Get Your Resume Government- Ready

There’s no shortage of government resume tips out there. Whether it’s a federal or state and local position, it’s important to understand how to strengthen your overall resume for government. GovLoop has a number of resources to help you government-ize your resume. But what if you are just entering the government workforce or barely have job experience as it is?

For millennials who have yet to attain government experience, fear not! You can still break into public service. The key is to find your golden ticket into a government volunteer position, tailor your experiences to fit the vacancy, and make sure your resume doesn’t have some easy-to-avoid-mistakes.

Find Your Golden Ticket
You have academic experience from college, you’ve held some leadership positions on campus, and you have had some private sector experience here and there, but maybe you haven’t even encountered government-related work yet.

The first step is to find your golden ticket. And no, I don’t mean buy a bunch of chocolate bars to find that lucky one. I mean find any government-related volunteer position and use it as your catalyst for public service. It can be as easy as volunteering at a public shelter, a political campaign, or applying to a local Congressman’s office.

My golden ticket was an unpaid internship at my Congressman’s district office near my hometown in Oregon. Prior to that, the only job experience I had was a waitressing position and leadership positions I had assumed in college.

Attaining the internship was as simple as a phone call. A friend of mine formerly interned at the same office and told me about it, so I called to see if they had availabilities, and – sure enough – they did. I was fortunate to be the only intern in the office with two supervisors who were the field officers. I gained a wealth of exposure to government and attained great experience at the local level.

Looking back, I definitely don’t think I would be where I am in my professional journey had it not been for that internship. Find your golden ticket into government and use it as your catalyst into public service. Pay attention, no matter how small the position may seem, as future potential employers will ask what you learned from your local experiences.

Remember, you don’t necessarily need to work in Washington to have a career in government. Be flexible and open-minded about volunteering. Even if it’s not the agency of your dreams, there’s a lot of experience and knowledge to gain.

Apply Your Experiences
Now, how do you assemble a government resume when you have virtually zero government experience?

Tailor your experiences and apply them to government. Whether you were a football team captain, or president of your school journal in college, think of how your educational and leadership experiences would apply. Maybe you learned about teamwork, management, or delegation – all of these are applicable. Even waitressing can be applied to government (i.e., provided customer service, ensured swift delivery of service, etc.).

When writing resumes for government, keep these tips in mind:

  • Include details in your experience section. When listing your work history, be sure to provide the following information for each position:
    • Job title
    • Employer’s name, city, and state
    • Duties and accomplishments
    • Supervisor’s name and phone number
    • Starting and ending dates (month and year)
    • Hours per week
    • Salary or be sure to mention if it’s unpaid
  • Provide keywords and emphasize results. Look for keywords, repeated verbs, or technical terminology that are listed in the job announcement. Once you have identified these keywords, use them in your resume where applicable. While it’s a little more advanced, let’s use this Staff Assistant Position at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for example.

The Vacancy lists: Serves as liaison with the Secretary and other top Department officials in the resolution of controversial problems that influence the image of the department.

Think about positions you’ve held in school or in the private world where you had to problem-solve or address a conflict. Make sure to draw from professional experience. Now, was there a time when you served as a representative of other interests or people in some capacity? Maybe you were a vice president of the student union, which means you acted as a liaison between the President, the students, and the university. You may think your positions don’t relate, but in many ways they can. Use this as an exercise to practice tailoring your resume for a government position.

  • Be Concise. Eliminate unnecessary or repetitive words, such as “in order to” or “it was my responsibility to.” When considering submitting to USAJobs, or any government position, ask yourself the following:
    • Can a hiring manager see my main credentials within 10 to 15 seconds?
    • Does critical information jump off the page?
    • Do I effectively sell myself in the top quarter of the page?
  • Use Your Power Words. Weak verbs like “communicated” or “assisted” don’t stand out on a resume. It’s important to remember that, even for government, you are selling yourself. Be sure to use any of these 100 power words to stand out. 

Resume Don’ts
Finally, it’s important to know what not to do for a government resume. Don’t make these mistakes:

  • Give yourself glowing reviews. Using terms about yourself like “exemplary employee” or “visionary leader” can bring up red flags. Let your references say that about you and stick to the facts about yourself.
  • Leave too much gap time between positions. Unemployment gaps also raise red flags for hiring managers. While it’s more common to have gaps as a millennial in this economy, try to fill your gaps with relevant experiences. You can volunteer, take a community college course, or shadow a friend or family member at their workplaces.
  • Give too much history. Government resumes are longer by nature, but this doesn’t mean you should go in-depth into experiences you had in high school. If you’re a recent graduate from college, then your professional history should not be older than that period of time. Make sure it’s relevant, and for federal resumes, keep it to no more than five pages.
  • Ignore formatting requirements. If your resume doesn’t fit the formatting requirements presented in the vacancy notice, then don’t bother applying. The resume will most likely be ignored. Be sure to read the formatting requirements for every position and reformat accordingly. It may be tedious and time consuming, but it’s better than wasting time on an application that won’t even make it past a round of computers.
  • Generalize too much. When resumes are too general, the screener has to wonder whether an applicant is actually qualified or not. But the screener doesn’t have time to dig for more information and will most likely leave the resume in the “no” pile and move on. This is why keywords and tailoring are so important. Be sure your resume is catered specifically to each organization you apply for. Don’t just shoot off 15 generic resumes for different posts. Yes, the positions are filled fast, but taking the extra time to cater your resume better guarantees you a spot.


For more reading about millennials in public service, check out this weekly GovLoop series, First 5: Advice from millennial to millennial

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kenny jackson

Just looking for information about internship, is there a website or phone number that I can get the information in need.

Thank you