How to Write a Federal Resume

Federal resumes require a specific format and attention to detail that is unique from any other kind of resume. The resume needs to be highly detailed and there are also several places you have to look to get the right details to build a resume that shows you are qualified for the job under the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) standards. The following are step-by-step guidelines to help you make a federal resume that gets through the hiring process and is submitted to the hiring manager.

What is a Federal Resume?

Before digging into what you need to know, it is important to first understand exactly what a federal resume is. A federal resume is a document that is used for job applications for positions with the United States government agencies. It includes detailed information about your work experience, education, and qualifications, along with other personal details needed for the application process.

Federal resumes contain the highest level of detail of any resume type or CV. They are not only a historical report but are used by the hiring team like a checklist to find all of the requirements from the job description to determine if you are qualified for the role. The resume is your one shot to show that you not only meet the requirements, but that you are one of the most qualified people for the opening under the government evaluation process.

Length of a Federal Resume

How long should a federal resume be? The answer depends on your level of experience, credentials, and achievements. Most candidates for federal jobs are using resumes that are 5 - 10 pages long. This is far longer than your typical private sector resume which is 2- 3 pages max.

Federal jobs all require the candidates to provide a high level of detail for everything that they have done professionally that is relevant to the jobs that they are pursuing. In fact, some federal positions will explicitly prohibit resumes that are more than 5 pages. But, there are other federal jobs that want and require significantly more detail.

This is why most people are best served by having a short form (5 pages) and a long-form federal resume (as many pages as needed). Having a short-form and long-form federal resume will make your federal job search process easier and more efficient.

The Format of a Federal Resume

The format of a federal resume is chronology based but has a lot more details. Typical sections of a federal resume are:

  • Contact Details - email, phone, address, willingness to travel, and any hiring preferences
  • Professional Summary - provide 3 or 4 sentences explaining your credentials and why you are the best fit for the role. An elevator pitch that previews the following pages.
  • Experience - include all professional experience regardless of whether it was paid or not and military service
  • Education - degree programs, relevant courses, GPA, activities, etc.
  • Training - all relevant courses completed that did not result in a degree and they can be webinars or employer-provided
  • Awards - listing out all professional awards with an explanation of why they were received, by whom, and when
  • Licenses and Certifications  - any independent certifications or licensures with status
  • Memberships and Professional Engagements - including leadership seats, speaking, events, and any other relevant involvement.
  • Skills - including any types of skills that are relevant to the jobs you are pursuing like software, typing speeds, language proficiency, competencies, etc.

You can also add other sections or subsections to these common sections of a federal resume. Ultimately, the content should be organized and make it easy for the person reading through it to see how you are qualified for the federal job that you are pursuing.

Understand the Job Announcement

An important step that most applicants for a federal job overlook it to understand the job announcement. Take the time to read the job announcement. It will contain important information such as the job title, position requirements, qualifications, and application instructions. You should also take the time to read all additional items for the job including those additional questions. All of these pieces will have important information about the types of knowledge, skills, and responsibilities of the role.

Once you know this information, you will be able to properly customize your resume to the particular federal position. Analyzing the job announcement and identifying keywords is an essential part of tailoring your resume to the job requirements. Take the time to incorporate all of these details into your resume before applying. It is essential to do so to make sure that the person reviewing your resume understands that you have the skills required as it will be clearly spelled out on your resume.

Prepare to Answer the Additional Federal Job Application Questions

Many federal jobs require applicants to answer additional questions in the application process. Your answers to these questions will be used to self-certify you for the position and particular salary level. These same questions will be reviewed by the person evaluating your application to determine whether you are qualified for the role and at what level.

Take the time when preparing your resume to also prepare these answers. Doing this legwork at this time will also enable you to properly include the details on your resume. This is key because the person who will evaluate your answers to the questions will go back and refer to your resume to find the relevant matching details. You may be disqualified from the position if they do not match up.

Use Keywords

USAJOBS is the federal applicant tracking system used by federal HR professionals to filter candidates. Unlike the private sector, most federal recruiters are reviewing the resumes that are submitted. But, they do so as experts in hiring processes and not as experts in your profession or field. Meaning that they are relying on the job descriptions and the concepts or keywords in them to look for relevant skills.

These professionals do not necessarily know the private sector jargon or the specific lingo of any field. Thus, they may not be able to infer ideas or to create connections if the details are not plainly spelled out on your resume in a way that is similar to the description of the job that you are applying for.

Using the specific keywords or phrases from the job description will improve the performance of your federal resume. It will also help you to understand exactly how your experience translates to the needs of the specific federal job.

Sometimes, candidates will be flagged for copying/pasting from the job description. This happens most when the person does not take the time to translate the bullets from the job description to their experience in a relevant way. So, if you copy/paste, make sure you also synthesize that information in a relevant way and to ad results from such experiences.

What Content should be included in your Federal Resume?

In your federal resume, you should include every piece of information that qualifies you for the position you are applying for. The length is not restricted like in the private sector, so you really should include every single detail on your federal resume - as long as it is relevant to the job you are pursuing.

This includes work experience, education, skills, certifications, volunteer experience, military service, and awards. Be sure to use relevant keywords, achievements, and any other details that are specific to the job you are applying for to increase your chances of getting selected.

In many cases, the more the better to show on paper that you are qualified for the federal position that you are pursuing. And, if you do not include the detail on your resume, it will not be considered or deemed valid, so you must put it on your federal resume.

Highlight Your Accomplishments

A federal resume is more than just a list of your work experience. It should showcase the achievements that make you different and unique. Achievements are the results that you obtained using the skills and knowledge that the job announcement requires. These statements should be included on your federal resume in bullet format under the respective roles where you obtained the result.

Achievement statements are best when they include specific details and numbers to illustrate the result. You should focus that statement on what you did and what the result was for the organization, program, or people served. The clarity in these statements will make it easy for you to stand out from others that have similar backgrounds.

Achievements are the hardest part of the resume to write for most people looking for federal jobs. Beyond the need to talk about yourself, you have to translate the private sector or nonprofit world jargon or motivations into a relevant impact statement. You may also not have the numbers or even remember all of the details of the initiative.

The way to overcome this limitation is to think about how you would explain that situation in an interview. Talk about the who, what, where, when, why, and how. Write it out and then consolidate those concepts into a single sentence for your resume.

Do's and Don'ts of Writing a Federal Resume

Here are some additional Do's and Don'ts to Writing a Federal Resume:

  • Do focus on specific keywords and phrases that match the job requirements.
  • Do use strong action verbs that show your experience and achievements.
  • Do tailor your resume to the specific job posting to show your suitability.
  • Do explain the details of your experience on the resume.
  • Do include any hiring preferences that you are eligible to claim on the resume as well as in your answer to any application questions to make sure that you get credit for it.
  • Do use bullet points to make your resume easier to read.
  • Do use headers and subheaders to organize the sections of your resume.
  • Don’t forget to proofread your resume for errors, typos, and grammatical mistakes.
  • Don’t exaggerate your qualifications or experience, be truthful.
  • Don’t forget to include all required information, particularly your education and work experience.
  • Don't forget to include relevant keywords from the job announcement.
  • Don't hold anything for the interview or the cover letter.
  • Don't forget to organize your information in a logical way and make it easy to follow and find the details that are relevant to the person looking.  

Make Sure to Edit and Review Your Federal Resume

The final step in writing a federal resume is to review it carefully. Go over it several times, checking for typos, grammatical errors, syntax, and punctuation. Ask for someone else to review your resume as well to make sure that you don't miss anything.

Many people will also ask for a professional, like resume writers at The Contingent Plan, to ensure that they capture everything on their federal resume. The value of working with someone to write your federal resume is to make sure that you capture all of the needed details. A good professional resume writer will work with you to understand your experience and to communicate the details on the draft in a way that is honest and that you can speak to. They will also help you edit your resume to make sure that you put the best foot forward for your application on

Good luck in your job search and make sure to stand out from the competition with a well-written resume that highlights your unique qualifications and achievements. With these tips, you can be confident that you have written an effective federal resume that will help you land a federal government job.