When it comes to federal job applications, set aside everything you thought you knew about resumes. Federal resumes are so specific and detailed compared to “regular resumes,” it’s best to think about them as their own unique document. Additionally, you should carefully follow federal resume formatting and content guidelines because of the stringent screening software that the government uses. In this article, we will review general expectations before diving into best practices for each specific section.
This is the first of many resume “rules” that Uncle Sam wants you to break. Federal resumes effectively have no page limit, whereas one to two pages is the norm for any other sector. Conversely, there really isn’t a page minimum for federal resumes either. For entry-level positions that require no experience, applicants may still have a 1-2-page resume. For mid-level positions, expect to see 3+ pages.
Various sources will try to tell you there is an “ideal” federal resume length (i.e. 3-5, 4-6), but it really just depends on how much experience you have. Federal resumes break the rules because the government simply wants you to be comprehensive about your experience, education, publications, certifications, skills…the list can go on. Make sure to review our advice below on specific sections.
Even if you already have a resume created, it’s probably best to create your federal resume from scratch. The U.S. government wants Plain Jane resumes, which means stripping away most formatting used in more visually pleasing resumes.
- Font – Pick a very basic and standard font. Times New Roman or Arial are safe bets to choose from.
- Font size – Because you don’t need to worry about page limit, it’s fine to use a 12-point font throughout your resume.
- Margins – Stick with 1”, or what Microsoft Word calls “Normal.”
- Color – Absolutely not. Pure black font on an all-white background.
- Font Styling – Stay away from underlines and italics. Bold is acceptable but remember that this resume is not meant to win any beauty contests.
- Headers/Sections – You should still separate your resume into sections like Education and Experience. However, you should use minimal formatting to style each header. Bold or a different font size would be acceptable.
Unlike other positions, it’s a good idea to include job information at the top of your federal resume. This includes the job announcement number, the job title and grade level (if applicable), and desired locations (if applicable). The federal government uses a General Schedule (GS) to classify job level, and many of their job postings will list more than one GS level on the announcement (ex. GS 5-9). This would be an example of a time when you need to indicate which level you’re applying for on your resume. Additionally, if the job posting lists multiple available work locations, you should indicate which ones you’re applying for on your resume as well.
Beneath job information, you have your personal information. This includes your name, full home address, phone number, email address, citizenship status, and veteran status (if applicable). But, remember that all formatting should be stripped away. Here’s a good example of what the first two sections of your resume may look like:
Job Application Number: ABCD-12-34
Job Title and Level: Program Manager, GS-7
Locations: New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA; Washington, D.C.
Name: John Smith
Address: 123 Main St. City, ST 12345
Email: [email protected]
Citizenship status: U.S. Citizen, Permanent Resident, etc.
Veteran Status: Army Reserve (retired)
Please note that you can omit veteran status if it does not apply to you.
The federal resume expects the following pieces of information for each work experience:
- Job title (and grade, if federal job)
- Employer name and address
- Start and end dates (month & year)
- Hours worked per week
In addition, you’ll need to fully describe your job responsibilities and accomplishments. Just like non-federal resumes, you can use bullet points or a combination of paragraph/bullet points to describe each work experience. The key differentiating factor here is that the government wants to see all of your tasks and duties, whereas you may only focus on key achievements or results on a non-federal resume.
Additionally, your experience section is likely going to be the lengthiest part of your resume. Depending on the depth of your experience, you may choose to break down each work experience into sections, such as “Responsibilities” and “Accomplishments.” Another option is to separate your bullet points within each experience by functional area, such as “Program Management,” “Technical Solutions,” or “Marketing Initiatives.” The government wants you to be comprehensive with your work experience, but remember that a human will also have to parse through it as well.
Finally, make sure that your work experience explicitly demonstrates how you qualify for the job at hand. You should mirror words and phrases from the federal job description as much as possible without actually copying and pasting the responsibilities or requirements word-for-word. This step is important because the federal government screening software will scan your start/end dates, hours worked, and job responsibilities to ensure you meet the minimum required experience.
While this section is pretty straightforward, it’s also extremely critical. Most federal jobs have a minimum education requirement, so all degrees need to be clearly listed on your resume. You should include the name of the institution, degree or certificate awarded, the date it was received (or when it’s expected), and your GPA.
You can also include any awards, professional organizations, relevant coursework, or scholarships underneath your education, though these are optional.
In addition to education, be sure to list all other trainings or workshops completed. You’ll want to include the title, the event (if applicable), and the date completed (month & year).
Certificates and Licenses
Always review the minimum requirements for a federal job posting, paying particularly close attention to any certification or licensing requirements. It’s a good practice to include all of your certifications regardless, but you can get immediately disqualified if you fail to include a required one. Obviously, don’t list it if you don’t have it.
Honors, Awards, Publications, Skills, and More
Other sections are encouraged if you have relevant information to include. For example, if applying to a research position, you likely want to have a publications section. Data analysts may choose to include a skills section highlighting app development tools that they have expertise in.
Please keep in mind that you don’t need to come up with additional sections just because you have unlimited space. Be thoughtful when deciding what pieces of information to include. For example, you probably don’t need to put that Best Newcomer award from your high school soccer team.
In addition to following these resume guidelines, make sure you read the job posting carefully. Federal government job advertisements can be quite lengthy, but they often include guides for your resume and/or application. Good luck creating your federal resume!