How to Craft an Effective Resume for Federal Government Job Applications

The application process for government jobs is extremely competitive. Crafting an effective resume for a government position could be the difference between whether or not you earn the position.

With the Partnership for Public Service estimating over 50,000 federal jobs and 60,000 paid internships openings in the next year, there’s plenty of opportunity in the government sector. Generally, people envision a federal job in the greater Washington D.C. region, but the reality is that an estimated 84 percent of these jobs are scattered throughout the United States.

The opportunity to serve through these positions is an excellent way to utilize your skills – and receive excellent pay and benefits in the process. For many, the opportunity to travel, make a difference, and serve our country through a government job makes it one worth applying for.

However, because of the nature of the job, not to mention the lucrative benefits, the application process is extremely competitive. Crafting an effective resume for a government position could be the difference between whether or not you earn the position. When it comes to resume writing, applying for a government job is different from your previous job applications. Here are some practical tips when it comes to preparing a resume for a federal job position:

  1. Filter your experience. When creating a resume for a federal job, it’s vital to only include recent and relevant positions. Even though other employers might be impressed with 14 years of experience in a particular field, federal personnel don’t want to sift through your resume for a life history. Rather, the work experience you list should only reflect positions similar or related to the position for which you’re applying. Still, you can include these experiences in the Additional Information section of your resume at the end, but leave them out of your listed Work Experience, which is a primary focal point.
  2. Be concise and powerful. Did you know that HR specialists receive up to 400 (or more) resumes and applications per open federal government job opening? The average resume length is 4 to 5 pages, and HR specialists must work overtime to slosh through all these federal resumes. If you need 4-5 pages to craft an effective resume, then go for it. But if you can list your qualifications, related experience, contact information, and any additional information on less paper, then that’s what you want to do. Be succinct. Be powerful.
  3. Be descriptive. The IRS suggests that their applicants be as descriptive as possible – and we think this should apply to all federal resumes. Instead of simply listing your experience and responsibilities, describe specific projects you’ve worked on. Don’t be vague. Did you balance a budget? Then how much money did you work with? Were you previously a market analysis? Then what was your primary method of research and data sampling? In other words, create a concrete visual of your experience and describe specifically what your duties, goals, and accomplishments were. The easiest way to be descriptive is to quantify everything.
  4. Think in terms of money. If you’ve read or watched the news recently, then you know about all the hype surrounding government spending. Regardless of politics, the reality is that the federal government wants to cut spending and boost efficiency just like any other organization. If you have had experience working with money, saving costs, acquiring a client, etc., then list that experience on your federal resume and job application. Again, be prepared to quantify those figures.
  5. Focus on keywords. Want to showcase your expertise in a particular area? Then be sure to use vocabulary and keywords related to the position you’re applying for on your federal resume. For instance, if you’re applying for a FEMA position, phrases or keywords that you would use include:
    • In-depth analyses of disaster logistics
    • Analyzing data
    • Coordinates logistical actions
    • PowerPoint and presentation skills
    • Leader of logistics professional team
    • Ability to implement and coordinate plans

See how all these phrases would directly relate to a FEMA Logistics Management Specialist position? Likewise, think of phrases and keywords you can use to boost your own resume.

  1. Tailor. One of the biggest mistakes that job hunters do is create a resume template and use that for every job application. This is a major no-no – especially when applying for a federal position. Instead, tailor your federal resume to meet the requirements of the specific opening. Highlight related skills, requirements, and other information needed to prove your ability to perform on the job.
  2. Job information. While the focus of your federal resume is certainly on you, don’t forget to include the job information! The announcement number, title, and grades for the open position should be included in the federal resume. Failure to do so could result in your resume getting lost in the mix or completely ignored.

Crafting an effective resume for a government position certainly takes a lot of time and thought. While there are many ways to boost a resume for any position, these are certainly the top 7 factors to consider when writing a resume for a federal position. Still, there are unintentional mistakes that many professionals make when applying. Here are three common federal resume pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Blocks of text. Your resume shouldn’t read like a novel. Sure, you want to highlight your related work experience and want to be specific about your skills, but you want to be concise as well. Use bullet points, short paragraphs, and key phrases to get your points across. In other words, make your federal resume easy to scan.
  2. Lack of focus. When you’re applying for a federal position, you only want to highlight the experience you have that’s necessary for that opening. Too many people spend too many words on irrelevant jobs for the position. Instead, quantify and elaborate on your related work experience that can help you get the job.
  3. Weak presentation. You’ve listed your work experience and education – almost everyone does. But you know what’s missing? The accomplishments. People fail to show what they accomplished at their last job. Showcase your achievements at a previous position – this makes you a more desirable candidate for the government job opening.

About the Author

Jason Kay is a professional resume writer and regular contributor to, a professional federal resume service and repository of sample KSA statements.