By Dave Isbell

Ok, I will flat out admit that even the idea of working in a federal job is just about as far away from my ideal job as it could be. However, thankfully, some of you desire to navigate endless layers of bureaucracy just so you can serve us the rest of us civilians who would prefer to serve our country in a different way. So, since it is President’s Day and I like to help Spartans to do what they want to do, I thought it would be appropriate to give you a few tips about how to pull together a Federal Resume.

First, please don’t hold my tips up to gospel standards! I have not lived the experience and (as mentioned), pray I never have to. The best resource I can tell you to use for more in-depth information on putting together a Federal Resume is a book (you know, those things made out of paper) called: Federal Resume Guidebook by Kathryn Kraemer Troutman. The author really does a great job of explaining this animal in a way that is easy to understand, plus she gets into how to prep for an interview, how to use, how to write KSA statements and essays for Federal Jobs, how to manage a federal career, etc. (Particularly, I would advise you to take a look at her strategies for transitioning from Private Industry to Federal.)

Federal Resumes are vastly different than a private industry one-so it may be worth plopping down a few dollars on this book, or at least seeking it out in a library! Alternatively, you might contact these people for help, since I’m sure they know more about this subject than I do.

However, if you are too impatient to wait for the book, or you just want to read what I have to say, here are a few tips to get you started:

A Federal Resume Header is a Little Different Than Your Private Industry Resume

First, if applying for a federal job, you would want to include in your header your social security number, citizenship, federal status (you would write n/a after this topic, since you don’t already work for the feds.) and Veterans preference (again, n/a since you are not a vet.)

 Next, you will want an objective to list the specific position title, grade (ex. GS-0344-07), and position announcement number you are applying for. No fluff here about what you want to do, just list the words/numbers under each category!

You can then list your professional profile, which acts as a summary of what you have done in the past that is relevant for the position. One recommendation I have is to remove the personal pronouns. They are not as huge of a no-no as they are in a private sector resume, but they do detract from the most important words you are trying to get across-so if you feel you must use them, then use them sparingly.  Also, writing paragraphs is appropriate, but keep them short. I try to say no more than 4-5 lines for each point you are trying to make (as a general guideline.)

Competencies and KSA’s Are Extremely Important

If you want to, you could follow the profile with a list of core competencies that you have to offer, followed by explanations of these competencies. Competencies are a bit different than skills because they are attached to a specific job/occupation. They are a “written description of measurable work habits and personal skills used to achieve a work objective” (from competency-based resumes by Kessler/Strasburg). Skills, on the other hand are generic, can be applied in any situation at any job, and transferred from one job to another.

You might choose to use examples from your college experiences in this competency section, or in the professional profile. Or, you can list it under your education section if that seems to work better. Whatever you do, be sure your critical skills/competencies for the specific position you are applying for are listed on page one!

Your Results Are Important And All Of Your Experiences Matter

Once that is done, Focus your Professional Experience section around the specific skill-set that you have to offer for the specific job you are applying for. Perhaps using onet to find a description of the occupation will help you to clarify what to focus on: (Play around with different titles you think may fit you.)

Once you know what skills you want to focus on, you can use these skills as headers underneath each job you have listed, developing sentences that illustrate examples of how you specifically used the skill in that job. (Also, be sure that under your job title, you include the full address and phone number of the employer, the name of your supervisor, and whether or not he/she can be contacted, your dates with month/year, how many hours per week you worked, and your annual salary.

When you get into a second (or more) page, be sure to list your name, ssn, primary method of contact, and page x of x at the top of each page. It is ok for a Federal Resume to run long, as long as all of the information is relevant to the job. I would say after 4 pages you might want to question whether or not it is all relevant!

Under each employer, you can list a Key Accomplishments section, to highlight specific things you have accomplished/been recognized for.

List All Of Your Education And Training

Next, you would want to include your education section, complete with GPA, clubs/organizations you belonged to, activities, etc.

If you have trainings other than College, you could list them in a separate Training section, or just include it all together under an Education and Training header.

 If you have any of the following, you can insert these in as the last sections of the resume:

Professional memberships, Licenses/Certifications, Military Service, Computer/Technical Expertise, Language Proficiencies, International Travel, Special Skills, Volunteer/Community Service, Security Clearance, Publications, Patents, etc.

Where you put these on the resume will need to be determined by the importance as they relate to the position. For example, security clearances would need to be at the very top of the first page if applying for a job that requires them.

Keep in mind, these suggestions are limited to applying for a Federal Job with the United States Government! If you are looking for a job in the private sector, or within the international community, or within academia, each of these require a different strategy. Once you have done all of the hard work of developing a Federal Resume, however, it makes it pretty easy to transition the content into another style!

Happy President’s Day! Now, Spartans, get out there and help our government to be just a little bit more GREEN!

(And, for you government workers, please enjoy your day off. You have earned every one of your “special” holidays!)  


Dave Isbell is the Alumni Career Service Coordinator at Michigan State University. He has been a Career Coach since 1999. He is also pursuing a Master’s in Social Work/Family Studies at MSU.  When he is not working or studying, he is enjoying domestic bliss with his wife and kids, or playing rock music on his bass guitar. You can find him on Twitter (@helpingspartans) and sometimes he writes about compassion, collaboration, and career for this blog, which he owns and begs other Spartans to write for.


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