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How to Escape the USAJOBS Resume "Black Hole"

By Camille Carboneau Roberts

Are you wondering why you are not getting referred to the hiring official? Are you approaching the Federal job search as you would a private-sector job search? Are you applying at the last minute?

Let’s say you have identified that perfect Federal job and have prepared stellar career communications—the cover letter, résumé, and possibly narratives. You have applied to what might be hundreds of job announcements, but you cannot seem to get an interview.

I am often asked to review résumés and troubleshoot why they might be ending up in the black hole, and the results can be surprising.


Many job seekers make small mistakes that can have big implications. Believe it or not, I find some very minor mistakes that could be prevented and other mistakes that include leaving critical fields blank. Any of them may hurt the job seeker's chances of landing a job.

These tips are based on some of the most common issues I find with résumés in the online Résumé Builder on Implementing these tips should help get your résumé qualified to continue to the next step in the Federal hiring process.

  1. Carefully read the entire announcement to ensure you follow all requirements for applying.
    Each announcement is different, so make sure you understand each requirement.

    Print a hard copy of the announcement and highlight a “checklist” to ensure you address each requirement. It is also handy to have a “copy” in case you encounter any electronic issues, especially while applying. You could also copy and paste into Word and use the highlight feature, but save each announcement. If you experience technical issues, you will have the contact person’s information. It is also quite useful to review before interviewing.
  2. Accurately enter your information in the résumé builder tool.
    This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many résumés I have reviewed with mistakes, typos, and data in the wrong fields. Take adequate time to ensure you correctly input information.

    Be sure to spell check and proofread. There are several areas in the Résumé Builder that have spell check. Typos and other errors—all too common—definitely create a negative impression about your application.
  3. Align your qualifications with the job announcement by creating a marketing section to include in the Additional Information field.
    Almost every time I “troubleshoot” a résumé in the online Résumé Builder, this section is completely blank, or it has unrelated information. Take advantage of this critical data field.

    You can have up to 20,000 characters of “additional information” that could give you the competitive edge. Write Qualifications and Core Competencies sections that describe how your skills and abilities meet or exceed the job requirements and make you the ideal candidate.

    Be sure to use the keywords from the announcement. This can make all the difference in getting qualified and being selected for the interview.
  4. Apply early.
    There are obvious implications besides increased stress, errors, and problems, but after all this effort it is common for job seekers to miss the deadline because they do not realize it could take several hours to apply. Start the process early so you can carefully and thoughtfully submit a quality application on time.
  5. Include names and contact information for past supervisors.
    Failing to include your supervisors can raise a red flag. There is good reason not to list your current supervisor, if you are conducting a confidential job search. In this case, check the “Yes” button, but state in the text field: “Please contact me first” or “Please do not contact until offer.”

    If you have had an issue with a past supervisor, list a co-worker or client who could validate your work. After their name, write something like this: Jane Smith, Project Team Lead.
  6. List your GPA.
    Many job seekers leave this field blank. Even if your GPA is 2.6, list it. There are many strategies one can use to overcome lower GPAs, but do not leave this field blank.
  7. Complete the Relevant Coursework section.
    Many job seekers leave this blank. Spend the extra few minutes listing three to four courses you have taken that are relevant to the job. It could be the competitive edge you need to get to the interview.
  8. Provide references.
    Space is provided for up to five references. I recommend including five if you can. Offering several references creates a strong positive impression. Be sure to include references that can validate your work ethic and character. Contact your references in advance to request their permission to include their names and ensure they will speak positively on your behalf. Let them know what you are applying for and advise or remind them of projects you worked on and what you would like them to highlight in the conversation.
  9. Make your résumé searchable.
    After you build your résumé, be sure to make it searchable by simply clicking on the link “Make Searchable.” This will allow prospective employers to find your résumé and it will be the one you choose when you apply
  10. Upload Word and PDF résumé versions.
    In the Saved Documents area of your USAJOBS profile, you can upload Word and PDF versions of your résumé and other documents. Doing this makes it easy for the prospective employer to retrieve and share your résumé. Uploading your résumé is not a replacement for completing the Résumé Builder. Be sure to read the “How to Apply” section carefully and follow the instructions.
  11. Upload and label accompanying forms.
    Be sure to correctly label each required form and upload them into the Saved Documents area. Leaving out requested forms or making them difficult for the employer to find can get your application disqualified for being incomplete.
  12. Save a copy of your answers to the online questions.
    Many announcements include an online questionnaire that you must submit. Write, save, and print the answers in case you run into technical issues during the application process. If there are system problems, you can call the contact person listed on the announcement and obtain guidance. I recommend that you copy and paste the questionnaire in Word, then write your answers. Copy your answers back to the online questionnaire when you are finished.
  13. Remember to include your email address and phone number.
    Be sure your email address is professional. I recommend setting up a Gmail account with your first and last name. Make it easy for them to remember you, and contact you. I have seen phone numbers with missing area codes or missing digits and incomplete emails. Do not have inaccurate contact information!

Bottom Line:

The Federal hiring process is tedious. Start off your job search by being organized and have a plan. Prepare the best possible career communications required by the job announcement which could be a cover letter, résumé, and narratives. Make it easy for them to select you for the interview, as well as to hire you! Give them the information they require. Be thorough, careful, and implement the tips above and your effort should pay off! 

Wishing you much success in your job search!

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About 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, through her web site, LinkedIn, Twitter (@CamilleRoberts), Facebook (CC Career Services), or join her public Federal Job Search Group on LinkedIn.