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Land a job at VA with these federal resume tips

Working in the federal government isn’t quite the same as working in the private sector – and that difference starts as early as your job application.

Preparing one resume to use for every job you apply for is a common mistake, especially when you’re applying in both the federal government and private sector, according to

“Many Veterans apply for jobs for years and don’t get hired because their resumes are not focused toward the type of industry or position that they are seeking,” it noted.

So how can you fine tune your application to apply to a federal agency like VA? Here’s some key advice from VA recruiters to keep in mind.

More is better

While private sector resumes are usually one or two pages, federal resumes can run up to five.

As Tim Blakney, a VA recruitment consultant, shared: “The more we know, the better you’ll look.”

You’ll want to tailor your resume to address the specific knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) requested in the job opportunity announcement (JOA). Also, make sure you provide all the requested items in the “required documents” section.

“The more your resume reflects the KSAs being sought, the more likely you are to be qualified by the gatekeeper and referred to the hiring manager for consideration,” said James Marfield, associate director of VA’s National Recruitment Service. “Make it obvious you are qualified for the job.”

All KSAs and requirements for the job will be listed in the JOA on USAJobs, the official federal employment site. Use this information to tailor your resume to the position.

“Start your professional summary, which normally appears as the first section below the applicant’s contact information, with a two or three sentence narrative summary, with the first sentence summing up your entire qualifications for that position,” Marfield said.

Here’s an example of an effective opening sentence for a professional summary: “I am a seasoned human resources (HR) specialist with four years of specialized experience at the GS-11 level.”

This statement precisely frames your qualifications for that job. Each JOA will include a description of the required experience, like: “You must have one year of specialized experience equivalent to at least the next lower grade.” It will then describe what that looks like, allowing you to determine the highest grade level that corresponds with your specialized experience.

Even though it’s okay to go longer than your private sector resume, keep in mind that HR professionals at VA read a lot of applications, Marfield warned.

“The goal should be to clearly and quickly demonstrate you qualify for the position without fatiguing the reader with overly wordy narratives or information not relevant to the position,” he advised.

Emphasize keywords

Whenever you apply for a job, you should make sure your application includes key phrases and terms from the job posting. Nowhere is this more important than when applying for a federal job.

Since we often receive hundreds of resumes for open VA positions, using language from the job posting helps us know you’re qualified.

“Integrating key words and phrases throughout the resume is crucial, especially if those keywords are tied to basic or preferred qualifications listed in the JOA,” Marfield said.

Try to integrate keywords throughout your professional summary, core competencies and professional work history.

You may need to change some terms you use on your resume to best match what is used in the JOA. For example, private sector job ads might use the phrase “supporting job requisitions,” but a federal agency describes the same skill as “supporting vacancy announcements.”

“Honestly translating your skills in this way can make all the difference in getting qualified and referred. Do not assume the gatekeeper, normally an HR staffing and recruitment specialist, can read between the lines in your resume,” Marfield said.

Build the perfect resume

When building your federal resume, it’s important to include the additional information federal agencies prefer, such as:

  • Citizenship status

  • Veteran status

  • Relevant education coursework (in addition to traditional education information)

  • Professional references (including name, title, company and contact information)

In addition to the traditional work history, be sure to include hours worked per week, salary or hourly wage earned, name and contact information for your direct supervisor, and whether the agency is allowed to contact the supervisor.

An optimized federal resume that includes these preferred elements, is tailored to the position, and quickly and clearly establishes that you are qualified increases your odds of being hired.

“It is easy for applicants to get frustrated since the federal process may seem more cumbersome than what they are accustomed to. I encourage applicants to maintain healthy expectations about the process and to not lose hope,” Marfield said.

VA is one of America’s best large employers with a superior total rewards package and as a result, there’s healthy competition for jobs. Use this as motivation to continue perfecting your resume and increasing your competitiveness – a career at VA is worth the time and effort!

Work at VA

Now that you know how to perfect your federal resume, use it to apply for an exciting career supporting Veterans at VA.


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