Tips for Writing a Federal Resume
Resumes used for Federal Government jobs differ from those used in the private sector with regard to both content and purpose:
- A federal resume is typically multiple pages and includes a detailed description of your work experience and qualifications that align with the requirements listed in a federal job announcement. Human Resources professionals review your federal resume to determine whether you meet the qualifications stated in the job announcement for the position that you are applying. The Federal Government does not have a standard job application - your federal resume is your application.
- A private sector resume is generally limited to two pages and provides a brief synopsis of your work history. A private sector resume is essentially a marketing tool to help you get an interview with an employer.
Your resume must thoroughly describe how your skills and experiences align to the criteria defined in the qualifications section of the job announcement and support your responses to the assessment questionnaire. Federal Human Resources professionals operate under various federal employment laws, rules, and regulations. We are prohibited from drawing conclusions or making assumptions regarding your experience or qualifications. It is up to you to describe your past work experience in detail by providing examples related to those listed in the requirements section of the job announcement. [Note: Academic curriculum vitae typically do not include enough information for a Human Resources professional to determine if you meet minimum eligibility requirements. We cannot assume you have the necessary experience required for a position regardless of your employment history or academic career. If you choose to use an academic curriculum vitae, please expand upon the traditional form to include the information in the following section for each experience/position listed.]
To ensure all of the essential information is in your resume, we encourage you to use the USAJobs online Resume Builder. If you choose to use your own resume, you must ensure it contains all of the required information and you organize it so we can associate the necessary information for each experience/position on your resume:
- Current contact information including name, postal address, day and evening telephone numbers, and email address
- Citizenship (if other than the U.S.)
- Relevant work experience. Experience refers to paid and unpaid experience, including volunteer work done through National Service programs (e.g., Peace Corps, AmeriCorps) and other organizations (e.g., professional; philanthropic; religions; spiritual; community; student; social)
- Job title
- Name of employer
- Beginning and ending dates of employment (month/day/year format)
- Hours worked per week. We will assume fulltime unless otherwise stated. We will prorate part-time employment in crediting experience.
- Detailed description of job duties, related skills, and responsibilities; including any supervisory/managerial responsibilities and number of staff supervised (if applicable). This information is necessary to determine whether you meet minimum eligibility requirements for the position. Please review the qualifications section in the job announcement closely and directly address the education, skills, and experience required in your resume.
- Series and grade or equivalent (if a federal position)
If the position has an education requirement or you are qualifying on the basis of education, you need to list your education history including the type of degree and your major of study. If the position requires a certain number of credit hours, you are strongly encouraged to list the relevant courses in your resume.
Do not include a photograph or video of yourself, or any sensitive information (age, date of birth, marital status, protected health information, religious affiliation, social security number, etc.) on your resume or cover letter. We will not access web pages linked on your resume or cover letter to determine your qualifications.
General Guidance on Content
It is important to be descriptive and thorough – use more detail than you think is necessary. Your audience is the recruiter and hiring manager, and should be considered to be unfamiliar with tasks, proprietary systems, acronyms, or other specialty information pertaining to your current and prior positions and organizations. It is important that you use clear language and spell out all acronyms.
For each experience include:
- Projects you have worked on
- Your specific duties and tasks
- Tools, software, or systems
- Results and outcomes (i.e. saved money, time, consolidated resources, etc.)
- Use numbers, statistics, and quantifiable data to describe your achievements and outcomes. Numbers, statistics, and quantifiable data are a great way to describe the responsibility, pressures, and accomplishments of your previous endeavors as they relate to the position you are applying to. For example, an individual who was in the budget field has "worked with disseminating budgets for small projects." But when the applicant describes the experience with numbers, the description is more relevant as "disseminated budgets for small projects amounting to $450,000."
- Keywords are powerful words that can enhance a recruiters understanding of your qualifications and experience. For example, when a recruiter reads the keyword "analyst," he or she might assume you have experience in collecting data, evaluating effectiveness, and researching and developing new processes. Keywords are most likely action verbs. When constructing your explanation of previous experience, you should use action verbs to act as descriptions, expressing how you performed a function and the result. If the job announcement uses keywords to describe the duties such as "develops" or "implements," these words are representative of independence in work assignments and the range of responsibility for the available position. You should include your experience "developing" or "implementing" to demonstrate your previous independence.
- Be honest in describing your accomplishments, but not modest.
- Use reverse chronological order to list your experience start with your most recent experience first and work your way back, except when it is more appropriate to list your most relevant work experience first (e.g. if you are changing careers).
- Length is multiple pages; however it is important to tailor your resume to include information relevant to the specific position you are applying to. Many applicants are proud of their work experience and want to list everything. All information that relates directly to the position should be included on your resume; however, education and work experience that is only indirectly related can be excluded if the resume begins to grow.
- Be concise and keep paragraphs short. To make your resume easier to read, add a carriage return (blank line) between sections.
- Use bullets to describe your experiences and accomplishments.
- Your resume is your first impression make it a good one! Use correct grammar and ensure that there are no spelling errors.
For additional information, visit the following resources:
Students And Recent Graduates
Many of the assignments, committees, or extra-curricular groups students participate in can be used as experience as long as it corresponds with the qualifications, skills, and experience required for the position. In addition, include relevant volunteer work or community organizations roles that demonstrate your ability to do the job.
Curriculum Vitae Or Resume
Remember, in describing your work experience, consider the Human Resources professional unfamiliar with your areas of responsibility. Provide clear and detailed information supporting your qualifications as outlined in the job announcement.
For each experience listed, include a thorough description of your duties, including any supervisory or budgetary oversight responsibilities. We cannot make any assumptions about your qualifications; therefore, it is important you provide a comprehensive summary.
Please do not include web pages or links on your resume.
Review the qualifications section in the job announcement closely and directly address the education, skills, and experience required in your resume.
Ensure that you provide all required information for each experience listed.
Use a reverse chronological order format.
Be descriptive and use numbers and quantifiable data to describe outcomes for each experience.
Keep paragraphs short and use bullets to describe accomplishments.
Use relevant keywords from the job announcement in describing your experiences.
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This page last reviewed on February 26, 2018
Writing a cover letter is already tricky business. But writing a cover letter for a government job can be a whole other story. Let's get down to the nitty gritty on how we tailor a cover letter to the key words of a government job.
Don’t apply at the last minute and make sure you give yourself plenty of time to take these steps:
- Carefully read the entire announcement before applying. It seems obvious, but each announcement, even in USAJobs, is different and will have different skills needed for the job. Print a hard copy of the announcement and highlight a checklist to ensure you can address at least 3 out of 5 of the skills they’re asking for. Once you highlight their requirements, it will be easier to go back to your own cover letter to address those points.
- Research the agency to which you are applying. Your cover letter is your fist opportunity to express how your mindset and talent matches with that of the organization. Catch the hiring manager’s eye by demonstrating you’ve done your homework and are familiar with the agency’s mission and some of its current programs.
- Get specific. Explain exactly what experiences you have had that make you a great candidate for the position. Don’t just say “I did x,y,and z.” For government jobs, use numbers, dollar amounts, and specify how many years for as much as you can.
Tailor Your Cover Letter
So what does it mean to tailor your cover letter to the job? It’s not just highlighting your experiences and hoping the hiring manager will see a good fit. You have to connect the dots for them and that means making your skills match the required skills almost word-for-word.
First, compare your resume and the job announcement side by side. Highlight the requirements they’re asking for the job and highlight corresponding skills and experiences you have from your resume. Try doing this process in about 15 to 20 minutes. This will also help you practice for interviews since you will eventually be required to quickly recall your job experiences.
And of course, go over your applications materials in depth to make sure you don’t submit any formatting, grammatical, or punctuation errors.
Here is an example of a post from USAJobs with key words in bold:
The Student Trainee (Contract Specialist) – PATHWAYS Intern is a member of a team responsible for the negotiation, award, and monitoring/administration of Federal assistance agreements (grants and cooperative agreements) and contracts for a wide array of research, non-personnel support services, specialized studies and other activities necessary to support the FHWA Headquarter, FHWA Turner-Fairbanks Highway Research Center, State Division Office, and Resource Center program offices. Under close supervision of the Team Leader, the intern will perform the following functions:
- Assists in pre-award and post-award functions involving a full range of procurement actions, typically involving technical services or programs of research and development, specialized equipment or systems.
- Assists with developing requests for applications (RFA), requests for proposals (RFP), and requests for quotations (RFQ). The intern will help to analyze, evaluate, and negotiate proposals and applications for agency contracting and Federal assistance opportunities.
- Assists with acquisition planning, scheduling procurement from time of acceptance through award.
Here’s an example from my undergraduate resume to match with some of the above points:
- Nonprofit Volunteer Coordinator: Oversaw research and development as well as technical production of building Tunnel on campus and acquirement of specialized equipment systems needed for sound and visual media. Cost of production was over $20,000 and took a total of 9 months to plan.
- University Program Board Director: Developed and negotiated over 50 proposals and contracts with speakers and agencies, scheduled and planned 100 events by coordinating facilities, catering, as well as budget of over $30,000.
You’re not going to have the exact same positions as specified in the job announcement. But chances are you’ve had some academic, volunteer, and/or professional experiences that are applicable. Be sure you’re also not making up your skills just to fit the job requirements. Just adjust words in your resume and cover letter to better fit the job vacancy.
Draft the Cover Letter
Now that you have gone through your resume and highlighted matching examples to the job requirements, it’s time to start writing your cover letter. Choose the three most relevant examples from your resume that you can tailor to the position. This is because a cover letter should be no more than 3-4 paragraphs, so you want to be succinct. Use numbers, years, and any dollar amounts to be as specific as possible.
Here’s an example to start off with relevant points highlighted from the above USAJobs vacancy:
Dear Ms. Smith,
As a recent graduate of (xyx program), I am seeking to apply my 4 years of research, administrative, and event planning to a career in public service. I am interested in the Student Trainee Contract Specialist Position because I want to specialize in negotiation, award, and monitoring of Federal assistance agreements. More importantly, I believe my negotiating, evaluative, and analytical skills all would be highly suitable to the position.
The next two to three paragraphs should each draw on a bulleted example you use from your resume elaborating on how your experiences in the position applies to the job vacancy and how it would help you to grow in the role.
Remember, your cover letter is your opportunity to make a good first impression with the hiring manager. It can determine whether or not the hiring manager will even read your resume. While it is a long and tedious process for a seemingly short letter, it’s important to allot the necessary time and research to make sure that your cover letter keeps the potential employer reading.
For more resources on cover letter writing, be sure to check out these posts:
-How to Tweak Your Cover Letter and Resume for More Impact
-Are You Making These 4 Mistakes in Your Cover Letter?
For more reading about millennials in public service, check out this weekly GovLoop series, First 5: Advice from millennial to millennial