How to Get a Government JobThe Ultimate Guide [2020]

federal Resume Guide Animation

Last updated on: March 18, 2020 at 4:53 PM

Below is a free resource written by Debbie Ryan, owner of USAJobsHELP!
Debbie has over 15 years of experience as a Federal Hiring Manager. Her team has helped thousands of Federal applicants build their career.

For hands-on help, try our Money-Back Guaranteed Federal Resume Writing service.





Jump to a Section of this Free Do-It-Yourself Guide:

Section 1:Create Your USAJobs.gov Account and Profile

Getting Started

Login.gov

Let's create an account on usajobs.gov and sign in.

You will need to create a login.gov account to sign into USAJOBS. It’s pretty simple, but you need a very strong password, so have one ready.

Set Your Credentials

Step 1: Enter your email address.

Tooltip: Don't use an unprofessional address, (like snuggles@aol.com). If necessary, create a specific usajobs email address. Keep out span by only using it for employment purposes. (debra.ryan@gmail.com for example)

Step 2: You must Confirm your email address to proceed.

Step 3: Select a primary authentication method.

Tooltip: Some of these security options may be new to you.
You may learn about Authentication Applications here.
If you have a security key, it must support the FIDO standard.
These methods are the most secure. Using any method you prefer will be acceptable.

Step 4: Authenticate your account using the method you have chosen.

Example: If you chose to authenticate by phone, enter a phone number. You will receive a one-time security code via text.

Step 5: Déjà vu? Go ahead and choose a backup method.

You've Created an Account with Login.gov!

Write down the email and password you used to create this account. You don't want to forget your user ID or password. You may now Sign in to usajobs.gov. It might take 5 tries and 3 password resets, so be patient!


Create Your Profile:

Important: USAJobs.gov may sign you out before you can save anything. It may be best to prepare in a Word document and paste onto the form. You don't want your session to expire before you save.

Name

Click on “Guest” and it takes you to the Legal Name field. Use the name you would like hiring officials to see.

Remember if you use nicknames, they will be visible to others. I prefer full first name (formal) middle name, full last name.

Address

Enter your full address. Use official abbreviation of street codes (ST, AV, DR). Enter the Zip code, city and state (state from drop down).

Telephone

You may enter up to 2 phone numbers.

Be sure to enter your cell phone number if you have one. Hiring officials don't want to speak to a family member. Cell phones eliminate the problem.

Click on “Save Contact Information” to go to the next step.

Citizenship

Answer the citizenship question.

Click “Registered” or the correct exempt choice. Since January 1, 1960, many register for selective service in 11th grade.


Click “Save Citizenship” to continue.

Hiring paths

This information narrows down job searches that apply to you. Click on all that pertain to you.

IMPORTANT: Veterans receive 5 to 10 extra eligibility rating points. This will help you be placed at the top of the list. Include your DD-214 with your application package.


Experience

List your federal, military, and professional experience here. Make your profile searchable. Agencies can find you based on your experience.

Do you have Federal experience? Enter the type and Series and the highest grade achieved. Then enter the pay scale and your federal occupation (title).

Create a Biography by listing the federal jobs you had.

Example:

Federal Service: US Department of Commerce, US Census Bureau.
1998-2000 ACE Team Supervisor, Philadelphia
2005-2008 Field Representative/Senior Field Representative Los Angeles Regional Office
2008-2011 Regional Technician/Area Manager Census 2000, Los Angeles Regional Census Center
2014-2015 Government Contractor/Sabre Systems/Technical Writer


You don’t need to go into detail at this time. When you enter work experience, you have space to enter duties, skills, etc.

At this point they signed me out. I had to sign in again and re-enter the Biography. Good thing I saved it!

Military Service – Have you served in the US Military? Claim Veteran's Preference. This is very important. Veterans receive 5 to 10 extra points on your eligibility rating.

Veterans may be placed at the top of the list. Be sure to include your DD-214 with your application package. Aslo, Have your D-214 ready to answer the questions in this section.
Skip to Demographics – Answer or decline by clicking the first box.


At this point, save

Section 2:Build Your USAJobs.gov Search

Here is what you do to get started:

Tooltip: Sign in or create your usajobs.gov account if you'd like to save your job search later! For step-by-step guidance, see the "Create Your USAJobs.gov Account" section above.

Overview

The first step of how to get a federal job is find the right federal jobs. You will use www.usajobs.gov for your Federal government job search.

USAJobs.gov provides a complete list of Federal Government Jobs (Vacancies). We recommend this resource for finding a federal job.


  1. Go to www.usajobs.gov on your desktop
  2. If you do not see a search bar, click the "Search" icon (top right)
  3. Enter a Location
  4. Click the blue "search" button next to the search bar to submit
How to Search for Federal Government Jobs
Reference 1.1 | Image showing the steps to your first federal job search.

That's it!


You've completed your first Federal Job Search. Great job!

Look through your search results. You will see Vacancies available in the location you entered. Many of these vacancies may be outside of your career path.

Next, let's filter out the jobs you don't fit.

Filter by Location

First, let's set how far we are willing to travel within this location. The default is 25 miles.

When I used the 25 mile radius, it returned 44 Results. When I expanded to a 60 mile radius, I had 579 results! That's a huge difference.

Tooltip: You can enter multiple locations and click search again. This is helpful if there are multiple places you are willing to work.


  1. Click “More Filters".
  2. Use the slider to set the distance you are willing to travel.
How to filter by travel radius
Reference 1.2 | Image showing the steps to select a travel radius.


The "More Filters" section

Look under “More Filters”. You will also find limits like Work Schedule, Appointment Type, and more. I do not find these filters necessary.

Additional Resources:
Here is the Official Documentation for filtering results by: Location, Work Schedule, Appointment type, Security Clearance, and Travel Percentage.

Tooltip: Current/former Federal Employee can leave filters unchecked. This will maximize your result options.

Top filters give you access to vacancies exclusive to certain groups. These vacancies may have less competition.

I only use these filters to add vacancies to your list of results. Try not to limit yourself to only one filter.


  1. Click "Top Filters"
  2. Click "Open to the Public"
  3. Click each additional filter for which you are eligible.
How to Choose Top Filters
Reference 1.3 | Image of how to select "Top Filters" if you are not a current/former federal employee.
Additional Resources: Official documentation for career path filters.

Filtering by Pay

Before you filter by pay, remember that what's important is getting in.

Changing Jobs within the Federal Government is Easy.

Have you served 90+ days after competitive appointment as a Federal employee? You may typically apply to ANY "status" position.

That means you get more opportunities with much less competition, so you can move up or move around very quickly. I recommend non-federal employees apply to EVERY relevant job. If qualified, just get in somewhere and figure it out from inside.

If you have no Federal Experience:

Tooltip: Want to find the positions for which you most likely to be qualify? Start with the highest salary you've earned. Subtract 10-15k for your minimum salary. Add 10-15k for your maximum salary.


  1. Scroll down to "Pay"
  2. Click the radio button next to "Salary"
  3. Click the $ amount next to "Min" to type a minimum salary
  4. Submit using the "Enter" key
  5. Click the $ amount next to "Max" to type a maximum salary
  6. Submit using the "Enter" key
How to filter by salary
Reference 1.3 | Image of how to add salary filters

If you have Federal Experience:

Tooltip: Even Federal employees should apply to every grade level. Look at the the 2020 Pay Schedule. A step-10 for one grade level may pay more than the step-1 of a higher grade level!


  1. Scroll down to "Pay"
  2. Click "grade"
  3. Click to add each grade level for which you qualify
How to filter by grade level
Reference 1.3 | Image of how to add grade level filters

Veterans:

If you are a veteran, make sure you understand Veterans Preference.

Non-Veterans

Non-veterans might have a better chance using "Direct Hire" as a keyword. These jobs are critical to fill.

Many direct-hire jobs do not offer Veterans preference. This may level the playing field for you.

Student or Recent Graduate

You might have a better chance if you use "Pathways" as a keyword. These vacancies may value education over experience. Pathways are often excellent entry level government jobs.


  1. Under “Keywords” in the search bar, enter your interests.
  2. Click Search
Add Keyword Filters
Reference 1.4 | Image of how to add keyword filters to refine your job search.

Example: Do you want to work for a specific agency? If you like the Census Bureau, enter "Census Bureau". If you have IT experience, enter "IT Experience". I entered “Manager” and it returned 124 jobs. I would look at each one to see if I qualify.


Nice work! Now you have a well filtered job search.

Look at the job titles and save all that match your qualifications.

Is this your first time working for the government? Pay particular attention to any "assistant" position. These jobs are usually entry level. Many do not even require a degree or experience in that field. Be sure to save every job that has "Assistant" in the title. You face less cometition moving up to a higher grade level from inside.

How to Create a Saved Search

Tooltip: To create "Saved Searches", You'll need to Create an account first and log in.

With saved searches, any time new jobs become available, you will receive an email. This ensures you are always up-to-date on new opportunities.


  1. Click on the “save search bookmark.”
  2. Name the search (Keyword and Date)
  3. Select how frequently you want to be notified
  4. Select how the jobs should be sorted (I like to sort by job title)

You can create up to 10 Saved Searches. They will appear on your usajobs.gov dashboard.

Once you have saved the jobs to your dashboard, you can determine which ones fit you. You are allowed to save up to 25 job vacancies. Don’t forget to delete the one’s you don’t want.

Section 3:Understand Your Vacancy

Overview

Tooltip: Read "Build Your Federal Job Search" to select a vacancy.

Why is the vacancy important?

Have you tried to apply for a federal job before? Did you become frustrated with the process? Your application package may have been ignored. This guide will help you submit the most effective federal job application.

The trick is to understand what they want, give it to them, and back it up. The Vacancy Announcement has what you need to customize your resume.

Where to Start

Use the job search tool on www.usajobs.gov to find your vacancy announcements. Simply cut and paste, and edit every part that applies. This will satisfy the job requirements to get through the initial screening.

Open a vacancy announcement on the www.usajobs.gov website. You'll find a lot of information you need to review. This is how to find out about the job that is being offered.

How do I use the Vacancy?

First, you translate a vacancy announcement into understandable terms. This helps you decide if you are even qualified for the job. Then, later, you can review for additional information about the job.

How do I read the vacancy?

Government terminology can be complicated and hard to understand. They also use acronyms that may not be familiar to you.

There is a secret to understanding government Human Resource Specialists. Break every sentence down comma to comma. The sentences can be long and complicated. They take 30 extra words to make a point.

Look specifically for what you need be qualified for the job.

Finding The Qualifications

Start out by looking for 4 main headings:


  1. Proficiency Requirement
  2. Qualifying Experience
  3. Specialized Experience
  4. KSA's (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities)

Look for these headings in the announcement. You need to determine if you have that experience and meet those requirements. Often, this information is listed by Grade Level.

Here are the salary equivalents for each grade level.

Let's review the qualifications and evaluations of a vacancy. I am going to highlight the specific qualifications needed for the job. I have added notes next to any that need "translation".

Follow an Example Vacancy

QUALIFICATIONS REQUIRED:

GS-5:You qualify at the GS-5 grade level if you possess one (1) year of specialized experience, equivalent to at least the GS-4 grade level in the Federal government, which has equipped you with the skills needed to perform successfully the duties of the position.

Examples include:


GS-6: You qualify at the GS-6 grade level if you possess one (1) year of specialized experience, equivalent to at least the GS-5 grade level in the Federal government, which has equipped you with the skills needed to perform successfully the duties of the position.

Examples include:


GS-7: You qualify at the GS-7 grade level if you possess one (1) year of specialized experience, equivalent to at least the GS-6 grade level in the Federal government, which has equipped you with the skills necessary to perform successfully the duties of the position.

Examples include:

EDUCATIONAL SUBSTITUTION:

GS-5: You may substitute 4 years of education above high school for the experience required at the GS-5 level. This education must have been obtained in an accredited business, secretarial or technical school, junior college, college or university.

One year of full-time academic study is defined as 30 semester hours, 45 quarter hours, or the equivalent in a college or university, or at least 20 hours of classroom instruction per week for approximately 36 weeks in a business, secretarial, or technical school.

Appropriate combinations of successfully completed post-high school education and experience also may be used to meet the total qualification requirements for the GS-5 grade level.

All requirements for this position must be met by 11:59pm (Eastern Time) on the closing date of this announcement (Wednesday, June 01, 2015).

You qualify for this position at the Grade 5 level if you have a Bachelors degree. You may also combine education and experience to meet the requirements.

How You Will Be Evaluated

Your Application Packet

You will be evaluated for this position based on your resume. Your resume must support your responses. This includes job specific assessment questions. Include level of education claimed, experience, and training.

To be considered for this position, be sure your resume is compliant. Your resume must be submitted as part of your on-line application.

You must completing the online assessment questions. You must also upload your resume with any required supporting documents.

How to know if you are qualified

Review the "Finding the Qualifications" Section. Highlight the qualifications required to apply for the position. Next, you can decide if you have those qualifications.

Look at the highlighted items, one by one, and ask yourself, "have I done this?".

Do you meet all qualifications under one grade level? This qualifies you at the next higher grade level. Can you answer yes to each of the requirements for Grade 4? You are qualified for Grade 5. Can you answer yes to each of the requirements for Grade 5? You are qualified for Grade 7, etc.

Pay attention to the closing date! At 11:59 PM (Midnight) Eastern Time (9PM Pacific Time) the job will close. After this, your application package will not be accepted. In fact, the job will no longer appear on the screen.

If you are qualified for the position, you will click on "Save Job." Once the job is saved, you can go back to your USAJobs.gov account page. Click on "Saved Jobs" when you are ready to apply for the job.

Section 4:Using the USAJobs Resume Builder

Build a Basic Federal Resume

IMPORTANT: IMPORTANT: Your resume must make it through the screening. It won't unless you know how to apply for government jobs. Do not apply to Federal Jobs with a non-compliant resume.

What is a Basic Federal Resume?

Your basic resume is a starting point. You will use it as a foundation for all of your job applications. Remember, only qualified applications will pass the screening.

Duplicate your basic resume for each new job. You want to customize it for every job application you send.

You can use the USAJobs Resume Builder if you want to apply for a federal job. To build the basic resume yourself, continue below.


If you prefer, you can hire us to write your resume. Just click the button that says "Write My Resume".

Our resumes are compliant with OPM Standards. They are also provided in the USAJobs resume builder format. We offer a money-back guarantee that our resumes will pass the screening.

Our customized resume includes a basic resume for future use. Thank you for your interest and patience.

Build Your Federal Resume

Tooltip: If at any time you have questions, email me at debbie@usajobshelp.com. I will be happy to try to clarify.

Go directly to Documents and click on “Upload or Build Resume”. Select “Build Resume.” Your profile information should carry over.

Experience does not carry over. There is no need to enter experience twice. Enter it only in the USAJobs Resume Builder. Do you already have a private sector resume? Keep both windows open so you can copy and paste.

Name and date the resume. Example: Basic Resume 8/2018


Work Experience

This is one of the most critical sections in your resume.

You will customize this section for each application.
You may enter work experience 3 different ways.

1. Did you have only one position in a company? Enter the company name and the position you held, most recent first.

2. Did you have several positions in the company? Enter the company name once. Enter the dates employment began and ended. List each position in reverse chronological order (most recent first).

Include the dates you held each job within the narrative. This gives the hiring official the details of your term with the employer. It also lets them know that you were promoted.

3. Did you do freelance, consulting or volunteer work? Did you have gaps in your employment? You will enter it differently. In the "Company" field, enter the type of work you did.

(example: Administrative Consultant, Volunteer Work, Set Designer).

In the field for "position", enter the company you worked for and the dates. These dates do not have to be chronological. Perhaps you had several consulting jobs at the same time.


Here is an example of the three different types of entries:


Work History Example 1:

Adelphia Cable Positions Held:
Title: Metro Area Sales Manager
From: 08/2000 To: 03/2002
Salary: $90,000/year
Supervisor: Phone Number


Work History Example 2:

US Census Bureau Positions Held:
Title: Area Manager

Then, in the narrative, enter:

Title: Area Manager
From: 09/09 To: Present Salary: $65,000/year
Title: Regional Technician
From: 03/08 To: 09/09
Salary: Grade 12
Title: Senior Field Representative

From: 02/2006 To: 03/2008
Salary: Grade 6
Title: Field Representative

From: 01/2005 To: 02/2006
Salary: Grade 5
Title: Team Supervisor

From: 10/1998 To: 05/2000
Salary: Grade 12
Supervisor: Assistant Regional Census Manager Phone Number


Work History Example 3:


Self-Employed Positions Held:
Title: Truly Unique Web Administrative Consultant
From: 3/2002 To: 3/2004
Salary: Volunteer
Title: Benefits Plus Administrative Consultant From: 03/2002 To: 03/2006
Salary: Commission
Title: Say Cheese Photography Administrative Consultant
From: 03/2004 To: 03/2006
Salary: Commission
Supervisor: Phone Number


Things To Keep in Mind

Have the addresses of your employers ready to enter. Did you work from more than one place? Enter the mailing address of the company, or the most recent address.

if you are still employed select “present” as the end date for that company.

When you enter the salary information, use "$" and commas. Enter the annual rate if possible (ex: $40,000/year – do not abbreviate.)

Duties, accomplishments, and related skills

Important: You will need to customize this section. This targets your experienc to each vacancy announcement you select.

At this time you can briefly enter duties, accomplishments, and related skills. You will add to this section later to customize it. Don't write a book.

Include a few sentences describing duties. Add key points showing $ or % increases you brought to the company. 

Salary

You may enter your highest salary here. Label it as yearly, monthly, or hourly under salary rate. This tells hiring managers the grade level for which you will qualify.

Average hours per week

Enter your average weekly hours worked.

May we contact your supervisor

If at all possible, answer yes. You will be prompted to enter the supervisor name and phone #.

Is this a federal Civilian position

If you have not worked fro the government, enter no. Otherwise, enter yes. Select the Department & Agency, Series, Pay Scale and Grade Level. Also, you can select the Employment Type.

Save your work experience!

Then click on “Add work experience” to add the next job you held. Continue until you have listed your work history to the year 2000. Enter jobs in reverse chronological order. Include all military experience, even prior to year 2000.

Education

Educational History

It is usually optional to enter your education. Check if the vacancy requires a specific educational level. Enter your degrees, most recent first.

Example: Doctorate; Masters; Bachelors; Associates; High School. Enter certifications, licenses, additional coursework. Click on “Save Education" for additional fields.

References

You will be asked to list name, phone number, Email. Select a reference type (professional or personal). Include the employer and the title of the reference.

Job Related Training

List the titles and completion dates of training courses you have attended. List certificates you have earned.

Languages

If you are bilingual, answer these questions. It is always helpful to speak more than one language. It is a requirement for some jobs.

Organizations and Affiliations

List any professional organizations to which you belong.

Professional Publications

Enter any professional publications in the space provided.

Additional Information

This section will be customized for each job application. This is where you will add:

Specialized Experience required in the job announcement.

Knowledge Skills and Abilities required in the job announcement.

Any continuation of work experience.

Anything else you haven’t entered but want them to see.

Congratulations! You have a basic federal resume.

At this point you are ready to start looking for a government job!