Successfully Seeking a Federal Job or Promotion

Agencies (and private sector employers too) are searching for the candidate that most closely matches the requirements for the jobs that they are filling. This means a generic résumé will not be as successful as one that is written specifically for a job announcement.

Gone are the days when you could successfully use one résumé to apply for multiple jobs.  Federal agencies (and private sector employers too) are searching for the candidate that most closely matches the requirements for the jobs that they are seeking to fill.  This means that a generic résumé will not be as successful as one that is written specifically for a job announcement.

This is especially important for job seekers who have not narrowed their job search down to one type of position.  Automated application systems (used with increasing frequency by federal agencies) make the use of focused résumés even more important.

Computerized application systems search for “keywords” in the résumés that are submitted.  Human Resource Specialists look for keywords as well.  The difference is that a Human Resources Specialist has the ability to utilize judgment in searching for keywords, while an automated system will only search for the words it is programmed to find.

So, what is a keyword, and why is it so important?  A keyword is a noun, or noun phrase, that describes a duty, responsibility, knowledge, skill or ability that is necessary in the successful performance of a job.  The more keywords that are specific to the job for which you are applying that you have in your résumé or application, the better is the chance that you will receive serious consideration for the position.  This is especially important if you are applying for positions outside of your current agency.

Let’s assume that you have an accounting background and are interested in applying for a Tax Auditor position with the Internal Revenue Service and a Cost Accountant position with the General Services Administration.  Even though both positions require knowledge of accounting, a Tax Auditor position would have significantly different keywords from that of a Cost Accountant.  You would be more likely to be successful if you crafted a separate résumé for each position, rather than using a generic “accountant” résumé for both positions.

You can locate the keywords for a federal position by reviewing the position description for the job.  When analyzing the job announcement, be sure to look in the “Duties and Responsibilities” section. The nouns and noun phrases you find in that area are among the keywords for the position. Once you know the keywords, it is time for you to revise your résumé or application so that the duties, responsibilities and accomplishments that you list are close to (or identical to) the keywords you found in the position description and in the Duties and Responsibilities section of the job announcement.

If you are planning on applying for positions that are not similar (e.g., do not share many keywords) it will be to your advantage to prepare separate résumés or applications.

This seems like a lot of work just for a promotion. But take a look at the results of a promotion. In this hypothetical case we are looking at a 35-year-old GS-13 Step 5 employee in Pittsburgh, PA who has applied for a GS-14/15 promotion. This person will work until they are 57 years old (their MRA under the FERS retirement system) and will live 30 years in retirement.

If this person is selected for the promotion, they will realize an additional $1,130,000 over their lifetime. That is a result of $770,000 in additional wages over the 22 years left in their career and $360,000 in additional retirement benefits due to their higher salary at retirement.  I admit to pirating this example from material I used five years ago. Due to the fact that salaries are higher today (though not by as much as we would like), the additional money received would be even greater.

At lower grade levels the difference will not be as dramatic as the example above, but in terms of higher salary and increased pension benefits, it will still be significant.

A good way to start developing powerful résumés for different jobs is to list everything you have done in your career and to develop responsibility and accomplishment statements for them.  When applying for different jobs, pick and choose the responsibility and accomplishment statements that most closely match the job for which you are applying.  Check keywords when you prepare your resumes by carefully comparing the accomplishments listed in your résumé with the duties and responsibilities in the new job.

Agencies can request to have John Grobe, or another of Federal Career Experts' qualified instructors, deliver a retirement or transition seminar to their employees. FCE instructors are not financial advisers and will not sell or recommend financial products to class participants. Agency Benefits Officers can contact John Grobe at to discuss schedules and costs.

About the Author

John Grobe is President of Federal Career Experts, a firm that provides pre-retirement training and seminars to a wide variety of federal agencies. FCE’s instructors are all retired federal retirement specialists who educate class participants on the ins and outs of federal retirement and benefits; there is never an attempt to influence participants to invest a certain way, or to purchase any financial products. John and FCE specialize in retirement for special category employees, such as law enforcement officers.