5 Key Differences Between Federal and Private Sector Resumes

5 Key Differences Between Federal and Private Sector Resumes
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While advice from MOAA and other outlets on building a better résumé may bear fruit in the private sector, there are several differences between those materials and the ideal federal résumé, both in terms of content and presentation.


Here’s a quick guide to building your best federal résumé. Need more information? Visit MOAA.org/FedJobs for additional federal employment resources.


1. Résumé Template

USAJOBS.gov has a résumé builder outlining what items are needed in a federal résumé. Use that guidance to create a résumé with same content, laid out in a typical résumé format.


I shy away from encouraging applicants to use the USAJOBS résumé builder because of how it organizes the information and prints it on paper. Your own résumé will represent you better.


[FROM MOAA.ORG/FEDJOBS: Veterans’ Preference in Federal Hiring]

2. Format

I encourage applicants for federal jobs, especially General Schedule (GS) and equivalent jobs, to use a chronological format. This works best because most federal human resource specialists understand the chronological format best. These specialists are your first audience in the application process, so you should make it easy for them to qualify you for the job.


As with private sector résumés, members of the Guard and Reserve may find it challenging to present both military and civilian work experience on the same timeline. I suggest highlighting uniformed service experience at the end of the “Experience” section of their federal résumé.


3. Length

While most private sector résumés are limited to one or two pages, a federal résumé can be as long as five pages. This is not an exercise in quantity – hiring managers still look for quality content. Use the extra space to expand on your experience and include awards and recognition – as well as related training, publications, and community service – that would be left out of a private sector résumé.


Keep in mind that just because you have five pages does not mean you have to use them. Focus on telling your story in the shortest space possible. And take note: Some job announcements may request a shorter résumé – if so, follow that guidance. 


[FROM MOAA.ORG/FEDJOBS: What You Can Negotiate Before Starting Your First Federal Job]


4. Evaluation Process

Almost all federal job announcements have a section titled “How You Will Be Evaluated.” This section typically refers the applicant to the section titled “Specialized Experience” and may also list four to eight competencies.


Your résumé needs to address each of these items in at least one of your jobs. These competencies, and the Specialized Experience, are what the human resource specialist uses to evaluate your qualifications for the job.


5. Font, Margins, and Page Numbering

Your font should be at least size 10, and I suggest you use Times New Roman, Arial, or another simple, easy-to-read font.


Margins should be 1 inch on all four sides. Pages should be numbered (I recommend in the bottom right corner).


More Help for Life Members

Life Members of MOAA can request a two-hour federal career consult and résumé review as an added benefit of their membership. Learn more at this link.


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About the Author

Ralph Charlip, LFACHE
Ralph Charlip, LFACHE

Lt. Col. Ralph Charlip, USAF (Ret), DPA, LFACHE, is a retired member of the federal Senior Executive Service and the president/CEO of his own company, Inspiration Creek Management Consulting LLC, a Small Business Administration-certified, Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business.