More streamlined federal application process puts focus on your resume

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010; 11:32 PM

Look for federal careers expert Derrick T. Dortch's column on government jobs on the second and fourth Thursdays of every month.

If you're interested in a federal government job, then no doubt you're aware that President Obama has ordered an overhaul of hiring practices.

Among the changes: a requirement that applicants respond to essay-style questions with their initial application is being eliminated; applicants will be able simply to submit resumes and cover letters or be asked to complete plain-language applications; and managers and supervisors with responsibility for hiring are to be more fully engaged in the process, from identifying the skills for a job to recruitment and the interview process. Until now, human resources handled it all, often without much input.

Though the deadline for initiating changes is Nov. 1, some agencies have already killed the essay questions, such as KSAs (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities), ECQs (Executive Core Qualifications) and MAFs (Mandatory Assessment Factors), in the initial application. Other agencies have been slower to change.

What hasn't slowed is the level of competition for federal jobs. It's intense. Many announcements are getting thousands of applications. And with the elimination of the initial essay questions, those numbers are only going to increase. That means prospective hires are going to have to be even more on top of their game.

And in the federal job game, resumes are going to become even more important.

It's important to keep in mind that essay questions won't disappear. Many agencies are now asking people to address the KSAs within the resume itself.

Here's an example: A recent announcement for executive director, acquisition strategy and business relations, in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology for the Department of Veteran Affairs said this in the "How to Apply" section:

"To apply for this position, you must provide a complete Application Package, which includes all of the following parts. 1) Resume which demonstrates your experience, accomplishment, training, education and awards reflecting your ability to meet each of the mandatory technical and executive core qualification requirement(s) for this position. Elaborate on your experience and accomplishments, highlighting your level of responsibilities, scope and complexity of programs managed, work objectives met (the results of your effort), policy initiatives, and level of contacts. Ensure your resume does not exceed five (5) pages. Information beyond the five page resume will not be evaluated. Do not submit the application form OF-612, Optional Application for Federal Employment in lieu of a resume. Do not submit separate narrative responses to address the technical and executive core qualifications."

This means that your resume can't be one or two pages, as is often the case in the private sector. It also means that the resume can't just be a job-descriptive sheet filled with keywords.

I see many clients who have resumes that read like job descriptions, with strategically placed keywords from a job announcement. There is nothing wrong with using keywords, but they're not the formula for a winning strategy. Your resume must include relevant success stories.

If 100 to 400 people have used the same keyword strategy, what makes you stand apart? What really sells you is telling relevant success stories and showing what you have achieved. Those are the kind of details that will show your potential for future success.

There are many more reasons why your resume is going to become more important to the federal job search. Look for more tips in my next column.

Note: Previously I mentioned a site from the Partnership for Public Service that focuses on internships. The site is at www.makingthedifference.org.

Got a question about getting hired? Post it in the comments section forthe Prospects column at washingtonpost.com/fedpage or e-mail it to federalworker@washpost.com.


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