Private Industry vs. Federal Job Resumes: Apples and Oranges

Writing on a clipboard.

When I talk about writing a resume, I always use the analogy of an apple and an orange. The apple is nothing like an orange, even though they are both types of fruit. The private industry resume is not the same as a federal resume, even though they are both resumes.

Many veterans make the mistake of writing one resume, sometimes from the resume writing lessons in the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) class, and use this one resume to cover all job applications: private industry, government contractor, federal and whatever job titles that appeal to them at the moment. This is a big mistake.

Related: Does your resume pass the 6-second test? Get a FREE assessment.

Many veterans apply for jobs for years and don't get hired, because their resumes are not focused toward the type of industry or position that they are seeking.

Here are the important basic differences between a private industry resume and a federal resume:

1. Length

Private industry resumes are usually two pages, and federal resumes are more often 3-5 pages in length. The federal resumes are longer because the federal human resources specialists want your knowledge, skills and abilities (and duties and accomplishments) spelled out. A private industry recruiter doesn't really want all the details of your responsibilities.

For instance, a federal HR specialist does want to know how many people you supervised, what their job duties were and the scope of work that they were performing.

2. Detail

Private industry resumes are usually written with bullet statements, and federal resumes have a small paragraph about each major skill. A private industry resume bullet statement will include about 10 words and has a different skill set, such as: Team Lead; Trainer; Database Updates; Administration; Planning. The federal resume should have at least four sentences written about each major skill set. Again, this goes to a longer resume with more details and explanation.

Private Industry Skill Bullet Statement:

Federal Resume Skill Paragraph:

DATABASE ADMINISTRATOR: Maintain, process and manage security clearance database and associated procedures for 1-175th Infantry Battalion utilizing JPA. Initiate clearance process for personnel requiring new clearances, and identify personnel whose authorization has been revoked. Process and secure sensitive and/or derogatory personnel information in close coordination with Army security managers. Enter coded information into Army systems.

3. Keywords

Private industry resumes don't feature the keywords as much as the federal resume. With the bullet-style private industry resume, keywords are blended into each bulleted statement. With the federal resume, since the HR specialists receive so many resumes (100-500 for each position), the keywords are featured at the beginning of the paragraph. TEAM LEADER, TRAINER, DATABASE ADMINISTRATOR, PLANNER, LOGISTICS COORDINATOR. The keywords should be in all caps because of the resume builder with USAJOBS.

Private Industry Resumes:

  • Planned, organized, led and performed maintenance on CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, including during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Federal Resume Description:

TEAM LEAD/FLIGHT CREW MEMBER: Planned, organized, led and performed maintenance on CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, including during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Supported more than 2,000 sorties in several major campaigns. Performed and directed maintenance at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and during two tours in Iraq (total time 15 months) to ensure mission safety and readiness for operations. Proved effective as short-term project leader directing multiple operation events and major maintenance projects under pressure.

4. Accomplishments

Private industry resumes either do not include accomplishments or do not feature accomplishments. The federal resumes MUST feature accomplishments in order to be Best Qualified and Referred to a supervisor. This is another reason why the federal resumes are longer than a private industry resume.

Related: Unleash your career potential and get customized job recommendations based on your military experience and personality traits.

Private Industry Duty:

Trained to use the electromagnetic spectrum to deny the enemy's ability to attack U.S. and Allied personnel with remote devices.

Federal Resume Accomplishment:

SELECTED TO BE BATTALION ELECTRONIC WARFARE NON-COMMISSIONED OFFICER: Outstanding work ethic led to selection as the Battalion Electronic Warfare NCO. As EWO, trained to use the electromagnetic spectrum to deny the enemy's ability to attack U.S. and Allied personnel with remote devices. Work directly with commanders to ensure the proper utilization of electronic warfare to safeguard friendly personnel.

The Bottom Line

Do not use an apple (private industry resume) to apply for an orange job (federal job). Writing a federal resume will take time, and it will help you if you see samples of federal resumes.

Related articles:

Related: For the latest veteran jobs postings around the country, visit the Job Search section.

Kathryn Troutman is dedicated to helping veterans write great resumes. Troutman is the president of The Resume Place Inc., where expert, certified federal resume writers will assess your skills for federal positions, translate your relevant skills, match your background to a federal job series, find vacancy announcements for you, and write your federal resume by interviewing you and using your military career documents. Or write your federal resume with Troutman's 5 steps with the free template sample at

The Next Step: Get Your Resume Out There

Get your resume seen by companies that are seeking veterans like you. Post your resume with

Story Continues