Landing a public-sector job takes a special approach.
By Catherine Conlan, Monster Contributing Writer
Applying for a government job is different in many ways from applying for a job in the private sector.
In fact, you might as well forget all the resume advice you've ever learned, says Marilyn Santiesteban, assistant director of career services at the Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M University.
Here’s what you really need to know.
Tone It Down
If you’re sending a printed cover letter and resume, stick with the traditional look, says James Clift, CEO of VisualCV.com. While some private employers like unique resume designs, the government often prefers a more classic look, he says. This means neutral-colored paper, a conservative typeface, and a traditional setup that outlines the positions you’ve held and the achievements you made under each one.
Follow the Process
Hiring managers at government jobs winnow down lists of candidates differently than in the private sector, so following the process set out in the job listing is vital. There may be down-to-the-hour deadlines on when to apply. There may be background checks involved. If applying for the position requires that you fill out certain forms, do it.
“Be diligent in ensuring every step of the application process is completed correctly,” Clift says. Skipping a step or missing a detail will get your resume ignored. Read the job description thoroughly and include any requested supplemental materials with the application.
Use as many pages as you need to provide a thorough review of your work and education, Santiesteban says. Be detailed and don't leave anything out. Don’t break any limits on how many words to use or pages to send (follow the process, remember?), but don’t be afraid to share as much as possible to make your case for the job.
Pay Attention to the Language in the Job Posting
In general, it’s important to match the exact words used in a job listing to prove what a good fit you are to a human reader as well any automated talent screening software. This is especially true when applying for government jobs, Clift says.
“Government jobs often use different terminology than private companies; make sure you're speaking their language,” Clift says. For example, a government graphic design job may use older technologies such as Flash or Dreamweaver, while a private company would understand tools such as Github and Sketch, he says. Don't remove skills from your resume, he says, but add back “retroactive” skills to suit the job description.
In addition, you may need to change your job titles to better fit the job description, such as changing “community manager” to “social media manager,” or “customer success agent” in a private-sector job to “customer support agent.”
Make it Human
Santiesteban says that resumes for government jobs are often read by human beings, not tracking software, so she recommends writing for a human instead of stuffing your resume with keywords. “Use plain words and write about what you really do at work. Keep your sentences short, because they’re easier for humans to process, and use words that convey a strong and clear meaning.”
A resume is a written record of your education, skills and experience. It offers a summary of your work history.
A CV (or curriculum vitae) is similar, but tends to be longer and more detailed.
In Australia, both terms are often used, and we will refer simply to resumes on this page.
A cover letter accompanies your application. It should be short and specific, highlighting your selling points in relation to the job you are applying for.
Your resume and cover letter is your first chance to convince an employer that you are the right person for the job.
Before you begin writing your resume, think about your work history and note your achievements and skills.
The layout of your resume should be neat, simple and easy to read. Aim for 3–5 pages, depending on how long you have been in the workforce. Use headings and dot points.
Employers will be looking for:
- contact details
- career strengths
- employment history
- education and training levels
Read more about what to include in your resume.
If you need help with formatting, resume templates are included with some word processors (such as Microsoft Word) and are available online.
Job and career websites may also provide templates, examples and advice.
Your cover letter is an important component of your application and should:
- introduce you to the employer
- identify the position you are applying for
- convey your enthusiasm for the position
- highlight the stand-out qualities that make you a great candidate
- inspire the reader to continue reading your application (cover letters are not a summary of your resume).
It only needs to be 1 page and should be addressed personally to the employer or contact for the job.
All cover letters should be tailored to suit that particular job.
Look at examples of cover letters.
Some jobs (especially government jobs) will ask you to meet particular requirements or selection criteria. Selection criteria may also be known as core or key capabilities.
Your responses should demonstrate, with relevant examples, that you have the required experience, skills and abilities to do the job. Be succinct and use dot points where appropriate.
Read more about how to write selection criteria.