Having served as a federal hiring manager myself and having interviewed scores of other federal hiring managers about their practices, I’ve collected quite a bit of information that can help your application -- resume, cover letter and other forms -- stand out from the crowd.
Low Risk, High Reward
Federal hiring managers are looking for low-risk applicants who look like they’ll solve, not create, problems for them. To make the cut, you’ve got to present yourself as just such an individual -- and you can do that through your application by:
Taking careful aim
Craft applications tailored for “direct hits” rather than applying to jobs indiscriminately, says Heidi McAllister, who worked as a federal environmental specialist for five years.
You do this, she explains, by reading each job description as a series of questions asking “Have you already done this job and done it well?” You can answer these questions with an emphatic “yes” by using each component of your application to showcase achievements that parallel the demands of your target job.
Suppose, for example, that an opening involves producing Web content. Your application should discuss the Web content you’ve produced and your training in Web production while citing related positive feedback such as promotions, awards, evaluations, verbal praise and good grades.
If you haven’t produced Web content, you can still have success by describing other documents you have produced and explaining how working on them has prepared you to work online.
Preparing for the “30-Second Test.”
How long do hiring managers take to decide the fate of your application? About 30 seconds, says Andrew McDonald, a federal engineer and hiring manager.
You can pass the “30-Second Test” if you’ve crafted an application that broadcasts your most relevant experience early and prominently. To do this, use bullets, short sentences and short paragraphs, omitting any information -- such as irrelevant and outdated credentials and personal information -- that doesn’t advance your case and taking care to define or eliminate acronyms and jargon that can cause readers to get hung up or confused.
Sticking to paper
If your target organization gives you a choice between submitting a hard-copy or online application, opt for hard-copy. Why? Online application systems don¿t accommodate cover letters, which -- with prominence, brevity and punch -- can be deal-clinchers. (Don’t bother submitting both; one will likely be discarded.)
Further, common federal online systems such as USAJOBS, QuickHire and Avue Central have trouble with text formatting such as bold, bullets and various font sizes. As a result, online applications can become dense, featureless, forgettable tomes when printed. This can turn off the folks who have to read them, hiring managers say.