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Write your résumé in a way that gets you an interview

Jan. 6, 2013 - 02:55PM   |  
By JAMES BALOCKI   |   Comments

I‘ve seen hundreds of résumés; some were good, a few were great, but most lack what is needed to stand out among the crowd. I’d like to help improve your odds of being recognized.

First, answer a question to yourself: “What’s the purpose of my résumé?” Keep that answer in mind; we’ll come back to it.

Maybe you’ve bought a book or taken a class to help improve your résumé. Or, perhaps you’ve asked a friend to look at your résumé. These are good first steps. They demonstrate your desire to learn and improve. But they may not result in the needed improvements to your résumé.

Consider the numbers. According to civilian personnel representatives, the average number of applicants for an opening in the federal government ranges between 100 and 300. Let’s use 100 applicants just to make the math simple. On average, a hiring manager will receive 20 to 30 résumés deemed “highly qualified,” from which to select candidates for an interview. This means you have just a 30 percent chance of passing through the first “gate” and being referred to the selecting official.

Hiring managers often enlist a panel to narrow the field of highly qualified applicants to a manageable group to interview. The panel will review and rank order your résumé along with others, to arrive at a group of five or six candidates to interview. This means you have a 95 percent chance that your résumé, the one you toiled over for hours, does not result in your being asked to interview for the position. Not very good odds, are they?

Let’s reframe the question about the purpose of your résumé: From the perspective of the hiring manager and the panel, what is the purpose of your résumé? The answer now should be self-evident: To decide whom they want to interview. A selecting official uses your résumé to make a decision about whom to interview.

Unfortunately many applicants don’t consider this purpose. This results in a greater likelihood their résumés will end up in the “no further action” heap.

Next, consider when managers find time to review your résumé and how much time they’ll spend studying it. Do you believe hiring managers block two or three hours during their most productive portion of the day to accomplish this important task? Sadly, this is rarely the case. Frequently résumés are reviewed after the normal business day ends, when managers can find a block of uninterrupted quiet time. Often this is at home in the evening, when they’re able to step away from the press of daily interruptions to find an hour of “free” time.

Reviewers spend less than five minutes and frequently just two minutes scanning a résumé to decide whether to put it in the “I’m interested in learning more about her” pile, or the “No reason to find out any more about him” stack. If there are 25 résumés to consider, two minutes on each means nearly an hour concentrating to find five or six applicants for interviews.

The environment you must compete in for a hiring manager’s attention in reviewing your résumé is challenging at best.

So what must you do to make your résumé stand out? Tell your story. Many résumés I see are copied and edited from a position description or taken from the description of duties in annual performance evaluations; this won’t set you apart. Other hiring officials report a similar experience. Most of these résumés end up in the “do not interview” stack.

A résumé that tells a story about what you’ve accomplished in the jobs you’ve held is both interesting to read and unique from other candidates.

Identifying an accomplishment that you’re proud of is an excellent technique to find your stories. These stories really help a hiring manager learn who you are.

This may seem difficult, but when I ask people to identify something they’re especially proud of from the past year, most readily identify one and share the story.

Accomplishments from your volunteer work should not be overlooked; they too may provide a good source for stories.

And when you tell the story, use the “challenge, action, results” format. Identify the situation or challenge you faced, the action you took and the result of your efforts.

The final portion of your accomplishment story should include the phrase “which resulted in“ or something similar. Results are what matter, and what hiring managers key in on.

The purpose of your résumé is to get an interview — it’s that simple. Stories that describe your accomplishments are the most effective way to demonstrate your experience, skills and abilities to a hiring manager. Results matter and need to be the focus of your writing efforts.

Your résumé is a commercial about you; it should cause a hiring manager to want to learn more about you — in an interview.


James Balocki has 31 years of federal and military service. He is a member of the Senior Executive Service serving in the Army Corps of Engineers. He has a passion for enabling the federal workforce with career advancement strategies and has developed an interactive seminar to enhance job-hunting skills. He can be contacted at

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