How to Avoid the Most Common Mistakes

If your federal resume is not producing results—scoring “best qualified” ratings, interview opportunities, and job offers, what can you do to change the results?

First, do not give up!

Use the strategies below to revitalize your job search process, become more competitive in the federal job market, and find great federal job opportunities.

It will be worth your time and effort.

The 3 Most Common Mistakes

I received this email from a job seeker, “I have used my federal resume to apply for at least 35 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 on, I noticed this job seeker could have been well-qualified for many of those opportunities, but she was making some very common mistakes.

Mistake # 1. Using a cookie-cutter resume or template.

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 made this same mistake and wasted all her time and effort.

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 into keyword phrases and qualifications that are in the job announcement.

The keywords can be found throughout the announcement, but the critical keywords are found in these two 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! So read them carefully.

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, an informed job seeker, like you now, would adjust the resume to fit each announcement.

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

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

USAJOBS resume builderUsing 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.

There are strategies around a low GPA, or not a perfect GPA. It’s ok! Don’t let that trip you up!

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 past salary 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 job announcements require faxed application documents including a resume, KSAs, DD214s, answers to questionnaires, 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
  • Some 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 without question. Sending the application a few days late and hoping it will still be considered is not an option…even if the USAJOBS website has issues.

Bottom Line:

Success is not in the number of resumes you send out, but in how thoroughly you address the employer’s needs and show your value in each submission. Follow these tips and provide all the information so that each of the six gatekeepers have what they need to pass you through each of the gates! Best of luck to you!

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Camille Carboneau RobertsAbout the author…

Job-Hunt’s Federal Job Search Expert, Camille Carboneau Roberts, established CC Career Services in 1989 to provide total career management services to help clients land jobs faster. Expert services include federal resumes, private sector resumes, military-to-federal resumes, and social media resumes and profiles. Contact Camille via email at [email protected], through LinkedIn, Twitter (@CamilleRoberts), or Facebook (CC Career Services).
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