Federal Resume Advice

Let’s face it, finding a Federal job can be difficult.

We have all heard of the individuals who have been trying to land a Federal job for years and have achieved no success; or the current Federal employees that can’t seem to find another job. It can be difficult, and sometimes intimidating to break into the Federal government or to simply move within.


There are many schools of thought on how to write a Federal resume, and many contain different advice, many are even conflicting. How do you know which advice to follow?  Let’s face it – your time is too valuable to apply to countless jobs if you’re not going to receive serious consideration.

Before you read any further, I encourage you to take comfort in the fact that if you choose any qualified resume writer your resume should more powerfully and professionally represent your characteristics than up to half of the field applying. Resume writing is a very valuable skill that very few individuals possess, and many of your would be competitors are submitting self-written resumes without the understanding of what makes for a powerful and compelling document. As a result, with a well-written and transparent document, you can expect to surpass up to half of the competition.

From that point, things get a little more difficult. Experience, qualifications, attributes, and accomplishments come into the picture. This is truly where a professional resume writer proves their worth. There is much more to writing a resume than putting a few bullets into a document, formatting it nicely, and expecting a call back. A resume is a complex and strategic document; and a capable resume writer will work through all of the complication to arrange, structure, word, and present you in a manner that is powerful, transparent, and easily readable.

Here are a few tips that will serve you well in developing your Federal resume. Don’t be intimidated; if at any point during this process you have questions or need assistance, simply contact us!

1. Realize your Federal resume is not significantly different than your private sector resume.

Many writers and individuals will tell you that a Federal resume requires X or requires Y; that it is significantly different; that you are required to list every detail and every role/responsibility; that you are required to write to a specific position; that length and keywords are what you need for a referral.  News flash; this is bad advice.

Most of the conventional resume logic, both private sector and Federal, is outdated, incorrect, or non-beneficial. We have navigated both Federal and private environments, and our advice is to be very skeptical of much of what you hear. There is so much bad information on the internet that can cost you opportunity. If you are reading it here, you can trust the information. Otherwise, if you have questions, please contact us.

Your Federal resume is essentially the same as a private sector resume. There is additional information you may include; such as supervisor names and phone numbers, salary information, security clearance(s), months/dates of positions held, Federal status, veterans preference, information about special hiring authorities, etc. These sound like normal things to include, however your date format may be different on a private sector resume, and the additional information may not be included at all.

You should use the same logic for a Federal resume as for a private sector resume.

2. Length & Content.

  • FALSE – You need to list everything you’ve been involved in and have a lengthy resume.
  • TRUE – You need to list professionally relevant experience and remain powerful, yet concise.

We have taken on clients with 10-20 page resumes and decreased the length to 3-4 pages with better results. I’ve written resumes and CVs for PhDs, Post Docs, Congressional Appointees, Federal Senior Executives, Ivy League Professors, Fortune 50 Executives, and numerous additional C Level Executives (Chief Executive Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Financial Officers, etc.). We’ve written resumes for individuals who have briefed Cabinet level officials, briefed Senators and Committees as well as the President himself, professionals who regularly appear on CSPAN, FOX News, and MSNBC, and other national networks, sit on boards, and shape political discourse related to specific issues in America.

If a 3-5 page resume works for some of the most high-powered government and private sector individuals in the country, why does your Federal resume need to be longer?

You don’t need to have an extensive document. You need to have a document of appropriate length.

3. Keywords & Amount of Detail.

  • FALSE – You need to fill your resume with specific keywords.
  • FALSE – You need to copy/paste previous job descriptions/job announcements
  • TRUE – You need to develop an accurate and powerful presentation of your capabilities and experience.
  • TRUE – You need to differentiate yourself by demonstrating your value and accomplishments!BuzzWordsText
Have you ever seen a resume that was written simply to include numerous “buzzwords?”

Let us tell you, it’s not a pretty sight. The contents typically wind up jammed together, fragmented, choppy, lacking flow and transparency, giving the impression the candidate is trying to hide a lack of genuine capability, or simply does not understand what he/she has to offer.  Don’t do it!

Find your core value. Identify your accomplishments. Be quantitative and qualitative. While others copy/paste their job description in their resume, you want to outline the value you delivered, the responsibility you actually accepted, the accomplishments you made, your impact in your current role.

Let the others include their job description and appear as employees (translation = expendable and non-value added)

You want to appear as strategic, focused, mission-essential; someone who accepts challenges and delivers.

Link features to benefits. Don’t include a statement that doesn’t indicate the value delivered. Such statements take up valued space and deliver no impact. Ask yourself “so what” following each statement. If the answer is not clear, remove the statement or demonstrate the value. If the hiring organization can visualize your value in their operation, you’re significantly ahead of your competition and halfway there!

In these areas you have a huge opportunity to gain competitive advantage. Do this and do it well, and watch your referral rate skyrocket!

On a side note; we dare someone to ask us to develop a resume for a Budget or Logistics resume for them without using the words “Budget” and “Logistics” respectively. If you are brave enough to take this challenge, we are brave enough to prove we can get you a referral without using the one main word in the job announcement!

Takeaway: It’s not about random buzzwords; it’s about appropriate language and demonstrating value!

  • FALSE – You have to change your resume for each job announcement.
  • FALSE – You should copy/paste text from the job announcement into your resume used for that announcement.
  • TRUE – You can build a super-resume. At most, you will be required to “reorder” accomplishments.
  • TRUE – There are no words for this. Seriously? People really think this. Perplexing.

Did you even read the section above?

Concentrate on outlining your value.

Approach this as you would approach writing a proposal, after all – isn’t this your personal proposal?

Once you’ve done a solid job demonstrating your roles, value, and accomplishments, you should be able to use the basic construct for every position you intend to apply.

After all, if you’re qualified, you’re qualified. If you’re attempting to put buzzwords or edit a position to include language from the requisition, where does that leave you? I’ll give you two potential answers:

  1. Your resume doesn’t flow again; it feels pieced together; your attempt to throw in words to “make a cert” is obvious.
  2. You get the job! Congratulations! However, you quickly realize that you don’t have the capabilities you attempted to copy/paste into your resume. Now what do you do? You’re stuck in a position where you may not be able to meet the required level of performance. That doesn’t benefit your or the organization, and creates an environment you will be eager to get out of. Now you’re applying again. Neither is a good outcome.

Be smart.

Demonstrate your value.

Be honest.

Be transparent.

If you want to succeed in the Federal workforce, work hard and be in tune with what roles are right for you. Pursue them and use them to propel you into the next position of increasing responsibility!

You don’t have to listen to a word we say in this page, but we strongly suspect that comparing the trends of individuals that applied this advice vs. those who did not would find the ones who adhered to this advice in higher graded positions, with fewer career moves, and in more enjoyable and appropriate positions for their skills and capabilities.

Where do you want to be?