Resume Cover Letter For Government Jobs


Landing a public-sector job takes a special approach.

By Catherine Conlan, Monster Contributing Writer

Applying for a government job is different in many ways from applying for a job in the private sector.

In fact, you might as well forget all the resume advice you've ever learned, says Marilyn Santiesteban, assistant director of career services at the Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M University.

Here’s what you really need to know.

Tone It Down

If you’re sending a printed cover letter and resume, stick with the traditional look, says James Clift, CEO of While some private employers like unique resume designs, the government often prefers a more classic look, he says. This means neutral-colored paper, a conservative typeface, and a traditional setup that outlines the positions you’ve held and the achievements you made under each one.

Follow the Process

Hiring managers at government jobs winnow down lists of candidates differently than in the private sector, so following the process set out in the job listing is vital. There may be down-to-the-hour deadlines on when to apply. There may be background checks involved. If applying for the position requires that you fill out certain forms, do it.

“Be diligent in ensuring every step of the application process is completed correctly,” Clift says. Skipping a step or missing a detail will get your resume ignored. Read the job description thoroughly and include any requested supplemental materials with the application.

Go Long

Use as many pages as you need to provide a thorough review of your work and education, Santiesteban says. Be detailed and don't leave anything out. Don’t break any limits on how many words to use or pages to send (follow the process, remember?), but don’t be afraid to share as much as possible to make your case for the job.

Pay Attention to the Language in the Job Posting

In general, it’s important to match the exact words used in a job listing to prove what a good fit you are to a human reader as well any automated talent screening software. This is especially true when applying for government jobs, Clift says.

“Government jobs often use different terminology than private companies; make sure you're speaking their language,” Clift says. For example, a government graphic design job may use older technologies such as Flash or Dreamweaver, while a private company would understand tools such as Github and Sketch, he says. Don't remove skills from your resume, he says, but add back “retroactive” skills to suit the job description.

In addition, you may need to change your job titles to better fit the job description, such as changing “community manager” to “social media manager,” or “customer success agent” in a private-sector job to “customer support agent.”

Make it Human

Santiesteban says that resumes for government jobs are often read by human beings, not tracking software, so she recommends writing for a human instead of stuffing your resume with keywords. “Use plain words and write about what you really do at work. Keep your sentences short, because they’re easier for humans to process, and use words that convey a strong and clear meaning.”

As a Federal Career Consultant and Federal Resume Writer, I am consulting with many federal job applicants who have submitted 100 to 400 job applications for federal jobs on USAJOBS by uploading their private industry resume.

If you want to get Best Qualified for a federal position and hopefully get referred to a supervisor, you have to write a very specific style, content and format federal resume.

Applying for a government job – as doing any business with the government – is complicated. Of course, the federal resume is NOT the same as the 2 page resume that a person uses for private industry job searches.

Kathryn Troutman is a Federal Career Consultant, Author, Government Trainer and Industry leader in the Federal Resume Writing and Federal Career Consulting industry.

Kathryn is seeing more and more first-time federal job applicants and reviewing their resumes to troubleshoot their lack of success in their federal job searches. Many jobseekers are applying as many as 400 times with no interviews or referrals to a supervisor.


Most Federal Resumes are 4 to 5 pages long. Mid-career professionals with 15 to20 years experience will have a 5 page federal resume. A 2 page private-industry resume WILL NOT WORK.

2. MORE DETAILS: You need to include more details about your duties and accomplishments in your last position or the most relevant position. The typical private-industry resume will have 8 to 10 bullets of information about each position. The federal resume duties section spells out what you did, usually in complete sentences. The position that is most relevant for the federal position could be an entire page long.

3. FORMAT: Make sure the resume is readable for human resources specialists who have hundreds of resumes to review to determine who is most qualified for their positions. Many private industry resumes consist of short statements with bullets. Many current federal employees write their resumes in huge block of type based on position descriptions. The best format is a reverse chronological Outline Format. The Outline Format features the top skills needed for the position. For a Public Affairs Specialist, the top skills could be: Media Specialist, Writer-Editor, Researcher / Analyst, Media Events Coordinator.

4. TYPEFONT: Feature the Top Skills in ALL CAPS, so that the busy human resources reviewer can find the skills they are seeking.

5. KEYWORDS: Add language and keywords from the vacancy announcement Duties and Specialized Experience into your federal resume. You can find the keywords by search for words that are repeated multiple times in the announcement; these could be technical terms or phrases that describe specific skills.

You will see the USAJOBS vacancy announcements will tell you that they want to see One Year Specialized Experience in a certain field in your resume. The announcement will also suggest types of examples that can help to prove your experience.

7. 10 YEARS EXPERIENCE: The federal HR specialists typically read / scan the last 10 years of experience in your federal resume. The years before 10 years can be added to the resume, but keep that information shorter.

8. RECENT AND RELEVANT: The HR specialists will be looking for recent and relevant experience in your Work Experience Section.

9. MONTH, YEAR AND HOURS PER WEEK: It is imperative that you add the month and year and hours per week for your jobs. Since they have to see that you have One Year Specialized Experience in positions and level that are similar to this job, you will need to add this information to your resume.

10. SALARY: The federal resume in USAJOBS asks for your salaries for the last 10 years. They need to see your salaries in order to see your experience and judge the grade level that you could be qualified for in a government position.

11. COVER LETTER: You can add a cover letter into the USAJOBS account now, after Federal Hiring Reform. We recommend a cover letter to emphasize your specialized experience and most relevant training or experience for the position.

12. RECENT AND RELEVANT JOBS: You do NOT have to add every job into your USAJOBS Resume Builder. If you have short-term positions which were taken to earn cash for bills, you can leave it out. Yes, it will leave a little bit of blank time, but the HR specialist is really seeking the specialized experience.

13. 5 USAJOBS RESUMES: USAJOBS will allow you to upload 5 resumes. Create multiple resume versions for each announcement. Your original resume can be changed slightly to match a few keywords for each new announcement.

14. FEDERAL RESUMES MUST BE FOCUSED TOWARD AN OCCUPATIONAL SERIES WITH DIFFERENT KEYWORDS: If you are seeking a Program Analyst position, use the keywords and skills for the position. Keywords for the Program Analyst will be: Analyst, Research, Studies, Efficiency and Effectiveness, Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis, Briefings. If you are also seeking an Administrative Officer position, your keywords will be different: Operations, Budget Management, Supervision, Customer Services, Project Management.

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