Federal Resume Tips

Your resume is often an employer's first impression of you. Federal resumes can look very different from a resume to use to apply for a job in the private sector. Figuring out how to make yours stand out can make a big difference in your job search. Here are some tips to help.

Review the Job Announcement

Before you write your resume, you should familiarize yourself with the employer's needs. With practice, you will become skilled at understanding what employers are looking for and whether you are a good match.

  1. Read the job announcement thoroughly
    Don't skim over the job announcement. Read it very carefully. Pay special attention to the QualificationsDuties and How You Will be Evaluated sections.
     
  2. Highlight keywords
    It is helpful to print out the job announcement and highlight the skills and experiences the employer is looking for. 
     
  3. Consider your success stories
    Determine which of your experiences demonstrate the skills and experiences you highlighted. Then think about how to describe that experience in a clear, compelling way. A good model for this is the STAR (Situation or Task-Action-Result) technique. Or consider the format that Google's senior vice president of people operations favors: "…frame your strengths as: ‘I accomplished X, relative to Y, by doing Z.’" Both are useful narrative structures that will help you describe your experiences in a way that focuses on what you did (as opposed to what you were responsible for), how you did it, and what impact you had. In other words, the things employers care about.

Reframe

You may need to adjust your expectations about what makes a good resume when you apply for federal positions. For instance, federal resumes are generally longer and contain more detail than resumes for private sector applications.  It is common for federal resumes to be 2-to-5 pages in length. Here are some other ways in which federal resumes can be different:

  1. Focus on recent and relevant experience
    Every employer wants to know about your most recent experience. Federal employers want to know what in your experience is relevant to the position, even if it is not recent
     
  2. Think broadly
    Consider included courses you've taken, volunteer experiences, special projects, and other training you've received to demonstrate your skills or qualifications. And omit short-term experiences.
     
  3. Highlight results (Think STAR technique)
    Write about the impact of your work. Think about the difference your contributions have made. Describing what you've done without talking about the results and impact is like telling a story with no ending. Try to tell a story with a strong ending.
     
  4. If you don't write it, it doesn't exist
    Hiring managers will not assume anything. If you have a skill that they are looking for, document it clearly and as often is applicable in your federal resume. If it is not there, the hiring manager will assume you do not have it.

Refine

Federal government positions receive many applications, so if your resume is poorly written or contains errors, your candidacy might come to a swift end. Attention to detail counts for a lot.

  1. Edit for impact
    Review your highlighted keywords from the job announcement. Confirm that your resume clearly details the ways you have demonstrated those skills and focuses on the results of your work.
     
  2. Review, review, and review again
    Scour your resume for clarity and for errors. Ask someone with a good eye to proofread it for you. Then proofread it again yourself. Read it out loud. Sometimes your ear will catch an error your eye does not.
     
  3. Repeat the process
    Once you've finished your resume, don't make the mistake of using it for all your applications. It is important to customize your resume for each application.