Sue Montgomery Potrait

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Applying for a Federal Government Job

Published by Sue Montgomery on

Creating Your Federal Resume


A job with the federal government offers security, great benefits and often higher pay than jobs with the private sector.

What many people don’t realize, however, is the resume they use to apply for jobs with private companies is inappropriate to use when applying for jobs with the federal government. Send in your “traditional” resume and it probably won’t make it past the first gatekeeper.

How Is the Federal Resume Different?

The format, writing style, order of data, and just about everything else differs between private-sector and federal resumes.  Among information required for your federal resume (but not your private-sector resume) are  the complete address of your employer, the number of hours you work(ed) per week, and your citizenship status.

Your federal resume must contain as many keywords and key phrases listed in the job announcement as you can honestly put in your resume. It must also address any KSAs (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities) listed in the job announcement.

While redundancy in a private-sector resume is to be avoided, redundancy in your federal resume is good. Try to mirror, as closely as possible, and as often as possible, the keywords and key phrases listed in the federal government job announcement. Think of it this way: A private-sector resume is a self-marketing document. A federal resume is an informational document.

Discarding Your Federal Resume is Job One

As part of my continuing education program, I attended a presentation given by a former Human Resources Manager for the federal government. She said the first job of the HR department is to get rid of as many of the thousands and thousands of resumes it receives as possible. A scanning system is used to “read” resumes first and if the right keywords and key phrases are picked up, then the resume will probably be seen by a human being.

The owners of resumes read by humans may even receive notices that their resumes have made it to a database and they’ll be contacted when an appropriate job is available. But don’t wait by the phone. This really doesn’t mean a lot. So if you see other federal jobs you want to apply for while you’re waiting, go for it.

By the way, this same presenter said the average time to land a federal job is a year to 18 months and that wounded warriors, former military and other specialized populations receive first consideration. If you don’t fit into one of these special categories, your wait could be longer. So a word to the wise: Keep looking for jobs in the private sector too.

Sue Montgomery PotraitSue Montgomery is founder and president of Resume Plus ( She is a professional resume writer and career coach who markets people for the jobs they want. Contact Sue directly at 937-254-5627 or email