Not all resumes are created equal — at least when it comes to those for the federal government.

Applicants applying to a government internship might feel inclined to copy and paste the same resume that has been submitted to other positions outside the federal government. But there are some key differences and tips to know when submitting a resume to Uncle Sam.

For one, while private sector hiring managers prefer resumes that do not exceed one page, federal job applications do not adhere to this standard. Government jobs actually prefer multiple-page long resumes that list experience, education, job titles and descriptions, salaries, employment dates for timeline comparisons, successes made during previous employment and how an applicants skills and abilities apply to the job description, according to USAJobs.

USAJobs, the premiere job board for agencies looking to hire, offers a template that helps create a uniform, succinct resume tailored to government work. That’s a good place to start, but experts interviewed by Federal Times offered additional tips to help applicants submit the best resume and cover letter possible, prepare for an interview and complete an application properly.

Before an applicant can even get to the stage of applying, one must find the internship itself. Sadly, there is no exhaustive list of every available federal internship. However, USAJobs and the Pathways Program are both popular options that list many federal internship opportunities across agencies.

Pathways recently proposed changes to expand its eligibility and provide internship opportunities for individuals without a college degree.

Strict deadlines

After finding job listings that look promising, note the deadlines of the position as many federal positions have strict deadlines and due to the lengthy application process and security clearances, can come up sooner than expected. This means starting the process early and noting all deadlines before even beginning to fill out forms.

“Work on it early, especially if you are a university student,” said Brian Rowe, director of experiential education at American University’s career center. “Start to plan a path of exploration because internships can be exploratory. You don’t have to start an internship the very first minute you get to college, but start the process of evaluating what you’d like to explore, what you’d like to do and see how it fits into a path … Sometimes you have to get the ball rolling really quickly because of security clearances.”

Many federal internships use technology to sift out applications that do not satisfy their requirements, so make sure when applying to federal internships, buzzwords from the job listing are sprinkled throughout the resume.

“Try to use as many of the keywords that are in the job description in your resume,” said Kira Carney, a former National Park Services intern. “I’m pretty sure this internship had an electronic scanner that your resume is processed first electronically and weeded out, for federal jobs that’s definitely true. So using keywords is a great way to bolster and tie your resume as much as you can to the position.”

For agencies that do use an automated application process to sort through resume’s, the machine is not the only one doing the work. Applications that correctly fit the job application will be sent on to a human representative who will give them a more in-depth review.

So, when building a resume for a federal internship, focus on keeping the font neutral and readable and make sure the formatting is not confusing. Don’t try to be fancy, but highlight qualifications and let the work speak for itself.

Many federal internships are not expecting every applicant to have lots of previous employment, so experience like volunteer work, relevant in-depth projects, topical academic work and research are all relevant.

How to stand out

“To stand out, you want to take that job description and apply it [to your resume] because federal job descriptions are very clear,” Rowe said. “They aren’t ambiguous. Look at what it is saying. What is it asking for? What are the action verbs? What are the tasks? What are the skills that are required? And reflect that back in context for your experiences.”

An excellent cover letter also speaks volumes, Rowe acknowledged. The cover letter lets the hiring manager know why they should hire an applicant over anyone else. Use the opportunity a cover letter presents to tell a story.

“It’s a short way to give a narrative and focus on the skills and experience that the internship is looking for,” Rowe said. “Sometimes people describe their resume as the “what,” like what are my skills, what is my knowledge, what’s my training - academic or otherwise - and the cover letter can be a little more of the “why,” what’s my motivation, why am I applying for this, why am I really motivated to come in and do a great job?”

It’s also good to specify the federal agency’s name in the cover letter and mention something about it to show interest.

“I found it fascinating when applicants could mention the agency and the mission,” said Carol Wilkerson, former Press Director at the Small Business Administration and a former recruiter for the Peace Corps. “Those who mention the agency or the mission or something that was recent in the news relating to the internship position they are vying for, that helped me put that applicant at the top and that person got additional points pertaining to the interview level.”

It’s also important to keep in mind who the audience is. While it may not be apparent who exactly is reviewing each resume, knowing what hiring managers are looking for is important. On top of the job description, employers are looking for demonstrated commitment.

“When I’m sifting through those resumes, I would always look at their scholarly achievements, where they are in their career goals or what they have done community service-wise and any volunteer activities that can show me that that person is committed and dedicated to this particular assignment,” Wilkerson said. “I do look at that timeline to see if this person is going to stay on the course with us.”

While waiting in the interim to hear back on whether an application will move forward to the interview phase, a follow-up email with a thank you note is a good step to boost an application’s chances of getting noticed.

“I actually reached out to the contact for the [internship] I ended up getting, just to follow up on my application,” Carney said. “And she actually told me that I was one of very few who followed up, so that’s why I got an interview because there were over 100 [applicants] and they started with people who took the initiative to follow up.”

Once an applicant has been selected for an interview, it is important to prepare for the interview. Do mock interviews, think of ways to answer popular questions, like the star method, research the agency’s missions and look for advice from trusted sources who might have experience in similar realms.

“I had jobs in high school and the beginning of college, but those were all server jobs, kind of your basic restaurant jobs,” said Katie Gray, a former intern at the Federal Bureau of Investigations. “They weren’t super serious, so this was my first real job interview so I talked to my parents for advice. I talked to a family friend who had been in the military for several years and had knew what to expect from government interviews. And then I made a list of some questions I was expecting and prepared some answers.”

Georgina DiNardo is an editorial fellow for Military Times and Defense News and a recent graduate of American University, specializing in journalism, psychology, and photography in Washington, D.C.

In Other News
Load More