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The following article appeared in the 'Letters to The Advisor' column of the Federal Jobs Digest.
At this point I have been to every kind of interview the private sector can dream up: One-on-one, one-on ten, one-after-the-other, in-person, by-phone, quickie interviews, all-day interviews. One company called me back 4 times for interviews at different levels. But no job offers. The reason was always something like, "You are great. But you don't have quite the skill sets we need." My reaction is, can't employers tell from my resume what skill-sets, what education, what job experience I have. Isn't that enough? I guess I am not so good at interviews. People tell me that interviews are not important in Federal service. Is it true?
Bad at interviews,
Let's start with the good news. Yes, its true that the resume is much more important in Federal service than in the private sector. It's also true that Federal employers rarely interview more than three job candidates for a position. Often they interview only one. So your resume does just about get you the job. Here's why?
Recruitment standards in Federal service are drastically different than they are in the private sector. The private sector recruiter has only one standard to meet-non-discriminatory hiring. As long as his hiring does not show a pattern of discrimination a private sector employer can hire anyone he feels like hiring. In other words the hiring decision, even in big corporations, can and often is based on subjective factors. The private sector employer can hire the candidate who "feels" right.
He can hire his relatives, his friends, fellow alumni of his school, people who agree with him politically, his golfing buddies. It's his business. He does not need documented evidence to support his hiring decisions so long as they are not discriminatory on the basis of race or ethnicity, age, sex, religion, physical handicap. Your Federal recruiter can not hire the candidate who "feels" right. He can not hire his relatives, friends, the politically connected. He is authorized to hire only the best qualified and he has to be able to prove it.
Why Interviews Count For Little
Interviews do not provide documented evidence of qualification. That is why they have far less importance in Federal service than they do in the private sector. To land a Federal job you have to make your case on paper, not in the interview.
Making The Case
Every Federal opening is defined by a set of job standards. The candidate who best meets the job standards gets the job. End of story. The way you show on paper that you meet the standards is by knowing what the standards are in terms of skills, experience, in some cases education, experience with defined problems…and then documenting your mastery of those criteria.
In some cases this "mastery" is simply a matter of words. For example, you may say that you "performed" certain tasks on your old job. These tasks may be very relevant to the Federal opening you want. However, by using the word "performed" you inadvertently described yourself as a subordinate. If instead you used the word "directed," then you position yourself as the responsible person. This does not mean you were the supervisor. It means you were responsible for the work. The word "directed" gets you a higher score than the word "performed".
A carefully written resume gets you extra points at every turn. In the Federal system those extra points add up to a margin of superiority over other candidates. Once you have achieved that superiority the job is almost yours. When you walk into that interview you are way ahead of the game. You no longer have to stage an Academy Award winning performance. You can just be yourself and project confidence, because you will have the confidence of knowing that your resume has already put you in the winner's circle.
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