How to make a federal government resume when you're a freelancer?
August 30, 2017 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I am applying for a specific position in the federal government (a "design agency" under the GSA); I am really impressed by the folks that work there and the job mirrors my private-sector work pretty well. But with lots of warnings about how different the federal resume style is, I am a little worried I don't know what I am doing.

I'm using the USAjob.com template. What I am having trouble with are:

1) How closely does my language need to mirror the language used in the "qualifications" section? Do I have to use the word "advocating" if that is the verb the job description uses? Do I need to say it repeatedly? Am I necessarily writing for a computer here?

2) Can I account for my experience by doing an experience section along the lines of "Independent Consultant", and then also break out my gigs that lasted many months or years separately?

3) This position opened Monday and closes Friday–are there resume consulting/writing services that fellow MeFites trust, that are not ridiculously expensive, and can help me in the little time left (big ask, I know).

4) If you've worked for either of the federal agencies that fit the above description, any tips would be appreciated!

Thanks!
posted by lackutrol to Work & Money (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
You are writing for a computer. Try to essentially do the reverse of what you would do for a normal resume - repetition of words is fine, and try to use the language that they use as much as you can. Humans don't even see the resumes until after a computer sorts them.
posted by corb at 9:50 AM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


How closely does my language need to mirror the language used in the "qualifications" section?
Exactly.

Do I have to use the word "advocating" if that is the verb the job description uses?
Yes.

Do I need to say it repeatedly?
Yes. Yes.

Yes.

Am I necessarily writing for a computer here?
Yes.


Basically, start by copying and pasting the job description, then add your experience into it with those exact words. Repeat often.
posted by slipthought at 9:56 AM on August 30, 2017 [5 favorites]


How closely does my language need to mirror the language used in the "qualifications" section

Yes, exactly.

Your resume will be only seen by a computer for the first cut. If you do not make it really freaking obvious, repeatedly, that you possess exactly the qualifications for the job, you will not make it to the point where an actual human being reviews your resume.

Also: the first set of actual human beings who see your resume will also not know or understand much (if anything) about what the job does or what you do. They are clerks at the Office of Personnel Management and they know nothing about what the job actually does, other than what is written down as the position description. They tend to be infuriatingly literal: if the posting uses an acronym, and you write the thing out, you won't get the credit for that. (Vice versa as well!)

If there are radio-button questions that ask you to self-evaluate, be, um, generous and confident in your replies. Because I can guarantee that many other people applying for the gig will be misrepresenting their qualifications. Don't lie--if you get caught they can fire you without warning. But a bit of puffery may be absolutely necessary to get yourself through to the next round.

Good luck!
posted by suelac at 10:15 AM on August 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


So, like, if it says "Managing the process of building, refining and testing strategies for digital development" (paraphrase), I say, in my TECHNICAL SKILLS & TOOLS section:

"• Managing the process of building, refining and testing strategies for digital development"

Then in the section for a particular previous job I say

"• Managing the process of building, refining and testing strategies for digital development by doing foo and bar." ?

Apologies for belaboring the point, but it is just so, so counter-intuitive.
posted by lackutrol at 1:34 PM on August 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


By the time your resume actually gets to the person who has the power to choose, all applications have received a score and been ranked. The hiring person will only see a small number of applications, and if they do not choose the number 1 ranked person, they have to give a damn good reason for it. Actually, there are usually two pools of applications, those who have preference (such as veterans) and those who do not. The hiring manager has to choose to interview from one or other, but cannot choose both.

So, if you’re worried your resume looks insane, don’t. Just copy the words. Be honest, but copy the words, like suelac said.

The objective here is to get the highest possible score, so that your application gets to the human being who will be working with you, then you represent yourself as a human being in the interview.

Someone correct me if I’m wrong; this is how it was, but things change.
posted by slipthought at 1:53 PM on August 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


Oh, three more things,

1)Ditto to what suelac said, give yourself 5s, be generous (assuming you actually have the qualification, but don't be humble here)

2)Expect this resume to be LONG. My normal resume is 1-2 pages for 15-ish years experience. A federal resume might be 5-10 pages depending on the job description. This is normal in federal land.

3)Read EVERYTHING. Fill out ALL THE FORMS. Skip nothing. Triple check everything. Attach every document, form, question etc.
posted by slipthought at 1:55 PM on August 30, 2017


"• Managing the process of building, refining and testing strategies for digital development by doing foo and bar." ?

Pretty much, yeah. That's how you do it. It's utterly ridiculous. You do want to show the actual context of how you did the work, but definitely use the same keywords. "Manage" "Coordinate" "Design". Don't use synonyms.
posted by suelac at 1:57 PM on August 30, 2017


I'm a 20-year Federal employee who has successfully applied to (and gotten) many Federal jobs and promotions. I also have done Federal hiring. It was said above but worth repeating - your resume can be loooonnngggg. I think mine's about 10 pages.

I know where you're applying (we work with them, and I started at a sister office in GSA). They get hundreds of qualified resumes for every application they post. The longer your resume is, the more opportunity there is for there to be the "key terms" that they're looking for. The interview is how you'd seal the deal. Good luck, and thanks for your willingness to be a civil servant!
posted by kinsey at 2:35 PM on August 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


Federal employee, but not your agency's federal employee. I do a lot of hiring and have gotten a lot of jobs. My resume is 16 pages.

You didn't ask, but let me also tell you that your resume should clock in at least a large enough document to serve as a doorstop. Your resume should be somewhere in the range of a dozen pages. Be very thoughtful about what grades your educational and professional background qualify you for. A master's degree could get you maybe an 9-11 range, a PhD is a 12 or perhaps a 13. If you are going for a 12 or higher, your resume should be in the range of 15-20 pages. Seriously. Write to get past HR. Also, write an amazing cover letter. Write your cover letter for the hiring manager (me). I read every single cover letter for every single applicant that I get (including a cert that has 82 candidates, eek!). If you aren't writing an amazing cover letter for my job, don't include a cover letter. Please don't write that you're interested in any job in Seattle, WA because your mother in law lives in Seattle. Please write that even though your background is as an environmental engineer you've always wanted to be an GS-11 Underwater Basket Weaving Expert in Seattle and here's how environmental engineering perfectly qualifies you for that. Please also be prepared in your interview to explain what it is about my job and my agency that interests you. I'll ask you about it and if you dither, it won't be a great way to impress me that you think that Underwater Basket Weaving or a job in Seattle working for my agency is your dream job.

If you don't make the cert (e.g. HR says you aren't qualified to be a GS-11 Underwater Basket Weaver) call the contact ASAP and ask why. Be polite, but persistent until you get a final response. If their response is "you didn't attach dongle Q which is required" then that's kind of the end of it (note, please read the instructions on USAJobs 15 times and be very careful to attach EXACTLY what is required) but if it is more squishy then you sometimes can get added to certs. You need to be fast about it (don't wait two weeks, don't wait more than a day) but I get people added back to certs every month.

1) How closely does my language need to mirror the language used in the "qualifications" section? Do I have to use the word "advocating" if that is the verb the job description uses? Do I need to say it repeatedly? Am I necessarily writing for a computer here?

You're not writing for a computer, you're writing for an overworked HR specialist who knows nothing or next to nothing about the job you're applying for other than the position description (PD). If you can get a copy of the position description, it would be a great idea. Don't try to be fancy, use the same phrases which are in the PD if you can justify it (please don't just copy and paste if you have nothing in your personal experience which substantiates the experience, this will annoy your friendly federal hiring manager). Say it repeatedly.

2) Can I account for my experience by doing an experience section along the lines of "Independent Consultant", and then also break out my gigs that lasted many months or years separately?

Sure, do whatever you want.

3) This position opened Monday and closes Friday–are there resume consulting/writing services that fellow MeFites trust, that are not ridiculously expensive, and can help me in the little time left (big ask, I know).

Nah, government resume writing services are BS. Don't pay money. There are some examples online of government resumes, but basically the bottom line is longer is better. Use lots of keywords.

4) If you've worked for either of the federal agencies that fit the above description, any tips would be appreciated!
posted by arnicae at 7:02 PM on August 30, 2017 [4 favorites]


I worked where you are applying. If you google "name of that group" + hiring + guide there's a well written guide on how to craft the resume, written by my former colleagues. It's a .gov site.
posted by melodykramer at 11:20 PM on August 30, 2017


Hi folks. I ended up following melodykramer's advice and conformed as closely as possible to their guide. In the end I didn't get it, so I can't really make a best answer. Thanks for your time in advising me, though.
posted by lackutrol at 12:54 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


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