A Different Look: Private Sector vs Federal Job Resumes

Knowing the Difference Can Get You Hired! 

A resume for one industry is not the same as a resume for another industry. With that in mind, different sectors also have different resumes. Federal jobs use a different style of resume than private-sector jobs.

Why do you need to know the difference? In order to be the best candidate for a job, you should have the right resume. To help you with that process, we are going to take a look at the biggest differences between private sector resumes and federal job resumes.

federal job resume


Specific Requirements

Most private-sector jobs just assume that you know what should be included in your resume. This isn’t very helpful for someone who is applying to work in a position they have never held before. One great part of federal job listings it that they will often include specific details about what they are expecting from your resume.

These details include length, how far back information should be provided for, what is relevant, and any other specific information. Make sure to read this before starting to write your resume. Because you don’t want to have to go back and change everything you have written.

A specific requirement to keep an eye out for is an essay or short response section. Depending on the level of federal job that you are applying to, you may be asked to write an essay or short response. Missing this will almost always cause you to be disqualified from the position you are applying to.


                            Generic Resume Vs. Specific Resume

While you might be able to get away with using one resume for all of your applications in the private sector, especially if they are all in the same industry, this doesn’t work for the federal resume. Your federal resume should be tailored to the position you are applying for. This is important as each position has different requirements and they are looking for you to demonstrate those requirements on the resume.

Also, remember the first bullet point. Federal jobs often give specific requirements for how you format your resume and what to include in it. A generic resume will not fit that need.


Length of the Resume

If you have ever written a public sector resume you know the challenge of trying to pair the document down to one page, two-page max. Public sector hiring managers do not want to read overly long documents and would rather have a very brief overview of everything you have done in your career.

A federal job resume is far more detailed. Before being considered for a federal, military, or contractor job, the government wants to make sure they know who they are hiring. Instead of the two-page max, a federal resume can end up being around 5-8 pages depending on your work experience and education.

In the end, your private sector resume will be a quick and easy read, guided by the bullet points, while the federal sector resume will read more like a paper about yourself.


Detailed Contact Information Vs General Contact Information

One of the details that a federal resume requires is the contact information for everyone listed on the resume. On your resume, you should have your phone number, email address, and mailing address. You can often leave at least the mailing address off private-sector resumes now that there is such a large focus on email communication.

For each job listed on a federal resume you also have to list contact information for each supervisor or manager that you have had. At a federal job, they will contact each manager or supervisor as a recommendation.


Bullet Points Vs Descriptions

When most people think of resumes, they think of bullet point documents that list out a very brief description of either a task or skill related to that job. However, these bullet points are typically limited to three or four bullet points per job title you have had. Each bullet point is as compact as possible, less than a line in the document.

In the federal sector, you are expected to write a paragraph description for each position you have held. 


federal resume             


In general, on a private sector resume, you are going to want to intersperse keywords throughout your resume to make it appealing and to hit everything. With the federal-style resume, you are going to instead put keywords at the beginning of every section or paragraph. This helps to start with the basic relevant information then get detailed from there. As you imagine, this makes sorting through hundreds or thousands of resumes for one position much easier.

When adding keywords to a federal resume you can write them all caps to help make them stand out. 



Not every civilian resume lists accomplishments but when they do, it tends to be as a small part of the overall resume. Federal-style resumes include an accomplishments section where you highlight things you have accomplished through your career and in your education.



Almost all resumes require that you put any education you have gone through on them. The difference is that the private sector tends to only put your school name, graduation date, and what you specialized in. you might also put any clubs or extracurricular you participated in.

For a federal resume, you are going to want to put in all of the details about your schooling. From your GPA to your years attended, to any special accomplishments, you don’t want to hold back. The only thing you should leave off is a list of your classes as that would likely be pretty long.


a veteran status

Veteran Status

If you are a veteran applying for a federal position it is essential that you make it clear on your resume that you served. Almost all federal positions have what is known as veterans’ preference. This gives you extra points when your application is being weighed. Depending on the position that you are applying for.

When writing a resume for any job position it doesn’t hurt to go and look at samples. Just remember to look at samples that are as similar as possible to the position that you are applying for. That includes looking at private sector samples vs. federal samples. Make sure to use the right format and the right language that you write. With this list, you should be equipped to start and craft a winning final product.


Make Sure to Read My New Book



  • Why you should ditch most resume-writing tips that focus on business resumes
  • How to analyze federal job announcements and read between the lines
  • Make your skills and work experience really stand out
  • How to avoid the typical mistakes that make most resumes look unprofessional
  • And much more!


Need Help With Your Federal Resume?

I’ve have over a decade of experience writing reviewing and recommending federal job applicants. CLICK HERE to learn more about how we can help you get hired for that dream federal position.

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