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Win with your Pen! Presentation Notes

During the Defense Acquisition University Mentoring Moments presentation titled Win with your Pen!, Ms. Lisa P. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Product Support, chaired a panel that included award package and resume writing experts.

The panel members provided tips for writing a winning award nomination package and standout resumes.

Below is an excerpt of each panelist presentation, but we encourage you to check out the Mentoring Moments: Win with your Pen! recording at, where you’ll find the full presentation and review ALL the key points shared.

Nomination Package Examples – Key Points

  • Focus on outcomes. Quantify benefits.

  • More is not always better. Be concise. Get to the point. Brevity is often a force multiplier.

  • Be specific. Cite examples.

  • Avoid long, flowery, overly detailed verbiage. Avoid unsubstantiated superlatives.

Resume Tips – Key Points

This is potentially your first impression - make sure it is a good one!
  • No errors, typos, or formatting issues

  • Name on each page (use headers/footers!)

  • Should be easy to read and follow

Cover all areas clearly
  • Clear & current contact info (include work and personal)

  • Security clearance info (include investigation type/date and highest held)

  • Professional Certifications and/or Organizations (relevant)

Pay attention to the job announcements
  • Tailor your resume to highlight relevant experience

  • Resume should show achievements – not position description

Resume length
  • General rule - one to three pages

  • USAJobs - average length is four to five pages

  • Dates not clearly listed w/at least month and yr. for each experience

  • Not indicating supervisory experience – make it clear

  • First-level, Second-level, # of personnel, civilians, military

  • References – if you have them, make sure contact info is current!

Helpful Resources:
  • What Should I Include In My Federal Resume: USAJobs Help Center

  • Tips For Writing a Federal Resume: Dept of Labor Resume Tips

  • Writing An Effective Resume: Resume Writing Guide

  • Federal Resume Guide (includes examples): Federal Resume Guide

Writing Award Winning Nominations

The Basics
  • Review and understand the award criteria.

  • Begin with desired outcome in mind.

  • Follow instructions. If a page limit, don’t exceed it. If format requirements, meet them.

  • Begin early. Don’t wait until last minute to get started.

  • Build in time needed for internal review, edits, staffing, rework, and approval.

Getting Started
  • Review previous-year nomination submissions if available. What did earlier winning packages include?

  • Critically ask yourself before you begin: Is the nomination truly competitive? Perhaps this simply “isn’t our year.”

  • Be cognizant of scoring, weighting categories, and factors outlined in award instructions.

  • If multiple category award criteria, “don’t put all your eggs (accomplishments) into one basket (single category).”

  • Don’t overlook the importance of lesser weighted categories. A so-called “less important category” may separate the winner from the runners-up.

Keep in mind – Results, Results, Results!
  • Focus on outcomes. Quantify benefits.

  • More is not always better. Be concise. Brevity is often a force multiplier.

  • Be specific. Cite specific examples.

  • Avoid long, flowery, overly detailed verbiage. Avoid unsubstantiated superlatives.

  • Reconfirm specific accomplishments actually occurred during the award period.

  • Focus on impacts and benefits. Remember the 3Rs: Results, results, results!

Ask Yourself “So What,” and “Why Does It Matter?”
  • What am I trying to accomplish? What will it take to get there?

  • Does this nomination “stand out from the crowd”?

  • Were improvements a one-time thing or ongoing over extended period?

  • Were key metrics met? Exceeded? By how much?

  • What difference did a specific accomplishment make?

In conclusion

For additional insights,

  • Read the “Recognition Where Due: Tips for Writing Award Winning Nominations” article in the new November-December 2022 issue of Defense Acquisition Magazine at

  • Rewatch this “Mentoring Moments: Win with Your Pen!” webinar video at

  • And remember the adage: “If it is worth doing, it’s worth doing well”!

Do you have additional tips to share? Comment below some of your best practices and experiences to help our fellow federal employees succeed in their professional career.

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