Monday, October 15, 2012

How to use keywords in your federal resume

What are keywords?

They are words or phrases specific to a particular industry or profession. They imply additional skills and experiences that are vital to someone's success in a position. They can also relate to the particular level of responsibility one has had in an organization. For example, executives may include the following keywords in their summaries:
  • Strategic Planning
  • Multi-Site Operations
  • New Business Development
  • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • P & L Responsibilities

Why Use Keywords?

  1. Scanned resumes. Employers often do not have the time or resources to read each resume submitted for a position. In order to save time, a scanner is used to input the resumes into a company's database. Keywords that are essential for candidates to be considered qualified are then identified and resumes are searched for them. These words are specific to the particular position, and resumes that don't contain them are not considered.
  2. Search engines. If you have signed up on one of the Internet search engines or have submitted your resume on-line to specific companies, keywords will connect you to job postings. The more keywords you include in your resume, the more "hits" you will have. Researching employers and jobs will help you identify what keywords to include.
  3. Keywords communicate multiple skills and qualifications to prospective employers. As was mentioned before, use keywords that will be appropriate for a particular employer. For example, "project management" can imply several things to different audiences. This can be particularly important if you are making a career shift. Talking to current employees of an organization or checking their website or annual report can give you clues.

Where to Use Keywords

Once you have identified the keywords for a particular position that interests you, it will be important to draw attention to them. Repetition can also be helpful in having an impact on a resume reader.
Keywords need to be at or near the beginning of your resume. They may be part of your objective, your summary section, or if you are using a skills-based or combination format, they may even be titles of sections. In addition, you may want to use them in descriptions of positions you have held.
Cover letters are another place to use keywords. Some employers carefully read cover letters and others do not, so don't assume your cover letter will be seen. However, effective cover letters connect the employer's needs (keywords) with a candidate's qualifications (keywords). By using keywords, you make it easy for the employer to consider you for the position.
Finally, keywords are not limited to your resume. In an interview, use these words to describe your experiences, in examples of your work, and in selling yourself as the ideal candidate. You will confirm what they have surmised about you, and you will leave them with a strong impression. Don't forget your references. Inform them of the position you are seeking, share the keywords that are important to that employer, and make sure they can reinforce your experiences regarding the keywords.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Great Federal Resume Tips

Tips for Effective Resumes

Include your name on each page of your resume. That way, if it gets separated, the reader knows what belongs to you!

Whenever possible, locate the most important information on the left side of the page or near the top. For example, dates of employment are not as critical as where you worked or what you did. Draw the reader's attention to relevant information.

Use White Space

Resumes that appear too dense with copy may seem too difficult to read. By creating “white space” the reader is more comfortable and it conveys a sense of calm and organization. Look at your resume upside down and from a distance. See what your initial reaction is to the layout and revise it if necessary.

Pay Attention to Font

Typically resumes are written with 10-12pt font size. Section headers may be bold or the point size of the font may be increased. Select fonts that are easy to read and that are not too condensed. Try different fonts to see which ones are best for you. Times New Roman, Arial, Helvetica, and Garamond are fonts used in many resumes.

Bold and italics can be used sparingly in resumes. Too much can be overkill. Emphasize words or section headings to help guide the reader's eye to notice your qualifications. Try reading it without any bold or italics and identify what needs to be emphasized.


Grammatical errors and spelling mistakes have no place in a resume. Do not rely on “Spell Check” to catch them. Proofread your resume several times and show it to others to check. Also, be sure to double-check your phone number(s) and e-mail address(es) for accuracy. If an employer tries to contact you and gets a wrong number, chances are he or she will move on to another candidate.


Only include graphics if they enhance your resume. A simple line can separate sections without blocking the flow in a resume. Don't get too cute and discourage the employer from considering you.


Keywords are an essential component of writing a successful resume and conducting a successful job search.


Provide references only when they are requested. Be prepared with a list of references that will support your candidacy. A good reference will be able to talk about your work experiences and skills. Be sure to get their permission to be included on your list and ask them whether they will be positive. Be sure to let them know what you've applied for when you use their name so that they can be helpful and not surprised when contacted.

Critique Your Resume

It is important to create a resume that is strong and concise. It should clearly state your career goal with the body of the resume logically supporting this objective. Your resume makes a personal statement about you and your career. It is important that you feel comfortable with your resume format and content. If the final product doesn't make you feel proud to use it as your personal sales tool, take time to make the changes necessary to achieve this goal.

Scannable Resumes and Electronic Resumes

Many organizations electronically scan resumes to enter them into their databases. Because of this, you may need a special version of your resume that is tailored to be an electronic version. Just as with a hardcopy of your resume, you want this resume to arrive safely to the employer. By following these suggestions, your resume will contain the same content but the formatting will be simpler and not as eye-catching.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Resume Basics for Private or Government Resume, Part 6

Part 6: Critique Your Resume

Evaluate the Content

Does the resume present your strengths up front? Does the order of information make sense? Are keywords from the job description included in the resume? Have you quantified your accomplishments to give the reader a sense of the magnitude of your responsibilities? Does the information feel complete and present a clear picture of what you have to offer? Besides reading it yourself, ask two or three trusted colleagues or friends to critique it.

Use Power Words and Action Verbs

Make every word work for you! By using Power Words and Action Verbs  in your resume, you create a sense of enthusiasm and a “can do” attitude. When critiquing your resume, see if you get this sense. If not, how can you improve it? See the list of Power Words to assist you in creating effective descriptions.

Is Your Resume Focused?

Your resume needs to be targeted towards supporting your reason for writing a resume. Is there information that is redundant, out of place, or irrelevant? Sometimes we are particularly proud of an achievement, but if we look at it objectively, it doesn't relate to what we are trying to do. Let go of the emotional ties and only include achievements that are relevant.

Does the Format Highlight Your Strengths?

Is a reverse chronological format better for you than a skills-based resume? Sometimes you may use a combination of both. Are there sections you could add to strengthen your resume?

Where Are the Gaps in My Resume?

If a job description is available, compare the requirements and duties to what you have highlighted in your resume. What is missing? Do not assume that the reader of the resume will assume anything. If you can document what they are requiring, do so. For example, if they ask for experience with Microsoft Excel, do not state “experience with various office software packages.” Make it easy for the reader to see you are qualified.

Length of Resume

If your resume feels too long, keep in mind that the average employer spends about 35-40 seconds scanning a resume. It is important to eliminate any extraneous words that could distract a reader. A good exercise is to review your resume and circle the 5 points you think are the most likely to help you land the job you want. Now look at the parts of the resume you haven't circled. Is there anything you could omit or shorten?

If your resume is too short, you may not be giving yourself enough credit for the experiences and training you have had. Review the materials you gathered for the “mega-approach.” What else could support your targeted resume? Ask yourself, “How did I improve the various places I have worked?” If you have job performance reviews and job descriptions available from previous positions, look through them to remind yourself of your accomplishments. If your work experience is limited, consider emphasizing your coursework, activities or volunteer experiences that demonstrate skills such as teamwork, punctuality, accuracy or leadership.

Are the Section Headings Appropriate?

Just because someone else has used the heading title “Work History” on his or her resume doesn't mean that it is the best title for you to use. Perhaps “Professional Experience” or “Relevant Experience” is more descriptive of your experiences. Section headings do stand out in the reader's mind, so make them work for you.


The current trend in resumes is to leave off the phrase “References available upon request.” This is assumed to be true, so there is no need to include it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Resume Basics for Private or Government Resume, Part 5

Part 5: Write a Resume Draft

Now that you know the sections to include in a resume, it's your turn to put it all together.

First, decide what your objective is in writing a resume. Identify the type of job you want (try to be specific) and then choose the style of resume you will first write, either the reverse chronological, skills-based, or combination resume.

Next, think about the sections you plan to include in your resume. Make a list and then outline what you will include under each section. If you have job descriptions, transcripts, awards, etc. available, organize them into the sections you are using.

Begin by writing the easiest section! Many people begin with the Contact Information and then the Education section. These two are relatively easy to write. Under education, look for classes, projects, or major papers that relate to the job you are targeting. Include these under the degree you earned. If you have additional certifications or training, be sure to include them.

Continue writing section by section until you have a rough draft.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Resume Basics for Private or Government Resume, Part 4

Part 4: Sections of a Resume

All resumes typically contain sections that highlight education and work experience. Often a profile or summary of qualifications section is used to provide the reader with an overview of your competencies. Some people also choose to include a section to highlight community or professional involvement as well as presentations or publications. Tailor your resume to bring out your strengths!

Typical Resume Sections

  • Contact Information
  • Profile or Summary of Qualifications
  • Education
  • Skills (if a skills-based format is used)
  • Work Experience (two basic layouts, depending if you are using a skills-based or reverse chronological format)

Optional Sections

  • Technical Skills/Programming*
  • Community Involvement
  • Professional involvement
  • Awards
  • Publications/Presentations*
*If these sections are extensive, you may want to create an addendum page to your resume

Length of a Resume

Resumes are typically one or two pages in length. If you are in the initial stages of writing your resume, don't be too concerned about the length. It will be important for you to review your resume, edit unnecessary information, and ask others to critique it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Resume Basics for Private or Government Resume, Part 3

Part 3: Choosing a Format

There are three basic formats that are found when writing a resume: a skills-based resume; a reverse chronological resume; and a combination resume. All three have distinct advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the job for which you are applying, you may choose one format or the other. It is good to try all three styles to see which one presents the most powerful image. Whatever style you choose, you will always need to include your work history.

Which Format Is Best for You?

Reverse ChronologicalSkills-basedCombination
What It IsBegin with your most recent position and work backwards, typically focusing on the last 10 to 15 years of experienceSummarizes your professional skills and minimizes your work historyUtilizes the best of the reverse chronological and skills-based styles
When to Use ItWhen seeking a position in the same field
Your career path has shown steady progress and increasing responsibilities
You can demonstrate measurable results from your work
You've held impressive job titles and/or have worked for big-name employers
Your work history has no gaps
You are changing careers and utilizing your transferable skills
You have been employed by the same company for a long time
You have held several jobs that are dissimilar OR very similar in nature
You are a new graduate with limited work history, but DO have relevant coursework or training
Your work history contains gaps in employment
Each position you have had involved a different job
You want to highlight internships or volunteer positions that are related to your field of interest
Significant skills are highlighted and supported by your employment history
CautionsCalls attention to employment gaps
Skills may be difficult to spot if they are buried in job descriptions
Employers are used to viewing reverse chronological resumes. Be clear about why this is the best format for you!
May be more difficult to write
Be sure your format supports your objective and is arranged in a logical, easy-to-follow manner

Friday, October 5, 2012

Resume Basics for Private or Government Resume, Part 2

Deciding What to Include

This may vary from job to job, so keep your mega-data file accessible. In order to clarify what is relevant to a particular job, ask yourself the following questions:
  • What skills do I want to use in my next job?
  • What do I do best?
  • What skills have I developed?
  • What work experience have I found satisfying?
  • If I am looking at a specific job description, what skills and experiences are identified?
  • What is important about my education? (This usually includes degrees and perhaps specific courses.)
  • Are there unique experiences or talents I want to share?
Take time to answer these questions thoughtfully. Doing so will make the task of creating a resume easier. Then organize your materials to answer these questions. There may be some overlap, and that's okay.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Resume Basics for Private or Government Resume, Part 1

Part 1: Gathering Information

In order to write an effective resume, you need to understand why you are writing one. In general, if you are applying for a specific job, you need to tailor your resume to meet the requirements of the position. So, grab your job description! It contains valuable information for you to use in your resume.

If you are trying to write an initial resume without a specific job in mind, think about the type of job you want and what will be important skills or experiences you need to include.

Create a Mega-Data File

Make a list of all items that could be important to your resume. Gather information or write notes about previous work experiences, job descriptions, performance reviews, previous resumes, transcripts from educational programs, papers you have written, presentations you have delivered, volunteer programs, certifications, licenses, curriculum you created, awards, honors...whatever you feel is relevant to your work. If in doubt, include it. We tend to forget the things we have done, so think of things that will help you remember. If you are just out of school, you might want to think about extracurricular experiences, volunteer work, internships, etc.

This mega-file is an important step in managing your career. Continue to add
to it as you take on new jobs, attend classes, etc. This will make it much easier in the future!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Helpful terms to know when applying for a federal job

Automatic Resume Scanners – Computers programmed to read nouns that identify key skills; the TSA does not use this technology when reviewing resumes.
Behavioral Interview – Interview style in which candidates are asked about past experiences. Questions may start with something like, “Tell me about a time when…”
Best Qualified Candidate – A candidate who ranks among the top when compared with other eligible candidates; earning “best qualified” does not guarantee an interview.
Competencies – The personal and professional attributes that are critical to successful performance.
KSAs – knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Keywords – words, or short phrases, that describe skills and knowledge needed for a specific position; often found in a position announcement, particularly in the job description, duties, and self-assessment questionnaire.

Module – Questions about a candidate’s qualifications are divided up into Modules in the Vacancy Questionnaire; these can indicate key skills required for a position.

Self-Assessment Questionnaire – a part of the federal application process in which you rate your skill level on a number of job-related functions and then indicate where on your resume the reviewer can find supporting evidence. You can preview questions in the “How You Will Be Evaluated” section of the job announcement. The Modules and questions can provide insight into some of the skills that are important to include on your resume.

STAR – A technique that can help structure answers in a behavioral interview by reminding candidates to answer with a description of the Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

Structured Interview – Interview format where all candidates are asked the same questions to make the process fair for all.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How do I get a government job?

People get jobs in the federal government in the same way that they get most jobs in the private industry: by finding job openings and submitting a resume or job application. You can research and apply for government jobs online with a resume. However, while the process is now very similar to that in private industry, there are still significant differences due to the many laws, executive orders, and regulations that govern federal and state employment. can help you find out how federal jobs are filled, learn more about the hiring reform, find tips for your resume, application and interview as well as how to apply for federal jobs. Most federal jobs are listed on USAJOBS, however, some excepted service agencies post jobs independently on their own website or elsewhere. If you’d like to work for a specific agency, do a targeted search of their job sections or check this list of excepted service agencies and their employment information pages.

Federal Government Jobs Official Federal Jobsite

USAJOBS is the official jobsite for the U.S. federal government and is operated by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Most federal civilian jobs–with the exception of jobs in the federal judiciary–are posted on USAJOBS.             
Search for Jobs
The federal government has thousands of job openings at any given time. Use Advanced Search to narrow your search by job title, agency, location, and other criteria.
Apply for Jobs

Each vacancy announcement has unique application requirements. If you've determined that you qualify for a position, review the "How to Apply" section of the job announcement. Some positions seek electronic applications while others accept applications by mail.

U.S. citizenship is required for most federal jobs. Some agencies hire non-citizens through special hiring procedures. Contact agencies directly to inquire about positions for non-citizens.

Security Clearance

Some jobs with the federal government require a security clearance; however, the government will not request or pay for a background investigation until you are offered a position that requires a clearance.

FAQs, Tutorials, and Other Help
Find answers to questions about the federal pay scale, the meaning of terms like "series," "grade," "status candidate," and more.