Job Opportunities

Tips for Applying for Federal Jobs

Did you recently discover a federal job that looks like it was made for you? Perhaps you found it directly on USAJOBS, or perhaps you heard about it from a colleague, saw a call on social media or discovered a posting on another job board. Either way, you'll almost certainly need to apply through USAJOBS. We know it's a complex and often mysterious system, so we've compiled some tips below to help you navigate USAJOBS and make sure your qualifications come through clearly. (Note: This document is for informational purposes only. Refer to USAJOBS for specific application requirements for each open position.)

Important facts about the federal hiring process

  • The only place to apply for Federal Jobs is online at USAJOBS (
  • Applying to the Federal Government is more complicated than simply sending in a resume. It requires your resume to be translated onto a standard job application.
  • The information you enter into USAJOBS will be used to determine if you have met a pre-defined list of qualifications that align with the job announcement. If you have not addressed all the questions in the application or given details that are needed to verify your qualifications, you will not be deemed qualified for the position.
  • Including your resume as an attachment is encouraged! A resume including cover letter, CV and statement of career goals can provide added context for the search committee (but it won’t help if you don’t qualify, so be sure to read the qualifying section below).
  • Once the hiring agency has determined that you are qualified, they may use other assessments such as interviews or testing to select employees.

Qualifying for a Federal Job

Federal jobs usually require that you have experience in a particular type of work for a certain period of time. You must show how your skills and experiences meet the qualifications and requirements listed in the job announcement to be considered for the job. It is critical to Include dates, hours, level of experience and examples for each work experience. HR needs to see that you worked full time for a certain amount of time to qualify you.

For each work experience you list, make sure you include:

  • Start and end dates (including the month and year).
  • The number of hours you worked per week. For example, if you worked a 40-hours-per-week job and do not specifically write “full time 40 hours per week,” your application will be rejected.
  • The level and amount of experience—for instance, whether you served as a project manager or a team leader/member—helps to  helps to illustrate your level of experience.
  • Examples of relevant experiences and accomplishments that prove you can perform the tasks at the level required for the job as stated in the job announcement. Your experience needs to address every required qualification.

Applying for a job with a disability? Check out this Resume and Employment Guide for People with Disabilities
(Source: Resume Builder)

Tips for Submitting the Right Materials

The basic things you need: Resume, education transcripts (unofficial is OK), and cover letter. Below are some tips to make sure you have all the right materials to make your application shine. 

  • Resume format: Upload this as a standard PDF or .doc/.docx file, even if you're also prompted to fill in the USAJOBS resume questions. PDFs are much easier for reviewers to read.
  • Resume content: Make sure to list the month and year of each job, not just the year. Many good candidates can get inadvertently disqualified at this stage, if HR isn't sure they've completed the minimum time requirement for a certain kind of experience (e.g. "1 year at the postdoctoral level" or "1 year at a GS-12 equivalent"). Again, to make sure HR can see that you’re qualified, make sure your resume explicitly ties your experience to everything listed in the “Specialized Experience” section.
  • Transcripts (unofficial is OK): Upload all of your higher education transcripts, including undergraduate transcripts. Sometimes jobs have a specific number of semester hours required for a certain field, and if you don't include your undergraduate transcripts, HR may not know that you've completed them. (Pro tip: If you want to make it extra easy for HR, list the classes you've taken that meet each coursework requirement. The application reviewers will love you for doing this.)
  • Foreign transcripts: If you obtained any degrees outside the U.S., provide documentation explaining their equivalency to U.S. courses and degrees.
  • For scientist applications: List any relevant grants you've received, with the title, amount, award number and funder. (This may not be relevant for all applications.)
  • Job specific questions: After you finish designating which materials from USAJobs you want to apply to a particular job application, you will get transferred to a Smithsonian site, where you answer application-specific questions. After you transfer, if your documents (transcripts, etc., not the resume) do not show up as attached, you will need to click on them to attach them to your application. Your resume should upload automatically and is not considered a "document". Check to be sure your resume and all documents show up as attached and answer all job specific questions.

Find out more on what to include in your application and get tips on resume writing for federal hire

Common snags

  • The job closed before you applied. Some USAJOBS ads are only open for a few days. Have a set of general documents ready to apply for federal jobs, and then customize them as needed for each job.
  • You didn’t include the number of hours you worked per week, or the number of months and years you worked, for the job that qualifies you under the specialized experience statement.
  • Your specialized experience wasn’t clear to HR, who are not specialists in your field. Be explicit about what your experience includes, use straightforward language (such as the language in the USAJOBS ad specialized experience statement) and don’t be afraid to elaborate as much as you need to. This is where a lot of good candidates get blocked.
  • Your application package is missing documents. Double check before submitting, and frequently log back in to your USA Jobs account to see if HR has flagged any missing documents.

Helpful Videos from USAJOBS


How to Apply for Federal Jobs

5 Tips for Communicating Your Qualifications

Resume Writing

What Happens To My Resume When It's Sent to the Hiring Official?