Federal Careers

Those of you venturing into the private sector for the first time should know that private sector resumes are much different than federal ones. One of the major differences is that virtually all private sector resumes are run through Applicant Tracking Software (ATS).

There is no industry standard for ATS. That being said, there are some commonalities across systems. Since you may be thinking about updating your private sector resume—or even creating your first private sector resume—in honor of International Update Your Resume Month, here are some things to know as you work on your private sector resume.


• Key words are king. Make sure that your resume reflects the key words for the position you are targeting, Not sure what the key words are? Try running the job announcement through a word cloud software.

• Do not put your name and contact information in the header or the footer. Not all ATS can read what you put in a header or a footer. Some ATS can but why take that chance?

• If you have a title such as PE, PhD, CEM or even Junior, you may want to leave it off your resume. You do not want the ATS to read your last name as PhD.

• Standardization is the way to go. Most ATS uses (and expects) standard section headers. This is not the time to get creative. Use headers such as Education, Work Experience, Certifications. Dates should be expressed as months and years. Many ATS calculate years of experience from dates and they need the months to do so accurately.

• Use Word and send your resume as a .doc if at all possible. Some ATS cannot read a PDF, JPG, or even .docx. If you are a Mac user, invest in Word for Mac (the real Word).

• Make sure that your email address, LinkedIn URL, and other links are not live. You do not want ATS to read your live link as a potential virus.

• For your experience headings, you should put Company, Location on one line and Job Title, Dates on a second line underneath the organization and location.

• Make sure the file name says more than “resume.” Instead, make your file name: Your Name, Job Title Applied For.