Customize your résumé


Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry plans to ask agencies to stop requiring job seekers to fill out those reviled knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) essays and to rely instead on applicant résumés to decide if someone is qualified and warrants a second look.

Some tips on crafting winning résumés:

*Tailor your résumé to your target job. Just as you give more attention to mail that is addressed to you personally than to junk mail that is addressed to the entire world, hiring managers give more attention to résumés that address their specific needs than to résumés that are addressed generically to all hiring managers.

To tailor your résumé, read the description of your target job as a question that asks, “Are you qualified to do this job effectively?” Answer that question affirmatively by emphasizing your work experience, education and volunteer experience that parallel the job’s demands. When possible, incorporate key words from the description of your target job into your job summaries.

*Prove that you wield responsibility. For example, identify the size of the budget you manage, the size of your staff and describe your supervisory achievements. Mention any security clearances you hold as high in your résumé as possible. If you consistently meet tight deadlines and bring projects in on time and under budget, say so.

*Craft your résumé for a quick read. Your job summaries should be a series of short, concise bullets that relate to your target job. (Create a bullet in online applications by typing an asterisk followed by several spaces.) Remember that hiring managers will probably spend only a few seconds reading your résumé before deciding whether you’re a contender. Therefore, if your résumé doesn’t quickly wow hiring managers, it probably won’t wow them at all.

Begin each bullet with an achievement-oriented action verb, such as led, designed, wrote or streamlined. To obtain lists of such verbs, do a Google search on “action verbs for résumés.” Caution: Do not incorporate your job descriptions into your résumé. They read as dryly as a stranger’s “to do” list, and they’re not impressive because they don’t convey actual successes.

Place bullets that most closely parallel the responsibilities of your target job at the top of each job summary — even if those responsibilities are not the ones you currently spend the most time on.

*Include your positive feedback on your résumé. For example, if you have consistently received excellent annual evaluations, or earned awards, say so.

One way to cite praise in your résumé is to copy a technique used by movie ads that string together excerpts of reviews with phrases like “Feel-Good Movie of the Summer,” “An Oscar Contender” or “Tells an Unforgettable Story.” Similarly, brandish your good reviews by excerpting quotes from the positive oral and written feedback that you have received.

For example, consider this bullet, which helped one of my clients land a promotion: “Sample Positive Feedback from Executives: ‘Joe is a vital asset … his contributions are multifaceted … has gone the extra mile time and time again … provides expert advice.’ ”

*Ignore the myth that federal résumés should be as long as Princess Diana’s wedding train. Truth is the correct length for your résumé is the minimum length you need to prove you’re qualified.

Minimize your résumé’s length by ruthlessly editing redundancies, squeezing as much information as possible into as few words as possible and eliminating credentials that don’t relate to your target job.

Federal agencies don’t require applicants to review experience that is more than 10 years old. So if your early experience won’t help you land your target job, omit it.

*If you’re applying for a job within your current office, assume hiring managers have no prior knowledge of your achievements. If you don’t fully present all of your achievements, you are likely to be upstaged by other applicants.

*Get a second opinion. The only way to objectively evaluate how your résumé comes across is to show your résumé to other people, and ask them how it comes across to them.

Lily Whiteman is a public affairs officer at the National Science Foundation and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.’’ Her Web site is The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is Ask your career questions by email to or by Twitter to @Lilymwhiteman.

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