Transition Guidance

Success during your transition is the result of an honest self-assessment, developing sound financial and career planning objectives, aggressively pursuing your job search strategies and a little hard work!

Title:Federal Resume Formats

Author:Barbara Adams. All rights reserved.

Most federal agencies accept applications that are entered online via the Internet. These online resumes and applications undergo a triple screening process that is designed to reject as many applications as possible. Since these positions are announced throughout the United States, the government would receive literally thousands of resumes for certain positions, especially in a down economy, so systems are in place to restrict successful applications only to those who have clear qualifications for the position. Unfortunately, this system often eliminates many qualified candidates as well. Many people have received rejection letters saying they do not have the minimum required experience, although they have held similar positions for many years. If experience is not presented in a manner the agency expects, it effectively does not exist.

The online resume screening process begins with an electronic for key words and phrases required for the position. These are usually included in the vacancy announcement, but they are not obvious. A careful reading of the announcement to identify themes, repeated phrases and jargon is necessary for success. Without the right keywords (or enough of them) a resume will be rejected. There are many other factors involved that the candidate generally cannot know, such as where keywords should be placed in the document, proper format of text and paragraph usage to highlight them properly, and many details. This information is not found in the online instructions or the vacancy announcement. In addition to the keywords and phrases, your resume must also read well and directly target the information requested in the announcement. Additional irrelevant information can distract from legitimate experience and result in a rejection.

After the electronic search, a low level administrative assistant will visually inspect the document for information he or she has been directed to find and many not even understand. If you pass these stages, a higher level reviewer who probably does have experience in the appropriate field will check the details to see if there is sufficient experience in the proper areas to warrant an interview. You resume will be scored according to this experience and the top level candidates usually will be called for a phone interview, followed by an in person interview.

NOTE: the entire screening process can take from a few days to several months after the announcement closes. For this reason, it is usually wise to apply for as many jobs as possible that reasonably match a candidate's skills and experience.

Online formats include numerous restrictions that make it difficult to fully express work experience. Each online application format has different requirements for resume length, date formats, number of jobs allowed to be described, and the number of characters allowed in each field. Some mandate the name and format of each supervisor, even if the candidate indicates it is "Not OK to contact" that supervisor or if the supervisor is no longer available. Other online formats (most notably the Federal Aviation Administration) require numerous "check the box" type answers to an extensive list of questions detailing every possible aspect of your prior experience.

Character counts are unforgiving. Note that is characters, not words, and spaces and paragraph breaks are counted as characters as well. Exceeding a character count will result in an error message or simple truncation of an answer. It is critical to review all answers entered online prior to submitting, especially in you paste in an answer that was copied from Microsoft Word or some other word processing software.


  • Army CPOL

    The Army's Civilian Personnel On-Line (CPOL) format is used for most Army postings and allows 12,000 characters to describe your work experience, with no limit on the number of positions you can list. There are two other fields for your education and additional information. You can only have one resume on file for all applications. This can be limiting, depending on your background and achievements, and makes it difficult to target keywords properly for various jobs.

  • Navy CHART

    The Navy's Civilian Hiring and Recruitment Tool (CHART) format allows up to 6 positions to describe your work experience, with up to 7,500 characters per position. In addition, there are fields for education (including high school information, partial degrees and certifications in addition to completed degrees), professional training, licenses and certificates, performance ratings and awards, and other information. You can only have one resume on file for all applications. This can be limiting, depending on your background and achievements, and makes it difficult to target keywords properly for various jobs.


    Since this format has been endorsed by the Office of Professional Management (OPM), USAJOBS is fast becoming the premier clearing house for all government jobs. Unfortunately, there is a great variety in how other agencies use the system. Some rely completely on the USAJOBS online application process, which allows for 5 different resume versions and includes a document upload feature for KSAs and other documents to be attached in submissions. Some use USAJOBS simply as a shell that immediately redirects you to the agency site where the online application process may be completely different. Others receive the resume from USAJOBS or request you use its format and then redirect you to answer additional questions. The United States Air Force uses USAJOBS but with its own unique requirements.

    Note that USAJOBS also allows a resume to be uploaded directly in GIF, JPG, JPEG, PNG, RTF, PDF or Microsoft Word format, allowing candidates to completely bypass the online builder, but this is actually counterproductive, as uploaded resumes are not part of the searchable database. Using the online builder allows other agencies to find you, and also ensures your resume includes all the information required within the appropriate character limits. It certainly takes longer, but is much more beneficial to use the online builder.

    USAJOBS has no capability to submit KSAs and other statements online. They are either uploaded as separate documents or are entered online after transferring to an outside agency site. Often, these instructions are unclear or misleading, so it is important to click the Preview Questions link if one exists. There is usually a contact person listed with an email or phone number to answer any questions regarding the application.

  • Avue Central

    The Avue online resume system is provided to the government by Avue Technologies. This is one of the most complicated systems in terms of structure and requested information. Work experience has a 4,000 character limit and is added according to three categories: Federal Position, Non-Federal Position, and Military. TQs or KSAs are entered into an online field when required by the vacancy announcement and are limited to 4,000 characters.

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