What to Include in A Federal Resume

Updated: July 12, 2020

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    Landing a federal job means knowing what to include in a federal resume. Newcomers to the process may not fully understand that applying for a federal job includes a number of screening procedures.

    What to Include in A Federal Resume Those procedures begin with whether or not the applicant has submitted all necessary paperwork, has followed the instructions to apply for the job to the letter, and properly structures their resume to address the requirements in the job advertisement being applied for.

    That may sound fairly obvious to some, and a bit arbitrary to others. But federal hiring is a process, and it’s a process that does not change or bend to accommodate the applicant; it’s actually the other way around–you must adjust your methods and approach to the resume and application in order to be successfully considered for a federal job.

    What To Expect From The Federal Hiring Process

    Unlike civilian jobs, federal employment is advertised in two basic places–one is the federal government’s official job site, USAJobs.gov. You should expect to create an account there and create a unique resume for each position you apply for. The second place such jobs are advertised are on the official sites for the federal agency doing the hiring.

    Do not waste your time with third-party services offering to hook you up with federal job opportunities–many of them simply redirect you back to USAJobs.gov anyway. Expect to deal with USAJobs and the official site of the job-seeking entity rather than Indeed, LinkedIn, Monster.com or Glassdoor.

    Those sites may be helpful for basic information about a job listing, but you should never apply for a federal job through any of them. The direct approach is what is needed.

    What Not To Include In Your Federal Resume

    The job you apply for has specific requirements for education, experience, and training. Don’t waste your time including resume information about jobs, school, or experience unless it is relevant to the job duties, requirements, or expectations. Irrelevant information on your federal resume is the enemy.

    This causes worry for some who feel they have relevant experience that is not immediately recognizable as such. You may need to explain that in your cover letter, or add a bit of detail in the resume itself that connects the skill with the relevant requirements.

    For example, if a federal job requires you to have experience handling classified documents, and your experience includes dealing with sensitive information (but without a clearance required) you may need to find a way to write out such experience to show that you were afforded a level of trust in the same way. Even if it wasn’t an official security clearance-related duty.

    What To Include In A Federal Resume

    The key to knowing what to include in your resume for a federal job? Reading the ENTIRE job announcement. Glossing over the job ad could mean missing crucial details for a successful application. Are you required to reply to a specific email address with your cover letter? Or are you required to submit all materials in a certain format (PDF, Word, etc.)?

    Those are not requirements applicable to all federal jobs, but no two vacancies are treated alike and you will need to know your specific instructions for applying for that specific job.

    After Reading The Job Ad

    Knowing what to put on your federal resume means knowing what the job description asks in the Duties and Qualifications section, How To Apply, and the job ad’s explanation of how you will be evaluated for the job.

    Include the following information in your resume–but only include the information specifically relevant to the job, its description, keywords, etc.:

    • Your experience level as it pertains to the job description
    • Your education as it relates to the job requirements
    • All relevant training

    Brevity is important, but so is detail. Include cause-and-effect statements (“Instituted new waste management policies to eliminate redundancy in the recycling department resulting in an annual savings of $25k”). Even these must be relevant to the job in some way.

    Keywords Count

    Scour the job announcement for keywords related to the job. By “keywords” we mean terms that are central to the specific job you want. These could include “surgeon” or “brain surgeon” as opposed to more generic terms like “doctor” or “medical staff.”

    The more keywords you reflect from the job posting in your federal resume, the better. Some interpret that (wrongly) to mean that if you simply stuff your resume with the right keywords, you can get an interview.

    Instead, we mean that you should take your relevant experience and see how the keywords apply to it. This is a major hint for job seekers–imagine the artist who applies for a federal job as a graphic designer and uses all the right keywords.

    Except our artist is a painter, not a Photoshop expert. The keywords the artist stuffs into the resume won’t match their experience as a painter, nor the job requirements for a graphic designer (which includes extensive use of platforms like Photoshop rather than brush-and-canvas painting).

    See how just using the right words is not enough? Think carefully about how you approach this part of resume writing and try to stay dedicated to matching your skills with the right keywords, but accurately so.

    Formatting Counts

    There is a notion among hiring managers and those who give advice about applying for job vacancies that your resume should be reasonably “scannable” and that you should be able to communicate your experience quickly through the right formatting.

    One of those formatting tricks is the order in which you list your education and experience. In each section, consider listing in reverse chronological order with the most recent experience first in that section, and the most recent schooling first in the appropriate section. Give your resume heads and subheads where appropriate.

    Write out a resume and then set it aside for a day or two. When you pick it up again, read it as though YOU are the hiring manager and see if your work needs further refinement in the format area.

    Be sure to use bullet points and concise language to make your resume easy to scan while still communicating the relevant data.

    How To List Your Employment Experience On A Federal Resume

    For best results you will need to submit the following information:

    • Starting and ending month and year for each employer
    • Duration and nature of weekly work (full-time, part-time, hours per week, etc.)
    • How much experience you have in that position relevant to the current job opening
    • Examples of experience and achievements that show you are qualified to do the job
    • Be sure to address each and every qualification requirement listed in the job ad
    • Paid and unpaid experience count as long as such experience is directly relevant

    Job experience is only one type of entry in your federal resume. You will also need a list of your educational accomplishments, and you will also be required to list any skills on equipment, software, hardware, etc. Don’t waste time adding skills or technical abilities that do not pertain to the job.

    Documentation You Will Need When Submitting Your Federal Resume

    Many state and federal government jobs require a college degree or some form of credentialing such as a CISCO certification, medical license, etc.

    When you submit a federal resume, it’s best to assume that you must upload and transmit digital copies of your diplomas, certifications, etc. You will also be required to submit the relevant paperwork for claiming veteran’s preference.

    Those who claim preference as a disabled veteran may also be required to submit VA award letters or other documentation as evidence they are entitled to such preference. It is best to gather, scan, and store these documents before the application process begins. Most federal jobs ask for submission of a cover letter as well as a resume–it’s best to accomplish this ahead of submission time, too.

    Some make the mistake of trying to compose a cover letter or even update their resume within the online application process. But doing such updates can be time consuming and you risk losing your work by timing out of the website and being “reset” or asked to login again. Compose your documents ahead of time for best results.


    About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News


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