Converting Your Position Description
into Great Resume Content
Just getting started in preparing your work
experience summary can be the most difficult part of the process
of presenting your knowledge, skills, and abilities in an effective
manner. You will need to gather information from a variety of
sources to develop a complete work experience summary, and the
best place to start is with the position description (PD) for
your current and previous jobs. Your focus should be on your current
position, with far less emphasis on previous positions.
Utilize PDs to make sure you include all the
relevant experience you have gained. Correlate the PD with your
performance appraisals. In most cases, the performance appraisal
describes in a concise manner what is expected, and the basic
areas of emphasis should be the same as stated in the PD. You
should see the key responsibilities fall into 3, 4, or 5 general
areas. This will provide the framework for your write-up.
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Accuracy of Position Descriptions
One word of caution. Make sure that your position
description is current, as quite often it is not. If you are working
in automated information systems that have been recently developed,
these may not be reflected in the PD. Do not list technology or
tasks in the PD that are obsolete. Also, DO NOT include descriptions
of work in your resume that are described in the PD if you are
not actually doing the work. You may not be doing the work for
a variety of reasons:
- the work may be cyclical (e.g., seasonal), and you have not
reached that part of the cycle;
- you may be in a developmental program and have not yet performed
the full range of responsibilities in the described position
at the journeyman level; or,
- the PD may be “generic,” or a “standard
job” description, one which is a general framework to
describe a position occupied by hundreds of people who each
may perform minor variations on the same theme.
If you include information about tasks that
you are not doing, at a minimum, you may be in an awkward situation
if questioned about a particular type of work experience during
an interview. The interviewer or selecting official may consider
such information an exaggeration, which would reflect adversely
on your credibility as an applicant, and in the worst case scenario
you could face adverse action for falsifying an application.
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Organization of the Position
The Factor Evaluation System (FES) criteria
are used by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to assign
grades to positions by applying the official classification standards.
The nine factors offer a useful checklist for you in assuring
that you have included important information that human resources
staffing specialists may be looking for. Every position is classified
using the following nine common factors:
The FES Criteria for Each Position:
1. Knowledge required for the position
2. Supervisory controls
5. Scope and effect
6. Personal contacts
7. Purpose of contacts
8. Physical demands
9. Work environment
1. Knowledge required for the position.
What level of knowledge is required for the position? Knowledge
can be general (“knowledge of the overall supply management
process for system wide supply operations”) or specific
(“knowledge of the cataloging system to initiate national
stock number assignments to new items coming into the system”).
This factor is used to explain why an entry-level veterinarian
may hold a higher grade than an experienced secretary. Make sure
you explain the knowledge required that is referenced in your
PD. A GS-2010-11 Inventory Management Specialist might write about
her specific knowledge of the cataloging system this way:
Build, update cataloging system data file;
resolve assigned stock number discrepancies.
2. Supervisory Controls. This
is one area that does not need to be emphasized, because it calls
attention to the direction given to you by your supervisor. However,
you should include key words that support independent judgment,
and discretion in planning and execution. A GS-803-13 Safety Engineer
conveyed his discretion in the following terms:
TEAM LEADER: Established priorities, scheduled
and assigned work to team, provided technical guidance and direction
for more than 22 inspectors, 15 Reserve Captains serving as chief
inspectors, officers and civilians representing ordnance environmental,
material handling equipment, ammunition inventory management,
ammunition security specialties and contractors. Recommended promotions
and awards, monitored employee performance, provided input on
ratings, evaluated developmental and training needs, and resolved
3. Guidelines. The availability
and applicability of published guidelines conveys another important
factor determining grade and level of responsibility. Are guidelines
clear and specific, and are you primarily performing a sorting
function? This would be typical of a “technician”
level position. However, if the guidelines are numerous, based
on law and general policy, for example, requiring substantial
research, analysis, and interpretation, this should be clearly
explained in your resume. A GS-201-13 Human Resources Specialist
(Employee Relations) would write:
Interpret and apply relevant case law of the
Merit Systems Protection Board in developing the Agency’s
position relative to defending adverse actions. Evaluate the probability
of success on the merits and prepare an approach for effectively
representing the Agency’s interests.
4. Complexity. These are the
factors that determine if the job is simple or complex, from an
objective viewpoint. These are arrived at by the classifier’s
review of the knowledge required and how guidelines are used.
Also, complexity includes how many factors are involved, how many
variables, the need to make decisions with insufficient data,
competing interests and demands, technological change, level of
public or Congressional interest, and other complicating factors.
A GS-343-14 Program Analyst might describe responsibility for
Lead special projects and initiatives, many
of which are long-term, highly visible, and cut across division
and program lines that involve strategic planning for fundamental
5. Scope and effect. This
explains how vast the work is and the impact it has on program
operations. A high level Information Technology Manager for a
nationwide program might state:
Serve as Information Technology Program Manager
involving a budget ranging up to $25 million annually, equipment
worth in excess of $150 million, and staff support exceeding 120
6 and 7. Personal contacts/purpose
of contacts. While these are two different factors, they
often are combined in the PD. The level of work explains whether
you regularly interact with Senior Executives, or carry out staff
work mainly among peers. These cover with whom you talk and what
you talk about. Clearly, those that influence policy makers are
higher graded than those that perform routine customer services.
A mid-level EEO Counselor might write:
Receive and evaluate incoming calls from employees. Based on the
information presented, contact supervisory officials having a
“need to know” and those who are likely to have information
that might facilitate resolution. After determining complainant’s
requested remedial action, present options for resolution to appropriate
supervisory and managerial decision makers.
8 and 9. Physical demands and work
environment. Quite frequently these are lumped together.
They do not affect office positions, but do add into the evaluation
of positions that require significant physical effort, are hazardous
in nature, or are performed under arduous working conditions.
However, for most applications, this factor can be ignored as
not helpful for you in attaining the target position.
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Organization of the Work Experience
Summary Using the Position Description
Begin the work experience section with an overall
summary of the position and place it in the proper context of
the organization. A secretary for an Audit Branch might write:
Perform the complete range of office support
for the Chief and four journeyman accountants in the Audit Branch.
Force yourself to categorize your work. Your
position description may be a useful guide for this, as well as
your position description. Figure out what “hats”
you wear on the job. Are you a “senior advisor,” “program
analyst,” “writer-editor,” “supervisor,”
“project manager,” for example? If so, establish a
section, label it this way, and describe your central duties.
Consider this example from the resume of a GS-511-12 Supervisory
LIAISON with all levels of Agency management,
supervisors, employees union officials, personnel of other agencies
and Inspector General to persuade management officials or to
dissuade the external audit agency from critical observations,
findings and recommendations often dealing with resistance to
You may also create headings that are functional.
Here is an example of a functional description from the resume
of a GS-203-7 Personnel Assistant (Office Automation):
EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT COUNSELOR. Advise employees
on retirement options and benefits available under the Civil
Service Retirement System (CSRS) and Federal Employee Retirement
System (FERS). Analyze and compare benefits under both systems,
including Social Security benefits and offsets. Interpret new
regulatory or procedural retirement program requirements, and
publicize program changes.
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Language Style of the Position
While the content of the PD may be a rich source
for the critical components of your work experience summary, you
should be wary of the way the position description is written.
Most often, it is written in the third person (“he/she”
stated or implied, “the incumbent,” etc.), and you
will need to change the context to reflect the first person, “I.”
In writing your work experience for the resume, avoid the pronoun
“I,” and use action verbs to start sentences, or other
nouns as descriptors to complete the context. For example:
Position Description of a WG-3546-08 Railroad
Utilizes hand and lamp signals, switches
track, couples and uncouples railcars.
Federal Resume language for a WG-3546-08
Utilize hand or lamp signals, depending on
conditions, to designate what direction train is to be moved.
Throw switches for positioning of train, cars, etc. on the proper
track. Couple and uncouple railcars.
Also, check for the spelling of words. Occasionally,
words in PDs are misspelled, or used out of proper context. Similarly,
acronyms may be incorrectly stated, or may be obsolete if the
agency has undergone reorganization since the PD was prepared.
You don’t want your resume to read like
a PD. The language often is dry, bureaucratic, and uninteresting.
Probably the majority of applicants simply re-state the duties
and responsibilities set forth in the PD. Make this your opportunity
to assert yourself and present a strong personal statement. You
want to stand out among the sea of applicants. For this to happen,
you need to take a few additional steps.
Whenever possible, personalize your resume.
Include special projects and accomplishments. These will help
you stand out among the competition. Consider the C-C-A-R (Context,
Challenge, Action, Results) formula when describing these.
SPECIAL PROJECT: [Context/Challenge] Charged
with analyzing the Agency’s Strategic Plan to assure that
it was aligned with the Department’s Strategic Plan and
the President’s Management Agenda. [Action] Developed
side-by-side document that identified established priorities;
conducted analysis and identified gaps—areas needing attention—and
recommended formation of an ad hoc group to develop necessary
planning priorities. [Results] Led workgroup in revising the
Agency Strategic Plan for FY 2003-2008 that was adopted by Agency
ACCOMPLISHMENT: [Context] Charged with the
negotiation of an initial labor management agreement at the
Regional level to replace multiple field office agreements [Challenge]
to bring local practices into conformity with the new Master
Collective Bargaining Agreement. [Action] Applied Interest Based
Bargaining techniques and promoted collaboration [Results] in
reaching clearly written “win-win” agreement that
addressed the interests of all stakeholders and served the parties
well in practice, as demonstrated by a significant reduction
in formal grievances.
Finally, if you are too close to your work,
find an objective view of your significant accomplishments by
reviewing your performance appraisal. Your supervisor will identify
those special projects and accomplishments that serve to distinguish
your performance. Make sure you include the most significant of
these. Then have a trusted close friend review your write-up.
Ask if it makes sense to him or her, and for any other frank feedback.
Once you have taken these additional steps, you will have a product
that will stand out among the competition.
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by Mark C. Reichenbacher, CPRW
Resume Guidebook & CD-ROM is available from our
catalog. You can learn more about writing the best resume
for federal and private industry jobs at www.resume-place.com.