Use Keywords to Land a Department of Defense Job

U.S. Army Spc. Sergio Castello (Photo by Wilmarys Roman Rivera)

Having trouble getting your resume noticed by Department of Defense (DoD) agencies? You're not alone.

For more than eight months, John Rosen submitted more than 60 online resumes to the Navy, Air Force and Army. He was sure he was qualified, but he was never referred to the supervisors for an interview.

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The problem? Rosen was not using the right keywords.

Keywords are the critical skills needed to perform a job. Like Rosen, if you're applying to DoD positions and your resume lacks the right keywords, you might never make it through an agency's front door.

Which Agencies Perform Keyword Searches?

The DoD agencies include the US Army, US Navy, US Marine Corps, US Air Force and the DoD, and all of these agencies are now using artificial intelligence keyword searches to find qualified candidates. They have been using a system called Resumix for more than five years for selecting candidates. With it, human resources specialists search civilian military applicant databases with a set of five to seven keywords or skills. Only resumes that contain those keywords are reviewed for eligibility and, when appropriate, referred to the supervisor for consideration.

Which Keywords Should You Use?

There are at least four places you can go to find position-specific or general federal keywords and skills you can use in your resume. These places include the vacancy announcement itself, the relevant agency's mission statement, the relevant agency's program and career description, and the position-specific qualification standards.

To identify relevant keywords, you need to read the language the agency uses. For example, when you find an announcement either at USAJOBS or an agency site, analyze the duties, qualifications, specialized experience and questions, searching for nouns, proper names and unique verbs. Once you've identified those that best match your skill set and experience, try to incorporate them in your resume's work experience section.

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In addition, you can peruse the language used in the agency's mission statement, required job competencies and even the agency's described services. Using some of this language in your resume may well improve your "hits" with the Resumix system.

Lastly, you can also incorporate language used in the desired position's qualification standards from the US Office of Personnel Management. To identify which keywords you should use, find the five top critical skills for your target job. Review the language and try to add some of this description in your resume. Wherever you can, use the government terminology. Keep it reasonable and truthful.

What Happened to Rosen?

Once Rosen knew how to find the right keywords and skills, he was determined to find them and add them to his resume. After analyzing three job announcements, he made a list of more than 50 keywords. He found crucial keywords missing for his job series -- Contract Specialist, GS 9. These included: acquisition management, negotiations, customer services, problem-solving, Excel, briefings, PowerPoint, team leader, problem-solving and vendor interviews.

Once he added some of those keywords, he found his referral rate increased from no referrals to 70 percent. Within 60 days, he had a job -- not bad for the two hours of work it took to identify and add a few keywords.

Related: Search for government jobs today at the Government & Law Enforcement Career Center.

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