5 Resume Writing Tips for Government Job Seekers
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.”