How Are Federal Resumes Different?

(Photo courtesy of Marine Corps Community Services)

Monster member twilliams 406 asks: I have a private-sector resume that I think looks pretty good; can I keep anything from it when I write my federal resume, or is it better to start from scratch?

The Federal Career Coach responds: You might be able to keep some of the language, but chances are you'll need to build and add more content to your resume for it to match government vacancy announcements as well as make the most of your federal job search. If you find two or three jobs that look interesting, look at the language that outlines the duties and try to use some of those words as resume keywords.

Related: Does your resume pass the 6-second test? Get a FREE assessment.

Submitting a private-industry resume is a common error. The job seeker knows he's qualified for the job, and he reads the duties and says, "I can do all of that." But if it's not in the resume, the HR specialists will not see those words and therefore may not think you're best qualified. With government, you cannot assume that they will figure it out. You must build your resume using their terminology. For example, if HR specialists are looking for "advisor," "Excel," "team leader," "PowerPoint," "project coordinator" or "planner," then those words must be included.

I've used Excel before, but I wouldn't necessarily put it on my private-sector resume. Should I for a federal resume?

With government, if you know how to use Excel, you have to say that. If you develop formulas or you can develop charts and graphs, definitely mention it; it's more advanced.

If I'm going to go into such detail, it sounds like the rule about having a one- or two-page resume goes out the window.

Yes, the average federal resume is three to four pages long, so you would pretty much double your content, because you'll have to describe your work in more detail. The one-line bullet point that you might have used in your private-sector resume will become four or six lines or four sentences.

For example, on a private-sector resume, you might have a bullet that says: "Led a team of 12 project coordinators, writers and editors." On your federal resume, you can say: "Led a team of 12, delegated tasks to the various team members, planned agendas for meetings, reviewed work, trained staff in carrying out project loads, resolved problems, prepared briefings for senior officials based on project deadlines, established benchmarks."

Related: Search for government jobs.

It almost sounds like your federal resume should sound like what you would say in a private-sector interview, where someone reads a bullet point on your resume and says, "Could you explain this?"

That's a very good point. It's more of an expanded written/verbal resume. In fact, a government resume is considered to be the application, an examination, because they examine the resume to ensure you're qualified. And sometimes government hiring managers don't interview -- they hire based on what they see on the resume.

So you could send a resume and get a job offer from it?

Yes, absolutely.

What other forms do I have to fill out? I've heard about something called KSAs.

KSA stands for Knowledge, Skills and Abilities. These are narrative statements that the agency asks you to write to support your resume. The narratives provide examples supporting your ability to plan and coordinate, for instance. So you would give an example of how you planned and coordinated a meeting, conference or a travel schedule for someone, and you would write about that example to demonstrate that you can plan and coordinate.

How long are these, and how many do you have to fill out?

One page or less. Two-thirds of one page is OK, and there could be three to eight KSAs. But they're not required for all jobs. Most federal announcements are two steps: Resume plus something else. The "something else" is sometimes KSAs, sometimes questions or a supplemental statement.

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