Executive Resumes & Career Transition Strategies Blog

Reflections of an Executive Resume Writer
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Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot on Federal Job Questionnaires!

Firstly, let me say that Federal applications and Federal executive resumes are NOT my area of focus, and indeed, if I receive inquiries from folks looking for assistance with them, I will typically refer them on to a specialist. However, this bit of advice from someone I would consider an unquestioned expert in this area really struck me, so I wanted to pass it along to any of my readers who may be seeking opportunities in the Federal job market.

In her email newsletter last week, Kathryn Troutman of The Resume Place provided an example of a client’s answers on a Federal questionnaire, and analyzed how this client had unintentionally sabotaged herself. As you may know, Federal job applications require not only an executive resume and Federal job application form, but also responses to a detailed and often lengthy questionnaire.

For each question, the applicant must choose one of 5 multiple choice answers, lettered from ‘A’ through ‘E’, with ‘A’ indicating the applicant is least qualified on a particular criterion, and ‘E’ indicating preferentially or most qualified. Unfortunately Kathryn’s client had chosen all ‘D’ answers, with not a single ‘E’, even though her executive resume clearly showed that she could have legitimately checked ‘E’ on a number of the questions. And this happened not just on this questionnaire, but also on those she had submitted with many other applications. Choosing all ‘D’s and no ‘E’s ensured that she would be rated as merely “qualified” and not “best qualified,” thus effectively eliminating her from the competition.

This behavior is evidence of an aspect of human nature that I encounter with many of my executive clients… The tendency to underestimate one’s worth and capabilities—being TOO modest and failing to “toot one’s own horn.” This occurs either for fear of being perceived as bragging or through a true misunderstanding of their own value.

This tendency can be fatal to a successful job search, whether reflected in your executive resume, on a Federal job application, or in interviews. It is also why it is wise to have a third party work on your career documents with you or at the very least review them to provide an objective assessment and ensure that they do not under-represent your capabilities and value proposition.

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