How to Write a Resume for a Federal Job

Are you thinking of applying for a job with the federal government? The strategies for writing a powerful resume are different from those recommended for the private sector. AOL Jobs spoke to Kathryn Troutman, a leading federal resume expert, to learn more about how to write a top-notch resume for the federal sector.

Don't list every job

The official federal resume writing rules (OF-510) from the Office of Personnel Management state that you should include recent and relevant positions. So, if you have 10-14 (or more) positions in your entire Work Experience section of your resume, review the positions to determine which positions are most recent and relevant. The best number of positions to include in your Work Experience section is at most 4-7. Review all of the positions and leave out any short-term jobs, non-relevant jobs, repetitive jobs, non-paid jobs (move them to Additional Information section of your resume, or leave them out), and interim jobs.

The federal resume is NOT a life history

The HR specialists tend to be most interested in the last 10 years of your relevant work experience. You can list experience going back longer than that, if you feel they provide good background, but keep it short.

The average federal resume length in the USAJOBS format is four to five pages.

Considering that the federal HR specialist will receive 100 to 400 (or more) resumes per application, and that the USAJOBS resumes are read and scanned by humans (not an automated system), the resumes should be succinct and powerful.

HR specialists working in government agencies are currently learning to read federal resumes, so that they can find the specialized experience, examples, accomplishments, and experience they require to determine if you are Minimally Qualified, Qualified, or Best Qualified –- according to the new category rating system for applications. Best Qualified represent a score of 90 to 100; Qualified is 80 to 89; Minimally Qualified is 70 to 79. Under 70 points and your application does not get considered.

Don't go too far back in your work history

If you are over 50 and you held professional positions in the 1970s and 1980s, leave them off. The human resources specialists are interested in the last 10 years (back to 2000). And if you want to give some extra background, you can write about your experiences back to 1990 -- but there should be no dates before 1990. This can help you avoid age discrimination and cut down resume length.

federal resume reviewGaps in dates are a problem

The federal human resources specialists do not care if there are small gaps in dates (one year or less). If you have any positions in your list of experiences that are not recent or relevant, then you should leave them out. The HR specialists are looking for positions that support your candidacy for the position they are trying to fill. They are looking for evidence of specialized experience in their field.

Group temporary or contractor assignments

If you are a temp or government contractor and you have had 15 assignments with a single contracting firm, then write them up under the name of the contracting firm as one job, not 15. Within the Contractor "job block" add highlights from your contracts. Some of your contracts were more impressive, challenging, and results-oriented than others. Feature the contracts that resulted in new projects or impressive projects that will help you land a permanent position.

Don't list short, irrelevant jobs

Again, the positions should be recent and relevant. If you have one six-month position that is a repeat of another, and just clutters up the solid work experiences, then take it out.

Include accomplishments

Most resumes that are received do not include accomplishments. If you want to prove that you have a certain knowledge, skill or ability, you will need to add an achievement that proves you have the experience. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Show the context of your accomplishments

If you do include a one-line accomplishment, it may not help the HR specialist to see what obstacles you've overcome. Displaying how you've overcome difficulties is important because it shows that you can solve problems in a real-world environment, and help the organizations reach its goals, regardless of whatever challenges they might face. For a federal resume, the accomplishment usually needs to be surrounded with more details in order to engage the HR specialist as well as your prospective supervisors.

Career changers must show relevance

If, for example, you are currently employed in corporate America and are seeking a job with the Customs & Border Patrol as a mission support specialist, then your resume must change about 100 percent. This is an extreme career change, and for people seeking such a transition, I recommend my book, 'Ten Steps to a Federal Job,' or professional help with the writing of translational skills, keywords, mission, and language.

Include keywords

Most first-time federal applicants simply do not include keywords from the target announcement. If you see the word supply listed 20 times in the announcement , that means that this word must go in your resume, specifically somewhere in the top five lines of your "work experience" section. The HR specialist is looking for a supply person, and if you don't have that word anywhere in your resume, you will probably not be considered to be anywhere in the Best Qualified, Referred, or even Minimally Qualified categories.


The federal resume is not the same as a private industry resume. It is longer, more detailed, and must include keywords from the federal job announcement. Your resume must also demonstrate your specialized experiences, and should be no longer than five pages.

You should consider your federal jobs resumes as a proposal that you are submitting in order to work for the government. It is a technical document that should carefully match the job announcement, with serious consideration regarding your ability to perform the job. If you spend time and look at samples of federal resumes versus resumes from the private sector, you could find yourself in the Best Qualified category and referred to a supervisor for consideration and an interview; and maybe even hired into your dream job with the U.S. Federal Government.

Next: Federal Government Example Resume

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Lee Goddard

I know what he means, I worked for a third party agency and thought it would be an exceptional experience to work for Apple too. I learned the hard way that the poeple running Apple now don't care about anything but the bottom line. They used to be one of the best companies out there.. the company everyone wanted to be. Now their the company your just disappointed in. All they care about most of the time is the money or their bottom line. The managers get bonuses for your hard work and remind you on a constant basis you are expendable.

April 14 2015 at 3:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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July 07 2013 at 7:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I want to apply for an international jobs,so i need an resume format for that.

May 03 2013 at 5:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Scored 93 out of 100 points and asking where I missed the points.

November 26 2012 at 4:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was not selected for a job because I didnt make the BQ list. I scored 93 and 100 points.

My HR keeps telling me to review for the points; some were listed and some were not.

They keep telling me they "Cannot give me where" I missed the points.

This doesn't seem correct to me. I saw something under the USC 5 that says they can.

Can or cannot they give the breakdown?

November 26 2012 at 4:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jessica Stromsky

I always found that these tips helped me alot with my resume

January 20 2012 at 12:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The responsibility of the Federal selecting official is to select from among the best qualified group of candidates applying for their vacant position(s). If you are interested in being a part of that group, you need to remember you are competing against anywhere from 30 to 400+ candidates. The first leg of the "race" is on paper - your application package. Make sure you read the full vacancy announcement and follow the instructions for applying. Make sure you have the qualifying experience, education, or combination of the two as outlined in the vacancy announcement, and that you clearly note that in your resume. We do not just hire relatives of employees - we hire from among the best qualified. I am a recruitment/placement specialist for a Federal agency, and any candidate who calls me with questions gets answers. I don't favor family members of employees over other candidates. I am seeking the best qualified candidates to refer to my managers, so they can hire from among the best out there. That is my job. That is what I do. If you want the job - don't ignore what I've asked you for in the announcement. Don't submit an incomplete application package. We are not allowed to give anything away - you have to have it, so please make sure you include the experience/education you have in your application package so I can review it and give you credit if it meets the requirements. And please, tell me the month/year you started a job, and the month/year you left. Also tell me if you worked full or part time, and if it was part time, the average number of hours you worked per week. I have to know that when computing creditable experience. If you don't tell me - you will receive no credit at all for that experience. You have more control over this process than you think you do. Take control where you can, and trust the process. It works. And please remember - you don't have any idea who your competition is. While you may be very qualified, there will be others less or better qualified than you - especially when we have in the neighborhood of 400 people applying for one vacant position. Best wishes to all of you as you search for that perfect job.

January 15 2011 at 1:46 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Sandy's comment

Sandy I hope you are being truthful because it seems my husband is applying to so many things for which he is overqualified and his resume is not evening being retrieved. I am not sure what decides this I just know that the man would be a perfect fit in most goverment jobs.

April 05 2011 at 11:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Just a question of curiosity....if you have never performed a job function you are selecting resumes as most qualified for, how is it that you know what the most qualified candidate is? For some jobs specifically professional/technical jobs not all experience should be rated the same. This in lies the problem with the way the federal government does business. Having people completely unqualified for a job selecting people they feel are. This is true with the FAA and this USAJOBS site. The selection process is a sham.

November 04 2011 at 5:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

For years nobody wanted to work for the Federal government because it wasn't enough money for them. Now that those high paying corporate jobs are a thing of the past, now folks are interested in Federal positions because they're secure. I've been a Federal employee for 29 years. I earned very little money in the beginning of my career and worked my way up. Dealing with the public is rewarding, but is also stressful. When the economy was strong, Federal jobs were ignored. Now it seems it's "open season" on Federal employees and we're getting bashed for still having jobs.

January 15 2011 at 12:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sad to even see this article. We should be reducing gov't. jobs, many of which are nothing but legal mooching. "You voted for me, here's a "job", now go away until payday."

January 15 2011 at 12:32 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jay's comment

Where do you idiots come from?

January 15 2011 at 2:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

At a time when we desperately need to chop jobs from our bloated government payroll aol is telling people how to get one. As of 2006 there were over 16 million state and local government employees. There were over 2 million civilian federal employees and that does not include the post office, Homeland security, the CIA and several other offices. It also does not include our military. That's over, probably well over, 20 million government jobs! As of 2007 there were about 138 million taxpayers. That number has decreased due to the recession! YET THE GOVERNMENT IS HIRING?! Do the math folks. At least 1 in 7 is working in government! The other 6 get to pay for'em! How can we POSSIBLY sustain this insane pace of more and more government!? WE CAN'T!! This country will fold under the weight of government and debt brought on by said government !

January 15 2011 at 11:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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