How to Write a Resume for a Federal Job

Are you thinking of applying for a job with the federal government? The strategies for writing a powerful resume are different from those recommended for the private sector. AOL Jobs spoke to Kathryn Troutman, a leading federal resume expert, to learn more about how to write a top-notch resume for the federal sector.

Don't list every job

The official federal resume writing rules (OF-510) from the Office of Personnel Management state that you should include recent and relevant positions. So, if you have 10-14 (or more) positions in your entire Work Experience section of your resume, review the positions to determine which positions are most recent and relevant. The best number of positions to include in your Work Experience section is at most 4-7. Review all of the positions and leave out any short-term jobs, non-relevant jobs, repetitive jobs, non-paid jobs (move them to Additional Information section of your resume, or leave them out), and interim jobs.

The federal resume is NOT a life history

The HR specialists tend to be most interested in the last 10 years of your relevant work experience. You can list experience going back longer than that, if you feel they provide good background, but keep it short.

The average federal resume length in the USAJOBS format is four to five pages.

Considering that the federal HR specialist will receive 100 to 400 (or more) resumes per application, and that the USAJOBS resumes are read and scanned by humans (not an automated system), the resumes should be succinct and powerful.

HR specialists working in government agencies are currently learning to read federal resumes, so that they can find the specialized experience, examples, accomplishments, and experience they require to determine if you are Minimally Qualified, Qualified, or Best Qualified –- according to the new category rating system for applications. Best Qualified represent a score of 90 to 100; Qualified is 80 to 89; Minimally Qualified is 70 to 79. Under 70 points and your application does not get considered.

Don't go too far back in your work history

If you are over 50 and you held professional positions in the 1970s and 1980s, leave them off. The human resources specialists are interested in the last 10 years (back to 2000). And if you want to give some extra background, you can write about your experiences back to 1990 -- but there should be no dates before 1990. This can help you avoid age discrimination and cut down resume length.

federal resume reviewGaps in dates are a problem

The federal human resources specialists do not care if there are small gaps in dates (one year or less). If you have any positions in your list of experiences that are not recent or relevant, then you should leave them out. The HR specialists are looking for positions that support your candidacy for the position they are trying to fill. They are looking for evidence of specialized experience in their field.

Group temporary or contractor assignments

If you are a temp or government contractor and you have had 15 assignments with a single contracting firm, then write them up under the name of the contracting firm as one job, not 15. Within the Contractor "job block" add highlights from your contracts. Some of your contracts were more impressive, challenging, and results-oriented than others. Feature the contracts that resulted in new projects or impressive projects that will help you land a permanent position.

Don't list short, irrelevant jobs

Again, the positions should be recent and relevant. If you have one six-month position that is a repeat of another, and just clutters up the solid work experiences, then take it out.

Include accomplishments

Most resumes that are received do not include accomplishments. If you want to prove that you have a certain knowledge, skill or ability, you will need to add an achievement that proves you have the experience. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Show the context of your accomplishments

If you do include a one-line accomplishment, it may not help the HR specialist to see what obstacles you've overcome. Displaying how you've overcome difficulties is important because it shows that you can solve problems in a real-world environment, and help the organizations reach its goals, regardless of whatever challenges they might face. For a federal resume, the accomplishment usually needs to be surrounded with more details in order to engage the HR specialist as well as your prospective supervisors.

Career changers must show relevance

If, for example, you are currently employed in corporate America and are seeking a job with the Customs & Border Patrol as a mission support specialist, then your resume must change about 100 percent. This is an extreme career change, and for people seeking such a transition, I recommend my book, 'Ten Steps to a Federal Job,' or professional help with the writing of translational skills, keywords, mission, and language.

Include keywords

Most first-time federal applicants simply do not include keywords from the target announcement. If you see the word supply listed 20 times in the announcement , that means that this word must go in your resume, specifically somewhere in the top five lines of your "work experience" section. The HR specialist is looking for a supply person, and if you don't have that word anywhere in your resume, you will probably not be considered to be anywhere in the Best Qualified, Referred, or even Minimally Qualified categories.


The federal resume is not the same as a private industry resume. It is longer, more detailed, and must include keywords from the federal job announcement. Your resume must also demonstrate your specialized experiences, and should be no longer than five pages.

You should consider your federal jobs resumes as a proposal that you are submitting in order to work for the government. It is a technical document that should carefully match the job announcement, with serious consideration regarding your ability to perform the job. If you spend time and look at samples of federal resumes versus resumes from the private sector, you could find yourself in the Best Qualified category and referred to a supervisor for consideration and an interview; and maybe even hired into your dream job with the U.S. Federal Government.

Next:Federal Government Example Resume

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