Drafting a Federal Resume: Why a Regular Resume Doesn’t Cut It for Government Jobs

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Getting employed by the government sounds like a dream to some—good pay, great benefits, and stability are huge draws, but they also make the competition fierce. In addition, applying for a federal job is a bit different from applying in the private sector, meaning you’ll have to put your nose to the grindstone and produce a compelling federal resume.

Despite all the competition, getting a government job is possible. It all starts with your resume, and the process is somewhat different from what you’re used to. Let’s look at how federal resumes differ from those in the private sector and how you can draft one that impresses government recruiters.  Writing a federal resume can be challenging, so your best bet might be to enlist expert help.

Length is of little importance

In the private sector, your resume should never exceed two pages in length, but a federal resume could be up to seven pages long. The length depends on the specific job requirements. A hiring manager in the private sector would probably throw out a seven-page resume without even looking at it, but the government gives you ample space to prove your qualifications.

When it comes to education, you may have to dig into your academic achievements, request transcripts, and even list the specific courses you completed. Your education section will be much more thorough and detailed than on a private sector resume. If you have to request a transcript from your alma mater, make sure you give yourself plenty of time since it’ll take a while for the document to arrive in the mail.

Your work experience section will also be much more detailed. Depending on the job you’re applying for, you may have to describe fully your daily work routine and accomplishments in your previous jobs. It’s almost the opposite of a private sector resume—the more detailed, the better. Of course, your writing still needs to be clear and effective.

Terminology counts 

Using the right terminology is important for any resume, but private sector recruiters are more forgiving when you use different terminology from what the company uses as long as what you’re saying is clear. However, government recruiters care much more about applicants using the right terms, so research the terminology for that specific position and incorporate it into your resume. 

In most cases, private sector employers rely on applicant tracking systems (ATSs) to flag resumes with too few or no keywords, which means it’s imperative to include whatever keywords feature in the job posting. Of course, if you get past the ATS, your resume will land in the hands of a hiring manager, so your writing still has to read smoothly to a human while also containing all the keywords you can naturally fit into it. 

However, the vast majority of government agencies don’t use ATSs—your application hits the recruiter’s desk immediately. You don’t need to worry about keywords; you just need a resume that reads naturally and seamlessly incorporates the terms the government wants to see. 

Your field matters

You can get away with applying for a job that you’re not completely qualified for in the private sector. Obviously, you should have most qualifications, but it’s still worth applying if you’re missing a few. In the public sector, however, your field matters, so be selective about the jobs you apply for. Don’t jump at every opportunity you see—analyze which jobs align best with your education and experience. If you blindly pursue federal jobs, you’ll only waste your time and energy.

Research what the position you’re applying for requires and evaluate your previous experience for suitability. If you’ve never had that exact job before but have worked a similar job, be selective in how you present your work experience, carefully emphasizing its relevance to the position you’re after. Basically, you want to do everything you can to show that your employment history is relevant to the job and makes you a prime candidate. 

Double-checking is crucial

Whether you’re applying for a private or a public sector job, you should always double-check your resume to catch any spelling, grammatical, or formatting errors. A minor grammar mistake can cost you a job in the private sector as well, but it’s even more critical for your federal application. If you don’t catch even the tiniest of mistakes, you can almost guarantee that you won’t be contacted for an interview. Attention to detail is of major importance to securing a federal job, and it starts with your resume. After you’ve checked it several times, go a step further and have an expert proofread it and make suggestions for improvement.

Private and public sector jobs require different resumes. Converting your private sector resume into a federal one can be a lengthy process, but the time investment is well worth it. Not sure how to approach this task? Reach out to a professional resume writer for help! 

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