2. Network, network, network
Although the application process is rigid, it helps to reach out to anyone you know who works for the federal government. You want to get a sense of what it's like from an insider. It's not just about the job but the culture and environment as well.
Use your LinkedIn account to connect with people you know who work in or with the federal government, and join groups affiliated with the agencies that appeal to you.
Take advantage of your alumni connections, too. You might hear about opportunities in advance of a formal job posting. Plus, having someone who can draw attention to your application always helps. The career or alumni center at your college or university may have a relationship with the government agency where you're applying.
If you've recently graduated from a degree or certification program, check out the Recent Graduates Program on the USAJobs site. This is aimed at individuals who've graduated with an associate, bachelor's, master's, professional, doctoral, vocational or technical degree or certificate from qualifying educational institutions. To be eligible, applicants must apply within two years of degree or certificate completion.
The exception: Veterans, due to their military service obligation, have up to six years after degree or certificate completion to apply. For federal employment information for veterans, go to the Office of Personnel Management's FedsHireVets website.
3. Get your résumé in order
Résumés and applications for most jobs are generally funneled through USAJobs. The specific terminology in the job descriptions and postings themselves read like a foreign language. And you will need to use these keywords from the postings in your résumé. You also will need to gin up more than the two-page résumé that you ship off to private sector employers. Often you're required to write essays, too. The more details you can share about your work and your results, the better.
Don't panic. There's plenty of help out there to guide you through the federal job résumé-building process. On USAJobs, there's a tutorial on how to reformat your résumé (PDF) and other tips. You begin with a standard résumé that has all the data required by the agencies, and then you can tweak up to five different ones for various job openings. You also can sign up for job-posting alerts. "It's not rocket science," says Ressler. "You should easily be formatted in a couple hours."
Ressler's organization, GovLoop, offers a free résumé tool kit. The Go Government site and the Job-Hunt site's Guide to Federal Government Job Search are other good resources for finding help with applications and revamping résumés.