Federal Resume

By Kathryn Troutman

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How to Create Outstanding Keyword Headers for Your Outline Format Federal Resume

Here is something we have heard many times from misinformed federal jobseekers and even federal resume writers:

“I still employ the ‘include the kitchen sink’ approach as I assume that the USAJOBS resumes are still first being read by computers.”

No, no, no, no, and no.

Federal resumes are read by actual people, not computers. Writing your federal resume for a computer and not a human will in most cases put you out of the running for the job.

Keeping in mind that a human is sorting through hundreds of applications per vacancy announcement, you must make sure that your resume clearly states your qualifications for the jobs as effectively as possible. Don’t let the reader guess. Make it clear!

The absolute best federal resume format to accomplishment this goal is the Outline Format with keyword headers. I have already talked about why and how this format works in this blog post: Help Me Hire a Minion. Please read it before you proceed, because the rest of this article will build on that foundation. You can also check out a full sample of the Outline Format federal resume here.


Now, let’s take it up a notch and see what else we can do to with our keyword headers to make sure they really hit the mark.

1. Copy the Keywords

This tip is so easy to do, and so vital. USE THE KEYWORDS from the job announcement if you have that particular skill or knowledge. The keywords are found in the Duties, Specialized Experience and KSA sections of the job announcement. Yes, I give you permission to copy them straight out of the announcement; it’s not plagiarism. Do not make the reader guess whether the words in your federal resume match the words in the job announcement. This is particularly true if you work in a technical field.

2. Put Your Best Foot Forward

Write the most important keywords at the top of your resume or at least on the first page. Even within a job block, try to order the keyword headers from most important to least important.

You can tell which keywords are the most important by the order they were listed in the announcement, and how many times each one is repeated in the announcement (including the questionnaire).

3. Full Coverage

ALL of the important keywords from the vacancy announcement and questionnaire must be addressed in your resume if you have the requested skill, knowledge, or ability. Questionnaires clearly state that the reviewer (again, a person, not a computer), will cross check the resume to see that your indicated level of expertise is justified in the resume narrative. Again, don’t make them guess; make it as clear as possible.

4. Now, Really Punch It!

Once you are using keywords properly and clearly in your resume, what else can you do to highlight them? Link your accomplishments to the keyword headers to show off your skills!

Here is a real accomplishment example. What do you think about this person’s qualifications in the area of “database and recordkeeping system?”

Key accomplishment:

Revamped an inconsistent and unreliable electronic filing system. Developed and implemented an improved coding system, which has provided more accurate and reliable data access and improved organization of over 400 technology transfer agreements. Corrected numerous inaccuracies in paper and electronic file classifications. Meticulously entered new data in the system to ensure specialists can retrieve, amend, and generate reports.

Let’s See These Four Points in Action

Here is a current vacancy announcement:

Job Title: Budget Analyst

Department: Department Of Justice

Agency: Offices, Boards and Divisions

Hiring Organization: BUDGET STAFF

Job Announcement Number:BS-15-1311067-MPP


$52,668.00 to $99,296.00 / Per Year


Saturday, January 24, 2015 to Saturday, February 7, 2015




As a Budget Analyst GS-0560 you will;

* Reviewing historical data and estimates for budgets that cover large internal operating programs or a functional area;
* Developing specific instructions and procedural guidelines for assigned programs for the preparation and completion of budget estimates;
* Assisting in review and coordination of accounting documents and apportionments, allocations and operating budgets; preparation of budget briefing materials;
* Analyzing expenditures versus commitments to identify and assist in the resolution of problems inherent in the management of resources for the Department;
* Reviewing and coordinating documents that reflect budget execution activities.

GS-11: 1 year of specialized experience equivalent to the GS-9 grade level OR Ph.D. or equivalent doctoral degree or 3 full years of progressively higher level graduate education leading to such a degree or LL.M., if related. Examples of specialized experience include ; Reviewing historical data and estimates for budgets that cover large internal operating programs or a functional area, Developing specific instructions and procedural guidelines for assigned programs for the preparation and completion of budget estimates, Resolves difficult problems of prediction and forecasting, Identifies expenditures and differences between proposed changes to internal operating programs and projected spending, Assisting in review and coordination of accounting documents and apportionments, allocations and operating budgets.

Tip 1: Copy the Keywords

The easiest way to do this is to make a list of the keywords that you find in the announcement (in bold above). Then simply use these keywords as your headers!


* IDENTIFY EXPENDITURES (and differences between proposed changes)

Tip 2: Put Your Best Foot Forward

In the case of the above Budget Analyst position, this phrase is repeated the most: BUDGET ESTIMATES. Use this keyword in your resume / job blocks as close to the top as you can. Use it in as many job blocks as you can.

Tip 3: Full Coverage

Make sure to hit all of the major keywords in our keyword list above. Also, if you click on the link in the announcement that goes to View Occupational Questionnaire, you will find a list of tasks at the end. Go through the list to see if there are other skills and abilities that should be covered in your resume. I see that preparing budget briefing materials actually comes up twice in this list, so should definitely be covered in your resume.

Tip 4: Now, Really Punch It!

In this example, add a couple of accomplishments involving the development budget estimates and explain the challenges involved and the problems that you overcame. Did you have to deal with difficult management? Or an unreasonable deadline? Lack of information? Make sure you spell it out for your reader to understand how amazing your accomplishment is.

Common Sense Tip for Your Federal Resume: Use keyword headers for a real, human reader.
Paulina Chen has a passion for taking the complex and making it simple for people to understand. Paulina has been a graphic designer, developmental editor, and webmaster for The Resume Place for over 10 years. Since receiving her Certified Federal Job Search Trainer certification, she has been eager to show federal applicants that writing your best possible federal resume is within your reach. If you need more writing help with your federal resume, contact us for an absolutely free project review. If you need expert advice or training, Kathryn Troutman the “Federal Resume Guru” is your best bet on the planet.

Posted on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:08 AM

Reader comments

Mon, Jul 9, 2018 Shalmali Bapat

Well thanks a lot for such a important article i didn't knew before that using right keywords plays this much effect so from onwards i am going to use important keywords on my resume. Thank you for your help.

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