Making the cert list… How JobStars Federal Resume Service works

By Sam •  Updated: 09/15/23 

Have you ever felt completely overwhelmed at the thought of putting together your federal resume?

Have you spent hours carefully crafting your federal job application on USAJobs, only to find yourself mysteriously absent from the all-important “cert list”?

If you’re scratching your head and wondering what you’re missing, you’re not alone. I can’t tell you how many complaints I’ve read on federal employee message boards where someone has applied for hundreds of openings without getting a single interview.

But what if I told you there’s a professional service that could improve your odds of catapulting you past that HR barrier? How much would you pay to give yourself a better chance of interviewing for your dream job?

It turns out that there are companies that work with federal employees (or potential federal employees) who understand how the HR system works and build resumes to land the all important federal interview.

Are these services worth it? I decided to investigate what it was like to work with a federal resume company.

Table of Contents

Please do not confuse my personal blog for financial advice, tax advice or an official position of the U.S. Government. This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on a link, I get a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. This post was sponsored by JobStars, however the post represents my actual experiences in working with the JobStars team.

What is a Federal Resume??

So, what exactly is a federal resume?

It’s not just a one or two page snapshot of your work history like you’d use to apply to a normal job. In fact, submitting a short resume is one of the best ways to NOT get selected for a federal job. The Merit Systems that govern federal jobs mean that you need to demonstrate that you are qualified for the position before you will even be considered for the job.

Why a federal resume is so important

The first stage of the federal hiring process is a review by HR. The HR folks look through your resume for evidence that you are qualified for the position. (Every listing on USAJobs will list “specialized experience”. If you can’t convince HR you meet that “specialized experience” you’ll be automatically disqualified for the job.) If your resume demonstrates you do have the specialized experience, you’ll make it on the “cert list” that gets sent to the hiring manager. The hiring manager will then look at the resumes and decide which candidates to interview.

You need to demonstrate you meet the specialized experience requirements on USAJobs

Differences between a federal resume and private sector resume

Demonstrating you meet the job requirements means that the federal resume must be a comprehensive document. In practice federal resumes can run anywhere from four to six pages, sometimes even longer for high GS level jobs.

Your federal resume also needs to include specific numbers, dates, and metrics. For example, it’s not enough to say you managed a team. You’ll need to say you led a team of 15 to accomplish XYZ in a six-month timeframe. Remember, you need to demonstrate you meet the specific experience of the job posting.

And you’ll need to be very specific about the dates of your employment as well. You’ll need to demonstrate you have 1 full year of experience, so you will need start dates and end dates for all previous jobs as well as explicitly listing if the job was part-time or full-time.

Finally, many people tailor their federal resume for each job posting they apply to. I’m not saying you should lie about your accomplishments. But instead, you may want to highlight various aspects of your position to very closely match the language of the specialized experience.

A 2 page resume won't cut it on USA jobs

Why I chose to work with JobStars

Recently, JobStars reached out to me to see if I’d provide an unbiased review of their resume writing service for federal employees. Longtime readers know that I have a “unicorn job” in the federal government and have no desire for a career change (other than early retirement). However, I’ve always been curious how these professional resume services work and was excited to learn more about the process.

Even without prior experience my gut feeling was that federal resume services could be a great investment.

Remember how I started the article talking about the horror stories on federal employee message boards on Facebook or Reddit where a poor soul applied for hundreds of jobs without even getting a callback??? Investing a couple of hundred bucks in a resume service to review your resume and tell you what you’re doing wrong seems like it could have a huge ROI. But at the same time, I didn’t want to suggest that anyone hire a resume service without trying it myself first.

The JobStars experience

The Questionnaire

Working with JobStars was straightforward. I was given credentials to log on to their secure system. I then had to fill out a detailed questionnaire about my educational background, skills, and employment history.

When I was filling out these questions, I saw immediately how these could be used to fill in key details in resumes that I look for as a hiring manager.

I also think this is a great way to attack a resume. When you ask someone to create something like a term paper or a resume from scratch, they often procrastinate or feel overwhelmed. However, if you asked the same person the right questions, I’m sure they could tell you the information without stressing out about it.

I found the questionnaire to be a great way to get the important parts of a federal resume out of me without stressing out or thinking too much about it. The questionnaire has a save and return later function which was very convenient and allowed me to take my time. I thought it was a great part of the process and extremely valuable.

The Rest of the Process

After the questionnaire stage, the process moves forward with an intake call to discuss everything prior to 1st draft development. This is usually about a 30–60-minute phone call (longer if needed) to go over your work history and assess your job search target.

JobStars agrees to send you a draft of your federal resume within 7 business days. You’ll then have 30 days to requests any revisions you’d like to see for your resume. They promise to get the revisions back to you within 3 business days.

Note that the unlimited revisions is to make sure you’re happy with the resume they provided for you. It would not involve completely rewriting your resume for a specific position.

What about customizing the resume so it matches the position?

One thing I’ve heard in my many years of working for the federal government is that your federal resume should be different for each job you apply for. You’ll want to customize your resume to make sure it has a lot of the keywords mentioned in the specific job announcement.

You will want to customize your resume for each job posting

How does that all work with JobStars?

When you work with JobStars, you’ll be building a “master resume”. (Note if you’re applying for a narrow range of roles, you can work with JobStars to make sure your master resume is tailored for your desired role.) Once you have a master resume, you’ll then want to customize this master resume for individual applications.

If you don’t have the time or energy to do it yourself, you can hire them to perform a “resume customization” where they customize & tailor the resume for a specific role. This can cost as much as $250 per job announcement, so it can get a bit pricey depending on your job hunting strategy.

How much does it all cost? Is it worth it?

The Price Tag

Navigating the JobStars website, you’ll quickly realize they offer a tiered pricing model, with many different options catering to varying needs and budgets. Here’s a brief overview of prices (at the time of writing this post)

(Please check the website for exact pricing, which may have changed since I wrote this post.)

Evaluating the Value

For many, investing hundreds of dollars in a resume service might seem like a steep commitment. But let’s break down the potential value.

The Verdict

The decision on whether JobStars, or any resume service for that matter, is “worth it” varies based on individual circumstances.

For someone early in their career, without a complex job history, it might be a significant investment. However, if you’ve been stuck at the GS-13 level for a long time and can’t seem to make the step up to a GS-14, maybe it’d be worth dropping $1,000 for a $10,000 per year raise.

In all likelihood, if your resume is self-written there’s probably room to make it even better. Leveraging the value of a service like JobStars offers peace of mind – especially for those new to USAJobs.

I was definitely happy with the JobStars team. They get great reviews and I would definitely consider using their service if I was trying to crack into a new field.

If you are in the market for some help with your federal resume, you can get in touch with the JobStars team through this link!


Sam i.e. "Gov Worker" started working for the government at age 18 and loved it so much that he never left. He started GovernmentWorkerFI in 2019 to help fellow federal employees understand their benefits, take control of their finances, and live their best lives.

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