18 Reasons Why Your Resume Isn’t Working

Applying to federal jobs can be frustrating. If you’re racking your brain about why you’re not getting referred, Best Qualified, or interviewed for federal jobs, it’s time to rethink your resume.

In fact, there are 18 reasons why your federal resume could be to blame for your frustrating job search. We’ve found that resume problems fall under three following categories: Format, Style, and Content.

Format Issues

  1. Your resume is in a bullet format. Is your resume a laundry list of bullets that are unrelated and not targeted to a job announcement or job series? This format will not help the human resources specialists to determine your qualifications for the vacancy announcement.
  2. Your resume is in the old-school big block format. This was popular for the Resumix keyword scanning system, which was eliminated in 2010. Now, actual humans look at your resumes, and they don’t want to see large blocks of text.
  3. Wrong length. A federal resume should be 3 to 5 pages in length. Many people try to apply for a federal job with a 1 to 2-page resume that would not have enough details about your experience to determine your qualifications. Some people apply with a much longer resume that gives too much information for the human resources specialist to weed through to find your skills and abilities.
  4. Missing compliance information required by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM): Month and year and/or hours per week; employer’s street address, city, state, zip code; supervisor phone number; yes/no on whether supervisor may be contacted. All of this information MUST be included in each job block on your federal resume.
  5. The profile/summary section at the top of your resume is too long and/or generic. A profile or “summary of skills” does NOT increase your application score. Your work experience, skills, and accomplishments must be anchored to dates in your Work Experience section, and all verbiage should be tailored to your target job. Do not include a list of generic skills that could apply to anyone.

Style Issues

  1. Use of passive voice. Are you using passive phrases in your resume, such as: responsible for, duties include, assisted with, performed, provide, helped with, tasked with, recruited for, participated in, in addition to? These passive verbs create wordiness in your resume and show hiring officials that you are a merely a helper at work.
  2. Overuse of acronyms and technical jargon. No one but you, your supervisor, and your coworkers will understand your resume, even if the hiring officials are in your field. Too much discipline-specific acronyms and language creates an unreadable resume that gets disqualified.
  3. Overuse of “I.” This creates wordiness in your resume and distracts hiring officials from your duties, responsibilities, and accomplishments.

Content Issues

  1. Your work experience section simply does not match the target position. Read your target job announcement from beginning to end. Make sure that you’re actually qualified for the job. Contact the hiring manager (listed towards the bottom of the announcement) if you’re not sure.
  2. The resume has NO keywords that match your target job announcement. Your must use the language from the target job announcement to write your duties, responsibilities, and accomplishments.
  3. The resume has no accomplishments in the work experience section. Hiring officials want to read about your unique contributions to your job. Including a list of accomplishments can demonstrate to hiring officials that you are a star performer and not just an average one.
  4. The resume goes back too far. Federal HR only wants to see recent and relevant experience. Remove job blocks older than 20 years. The federal resume is not a life history form or the old SF-171, which did have to include every job.
  5. Your Guard or reserves experience; or deployment details are missing from your resume.
  6. You are changing your career, but your duties, responsibilities and keywords are targeted to your prior career. Your resume must feature only the skills that are transferrable and relevant to your target job.
  7. You are attempting to get promoted, yet the resume is written at the same professional level. The resume you write for a promotion must increase in complexity to target an advanced level of performance. The resume must feature the highest, most complex level of duties, as well as your best accomplishments to demonstrate that you are ready to move up and get promoted.
  8. Education history is not in reverse chronological order. Your current or most recent education should be at the beginning of your job block.
  9. Education includes nothing but the degree and the college name. Add a list of courses and/or descriptions of 3 significant projects.
  10. Training lists do not include classroom hours, the certification, and go back too far. Remove trainings that you took more than 10 years ago.

It’s pretty easy for a federal resume to go awry. But our tips can help guide you in creating a resume that gets you good results.

Need Help?

If you want customized support on your federal resume and want to avoid ALL of these problems, let us help you. Submit a Free Project Review. We’ll review your resume and write back with recommendations and a quote for our services.

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Kathryn Troutman is known as the Federal Resume Guru and is the developer of the Ten Steps to a Federal Job®. She teaches hundreds of career counselors each year about her highly acclaimed methods of federal job search and has published dozens of titles, including the recent award-winning Student’s Federal Career Guide 3rd Edition.
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