Most of us remember the rule drilled into us at school that no resume should be more than 2 pages—and 1 is better! That “rule” points out one of the major differences between federal and private sector resumes.

Let’s look at that and some of other myths about resumes in more detail:

  • Resumes should not exceed 2 pages. SOMETIMES. While I agree with that rule for private sector resumes, if your federal resume is only 2 pages, it will be difficult for you to get traction. From a federal Human Resources (HR) perspective, if its not on your resume, you did not do it; federal HR reviewers of your resume are not allowed to make assumptions or draw conclusions about your experience; it must be spelled out. A typical federal resume is 4-6 pages, while a strong private sector resume is 2 pages (or one, if you are relatively new to the workforce).
  • Resumes do not need to include names of supervisors, starting and end months, hours worked per week, etc. SOMETIMES. As mentioned above, Federal resumes require significantly more detailed information than private sector resumes. This includes things like citizenship, hours worked per week, supervisors’ names (and whether they may be contacted), and more. This information should not be included on a private sector resume (although most private sector employers want to know start and end month, in addition to year). Federal HR can eliminate people from competition who do not include all required information—why take that chance?
  • Uploading resumes is always better than copying and pasting into the builder. WRONG. Private sector organizations have created resume builders for a reason: information appears in the order and location recruiters want to see it. Ditto for USAJOBS. (and not all federal agencies accept uploaded resumes—it would be a drag to figure that out at 11:58PM). While it may take a bit longer to copy and paste your Word document into the available builder, remember that is how organizations want to receive it.
  • Resumes should reflect duties. TRUE BUT. Whether you are putting together a federal or a private sector resume, duties should be included. But so should accomplishments; its not enough for your resume to show that you do “x”; you need to show accomplishments so that readers of your resume can see how you have added value to your organization(s).
  • Generic resume work. WRONG. All resumes, whether federal or private sector should be tailored to individual job postings. This means including all of the job postings’ key words.
  • Email doesn’t matter. WRONG. If you are still using AOL for your email, that screams that you have not updated that part of your life—and begs the question whether you have updated other parts of your work life. While concerns about age are a bigger issue in the private sector than the federal one, it is always a good idea to have a professional email address; preferably, one that has your name (without the year of your birth). And make sure the “display name” is appropriate as well.
  • Formatting should be attractive. IT DEPENDS. Federal resumes are not typically heavily formatted and the USAJOBS builder does not accept formatting tools like bold, underline, small caps, italics, etc. You can get a bit more creative with private sector resumes but remember that most private sector Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) do not accept embedded tables, certain fonts, PDF, and borders.

While federal and private sector resumes both require the use of key words, the inclusion of accomplishments and accomplishments, there are substantial differences in length, level of detail, and content. When applying for jobs, it is important to make sure your resume matches your target sector for maximum consideration.

Nancy Segal is a federal human resources training and job search expert. Following her own 30-year federal HR career (much of it at the senior level), she founded Solutions for the Workplace LLC in 2003 to provide an HR management perspective to both federal managers and astute applicants to U.S. government positions. Nancy has unmatched federal career management insight, high standards, and respect for people’s time, and her clients use this to their advantage.