Five Steps Your Client Can Take to Apply for Federal Jobs

By Diane Hudson Burns

1. Federal Job Announcement Analysis

To begin the process of writing a federal resume, advise your clients to conduct a search for federal jobs on www.usajobs.gov. Type in keywords (job titles and skills) on the main page to search for jobs; or use the advanced search to include parameters (salary, location, federal series/classification).


To learn to quickly analyze a federal job vacancy announcement to identify keywords and required skills for the target position, look for the following items:

  • Major Duties: This section will describe the overview of the duties of the job. Applicants will analyze this section in detail to identify keywords and skills required for the job. The keywords will then be used throughout the resume, mirroring the language from the announcement.
  • Qualifications (Education and/or experience); Screen-out factors; Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs): Many announcements highlight specific qualifications or KSAs. All of these sections are full of keywords that will need to be included in the federal resume. Look for patterns between each of the sections. If you see the words "Analyze Budgets" in the major duties, qualifications, KSAs, and the self-assessment questions sections, that is a good sign that "Analyze Budgets" is a target set of keywords, required to be in the resume.


2. Writing the Federally Formatted Resume

The key to writing a compelling federally formatted resume is by validating the major duties and self-assessment questions in the target announcement, in the resume, in the form of accomplishments.


Many announcements state the following (or similar): "The rater will not make assumptions or guess about your experience or education in the rating process. The rater will use the written information that you provide in your application to verify your responses to the Occupational Assessment Questionnaire. You should provide detailed evidence and descriptions of your experience, training, education, awards, self-development achievements, pertinent unpaid or volunteer work, and any other aspect of your background as it relates to the position. It is important that you indicate the diversity, level of difficulty, and complexity of your experience. Work history should contain sufficient information to validate qualifications and the specialized experience claimed in the questionnaire."


3. Federal Resume Format

Federal resumes are about 20,000 characters or five pages of writing on average. The federal resume is prepared in a reverse chronological format with a short duty description for each position, followed by several short accomplishment statements/bullets. The short accomplishment bullets need to validate responses to the major duty description, any Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities requirements on the posting, any desirable or screen-out factors, and the occupational questionnaire / self-assessment questions posted for each position. Additionally, each resume should focus on the intended federal series and classification standards.


Each job listed on the resume has a maximum space for 5,000 characters of writing. The federal format requires the following items: dates of employment (month and year); the company name, address, city, and state; job title; salary; hours worked per week; and a supervisor's name and phone (and indication if the supervisor may be contacted or not). Additional sections may include Education, Training, Publications, Associations, References, Languages, Licenses and Certificates, and other items applicable to the announcement.


To develop the content, applicants need to describe their scope of operations / duties, and articulate specific career accomplishments with results, focusing on the target position. Applicants will want to ensure keywords from the announcement are incorporated into the resume using keywords in Capital Letters to describe skills, accomplishments, and duties sections. This format is designed for copy and paste into the USAJOBS resume builder. Here is a sample entry from a Budget Analyst resume:


  • BUDGETING and BUDGET ANALYSIS: Formulated and revised the annual budget estimate. Provided financial advisory services for the budget, which included $7.2M in annual funding. Developed budgetary policy and provided an authoritative source of advice and assistance for other analysts in the formulation and execution of budgets.


4. Developing Accomplishments

To write a compelling resume that qualifies against a specific announcement and the target federal series, candidates should begin by preparing and organizing a list of best accomplishments applicable to the target position.


For example, if the target position is a Budget Analyst (General Schedule / GS), series 0560 (finance series) Grade 11 / GS-0560-11), the resume will need to focus on budgeting and budget programming — per the vacancy announcement requirements.


Candidates will need to develop accomplishment stories that validate their ability to manage budgeting functions. Always ask, "How did my actions provide positive results to the organizational objectives?" Use specifics, quantify and qualify information and results when possible, and use numbers, percentages, and dollars to create appealing stories. Here are examples for a Budget Analyst:


  • Revised the annual budget estimate for operational and staffing requirements, identifying $700K in discrepancies. Based on results, asked by management to audit six years of prior year budgets.

  • Received a letter of appreciation from senior leadership for successful close-out of FY11, a $12.3 million funding program.

  • Moved department from manual to automated procedures; established and controlled budgetary report procedures for the Operations and Maintenance Program, which manages a $20 million annual budget of the funds control system. Received Employee of the Year.


5. Tracking Progress

The USAJOBS account allows applicants to track the status of federal applications. This is truly one of the main benefits of applying for federal jobs — applicants will know if they are qualifying or not, and they can adjust their resumes and target jobs, as needed. Through this adjustment process, once the applicant begins to qualify highly for positions, then he will know that he found the right fit jobs, and his resumes are written appropriately for the target positions.



Diane Hudson Burns, CPCC, CLTMC, FJSTC, CPRW is co-author of "The New Senior Executive Service Application" (Oct. 2011) and contributing author to five federal resume books; Director of the Certified Professional Career Coach program with students globally, including college counselors, outplacement, and federal HR and military transition professionals. Diane is a former Special Agent Investigator for DoD and a former HR Specialist for Northrop. She specializes in federal career coaching and training, and military transitions. Diane owns Career Marketing Techniques and may be reached at diane@polishedresumes.com.




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