Cover Letters for Federal Applications
Cover letters are typical for the corporate world, but when it comes to federal applications, are they necessary? Most experts will agree that cover letters do not make any difference when you are applying for a federal position. Typically they aren’t even read. It won’t count against you if you include one, but if you have important information you are trying to convey, do not limit it to the cover letter.
The USAJobs resume builder is inflexible in its format. When you print out your resume, you will notice the first thing on the page is your contact information followed by your most recent position. On a civilian/corporate resume you would utilize the top 1/3 of the page to convey any information which may catch someone’s eye, for example your major accomplishments or your career progression may be summarized in an introductory paragraph. On a federal resume, you don’t have control over that initial space, but you can use your most recent position description to your advantage if you understand its placement upon completion.
In this same way, you could use the resume builder to your advantage when it comes to a cover letter. There is only one area where you have enough space to enter a cover letter and that is the very last section called Additional Information. You have 20K characters. This area can be used for your responses to the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities, or continuation from any of your job descriptions, but it could also hold your cover letter. While an attached cover letter may not be read or scanned, if you incorporate your cover letter into the builder itself, your chances are greater. At least you can be sure it will be included with your resume because it will print out as part of your resume.
Using a cover letter in this way will allow you to incorporate more of the keywords or phrases that your resume may be scanned for into your resume. Other information you may include would be clearance information, willingness to relocate oneself, or anything else of personal nature which may not have been covered in the resume. It is important to remember, federal resumes are long so including valuable information at the end is risky because your reader may not make it there.
On June 4, 2014 / Cover Letter, Federal Government, Federal Resume, Resume Tips, USAJobs
How to Escape the USAJOBS.gov Resume "Black Hole"
By Camille Carboneau Roberts
You submitted your federal application package with a detailed resume through the USAJOBS resume-builder tool. You also included a cover letter and answered the questionnaire.
You submitted your package well before the application deadline, and received the standard email that confirmed submission. You’ve waited patiently for weeks, but you have still not been referred to a hiring official and are now questioning whether anyone read it -- or even knows you applied!
I have reviewed thousands of resumes and have noticed a broad range of mistakes. Even the most minor mistakes can prevent your application from reaching the hiring official!
14 Steps to Climb Out of the USAJOBS Resume Black Hole
Are you ready to learn how to ensure YOUR resume doesn’t land in the black hole? Here we go...
1. Before you consider applying to a federal job, make certain you are fully qualified.
Many people apply to jobs for which they are not qualified. If you do not meet the requirements, you simply will not be considered. This may be the reason your resume is orbiting the black hole.
When you find a position for which you would like to apply:
- Carefully read the requirements and the factors you will be evaluated against.
- Copy and paste these into a new Word document.
- Make each requirement and factor a separate bullet point.
- After each bullet, write a few sentences explaining how you meet that requirement -- specifically using experience and accomplishments.
If there are several requirements that you can’t write about to demonstrate your knowledge, skills, and abilities, continue looking for another announcement.Then, repeat this exercise with another job.
When you are satisfied that you fully qualify, continue with your application. (If you need a tool to help you do this, please contact me.)
2. Demonstrate on Page 1 that you meet the qualifications and all the requirements.
When they first see your resume, hiring managers should see immediately that you meet the job's requirements. Use the information you just developed (in #1, above) to create a marketing section on page one of your resume that demonstrates how you meet each requirement and evaluation factor included in the job announcement.
An ideal first page would include three critical sections:
- A short profile summary demonstrating your accomplishments and ability to carry out the job duties listed in the announcement.
- A Key Qualifications section that proves you meet the requirements and evaluation factors included in the job announcement.
- A Core Competencies section that lists key skills and expertise listed in the job announcement.
Page 1 is prime resume real estate. Throughout the page, incorporate key words and keyword phrases from the job announcement that match up with your expertise.
3. Avoid the mistake of writing one resume for multiple job announcements.
Treat each job announcement and application as a unique submission. Each announcement is different. Modify your application for each announcement.
You can even do this the old-fashioned way. Print a hard copy of the announcement, mark each requirement with a highlighter, and check off each item when you have incorporated it into your resume.
4. Ensure there are no typographical errors and missing or incorrect data as you create your resume in the USAJOBS builder tool.
While this may seem obvious, I frequently notice mistakes, especially in the contact information and headings. Typos and other errors are a sure way to create an immediate negative impression sending your resume immediately into the black hole.
Do not rush this process! Proceed carefully and thoughtfully to ensure accuracy. Use spell check, proofread your work, find a friend to review it as well, then hire us to review.
5. Apply as early as you can.
Developing a strong package takes time. Start early!
The process of building your resume and applying online may take several hours. You may encounter technical difficulties or other unforeseen obstacles.
Waiting until the last minute will create unnecessary stress. That could cause you to hurry your work (creating errors), or not have enough time so you miss the deadline. Deadly mistakes!
6. Include names and contact information for past supervisors.
USAJOBS allows you to provide the name and contact information for each of your supervisors. Leaving this blank may spark the hiring manager’s curiosity.
If your job search is confidential, it is appropriate to state so. You can indicate that the supervisor may be contacted after a job offer on your "uploaded" resume.
For former supervisors, list their name and contact information. It’s a reality that not everyone gets along on the job so if you left on bad terms, list their name, and choose the "May Not Contact" option.
7. List your GPA.
Many federal job seekers leave this field blank. Regardless of your age and even if your GPA is 2.0 (or below), include it.
GPA is not the only determining factor when interviewing or selecting a candidate. It’s better to put a low GPA on than to leave it off.
There are many strategies one can use to overcome lower GPAs, but do not leave this field blank. Don’t make them look for ANYTHING!
8. Complete the Relevant Coursework section.
Take advantage of this section that many federal job seekers leave blank. Spend the extra few minutes listing three to four courses you have taken that are relevant to the job. These could be the competitive edge you need to get to the interview.
9. Provide references.
The USAJOBS resume builder allows you to provide up to five references. I recommend taking full advantage of this! Offering several references creates a strong positive impression.
Be sure to include references that can validate your work ethic and character, as well as become your allies in landing your new job!
Contact your references in advance to request their permission to include their names and ensure they will speak positively on your behalf. Let them know what you are applying for and advise or remind them of projects you worked on and what you would like them to mention in the conversation.
10. Make your resume searchable.
After you build your resume into the USAJOBS builder, be sure to make it searchable by simply clicking on the link "Make Searchable." This will allow prospective employers to find your resume. It will also be the one you choose when you apply to the job announcement.
11. Upload Microsoft Word and PDF versions of your resume.
In the Saved Documents area of your USAJOBS profile, you can upload the PDF version of your resume and other documents. Doing this makes it easy for the prospective employer to retrieve and share your resume.
Uploading your resume is not a replacement for completing the Resume Builder, if the job announcement requires it. Be sure to read the “How to Apply” section carefully and follow the instructions precisely.
12. Upload and label accompanying forms.
Be sure to correctly label each required form, and upload them into the Saved Documents area. Leaving out requested forms or making them difficult for the employer to find can get your application disqualified for being incomplete.
13. Save a copy of your answers to the online questions.
Many announcements include an online questionnaire that you must submit. Write, save, and print the answers in case you run into technical issues during the application process.
If there are system problems, you can call the contact person listed on the announcement and obtain guidance. I recommend that you copy and paste the questionnaire into Microsoft Word. Then, write your answers in Word.
Copy your answers back to the online questionnaire when you are finished. Creating your answers in Word before copying them into USAJOBS should help eliminate misspellings and some other errors.
14. Include your email address and phone number.
Make sure they can contact you easily! Be sure your email address is professional. I recommend setting up a Gmail account with your first and last name.
Make it easy for them to remember you, and contact you. I have seen phone numbers with missing area codes or missing digits and incomplete emails.
The Federal hiring process is tedious, not impossible. Start off your job search by being organized and have a plan. Prepare the best possible career communications required by the job announcement which could be a cover letter, customized resume, and narratives. Make it easy for them to select you for the interview, as well as to hire you! Give them the information they require. Don’t hesitate to hire a professional. Be thorough, careful, and implement the tips above and your effort should pay off!
Wishing you much success in your job search!
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About the author...
Job-Hunt's Federal Job Search Expert, Camille Carboneau Roberts, established CC Career Services in 1989 to provide total career management services to help clients land jobs faster. Expert services include federal resumes, private sector resumes, military-to-federal resumes, and social media resumes and profiles. Contact Camille via email at Camille@ccCareerServices.com, through LinkedIn, Twitter (@CamilleRoberts), or Facebook (CC Career Services).