Tips on Applying for Federal Jobs:  Take Your Time and Do It Right

January 31, 2018

In recent weeks, the National Institutes of Health, and other federal agencies have posted several positions for scientists that have captured the attention of interested fellows.  To help you prepare, the Office of Training and Education (OITE) recommends that you view the NIH YouTube video, How to Apply for a Job with the US Government.   In addition, here are some additional tips to help you prepare a strong federal job application.  It takes time to review applications and fill out the application.

Where are the positions and what GS level should I apply to as a Post Doc?

All positions are posted in USAjobs.gov.  There may be several positions posted that look similar so be sure to apply to those that are marked “Public” in the right-hand column if you are not employed in the federal government.  Post docs are not qualified for MP (Merit Promotion) positions because it requires that you are a current federal government employee seeking promotion. Most postdocs apply for GS (General Service) 12-13 positions.  

Am I qualified for these jobs?  Read job description and the Self-Evaluation Questionnaire.

We recommend that you read the OITE careers blog on how to read federal job advertisements.  Note that for federal jobs, there is a job description with qualifications and a required Self-Evaluation Questionnaire.  Before you apply, we recommend printing (or saving a copy) of each  job so you can highlight important skills including soft-skills (team, communication, leadership, etc.) that are required for each position.  Later, when completing your application, it is crucial that you use the skills to assure you’re your resume is evaluated by the reader.  On the questionnaire, be sure to give yourself credit by indicating the highest rankings of your skills and abilities and be sure that they are clearly stated on your resume.

 How much time should I spend on this? What kind of resume should I use?

Don’t rush.  Give yourself ample time to apply.  Carve out 2-4 hours (at least) to complete the federal application profile and enter the information.  While you have the option to upload a resume after you complete the profile, an HR reviewer recommended that applicants should use the federal resume builder because this is the format that they are accustomed to reviewing. Pay close attention to the suggested formatting (no use of bullets, use CAPS for keywords, using accomplishment statements).  Follow the tutorial suggestions on the website has clear directions for how to complete a federal resume.

I am a busy Post Doc.  How can I best invest my time?

Completing the federal resume will require that you have access to a lot of information (beyond that of a traditional resume) when completing your application.  You will be investing wisely because there is no page limit, and the more you enter will have a direct impact on the salary level and offer that you will be made. To save time, before you apply, collect important documents such as copies of your transcripts, previous employer information address, salary, hours per week, previous supervisors’ name and phone number.  Also collect the contact information for the references that you will use.  You should include all training, relevant to the job, certifications, patents, skills grants, awards, leadership, the sciences from undergraduate through your post doc years.

 How can I make my experience stand out?  

As mentioned, be sure to follow the formatting described in the federal resume builder Be sure to utilize the skill words that you highlighted in the job description on your resume and give specific accomplishments.  Here are two examples to help guide you (Please do not copy)

Example 1:     Ability to collaborate widely, both within NIH and outside the agency, and to work effectively as both a team member and team leader.

Collaborated widely both inside and outside of the NIH.  Managed scientific collaborations with a lab in another Institute at the NIH and additionally with the University of Texas. Team leader to set up timelines, phone calls, reagent swaps. Team member to strategize scientific directions, troubleshoot research challenges, perform experiments, and write publication.

Example 2: Scientific and administrative management of a portfolio of grants, contracts, and fellowships including the stimulating, planning, advising, directing, and evaluating of program activities of research awards.

Plan, advise, direct and evaluate scientific activities. Plan projects for self and team to understand the movement of group II introns. Advise peers and supervisor on best course of scientific direction including advocating to use a new method for understanding a scientific question. Direct a technician and masters student in daily activities including setting weekly goals, monitoring progress and adjusting experiments based on data collected. Evaluate scientific activities to understand biological mechanisms, troubleshoot challenges, provide options for new scientific methods, write reports and other publications.

After you have followed the suggestions above, feel free to make an appointment with an OITE career services counselor .  There are also many web-based and written guides, feel free to visit the OITE library and reviewing several helpful resources on applying for federal jobs including a Troutman’s The Federal Resume Guidebook, 6th Edition to see additional federal resume examples.  For our readers beyond the NIH, we suggest working with a career counselor in your area or through your university and visit your local library or bookstores.

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Résumé Font: What Does It Say about You?

June 17, 2015

Image of four font choices: Times New Roman, Georgia, Arial, CalibriYour résumé often creates an employer’s very first impression of you as a candidate. Undoubtedly, you have labored over how to format the content effectively, and you have worked to highlight your accomplishments while using strong, active verbs.

But, have you thought about your font? Perhaps you should, especially considering that a Bloomberg article recently described Times New Roman as the “typeface equivalent of wearing sweatpants to an interview”. That is a pretty harsh review for a classic font that has often been considered a safe choice.

The only real rule about your chosen font regards size. Your résumé font size should be between 10 and 12. This obviously excludes headings like your name, which should be the largest font on your document, and subheadings like your “Education” and “Experience” sections, which are usually between the sizes of 12 and 14. Do not go smaller than 10 point font on your résumé, even if you are trying to fit everything on one page!

Ultimately though, your résumé font is your own style choice and there are hundreds from which to choose. There may be no firm rules about resume font styles, but you should probably stick with the two most recommended font families – Serif and Sans Serif. At this moment, you might be asking yourself, “Wait, fonts have families?” Yes, apparently they do, and a website called Weemss includes a nice infographic on “The Psychology of Fonts” with an overview of all the font families, the associated fonts, and then a list of properties commonly associated with each font. What was their take on Times New Roman? It suggests that you are “reliable”.

Fonts in the Serif font family have tails on the ends of their letters; whereas, the Sans Serif fonts are missing the tails. Popular Serif fonts include: Georgia, Garamond, and even the “sweatpants equivalent” Times New Roman. Popular Sans Serif fonts include: Arial, Verdana, and Helvetica. In the same article that bashed Times New Roman, Helvetica came out as a winner. It was touted as the clear choice for professional fonts. The only problem is that the latest version of Microsoft Word doesn’t list Helvetica as a drop down option. You actually have to manually type it in, but then it does seem to be recognized.

For your résumé, it is best to sidestep fun or overly stylized options. They can come across as juvenile and, worse, some are hard to read. Avoid any fancy script-type font; save that for your wedding invitation. And, time and again, Comic Sans showed up on almost every list of poor font choices.

Now, go open up your résumé. Which font did you use? What fonts tend to be your favorites? Let us know by commenting below.


A Recruiter’s Best Practices for Resume Writing

May 25, 2015

Obsidian pyramidPeople overthink their resumes — constantly. It’s true that the competitiveness of the job market makes it even more imperative than ever for applicants to draw the attention of the reviewer before s/he moves on to the next resume in their pile. However, it’s equally important that an applicant’s resume convey its message concisely, thoroughly, and in an easily comprehendible format.

The tools to master this exist—the trick, then, is knowing how to and when to use them. Translating your CV to a resume can seem like a daunting challenge. It may seem impractical that any lab skills would translate to the office – but this in fact, is untrue. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed, start with the fundamental skills that make any employee valuable – team player, multitasker, multilingual, etc. Think of how your lab work utilized fundamental skills and specialized skills (digital, knowledge of 508 compliance, etc.). Map this out, and then begin.

The written and spoken version of the English language pattern follows a system–lead with what you’re going to tell someone, then tell more, in greater detail. You do this first part when meeting someone, by answering simple introductory questions that spur answers such as “My favorite hobbies include playing Monopoly, painting, and taking long walks on the beach.” Later, you may expand to tell someone how you once won the regional Monopoly championship (if such things even exist.) A resume’s no different than this simple concept.

Start small and simple, extend to larger pieces of information that are important, relevant, and impressive. Provide a thesis statement at the top of the page. It helps to put it in prose form so it stands out visually from a page full of bullets and draws my eye directly to it. This prose/thesis statement section can be called many things “Profile”, “Objective” “Mission Statement”, etc. Your job here, in two sentences or less, is to tell the reader who you are and what you bring. Follow the same rules that exist per Thesis Writing 101: Make it relevant; make it succinct; make it strong. Every skill you list should be 100% relevant to the position and you shouldn’t list more than 3 skills, in addition to your years of relevant experience and education. Finish it with what you want to do. And then prove it.

Your experience sections, then, are your supporting paragraphs. Ideally, you will have gotten the reviewer interested from your profile section and made them more curious about you. Now, fill in the details. Just like a simple conversation, you led with the basics and inspired intrigue. Now, give the reader more. Again, think of similar situations like a report or a conversation: You wouldn’t only give a laundry-list of details in other forms of communication. So don’t do the same here. Tell me a story. Start with what your overall purpose was at that position. For a research assistant position, for example, instead of listing duties, you could lead with “Provided logistical, research, and administrative support to a federally-funded research lab of 10 focused on biosurveillance research.”

For your next few bullets, tell me how you did that. What specific activities did you do that are also relevant to your reader? This is as simple as looking at the job description and responding to the qualifications requirements. For the final bullet (and six should be your max per job), tell me what long-term effect you had. Could you say that you “Performed lab-based and academic research in support of an academic paper, which identified a new trend in biosurveillance efficacy”? Your reader wants to know the effect that you had and wants to be able to imagine that same effect at their organization.

To put it simply and alleviate some of the potential anxiety about transitioning a CV to a resume, the only difference between a resume and an opinion paper, memo, or report is that the paragraphs are bulleted. That’s it. The bullets, while easier to report information, don’t change the way a reviewer has learned to absorb information by decades of reading and conversing. Your challenge, then, is to do your best to make sure that your resume plays into that natural method of information absorption. It’s definitely an art, not a science. Utilizing the simple tools mentioned above will greatly improve the chances of the reviewer understanding your potential impact on their organization.

If this method interests you, feel free to check out this article from the Harvard Business Review that encourages the same approach. Happy writing and happy job hunting!

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Post written by guest blogger, Kendell Snyder, Talent Acquisition Specialist at Obsidian Analysis, Inc.

Kendell Snyder is the head for Talent Acquisition activities at Obsidian Analysis, Inc., one of Washington’s fastest-growing private consulting firms. For more information on Obsidian’s work, growth, or our recent accolades, please visit www.obsidiandc.com .


Guide to Résumés and Curricula Vitae

November 7, 2014

Image of text on the Guide to Resumes and Curricula VitaeThere is often confusion about the differences between a résumé and a CV and when it is best to use each document. This confusion is often compounded by the fact that there is not a standard resume or CV template – your documents will (and should) look different than your lab mates.  While there aren’t formal rules to follow, there are certain expectations for each document.

Résumés and CVs continue to be extremely important documents for job seekers.

OITE has created a newly updated Guide to Résumés and Curricula Vitae

This guide is chock full of:

  • Recommendations and tips
  • Do’s and Don’ts
  • Accomplishment Memory Jogger Questions
  • Lists of transferable action verbs
  • Samples geared toward postbacs, graduate student and postdocs
  • Ideas on how you can create and/or update your own documents

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For even more help, mark November 19th on your calendars!

WEBINAR: RESUMES FOR SCIENTISTS
Nov 19, 2014 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

This workshop will highlight the critical elements and structure of scientific resumes. This important job document serves as the foundation for all job searches. We will discuss how to create a resume based on the employment sector and published position description.

Remember to send a cover letter with your résumé or CV.  Check out OITE’s Guide to Cover Letters.  Also, additional résumé and CV guidance can be found by making an appointment to discuss your documents with an OITE career counselor.


Welcome Summer Interns!

June 16, 2014

Image of a "welcome mat" - a brown mat with black letters stating "WELCOME"If you are just arriving at the NIH as a summer intern, the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) wants to take a moment to welcome you! Summer is often seen as a time of the year to kick back and relax, but not here at the NIH and we love the extra excitement and energy buzzing around campus during the summer months.

As you continue to settle into your lab, we want to make sure you take advantage of all the opportunities available to you in order to maximize your summer experience. With that in mind, here are some previous blog posts that each summer intern should take a few moments to read:

1. Orienting yourself to a new place and a new role can be tough. Understanding the Impact of Change is a blog post that addresses the challenges of transitions and helps you understand the internal impacts of external change. Follow this up with a quick read on Making the Most of Your Transition to the NIH.

2. Good mentoring relationships are essential to your professional development and success. Take advantage of your time at the NIH as an opportunity to Identify Mentors and Learn How to Make the Most of These Relationships.

3. Summer internships are a great way to gain exposure to a new setting and skill set. Also, remember to take the time to reflect on these experiences by Assessing Your Skills, Values and Interests as a way to better understand how this summer experience fits into your long-term career planning.

4. The OITE is here to help you. Whether you need help asking for a Letter of Recommendation or writing your Resume or CV, remember there are resources available to you.

We look forward to seeing you around campus, and we wish you a productive and professionally enriching summer experience!


2014 Career Success Plan

January 10, 2014

Here at OITE, our continued resolution is to help trainees become skilled in a variety of core competencies.  We view these four competencies as vital to your career development.

They include:
1. Career Exploration and Planning
2. Communicating
3. Teaching and Mentoring
4. Leading and Managing

Our goal for the blog this year is to cover a variety of resources and projected outcomes for each of these core competencies.

One of the first we will tackle is career exploration and planning.  This often involves four phases: Exploration, Preparation, Action, and Adaptation.  You will most likely go through these steps more than once because one’s career development very rarely follows a linear projection. Look next week for a blog on the topic of career exploration and planning, specifically individual development plans.

Hopefully, by covering all four of the core competencies, we will help to establish a thematic framework as you continue to read the blog throughout the year.  We will label and categorize each new post accordingly, so that the blog becomes a searchable site for you to easily navigate.  In addition, we hope this gives you some inspiration as you set your own new year’s career goals.  For a more detailed view of the graphic, please click on the image to enlarge.

Diagram of four core competencies; including: Career Exploration & Planning, Communicating, Teaching & Mentoring and Leading & Managing


CV vs. Resume: What’s the Difference?

November 7, 2013

Word cloud of words like "Curriculum vitae," "Resume," "Job," "Letters," "Searching"Resumes and CVs are both extremely important documents to a job seeker. They are some of the most important job hunting tools you possess.  However, it can be confusing to know when and how to use each document.  This confusion is often compounded by the fact that there is not a standard resume or CV template – your documents will (and should) look different than your lab mates.  While there aren’t formal rules to follow, there are certain expectations for each document, which are noted in the table below:

 

CV

Resume

Definition

Ongoing academic & work history

Targeted marketing tool

Length

Virtually unlimited

1-3 pages depending on use

Purpose

Use if seeking:
* Academic, research, or postdoc positions

* Applying for grants/fellowships

Used for every other type of job search away from the bench — outside academia and/or research science

Content

Wide variety of sections, including (to name a few):
* Awards
* Grants
* Conferences attended

* Poster presentations
* Publications

Succinct and relevant to the position.  You usually only have space for a few key sections.
Two that are a given are:
*Education
*Experience

Design

Style is not as important as content

Style and content are both highly important – resumes must be formatted well and easy to read. Maximize all the white space on your resume’s page.

Omit

* Personal pronouns
* Objective statement
* References
* The label “Curriculum Vitae”
* Lots of bullet points with long narratives
* Lists of skills/techniques

* Personal pronouns

* Experience not relevant to the position

* Presentations & abstracts
* Publications

To hear more details about these differences, we encourage you to watch OITE’s video workshop, CVs and Resumes: Essential Job Search Documents.

CVs are the norm in a scientific research environment, so most scientists are familiar with the basics for creating a CV.  Therefore, creating a resume can be a bit more challenging. A lot of scientists’ resumes end up looking a lot like a CV.  When placed in an applicant pool with resumes, this CV will stand out as odd and out of touch.  It is important to understand the key differences between these documents and to take the time to convert your CV to a resume when the position calls for it.

Your lab and your publications often speak for themselves on a CV. This is not true for a resume.  Don’t assume that your lab and/or job title is enough to convince the reader that you are qualified for the position. On a resume, you should be using strong, active verbs and numbers to highlight your accomplishments in a quantitative way.  As an example, don’t just say you taught a lab section; employers want to know specifics like the fact that you “Designed lesson plans and taught introductory biology to 54 undergraduate students.”

For both documents, it is important to be genuine, but this is not the space to be modest. These documents are often the only introduction you get to present to a potential employer, so take the time to review them often.  It also helps to seek input from friends, colleagues, and OITE.