Federal Job Application 101

by Holly Boyer, Senior Editor, INALJ Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia 

Federal Job Application 101

holly boyerLet’s say in your quest to find a job (any job in your field!) you stumble across the perfect dream job for you. Yay! I know how exciting this is and that you’ve already told all your family and friends. So you sit down in your special job application spot, put on your job application mood music, possibly light a candle to Saint Jude the Apostle even though you aren’t Catholic. And then you realize that applying for a federal job is a whole different level of job application, and that you need more than a good resume to even make it past the first cut.

Here are 7 tips that will help you put together your first (stellar) application package.

1. USAJOBS.gov is the place to be. And for librarian positions, the key series you want to search for are: 1410 (Librarian), 1411 (Library Technician), 1412 (Technical Information Services), 1420 (Archivist), 1421 (Archives Technician), 1499 (Library and Archives Student Trainee.) You can find a full list of series here.

2. Give yourself plenty of time. You know how you see a job and wait until the last day to throw something together and submit it? Well, you absolutely cannot do that for federal application. Estimate how much time you would normally spend putting together the best possible resume/CV and cover letter for a non-government job. Now add 3 days. At the very least. It will take hours (it took me about 6 over 2 days) just to complete the initial resume on usajobs.com. You’ll want to review it before sending it in. And you need to leave time for answering the Questionnaire, if necessary.

3. Use a highlighter on that job announcement. Comb through the announcement and highlight all the keywords you find. There will be a lot. These are the words that you want to use in creating your resume. Conventional wisdom says we tailor our resume for the job we’re applying to. This is even more important when applying for a federal job.

4. Pay attention to specialized experience requirements. If the announcement requires 52 weeks of experience in a certain area at a certain grade, you need to show that on your resume. If you can’t, you don’t qualify for that grade or possibly that job.

5. Use the resume builder. Yes, you can upload your resume to usajob.com, but I had better experience working through each step of the resume builder. This forced me to think about each item as I went through. I was able to incorporate all those keywords much easier because I wrote most of it from scratch instead of copying directly from my resume. And make sure to answer everything, in detail if possible.

6. Make sure you include any additional documents. This seems obvious, but there is enough diversity in requirements that it needs to be highlighted. If you’re qualifying based on education, you’ll need to upload your transcripts. You may be able to upload a cover letter or other supporting documents. Just make sure to check that you’ve included everything you need.

7. In addition to a resume, you may have to answer a questionnaire. If you do, excellent. This is place where you really get to highlight your accomplishments as they directly pertain to the job. Again, use your keywords! Be realistic about your experience, but don’t be afraid to really toot your own horn. And if you find yourself answering “none of the above” or “no experience” too many times (and it’s not because you’re being modest), don’t bother applying. You’ll score too low to make it past the cut.

If you come away with only one thing from this article, let it be finding and using keywords from the job announcement. I’ve read that the initial screening process is/is not automated. Regardless, with the number of applications that come in for each job, using keywords makes it easier for the hiring personnel to put you in the yes pile.

Good luck! Please share your federal job application words of wisdom in the comments.

  3 comments for “Federal Job Application 101

  1. November 21, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    If the first screening is automated, be sure to include exact phrases from the job announcement or you will not make it through the first cut. I recommend looking at The Federal Resume Guidebook by Kathryn K. Troutman.

  2. Terry
    November 21, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    I’ve always struggled to figure out what the experience actually is for each grade. When I’ve tried to look it up, it usually refers to the grade below it plus more, but then what’s the grade below it require?! Any good resources to use to figure that out or tips on how to interpret it?

  3. November 21, 2014 at 8:17 am

    A good resource: Careers in Federal Libraries – it’s a Google Group, which posts jobs; also Careers in Federal Libraries – a LinkedIn group which has lots of good stuff, and occasionally announces webinars on the application process. Also, in MD (possibly DC and VA too) the state job service offers workshops on the Federal process.

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