4 top tips for getting a job with the government

Are you looking for a position with some opportunity for growth, mobility and challenge?  Would you like a position with great benefits, a pension plan and relative security?  Then a government job might be for you.

I’ve worked for the private sector or non-profits for most of my adult life, so when a Human Resources (HR) expert told me to start looking at government jobs, I was a bit surprised.  Don’t I have to know how to be a “bureaucrat”?  Isn’t it next to impossible to get a government jobs in these times of austerity?

It turns out that the jobs are out there.  In Victoria BC, home of our provincial government, several jobs are posted each day.  For each of those jobs, the HR department expects to get 80 or more applications.  Here’s what the BC Public Service Recruitment Specialist, Pat McCallum, told me to improve my chances of getting on the shortlist.

1.  Adapt your resume for each specific job opening

Specifically, look for the specific requirements of the job, and show how your experience matches the requirements exactly.  Use the same words that appear in the job posting.  Here’s why: before your resume gets in front of any human resources staff, computers do an initial pre-screening based on keywords.  If the job you are applying for is asking for experience in risk management, and you have been a bank loans officer, it may seem obvious to you that you have experience in managing risk.  But if you don’t use those exact words in your resume, the computers may pass yours over.  Feel free to use a skills-based resume if that shows off your job experience more clearly.

2.  Arrange information interviews in the departments where you would like to work

Just because every government job is posted, don’t expect that your prospects will rise and fall on your resume only.  What you know is important – and your knowledge will improve greatly if you do your research by talking to people already on the job.  Notice this isn’t the same as “who you know”, though it may look the same.  You need to prove that your connections have given you better insight into the job, and not just ride on the fact that you share space in a dragon boat with a government director.  Make that connection count – take your dragon boat buddy out for coffee, and find out what she does with the rest of her day.  She will likely be happy to tell you about her department, and you will have that inside edge that the recruiters are looking for.

3.  Update your LinkedIn profile, and add new contacts as you make them

I can’t speak for all governments, but the B.C. government checks your LinkedIn profile, and looks for people that you know, especially people in government.  They want to know that you are familiar with the government culture and the people who work within it.  Once you have taken that director out for coffee, add them as a connection on LinkedIn if you haven’t already done so.  If you’ve enjoyed a working relationship with people already, then you may even want to ask for a recommendation.

While you are in LinkedIn, review your profile.  Does it broadly match what you have on your resume?  Is it 100% complete?

4. Be patient and adaptable

The gears in a large institution like the government turn more slowly than those in the private sector.  Even if you are successful, it may take a month between when the competition closes and your first day at work.   Apply for whatever looks likely to get your foot in the door, because once you are in government and have made it through the six-month probation period, the door opens wider and you can apply internally for positions that suit you even better.  Keep working on your resume, talking to people in government, and looking for ways to improve your hireability.

Who knows?  Maybe I’ll see you in the cubicle down the hall.