Resume tips for government job seekers

Applying for a government job is different in many ways from applying for a job in the private sector.

Resume tips for government job seekers

Help your government resume stand out.

Meaningful work, attractive benefits, and opportunities for career advancement are a few of the advantages of getting to work with the government. To help make sure that happens, your government resume needs to meet federal application requirements.

Follow these tips to land in the “referred” pile, catapulting your resume to the next step in the selection process to put you in the running for a government job.

Study job announcements

Government vacancy announcements explain everything you need to know about the job, including required experience, qualifications, and knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs). The amount of detail may seem daunting—especially to newcomers to the application process—but embrace it. The job posting lays out a roadmap for resume success.

Using the job announcement as a guide to write your resume is essential, says Norine Dagliano, nationally certified resume writer and owner of ekm Inspirations, a resume- and online profile-writing service. “Writing a government resume without referring to the corresponding job announcement is equivalent to baking a cake from scratch without a recipe,” she says.

Dive into detail

Content requirements vary by agency, so follow the vacancy announcement’s instructions. Additional information required for government resumes could include:

For every job held:

  • Months and years of employment
  • Salary information or job grade and level
  • Number of hours worked per week
  • Supervisor names, contact information, and permission to contact

Elsewhere in your resume:

  • Highest GS grade
  • Target job title, grade, and announcement number
  • Special hiring categories (e.g., veteran’s preference, persons with disabilities, Peace Corps volunteers)
  • U.S. citizenship or visa status
  • Security clearances

Job seekers who want to work with the government should not skip these additional details, cautions Tammeca Riley, certified federal resume writer and owner of Infinite Potential Resumes: “Not including this information—even if it’s just your citizenship—could disqualify you from consideration.”

Emphasize accomplishments

The best way to get “referred” status is to include accomplishments on your government resume, says Kathryn K. Troutman, author of The Federal Resume Guidebook and president of The Resume Place, a service business specializing in federal resumes. “You have to brag about yourself.”

Not only should accomplishments be included on government resumes, they need to be visible. “Highlight your accomplishments under a heading such as ‘Key Accomplishments’ so they stand out,” advises Troutman.

As the federal job market is highly competitive, government hiring managers look for candidates with a proven track record. “Accomplishments demonstrate past performance and set an applicant apart from others seeking the same position,” says Carla M. Waskiewicz, a certified federal resume writer and principal of CMW Consulting.

Use keywords

Waskiewicz says job seekers should incorporate keywords from the job announcement throughout their government resumes, including the summary, work experience, accomplishments, and education.

Troutman pioneered the outline format, which uses a combination of keywords and headlines in all caps followed by short paragraphs that contain supporting information. “This format is effective because the all-cap words are keywords from the announcement. They are easy for HR to read,” says Troutman.

Build your government resume

USAJobs.gov, the federal government’s employment website, has an online resume builder. However, the tool has drawbacks—it standardizes the order of resume sections and formats text in a small font size.

As a workaround, Troutman says applicants can use the tool to build a resume, download the file, fix the formatting, and upload the new file. The system allows users to store and manage multiple resume versions.

When reformatting a resume, review the order of sections. If you have a recent degree or the education is required by the position, education should be placed above work history. “Sometimes I find a new MBA degree buried at the bottom of an otherwise great resume,” says Troutman.

Avoid getting creative, such as using a functional resume to hide a lack of experience. “The only acceptable format for a government application is reverse chronological,” says Dagliano, who teaches a resume writing course for the National Resume Writers’ Association, a nonprofit trade association.

Go long on your resume details

With all of the information required on government resumes, you may be concerned about the length of your document. Don’t be, says Waskiewicz. “Federal resumes are longer and more detailed than private-sector resumes.”

Riley explains that more comprehensive details are needed to determine if you meet eligibility requirements. “HR specialists will not make assumptions about your experiences and qualifications. If your federal resume doesn’t mention it, then you didn’t do it.”

“An average government resume could easily run five, six, or more pages, particularly if the candidate has a lot of job-related training and awards,” says Dagliano.

Be patient

Job seeking in the government sector is more like a marathon than a sprint. “Be patient. The federal application process takes much longer and can require multiple applications,” says Riley. With diligence and persistence, your future work email address could end in “.gov.”

Help your government resume rise in the ranks

Getting to work for the government is an awesome career opportunity, so you want to make sure your resume is as perfect as possible before you apply to any jobs. Need some help with that? Upload your resume to Monster and let the experts at Monster’s Resume Writing Service give you a free review.