After years in the federal sector, you might’ve decided, “Hey, let’s make a change. Time for some work in the private sector.” But if the bulk of your work years have been spent in a federal job, you might need to revisit your resume and retool it for private sector hiring managers.
Thankfully, the changes don’t need to be extensive, but they are crucial to ensuring a greater probability of getting a call to interview after applying. Before we jump into how you can create a successful private sector resume from your federal resume, let’s look at the critical differences between the two.
Federal Resume vs. Private Sector Resume
As it comes to federal resumes, the more, the better. The government doesn’t want you to skimp on the details. Applying for a job in the US government, usually through usajobs.gov, is highly competitive because there are so few jobs.
You most likely experienced a rigorous application and vetting process. Your resume probably included not only the specifications of each position you held but also your salary, position, and in-depth details of your work. Normal federal resumes can be pages long.
Private sector resumes are typically narrowed down to one page. Private sector HR departments field hundreds of resumes a day. They don’t have the same type of federal process that requires a full recollection of every position you held—only ones that are pertinent to the job you’re applying for.
Along the same lines of content, federal resumes must contain a full and clear picture of each of your positions. You can expect to see at least a paragraph of information explaining each position along with detailed information on location, pay, and, sometimes, who your manager was.
Again, where federal resumes exude length, private sector resumes require brevity. Instead of a paragraph detailing your work in each role, bullet points are used to discuss the highlights of your work. In addition to the basics, statistics and results stand out on resumes. Instead of saying “Optimized and increased team output,” throwing in a statistic like “Increased team output by 40%” can give a focused, direct, and tracked result. Showing the HR manager that you track your progress gives an impressive boost to a resume.
Another important note is how details can be used to assess competency for a job. In the federal world, applicants must meet the skill and experience requirements in order to be considered. In the private sector, if you don’t have the direct requirements, you can still leverage your previous experience to show that you have equal competency for the task.
This can also be considered formatting, but there’s still an important distinction between the two resumes. A private sector resume works best when you offer impactful, skimmable information. But it’s bound to be noticed if it sticks out. Long gone are the days of a single black and white design. For your resume to stick out in a sea of others, it helps to take the road less traveled and boost the design.
Design isn’t a problem for federal resumes. In fact, most resumes for the federal sector are still created in the standard black and white format with a list of paragraphs detailing what you do. Instead, federal hiring managers are looking for keywords that’ll show whether or not a candidate meets the requirements.
That brings us to another key difference that actually sits on a razor-thin line of difference and similarity. Keywords are essential for both federal and private sector jobs. They help hiring managers to determine which candidates to push forward in the process.
But keywords can mean two very different things. A public sector job is laden with acronyms, and when you’re applying for jobs in the federal government, you can easily include them on your resume. But as you apply for work in the private sector, hiring managers aren’t going to understand what you’re talking about.
For instance, the military is a hotbed for acronyms. They’re used in day-to-day work and an easy reference for other job roles as well. It’s important to make the distinction on a private sector resume.
How to create a successful private sector resume for a federal resume
Now that we’ve explored some key differences, let’s jump on into creating an effective private sector resume out of your federal one.
Shorten the length
You’re actually pretty lucky to start with a federal resume. If it’s long, then all you need to do is cut it down and keep the main points. However, that might be difficult if you don’t know what to pick.
So instead of retaining every position you held federally, remove the positions that are completely unrelated to the job you’re applying for. That’ll help you get rid of the excess that keeps your resume lengthy.
Remember, where the public sector expects multi-page resumes, the private sector has time for only one page.
Stand out, but be brief with details
Following along with the “shorter is better” theme, as it pertains to the private sector, take the paragraphs you once had for your federal resume and create punchy bullets.
The major details should stick out as the hiring manager skims your resume. If possible, start each bullet with a verb or action word. Cut out any words or phrases that are useless. That means resisting the urge to start each bullet with “I did this” or “I did that.”
And as mentioned above, stats showcasing the effect your work had gives resume readers a clearer picture of your accomplishments. This is especially true if you’re preparing an executive resume. Executives are expected to produce results, so your resume better show that you’ve been able to do that in previous positions.
You can also have multiple versions of a resume. If your previous work had you dabbling in a few different areas and you’re looking to apply to various jobs focused in those areas separately, create specific resumes dedicated to showcasing that expertise.
Remember, the goal is to market yourself
Sure, it might seem redundant to read that. Isn’t that the point of a resume? Of course! But private sector resumes are the epitome of resume marketing. Not only do you need to list your experience and qualifications, you need to make the resume stand out.
This isn’t a basic “I have the qualifications, so I match the job” approach. In the private sector, you’re competing with dozens or hundreds of individuals that might have the same qualifications. Instead of just modifying your information for brevity, you need to showcase it.
Creating a standout template or design for your resume can get you there. You can also list out your skills and qualifications, aside from your experience.
The goal should be to position yourself in the best possible way, so you can move forward in the hiring process.
The job market can be tough, regardless of sector. But count yourself lucky if you’re entering the private sector from your federal job.
You’re likely to have already gone through an extensive vetting process. Depending on the type of job you’re applying to, the process could be a breeze. But the way to get there is by honing your resume to be the most standout, skimmable document it can be.