A federal resume isn’t likely to be the only information you’ll have to provide when applying for a federal job. You’ll also probably find yourself answering multiple-choice questionnaires and writing essays all about you, you, you. What you’ve done. How you’ve excelled. You know the drill.
Some agencies may request even more information. For example, the State Department, requires applicants who want to become a foreign service officer to take the Foreign Service Exam—to prove they know a whole lot about world affairs and foreign leaders. (Interested? A Gen Z edition of Trivial Pursuit could be a fun starting point.)
Application Questionnaires and Essays
How to answer application questionnaires
Questionnaires can be long. They can be short. And anywhere in-between. Typically, they have some combination of yes/no, true/false, multiple-choice and short essay questions. The questionnaire might appear in the job posting but usually you fill it out with your application.
Responses should mirror your resume. That is, if you’re asked to rate your experience with doing certain tasks, you should give the same or similar information that’s in your resume. Do the same thing when answering interview questions in person. You don’t get dinged for writing or saying the same thing. Think of it as a great way to reinforce your resume information.
Each job announcement lists certain qualifications, knowledge, skills and abilities the agency is seeking. If someone mentions “KSAs,” that’s what they’re talking about. Here’s the trick to writing essays describing yourself: Succinctly describe your experiences in a way that matches the qualifications listed in the opening. Focus on your direct contributions to your workplace and avoid acronyms in your descriptions.
An important point: Don’t use synonyms for the requested qualifications because you think it’s better not to parrot what the position description says. The opposite is true. The best thing you can do is repeat the “key words” and phrases found in the description. In fact, many organizations use computer programs to look for exactly those words and may skip over the synonyms and assume you don’t have the qualifications the agency seeks. Repetition rather than rephrasing is, well, the key here.
Include as much information as possible pertaining to each qualification, even if the information is already in your resume, same as mentioned above for the questionnaires. Tell great stories by explaining the challenges you faced, what you did to address them and what results you achieved. Use real-life examples to describe the experiences, education and activities on your resume. Be the hero of your story!
Other Common Application Materials
You may need to submit several documents or forms with your applications, including college transcripts, professional certifications or proof of noncompetitive status—a term that refers to jobs that are open only to certain applicant pools, such as veterans, people with disabilities or current or former federal employees. If your documents are not digital, you can mail or fax them separately in most cases.
Agencies may also request cover letters, letters of recommendation, writing samples or other materials. You should make sure each of these documents reinforces the knowledge, skills and abilities requested in the position description.
You may need to submit college transcripts to verify your degree or special coursework or superior academic achievement you describe in your resume. If you can’t get an official transcript, check with the HR contact on the job posting to see if the agency will accept unofficial documents.
Verification of status
If you claim veterans preference or another type of “noncompetitive status,” you must submit documentation to verify your status. The forms required are usually listed in the job posting. USAJOBS also provides links to many forms.