10 Big Mistakes Vets Make Applying to Federal Jobs

Military to Civilian Resumes       Military Transition       Veteran Federal Resumes

Leaving a military career after 5, 10, or 20 years is traumatic. The career transition out of military is difficult no matter what your rank. The good news is that the federal government is basically just “the other side of the desk.” You’re going to take the “hands-on” skills and technical training from your military experience and convert it over to the policy, program, support, and administration side of the work you have been doing – maybe. The first federal resume after military is your most important resume and the most complex because you will translate your skills for a new career, mission, and customer.

Veterans are perfect for federal civil service positions because of their dedication to public service, the nation’s security, specialized expertise, knowledge of certain missions, technical skills and training, leadership, dedication, work ethic, attitude and willingness to learn and start-over. What’s more, these skills allow you to add 5 or 10 preference points to your application score.

However, sometimes transitioning veterans rush through the federal application and make several mistakes when applying for public-sector jobs


1.) I only apply for jobs on USAJOBS (or CPOL or DONHR or WHS).

If you limit your search to just one agency or website, you are truly restricting yourself.

There are at least five major sites where you can create a profile, set up a resume builder, answer questions, and apply for a federal job:

www.usajobs.gov – The official government jobs website, includes Air Force civilian positions

www.cpol.army.mil – The website where all Army jobs are posted and where you would apply for an Army position

military.com/careers – A commercial site that manages resumes and job postings for federal agencies.

www.donhr.navy.mil – The website for Navy and USMC civilian positions

www.whs.mil – Department of Defense civilian jobs are posted here as is the resume builder and application.

2.) I only apply for jobs without KSA narratives.

If you limit your search to applications that do not require KSAs, you will cut out many job opportunities with the Departments of HHS, VA, Interior, Commerce, Justice, Labor, Transportation and others. You will need to learn how to write KSA narratives and questionnaire essays for a successful federal job search. KSAs are just examples that demonstrate you have a certain Knowledge, Skill or Ability. You can use the KSA Builder developed by The Resume Place to write your “stories” that will demonstrate that you do have a certain knowledge, skill, or ability.

3.) I have never written a resume and I don’t know how to get started.

It’s time to find the position descriptions, old SF-171s, evaluations, NSPS self-assessments, training documents and build your federal resume. The author of this article has developed a free federal resume builder where you can build your work experience, education, training, accomplishments, certifications, and other information.

4.) Service before self. That’s what we are taught. I’m not used to bragging, so I usually don’t select the highest level in the questionnaires (or go on and on about accomplishments).

When you read the selection of self-assessment answers, be very careful to think about all of the experience you have. An EPA federal human resources specialist said this about the questionnaires and your choices: “Give yourself all of the credit that you can in selecting the answers in a Questionnaire.” The questionnaires are scored like an examination, so your skills at the highest level will be important to get referred for a position.

5.) My job was totally unique and I can’t write about all that I did in the last 5 years, etc.

This is a challenge because there is a unique military language with its own acronyms. However, you can write about the skills that you have, including instruction, planning, leading a team, mentoring, personnel operations, administrative operations, problem-solving, negotiations, advocacy, interpersonal skills, and technical skills. The military-to-federal resume requires a translation of skills to the new agency. Your past mission may not match, but the skills CAN match. And you can prove one year specialized experience, as long as that one year doesn’t require special mission knowledge. In other words, if you change from military to transportation, the transportation announcement may require experience in transportation.

6.) I have used the resume I developed from TAP class and it’s not getting me referred although I’m qualified for these positions.

The private-industry resume is shorter than a typical federal resume. The bullet style, one-line description resume won’t be as effective for a federal resume. The recommended format is the outline format. This features your top skills that are transferable to the new position. You could write your description in five or six small paragraphs with headings such as: trainer / instructor; team leader and supervisor; emergency operations planner; interpersonal skills and liaison; administrative operations. These five skills are the most transferable. After you create the outline of your duties with five or six sentences to describe each, you can add two or three accomplishments that will include your outstanding services in your operation.

7.) I didn’t know I had to tweak and edit my resume for each announcement.

With the Army website, www.cpol.army.mil, you could apply to 10 jobs in one day very easily because this system is a Resume Only application with a Self-Nomination online form. But you really should slow down and read the announcement carefully to find the keywords for your resume because the HR specialist will be looking for these keywords throughout your resume. If you haven’t edited each resume with keywords, your resume may not get referred. You can apply quickly, but why bother if you don’t edit and tweak the resume to make sure the keywords are included?

8.) I have accomplishments embedded in the duties section.

Military personnel will write one huge “block of information” for their duties and include the accomplishments somewhere in the middle of the paragraph. This type of content will be difficult to read and difficult for the busy human resources specialists who want to find the best qualified applicants. There is a difference between a regular duty and an accomplishment. They are both important on the federal resume. But the accomplishments are critical if you are to stand out as the most qualified candidate.

If you have had a job for over two years then you have probably been involved with special projects, problem-solving, new programs, new initiatives, new computer programs to improve efficiency, and staff changes. Accomplishments might include your assignment to a task of managing a special operations, situation or program, implementing new processes, and achieving a result. These accomplishments should be written separately from the duties, so that it is clear you have performed more than your position description and you are worthy of a promotion. Furthermore, you want to let the HR specialist know that you’re a federal employee who can resolve problems, take care of customers very well, and achieve and exceed support to the mission.

9.) I didn’t realize that my 5 or 10 point preference really makes a big difference.

Yes, most military personnel will have 5 point preference for service within the last 3 years. Military personnel with disabilities may have a 10 point preference for their application. Your 5 or 10 point preference can give you an advantage over a candidate that does not have preference points.

10.) I can’t take personal credit for the work of my team, so what should I write?

The “team mentality” of federal employees and supervisors is not going to get you hired. It’s time to take credit for your contributions as a leader. Before you apply, ask yourself the following questions: Would the project have been successful without you? Did you set the agenda? Establish priorities? Assign tasks? Solve the problems as they occurred? Brief senior executives on status? Manage resources throughout? Create reports and analyze progress? Lead the team members to meet deadlines and review the quality of their work? Did you “babysit” the group on occasion? Then you need to take credit for leadership, innovation, new ideas, methodologies, policies, procedures, project management strategies that YOU developed and implemented. You are the leader of the team, program, project or group. Write about your leadership and the outcome of the group you lead.

The government has on average 100,000 jobs everyday posted on the main website: USAJOBS.GOV. Consider these positions seriously. They are worth your time and patience. There are good books on federal resume writing and federal job search strategies. Studying federal resume samples and KSAs can help you master the federal job search process and result in a career that can change your life.

Need help with your veteran federal resume? Ask for a Free Federal Resume Estimate from The Resume Place!

Consider the Military to Federal Career Guide Print Book or eBook … Order Here!

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