Or…why it’s not the same as a business resume!
Many times I’ve been asked by students and job seekers why they aren’t getting to the interview stage of the hiring process. There are quite a few reasons this can happen: veteran status (or lack thereof), intense competition, low self-rating on the Occupational Questionnaire, among others. However, the one issue I would like to address today is the government resume. I’m sure not everyone knows that a government resume is not the same as a business-style resume. A business resume consists of 1-2 pages and most all of us have been schooled to reduce their life’s work down to 1 page or risk the consequences! A government resume, in contrast, should be designed to provide the most information about your capabilities as possible (without going overboard, of course). My hints for crafting a better government resume fall into 4 general areas:
- Resume Length
- Jargon Do’s and Don’ts
- The Devil is in the Details
Resume Length. Government resumes, as I alluded to earlier, are typically not limited to 1 or 2 pages. How long is too long? If you are making up things to put in it, or listing endless unrelated/minor jobs, it’s probably time to stop writing! Instead, focus on telling two stories: one for the HR professional rating/reviewing your resume and another for the selecting official. The former is looking for specific qualifications, while the latter is looking for a clear picture of who you are and why you are the best “fit” for the job. This can easily take more than 1 page – and often 3 or 4 pages. Truth be told, with 36 years in the environmental field, my resume is 14 pages in length; my military resume is 5. For most entry level positions, the 2-3 page range makes sense, but keep in mind that the average resume in USAJobs is 5 pages long. Think about how your resume compares to that of the competition!
In my experience as a selecting official, I look for a breadth of experience, training, and activities that tell me about the person I am considering for a position. The environmental field has many specialties within it. A person that has exposed themselves to a variety of experiences and training, and has a good depth of coursework, volunteer or intern opportunities, honors and awards, some community involvement, etc., demonstrates flexibility and adaptability, well-roundedness, and frankly, an openness to learning new things. In addition, managers are struggling with reduced budgets and time, so having adequate information in your resume minimizes the possibility that your resume will be put aside early in the process.
Keywords. To get back to the HR professional for a moment, keep in mind that keywords are essential in today’s job market. Many companies use software to scan resumes and reject those that don’t contain the right words. Look carefully at the job announcement. If you know how, do a content analysis on your resume, I would recommend that you do one that compares your resume to the job announcement. With highlighter(s) in hand, read through both documents, starting with the job announcement and highlight descriptive words. What words are repeated most often? Are there pairs of words or phrases that appear throughout the document? Are there words or phrases you aren’t sure about or that you need to research? List the most common phrases or words, and then do the same with the Occupational Questionnaire. These two documents provide you with a lot of information! Then look at your resume and see if the content (or keywords) are there. If not, then you know what you need to do!
Jargon Do’s and Don’ts. Professional jargon is a very interesting dilemma for most of us. As we saw in the keywords section, jargon can be very important in making sure you make the first cut, especially if it includes a software scan of your resume. The flip side to the jargon dilemma is that too much jargon can be confusing, especially to a reviewing official (often an HR Specialist) that is not an environmental professional. Here’s a quick example. If I look at my own transcripts, I find the following courses listed: “Coop Educ”, “Hist. Prbl.”, “Env. Ed. Sch. Curr.”, and “Dendrology.” Are those topics clear to you? When I say I am “LNO-3 Qualified”, does that mean anything to you? Acronyms can be downright perplexing and another reason to dismiss your resume altogether. One hint I would offer is to have someone unfamiliar with the environmental field (or the job you’re hoping to qualify for) review your resume and help you clarify the language/jargon. Another set of eyes can’t hurt, here!
The Devil is in the Details. One last note on the granularity (I have a love/hate relationship with that word) of your resume. There must be enough detail to clearly communicate your experience and qualifications and to demonstrate your mastery of the environmental field as a whole. It must be impeccably written and grammatically correct. Further, it must paint a cohesive picture of who you are as a person, while at the same time, avoiding reference hot or controversial topics, such as politics and religion, unless there is a specific need to discuss them (i.e., the job calls for knowledge in these areas). Finally, make sure you review your potential employer’s requirements for information required in the resume. Federal resumes, for example, require job descriptions for each job, the number of hours worked per week, and the starting and ending month and year for each position listed. Not providing this information can lead to immediate rejection of your application.
Good luck in your job search!
Here’s a brief, but helpful federal resume guide:
A short article from Monster.com (How Personal is Too Personal?):
Dr. Carol Pollio