extremely important to finding a federal job. The following tips should make the process of finding the right job on this site easier:  

  • Advanced search allows you to search for jobs based on a variety of different criteria from job title and pay to agency and location. By using the advanced search function you will be able to pinpoint which positions might be a good fit for you in government.  
  • Keyword search is a great tool for narrowing down your results. When looking for jobs, try searching for words that align with your interests or desired job title. You can also search “Intern” to find most internship opportunities.   
  • Refine your results after selecting your initial search criteria. Whether your advanced search yields too many or too few results, you can use the “Refine Your Results” button on the right-hand side of your computer screen to add or remove a variety of search fields.
  • Questions? Follow up directly with the human resources contact that is listed at the bottom of each vacancy announcement. You can ask this contact for more information about the position as well as the hiring timeline.

Vacancy Announcements
Each job vacancy announcement on USAJOBS.gov will follow a five-tab format. See below for information about each of these sections!

  1. Overview: Provides a summary of the agency’s mission and impact, plus a brief description of the job and its key requirements.  
  2. Duties: Highlights the major responsibilities of the position, adding more detail to the overview.  
  3. Qualifications and Evaluation: Identifies skills and experience needed for the role, and explains how applications will be assessed.  
  4. Benefits and Other Information: Describes additional elements of the compensation package or perks associated with the job.  
  5. How to Apply: Includes step-by-step instructions on how to apply, as well as information about when and how you can expect to hear from the agency.  
  6. Questions: Lists information about who to contact if you have questions about the position or the hiring timeline.

Other Things to Note

  • The General Schedule (GS) is the government’s pay scale for most federal positions. Entry-level government jobs will generally be classified as a GS-5, 7 or 9 depending on education and work experience.  
  • You can save up to five federal resumes, each tailored to a different opportunity on this site! All you need to do to take advantage of this feature is create an account.
  • Some agencies do not always post on USA Jobs, including the following. These are called “excepted” jobs.  Please note that many roles will still require more detail and similar formatting to jobs on USAjobs, but may offer flexibility in requirements.  
    • Federal Reserve System
    • Central Intelligence Agency
    • Defense Intelligence Agency
    • US  Department of State
    • Federal Bureau of Investigation
    • US Agency for International Development

 

Special Programs

Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP) is a two year entry-level appointment designed to bring talented people into government through a streamlined process. Applicants should apply directly to the federal agency using USAJOBS.gov or a specific agency's website. Agencies set individual deadlines for these positions and they are available throughout the year. All FCIPs will receive the same benefits as federal employees, as well as significant professional development and training opportunities. After two years, FCIPs can become permanent civil service employees.

Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) is a prestigious two-year program designed to prepare applicants for upper-level management positions in the government. In order to be eligible you must be in your final year of a graduate program and must receive a nomination from your school to apply. PMF programs are structured by individual agencies, however, all PMFs will receive training opportunities. After two years, PMFs are eligible for conversion to permanent positions.

Pathways Internship Program was created to address the issue of competitive advantage and to give students a clearer path to fruitful career in the federal government. Of these programs, the two that are applicable to current undergraduate students and recent college graduates are the below:

  • Internship Program: paid internship for students who are currently enrolled in a degree-seeking program at an accredited school from the high school to postgraduate level.
  • Recent Graduates Program: two-year career development program for recent graduates who completed a qualifying associates, bachelors, masters, professional, doctorate, vocational or technical degree or certificate within the last two years.

In addition, there are a number of fellowships that are sponsored by the US government and provide pathways to careers in public service. Please see our fellowships page for more information. 

General Tips for Applying

The federal hiring process follows firm guidelines when submitting applications. It is crucial that applicants take the time to research the roles for which they are applying and ensure that their application materials meet the requirements of the position. Below are steps outlined to provide guidance in creating a federal resume. I highly encourage students applying for federal positions to make an appointment with me to ensure application materials are ready for submission.

Plan & Prepare: It is important to clearly read instructions in the vacancy announcements. Researching agencies, positions and responsibilities can help you craft your experiences in the best light. This will also serve you well if selected for an interview.

Customize: your resume to the position. It is important to highlight qualifications, relevant work experience, extracurricular activities, skills requirements, etc.

  • CCAR Method: As you craft your position descriptions, use the CCAR method to highlight your accomplishments and tell your story.  Action and Result are the most important and allow the reader to see YOUR  direct impact in a role and in the organization.
    • Challenge
    • Context
    • Action
    • Result

Format: Federal resumes typically have a lot of information on them, as the opportunities require much more detail than the standard resume. This information needs to be formatted in an organized, clear way so that hiring managers can review a resume quickly and easily find necessary information.

  • A helpful exercise with the federal resume can be to bucket your responsibilities within a position. For example, what “hats” did you wear in a position? As you reflect on the different aspects of the position — it becomes more clear.
    • Sample buckets:
      • Research
      • Program Management
      • Operations
      • Administrative

Content: It is important to include all relevant experience and be concise and communicate your experience in a clear manner. It is imperative to emphasize the value you have added to your prior employers and any applicable organizations or student group with which you have worked. This may be including numbers and metrics to show performance or demonstrating leadership in your position descriptions. When applying through USA Jobs, it is important to remember that the hiring managers want to see WHAT you have accomplished, not your potential.

Proofread: As a general rule, please proofread your resume many, many times and have others review it as well.

 

Preparing Your Resume

The format for Federal Resumes is vastly different than the format for Private Industry Resumes. The chart below provides a quick overview for how the two formats differ. Please note this is a general format for the private industry — sectors within the private sector — have industry and formatting preferences as well.

Private Industry Resume
Length: 1 page
Format:

  • Reverse chronological resume (begin with most recent experience and end with oldest experience).
  • Freedom to personalize formatting

Specific Details

  • No “federal elements” are required (i.e. SSN, supervisor’s name and salary, veterans’ preference, etc.)

Keywords/Transferrable Skills

  • Highlighted within position descriptions

Position Descriptions/Proof of Experience

  • Short accomplishment bullets focused on results; less detail for position descriptions, but numbers are important.

 

Federal Resume
Length: 3-5 pages
Format:

  • Reverse chronological resume (begin with most recent experience and end with oldest experience).Include all relevant experiences as well as awards and extracurriculars. 
  • Traditional format with NO graphics
  • Use CAPS for the USAJOBS Builder Resume

Specific Details

  • Required:
    • Compliance details for each position for the last 10 years (i.e. month and years, street address, zip code, city, state, country, supervisor’s name, salary/GS level/military rank)
    • Resume should focus on the most recent 10 years

Keywords/Transferrable Skills

  • Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSA) must be covered in the resume to demonstrate your specialized experience.

Position Descriptions/Proof of Experience

  • Accomplishments are critical, so your resume will stand out and help you get best qualified. Use a blend of accomplishments and duties description details.

  • Quantify where possible: "produced 10 weekly memos" or "wrote policy that led to 25% increase in response rate"

  • Keywords from the job description are imperative

 

General Format of Each Position on Your Resume: Here “ACCOMPLISHMENTS” covers each “HAT” or BUCKET”

Position Title, from MM YYYY to MM YYYY

  • RESEARCH & ANALYSIS : fill in these blanks with descriptions of your duties, accomplishments, etc., using more keywords from the Job Announcement/Description.

  • PROJECT MANAGEMENT: This description should be a few sentences to a paragraph in length and should incorporate keywords from the job announcement/description.

  • OPERATIONS: ….

For sample resumes, please visit Nicole Park in Career Education as there are sample hard copies available for reference. 

We recommend that you use the Resume Builder feature in USAJobs. 

USAJOBS also has a resume builder feature, which we recommend for first-time users and internships. 

This video from USAJOBS is also helpful in building your resume and this page from DHS has a good outline. 

Go Government also has helpful information about tailoring your resume and demonstrating expertise. 

 

 

 

 

Legislative Branch

Jobs in the Legislative branch of the federal government are not posted on USAJOBS. Lawmakers have staff that work in their home state as well as on Capitol Hill. Jobs based in the home state are often posted on the individual Congressperson’s website. Jobs and internships at the Senate with lawmakers as well as directly with committees are found in the Senate Jobs Bulletin.  Jobs at the House are also posted through a weekly Bulletin, but you’ll need to sign up here.

These positions are hired very quickly, so be prepared to look at the Bulletins regularly and apply as soon as you see a vacancy. Some positions require experience on Capitol Hill, so an internship is a great way to get some exposure to a busy office on the Hill. Key skills required for the positions include writing and verbal communication, time management and organization, and passion for issues.

 

Additional Government Resources

We also recommend Students Federal Career Guide 3rd edition by Troutman and Finkley (copies available for short-term use at Career Education)

List of Federal Agencies A-Z

Go Government

Partnership for Public Service