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Avoiding the Most Common Mistakes

This was originally written for, November 2010.

If your federal resume is not producing results, i.e., getting you the “best qualified” ratings, interview opportunities, and job offers, what do you do? Do not give up! Make the necessary changes, described below, and revitalize your process to make you more competitive in the federal job market.


Most Common Mistakes Job Seekers Make on

I recently received this email from a job seeker, “I have used my federal resume to apply for at least 15 different federal jobs, and I have not been rated as qualified for any of them. What am I doing wrong?”

After a thorough review of her account, I noticed this job seeker could have been well-qualified for a number of those opportunities, but she was making some very common mistakes.

Mistake # 1. Using a cookie-cutter (un-customized) resume

Submitting the same resume for every opportunity may have been the simplest thing for her to do, but by using her cookie-cutter resume, this job seeker repeatedly shot herself in the foot -

She did not customize her resume for the unique requirements of each job announcement.

The resume you use to apply for a job must incorporate the keywords and qualifications that are in the job announcement.

The keywords can be found throughout the announcement, but the critical keywords are found in these 2 sections of the announcements: (1) Job Duties and (2) Qualifications and Evaluations. These can change from job announcement to job announcement—even if the job titles are the same!

For example, I have taken the keywords from two different job announcements currently listed on for the same job title.

A. Administrative Support Assistant (Bureau of Land Management) keywords include:

  • receptionist duties
  • budget maintenance
  • completing requisitions
  • reconciling charge card statements
  • travel voucher preparation
  • database administration
  • processing mail
  • maintaining logs and calendars

B. Administrative Support Assistant (Office of National Drug Control Policy) keywords include:

  • coordinating proper work formats
  • using computer applications
  • conducting reviews to determine appropriate work flow or new requirements
  • overseeing office automation functions
  • conducting legislative and policy reviews

Assuming that a job seeker had the experience to do both of those jobs, the same resume obviously could not cover both of these positions effectively. So, a savvy job seeker would adjust the resume to fit each announcement.

Mistake # 2. Skipping some fields in the USAJOBS Resume Builder.

Read the job announcement carefully, and then complete the application process thoroughly and accurately.

Using the online Resume Builder on, job seekers must complete the form – do not leave any fields blank. If something does not apply to you, put "NA" (for "not applicable") in the relevant space.  Do not just leave it blank.

For example, a grade point average is required for all academic education. Leaving it blank because you are afraid it might not meet expectations is not a good idea.

Likewise, the online Resume Builder asks for a salary for each of your work experiences, as well as the supervisor’s name and the business contact number. Some people are reluctant to supply that information, so they leave it blank. This is another mistake that can postpone your federal job aspirations before you even get started.

Answer all of the questions, check all of the boxes that need to be checked, and make sure the application you submit is complete and accurate. There are strategies that can be used to address certain circumstances. If you are unsure, contact a Certified Federal Résumé Writer.

Mistake # 3. Being careless in your response to the announcements.

Always follow each vacancy announcement specification to screen yourself in, not out. For example:

  • Some jobs require faxed application documents including a resume, KSAs, DD214s, and eligibility for federal employment forms. 

  • Other jobs specify that the applicant is to complete the online Resume Builder, and also upload or attach other documentation within the application manager on 

  • Other job announcements direct the applicant to simply attach a completed federal resume to an email for submission. 

  • The date and time by which the application must be received are also specified and must be met. Sending the application a few days late and hoping it will still be considered is not an option.

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"Avoiding the Most Common Mistakes"

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