How to write a successful job application for a government job

Posted by Oliver Hogue on 09/09/2019
government jobs, selection criteria, cover letter

Government jobs offer rewarding careers, however, they are renowned for having extensive hiring processes. The way to really shine and show why you’re right for the job is through a clear and concise cover letter and evidenced-based responses that address the selection criteria.

Most government jobs will ask you to demonstrate how you meet specific requirements by addressing selection criteria. Selection criteria may also be known as core or key capabilities. You may be asked to address them in your cover letter or as a separate document.

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. Where possible think about your responses in the STAR method – Situation, Task, Action, Result, to show how you worked through certain situations using the essential criteria.

Situation: Explain a recent challenge and situation in which you found yourself (and demonstrate how you overcame the challenge/issue).
Task: What you were trying to achieve from the situation? Describe the tasks that you had to complete.
Action: What did you do? Provide information what you did, why you did it and what the alternatives were (if you did not do certain things).
Results: What was the outcome of your actions? Did you achieve your objectives? What did you learn from this experience and how have you used this learning since?

Responding to selection criteria can feel a little difficult and awkward. However, the reality is that working for government requires an ability to follow processes and procedures in a precise way. Demonstrating that you can do this accurately through your cover letter and the application process is a great way to show that you’re the right fit for the job and organisation. 

Should you always include a cover letter?

When it comes to applying for a government position, you should always include a cover letter to support your job application. It should be short and specific, highlighting your skills and experience in relation to the position you’re applying for. It’s important to write a different cover letter for each job application to highlight how you suit that specific job. Hiring managers can tell when you have simply cut and copied the same generic letter for different jobs.
Here are some clear and concise Dos and Don’ts to follow when writing a cover letter for a Government job. Many of these tips can also be applied to other industries.

The Do’s

Do include your name and contact details. You don't have to give your postal address, but you do need to include your email and phone number so they can get in touch with you.

Do keep the length to one page. You resume is for outlining the detail whereas your cover letter should be brief and straight to the point.  

Do include the contact person’s/hiring manager’s name and contact details. This might take a little effort, but it's worth it to find out and much better than using ‘To whom it may concern’ (Tip: most government jobs will have a contact person listed – if in doubt address the letter to this person).

While you’re doing some digging, find out as much as you can about the company so you can tailor your cover letter for the job and mention specifics such as company values. 

The structure of your cover letter 

First paragraph

Introduce yourself and refer to the job you're applying for (and reference number if known) - for example, ‘I am writing to apply for the recently advertised Stock Controller position.’

The main body of the letter

Show that your skills and experience match those needed to do the job. Include a brief summary about how they match the job description. This can be done through sentences or as a short bullet list.

If you're answering a job advertisement, there may be a position description that lists essential skills and experiences. It may also have a list of ‘desirable’ skills. Your cover letter must respond to all the items on the ‘essential’ list. If you want to really stand out, try to respond to as many items on the ‘desirable’ list too.

After addressing each of these items, you should go one step further and explain how your individual experience makes you suitable for the job. For example, ‘My excellent communication skills demonstrated during my position at X (relevant job and evidence/achievement required) allow me to engage at all levels in the workplace making me ideally suited for this job.’ It may seem repetitive, but this is what employers like to see clearly spelt out for them. 

Last paragraph 

Your cover letter should end by thanking the employer for their time and asking them to read your resume. It should have piqued their interest and leave them wanting to know more about you. It should also ask them to contact you about an interview. Try something simple like, ‘I have attached a copy of my resume. Please let me know if you have any questions and I look forward to hearing from you about an interview soon.’

The Don’ts

What you shouldn’t include in your cover letter:

Typos or mistakes

Always spellcheck your cover letter. If possible, have someone else read over it and point out any mistakes or things that aren’t clear.

Including your whole resume in your cover letter

Don't just cut and paste your resume into your cover letter. Keep your cover letter short and let your resume tell the whole story. Try to re-word and summarise the information in your resume so that it reflects the skills and experience for the job you’re applying for.

It’s not you, it’s them

This job application is not just about you. It is about fulfilling the need of the employer. They need to see how you can help them. Try not to use ‘I have’ or ‘I am’ too much. Let your skills shine instead. Once you've written your letter, read over it, and try to reword as many sentences that start with ‘I’ as you can (within reason of course). 

Need help applying for a government position? Get in touch today to find out how we can help you. 

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