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.”
How to Write a Cover Letter for a Government Internship
A Cover Letter is More Than a Summary of Your Resume
A cover letter is frequently required, and recommended, along with your job application. It expresses your interest in the role, sums up your qualifications, and attempts to show how you are different than the other candidates.
What Makes a Good Cover Letter?
A good cover letter doesn't tell an employer what you want from a job; it tells them how you will help them. It demonstrates the strengths and benefits you will bring to the position and how your past experience will make it a quick transition.
Each cover letter you submit should be customized for the particular job description. Particularly when applying for a job in government, an individualized cover letter is essential. Government human resources departments frequently use computer programs to scan cover letters, and using keywords from the specific job description can help your application be recognized.
What Should a Cover Letter Look Like?
While cover letters used to be mailed or faxed, they are now almost exclusively emailed along with your resume. A cover letter for a government position would look like the below sample:
Dear Mr. Norton:
I would like to express my enthusiasm in applying for the position as a legislative intern at the New York Civil Liberties Union recently posted in The New York Times. As a prospective May 20XX graduate from Boston College with considerable writing and administrative experience, and a strong interest in law, public policy, and immigrant rights, I believe I am a strong candidate for the legislative intern position.
The job description states that you are looking for a candidate with a commitment to civil liberties, who has strong communication and interpersonal skills, excellent writing skills, organizational skills, and someone who is very detail oriented. As a government major currently involved in writing a thesis on immigration law and as someone who contributes regularly to several blogs focused on government and immigration issues, I have become a proficient and skilled writer. As an intern for Mayor Jones at the New Brunswick City Court House, I have developed strong interpersonal skills, acquired a basic knowledge of public affairs, and have polished my organizational and administrative skills. As a current intern and assistant to Tom Jones, Legislative Assistant for Attorney Bill Phillips, in New Brunswick, NY, I have further enhanced my quantitative and qualitative research, editing, writing, and administrative skills.
As a government major, I have spent the past four years of my academic career focusing on U.S. immigration politics and immigrant rights. I have taken courses in American Politics, Immigration Law I and II, Dissident Political Thought, Politics of Congress in addition to conducting several research projects in collaboration with Professor Jack Barnes at Boston College. My case research explored the civil rights of minorities who were recently denied jobs for which it appeared that they were fully qualified. While working on my thesis, I learned a great deal about the process of conducting legal research and in writing about civil rights litigation.
I have excelled in my academics and previous internships and jobs and feel that I would be an asset if I were selected to intern for the New York Civil Liberties Union.
I will call within a week to discuss my candidacy and see if we might arrange for mutually convenient time in which we can speak.
Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing back from you soon.