The Federal Government is the largest U.S. employer with over 2.7 million employees and Walmart is next in line with 2.3 million employees nationwide. While living at a European duty station, the default employer for military dependents is often the government for a lack of other viable employment options.

For those who are new to the concept of working in government, the application process via comes as a total surprise. Often, first time applicants apply for federal jobs with a regular, corporate style, one or two-paged resume only to receive the dreaded “Not Qualified” message in response to their applications. Unbeknownst to new federal applicants, the hiring process requires a very different style of resume to be qualified.

Don’t believe everything you hear.

Upon the initial shock of receiving the “Not Qualified” message, many applicants turn to their favorite resource — friends. Unfortunately, seeking advice from friends can create confusion because federal applications are not well understood by the general public. The enigma of federal applications creates a lot of untrue rumors, below are a few examples:

  • “You have to lie to get hired on USAJOBS.”

  • “If a job is only posted for 5-days, don’t bother applying because they’ve already selected someone.”

  • “It’s the good ole boy system, you can’t get a job unless you know someone.”

  • “USAJOBS scans your resume for key words.”

  • “Your resume can’t be longer than 2-pages.”

  • “You have to use the builder to make your resume.”

Many of the rumors have a shred of truth. Consider the child’s game telephone, when the original whispered statement is, “The resume I used to get my job was 2 pages.” By the time the rumor travels through the grapevine to the last child it becomes, “All resumes have to be two pages.”

Follow the instructions.

To qualify for a federal position, it is crucial to read every vacancy announcement thoroughly. There are over 500 different federal agencies, and each agency has slight variants within the hiring process. For example, one agency may require an applicant to list salary and other agencies may not. Before doing anything, read the full job announcement first.

Familiarize yourself with the hiring process.

Search for federal application classes on your local installation and online. The Office of Personnel Management hosts frequent classes online to teach people about the federal hiring process and how to write a federal style resume. Being a well-informed applicant will ease the stress of applying and avoid initial failed application attempts. Explore the website and research the application process, FAQ’s and articles about applying.

Tailor your resume.

Every. Single. Time.

Be forewarned, effective federal style resumes are often five or more pages in length. Job announcements require lot of detail that must be included in the resume, a simple example is, “The ability to use a telephone, fax machine, printer and scanner to create correspondence, send and organize documents.” Normally, this skill is assumed by corporate employers — but the federal hiring process does not allow for assumptions.

Each vacancy announcement is different, even for similar position titles. To qualify, a resume must validate the Knowledge, Skills and Abilities and Specialized Experience outlined in the announcement. A resume must also include basic elements such as dates of employment listed in month/year format and hours worked per week — all of these details are listed in the announcement.

Be patient.

The federal hiring process is slow. There is a popular myth that USAJOBS is automated and scans resumes for key words, oh contraire. For a whopping majority of agencies, the hiring process is manual, meaning that human beings, primarily government Human Resources Specialists, read every single resume to determine the list of qualified applicants that is forwarded to the hiring manager. There is no average length of time for the process, some agencies are tiny and relatively quick while others are massive and have thousands of applicants to sort. HR Specialists do the best they can to quickly sort applications, so be respectful of their time and the process as a whole. Patience is key.

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