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Federal Resume Example & Writing Guide

Hoping to land a federal government job? Don’t be intimidated by the high standards for getting every last resume detail exactly right. Resume.io is here to help with this writing guide and resume example for federal job applicants, complete with insider tips.
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Federal Resume Example & Writing Guide
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Getting a Federal job with the U.S. government can be a great way to start or continue your career. And as with any formal job, the very first step is to have an organized, powerful resume to land those high salaries and stable positions! So is it easy to write a federal job resume? 

If you’ve ever filled out an income tax return or applied for federal student aid, you already know that government institutions take every type of document very seriously. State organizations are often famous for their formal requirements and bureaucracy, and there are lots of hurdles to clear. However, please read the following statement, which comes from the official government website USAjobs.gov:  “Whether you’re a current federal employee or new to the Federal Government , your resume is the primary way for you to communicate your education, skills and experience.”

This is what we at resume.io have been preaching for years. Whether you’re a dogcatcher or a dentist, you need an outstanding resume if you’re in the hunt for a great job. And that’s where we can help. Our resources include more than 350 occupation-specific writing guides with corresponding resume examples .

This guide, along with the builder tool and resume templates at resume.io, will walk you through all the steps necessary to build a great Federal job resume, along with all special considerations applicable to those seeking Federal government jobs. What we’ll cover:

  • The Federal Government job role and market, including size and scale, employment outlook, and pay
  • How to write a Federal government job resume, starting with the correct framework and format
  • Optimizing the impact of each resume section: header, summary, employment history, education and skills
  • The pitfalls of the automated electronic systems that can reject your resume before anyone even reads it
  • The need to tailor your resume to each job you’re seeking
  • The essentials of resume design and the specific considerations of applying for federal jobs

Let’s dive in.

Job market: Employment galore

What does a Federal employee do?

Federal jobs remain highly coveted, and with good reason, as they often are some of the most recession-proof opportunities out there (relatively speaking, of course). We’ll talk about some other countries below, but first let’s consider the United States, the third most populous country in the world.

The federal government is the largest employer in the United States, by far eclipsing No. 2 Walmart (which has 1.5 million U.S. employees). According to a 2019 article in The Hill, the U.S. government employs some 9 million workers, including 2.1 million civilian employees, 4.1 million contract employees, 1.2 million grant employees, 1.3 million active-duty military personnel and more than 500,000 employees of the quasi-governmental U.S. Postal Service

Federal job market: employment galore

To a job seeker, these numbers add up to big opportunities. Not only are there lots of jobs, but federal workers generally enjoy exceptional pay and benefits, good hours and extraordinary job security. 

You might think that job projections for federal workers would depend on the administration in power, with more liberal governments fattening the payrolls and more conservative governments cutting them back. But over the long haul, government payrolls are relatively immune to political changes at the top.  Taking the long view, federal jobs in the U.S. rose by an annualized 1.5% per year between 1939 and 2015. On the state and local level, government jobs increased by 2.3% from 1955 to 2015.  In February 2020, employment by all levels of the U.S. government increased by 45,000, including 16,000 new jobs in state government education. Federal employment rose by 8,000, mostly because 7,000 temporary workers were hired to conduct the 2020 Census.

Statistical insight

The following chart shows steadily rising federal, state and local government employment levels in the U.S. from 1939 through 2015. Note that recessions (marked by gray lines) tend to have a modest impact, if any.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Get inspired by other resume examples from the same government occupation category:

Follow the money

How much do federal workers make? Because of the wide variety of federal jobs, the changing number of jobs and the varying amounts of pay (all of which are moving targets), estimates differ on average salaries for federal employees. But the short answer is: The pay is good. According to a 2017 report by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the average annual base salary for full-time, permanent federal employees was $84,913. And according to a 2018 article in Forbes.com, the average federal employee earns a salary of about $90,000, with total compensation (including benefits) of around $125,000. Not bad for government work. 

Statistical insight

Findings of a 2017 study by the U.S. Congressional Budget Office comparing the wages and benefits of federal government employees with those of comparable workers in the private sector:

  • For those with a bachelor’s degree, total compensation was 21% higher for federal workers than for similar workers in the private sector.
  • For those with a high school diploma or none at all, compensation was 53% higher for federal employees.
  • For those with a professional degree or doctorate, on the other hand, compensation was 18% lower for federal employees than for their counterparts in the private sector.
  • Overall, the federal government paid 17% more in total compensation than the private sector for similar jobs.

How to write a Federal Government job resume

Regardless of occupation, this is the framework of elements that all resumes should incorporate on a single page:

  • Header
  • Summary
  • Employment history
  • Education
  • Skills

Choosing the best resume format for a Federal employee

If your job history has followed mostly a linear path of employee positions, the most commonly used chronological resume format is recommended. Hiring managers favor it too, for being the easiest way to review your career highlights in the employment history section. These are listed under employer headings with dates, in reverse chronological order from most recent to earliest positions,

Other resume formats , such as the functional or hybrid (combination) alternatives, may be suitable for job seekers who are new to the workforce, making a dramatic change in occupations, or have worked mostly in freelance or consulting roles.

Resume header

An eye-pleasing resume header is the first way you can stand out in the crowd of other Federal Government job contenders. Off the top, it makes your resume look more inviting to read and distinguishes it with a personal brand. You can double the impact by making your resume and cover letter match with identical headers. Most important, the prominent placement of your name and contact information makes it that much easier for interested recruiters to get in touch with an interview invitation. 

Federal resume summary example: Make your best case

You may not be running for office, but like any candidate for a government job, you need to make a clear, strong opening pitch on why you’re the right person to fill it. The resume summary , sometimes called a profile of personal statement , is the first thing employers will see on your resume after your contact info. 

And you can turn it into a gold mine or a minefield. “Profesional, experienced statistician seeking….” Oops! You lose. No true professional would misspell this word on a resume. Spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes, in fact, are the top reasons cited by hiring managers for deleting resumes without a second look. 

The summary demonstrates your ability to write in powerful, clear language. And the ability to write is among the simplest barometers of any candidate’s fitness for a white-collar job. That’s not to say there aren’t lots of blue-collar jobs in government, but even if you’re a groundskeeper, your resume is your ticket to a job, and it needs to be exceptionally well-written. 

This is the kind of strong, concisely descriptive language that belongs in a Federal job summary:: “Professional statistician with 10 years of experience in expert-level research and data mining, as well as writing and information design skills to present results to the public.” 

ATS: Always target specifically

ATS stands for applicant tracking system — an electronic gatekeeper that can be friend or foe, depending on whether you pay any attention to it. An ATS application is a computer system that hiring managers use to filter resumes according to their job relevance. Employers input keywords and phrases into the ATS that describe the specific job qualifications they’re seeking. As resumes roll in, they’re fed into the ATS, which ranks them according to how well the words in the resume match the defined criteria.

Resumes that contain the desired keywords and phrases are green-lighted for further review. But when resumes fail the test, a human being may not even bother looking at them. Resume.io has long advocated the practice of ATS optimization for resumes in all fields. 

And it turns out the official website for U.S. federal hiring actually addresses this issue under the helpful item “What should I include in my federal resume?” It says: 

“Use similar terms and address every required qualification. Your experience needs to address every required qualification in the job announcement. Hiring agencies will look for specific terms in your resume to make sure you have the experience they’re seeking.

“For example, if the qualifications section says you need experience with ‘MS Project’ you need to use the words ‘MS Project’ in your resume.” 

You heard it here first: Do not make the mistake of sending off a resume or CV that does not mention the specific job skills an employer is looking for. 

An additional important note: pay attention to the exact wording/terminology in the job listing. You may be used to certain abbreviations or lingo, but always err on the side of caution (or in this case — the employer). 

A corollary point is that every resume should be individually tailored to the job you’re seeking. A resume is not a one-size-fits-all solution carved in stone. It’s an adaptable, editable document that should specifically address each target employer. Scour every job listing, find out what the employer wants and specify how your skills meet those needs. Don’t fly blind.

Here’s an example of a resume sumary for someone seeking Federal employment

Adaptable resume summary example

Dedicated federal government HR Manager with 16 years of experience, ensuring HR systems support agencies in recruiting, hiring and retaining an excellent and diverse workforce. Respected provider of optimal staffing-related support to executives and officials. Uphold the highest standards of integrity, notably in securing the privacy of identities and documents. Proven track record of facilitating excellent workflows in HR departments. 

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Employment history sample: relevant and specific

To get a job as a Federal worker, it’s useful to have experience as a Federal worker. But if it were impossible to get a Federal job without prior Federal job experience, then the government would have no employees. Everyone has to start somewhere. 

As noted previously, a resume's employment history section should list current and previous jobs in reverse chronological order (last job first, also described in more detail if appropriate). Include the name and location of the employers and when you worked there (for example, June 2017 to May 2019, but leave out the actual day of the month you started or departed). 

Most important, list your specific achievements at each job. Avoid saying “Was responsible for” and use strong action verbs to describe what you actually did. Be as specific as possible, ideally citing any numerical evidence (facts and figures) for your accomplishments (alternatively - project or team-based achievements). 

The U.S. government provides detailed guidance at USAjobs.gov on how to describe work experience on your resume. If applying for a U.S. government job, read this material carefully and do exactly what it says. In fact, the entire website at USAjobs.gov is extremely helpful to anyone seeking employment with the U.S. government. Rarely does any employer provide such detailed instructions on how to apply for one of its jobs.

If you have any trouble navigating the site, there’s a simplified guide here provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. So we have a federal government website explaining in detail how to use another federal government website. No wonder there are so many Federal jobs!

Expert tip

This example of how to present your employment history comes directly from the official USAjobs.gov

Program Analyst GS-343-11
January 2009 - Present
40 Hours/Week
$63,000/Year

  • Experience/Accomplishment
  • Experience/Accomplishment

The website also provides these examples of how to highlight your experiences and accomplishments

  • Improved efficiency of document processing by 25% over the previous year
  • Wrote 25 news releases in a three-week period under daily deadlines
  • Managed a student organization budget of more than $7,000
  • Wrote prospect letter that has brought in more than $25,000 in donations to date.

Federal jobs in your home country

We’ve focused here on the United States, but federal jobs are available worldwide, and the basic rules of resume writing apply whether you’re in Latvia or Lesotho. Wherever you live, do a web search for “federal jobs” or “government jobs” in your home country to find information relevant to your area. (For example, we tried “federal jobs Lesotho” and found 28 openings in this small African country.) 

Some useful websites for other locations:

Canada: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/jobs/opportunities/government.html

U.K.: https://www.civil-service-careers.gov.uk

EU: https://epso.europa.eu/job-opportunities_en and https://jobs.theguardian.com/jobs/local-government/europe/

Worldwide: http://federalgovernmentjobs.us

Below is our Federal employment history resume sample that you can modify.

Adaptable employment history example

Federal HR Manager at Federal Government, Washington D.C. 
June 2006 - May 2022 

  • Assisted in recruiting and retaining a high-performing and diverse workforce, adopting a strategy that was widely recognized by public service peers throughout the country.
  • Handled all HR procedures with confidentiality and regard for ethics.
  • Helped to foster a diverse and inclusive work environment, with measurable improvements in staff morale and turnover rates.
  • Provided optimal administrative support and conducted yearly reviews, followed up with actionable recommendations for improvement.
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Federal resume education example: college and other knowledge

Federal governments hire workers from a broad range of educational backgrounds , from scholars with doctoral degrees to people who never finished high school. Study the requirements of government jobs in your field, and make sure you have the required education before you apply. List your educational credentials on your resume in reverse chronological order, along with any special certifications in your field.

Statistical insight

Typical education required and starting salary for U.S. government workers, by selected General Schedule (GS) level

GS Level Education Level Starting Salary, 2020

GS-1 No high school diploma $19,543

GS-3 High school diploma $23,976

GS-4 Associate’s degree $26,915

GS-5 Bachelor’s degree $30,113

GS-9 Master’s degree $45,627

GS-11 Doctoral or professional degree $55,204

Source: U.S. Office of Personnel Management, federalpay.org

Click here for the U.S. government’s advice on how to report your educational credentials when applying for a federal job.

Below is the education section from our Federal resume example.

Adaptable resume education example

Bachelor of Communications, Georgetown University, Washington D.C.  
August 2002 - May 2006 

 

High School Diploma, St. Rose's High School, Arlington 
September 1998 - May 2002

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CV skills example: how you excel

Every resume should include a section listing skills that are relevant to the job. Master chess player? Interesting, but probably not relevant. The skills section should typically include a mix of technical skills — computer knowledge, advanced expertise in your field, etc. — and “soft” people skills like customer service, a knack for sales or public speaking ability. 

Avoid clichés like “team player” or “self-starter.” Try to describe your skills in language that other resumes won’t have. These examples illustrate how to give generic skills a more original twist:

  • Expert computer programmer
  • Advanced UNIX skills
  • Excellent mathematician
  • Resourceful problem solver
  • Collaborative coworker

Check out our Federal CV sample for the skills section below.

Adaptable resume skills section example
  • Computer Systems
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Organizational Skills
  • Integrity
  • Positive Work Ethic
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Resume layout and design: keep it simple

If you don’t want your job hunt plan to fail, hold your resume to one page . If you think that’s just not feasible because you have to list so many skills, then learn a new one: brevity. 

Keep your resume layout and design simple, straightforward and elegant. Avoid gimmicks, splashy colors or excessive decoration. Strive for a professional, eye-pleasing look that says, “Read me.” Make room for some white space by trimming your text. Some resumes are too sparse, but most are too dense. Strive for the Goldilocks zone that’s just right.

Do not use any format except PDF unless requested to do so by the employer you’re targeting (some online application systems require Word files, so make sure to pay attention to technical requirements). What looks fine in one application on your computer may open in a different application on another computer and look awful. 

Also, remember those pesky ATS programs that can reject your resume without so much as a human reading? They don’t like buggy document formats either, so beware. 

Expert tip

You can take the guesswork out of all design questions by using the builder tool and templates at resume.io, created by experts and proven effective in the field. Just one note: While some of these templates include room for your photo, the U.S. government specifically requests that you not include a photo in its advice on “What should I leave out of my resume?” So you’ll want to choose a template that doesn’t include a photo.

Key takeaways for a Federal employee resume

  1. There are millions of Federal jobs with excellent pay, benefits and job security, and the job outlook for this sector is secure.
  2. The U.S. government itself tells job seekers: “Your resume is the primary way for you to communicate your education, skills and experience.” For anyone seeking federal employment, building an outstanding resume is the crucial first step.
  3. The federal government and resume.io will both tell you that each resume you send out must be custom-built to specifically address the requirements of the job you’re seeking.

Go to resume.io, choose one of our professional templates and start crafting a bulletproof resume today. The jobs are there — all they’re waiting for is you.

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