First of all, for civil service jobs you should pay attention to the “job closes on …..” date. Most public sector job openings have a definite start and end date. They will not accept any applications after the closing date, so pay close attention to this. My advice here is to apply a couple of days before the close date. That way, yours will be one of the most recent applications considered when the job does close.
However, sometimes civil service jobs will be posted as “open until filled” instead of with a specific close date. For these, it’s important to apply as early as possible, because they will stop interviewing once they find a candidate they like.
One good thing about civil service job openings is that they almost always give you the exact salary range for that position. This is good because you can then save yourself a lot of time applying for job openings that turn out to be below your salary requirements.
Also, public sector job openings tend to be pretty specific about the exact skills and experience required. This is also good, because you can more easily tailor your resume and cover letter for that specific opening.
Many civil service government job openings will have an online application for you to fill out, with many questions to answer about your prior jobs, experience, education, etc. Even though you attach your resume, you’ll frequently have to fill out the application anyway. This is their proof that you actually applied for that particular position, so they can be assured that all qualified applicants were considered.
One thing about the government, they treat all qualified job applicants equally!
This does NOT mean that you don’t have to customize your resume for that particular job and write a specific cover letter that highlights the skills and experience shown in the job opening. As a hiring manager, I still get most of my information – and form my initial impressions – from the resume and the cover letter – not the online application.
But that also doesn’t mean that you should be careless in filling out the online job application. In fact, just the opposite is true. More and more of the larger public agencies are using computerized screening of the applications. The screening looks for key words about your experience and skills – and those key words usually come from (where else) the description in the job opening that was posted!
The lesson here is to be sure to use as many of the skills and experience requirements from the job posting in the application when you fill it out. Of course, you must also have these skills and experience.
Another thing different from the private sector is that if you see multiple jobs for which you are qualified, you’ll have to apply for each separately. The fact that you applied for one job does not mean you will automatically be considered for other similar openings. In the government world, you have to apply for each job individually. I know…as a hiring manager this drives me crazy too!
Civil Service Examinations
Bear in mind that many civil service jobs require that you take tests or examinations as part of the application process. These are frequently referred to as “civil service exams” and are frequently used to rank candidates before deciding who to consider further for an interview. These exams vary depending on the nature of the job and are usually described in the job posting.
If you do a Google search for “civil service exams” you find lots of sites that offer advice and sample exams for various types of jobs.
One thing you will find a bit disconcerting is that with civil service jobs, job applications will almost always require that you give your salary history in addition to your job history and they frequently will not consider an application that has this information missing. The reason is that they don’t want to waste time considering applicants who have salary requirements above what they can pay.
Unlike what I’d advise when applying for private sector jobs, my advice to you when applying in the public sector is to go ahead and give your salary history. Since the pay range for public sector jobs is pre-set, you’re not giving up much in the way of salary negotiating leverage. In fact, if your current salary is near the top of the range, this will help you get a job offer near the top of the range.
Since the salary range for each position is pre-set, there is limited room for negotiation. You can negotiate where you should be within that range, but almost never for a salary above the set range. Salary is much more negotiable in the private sector.
Other benefits in the public sector are usually not negotiable at all – they are the same for everyone. Exceptions are rare and usually only for the highest positions.
After You’ve Applied
After you’ve applied for civil service jobs, be prepared to wait a while. The wheels of government turn slowly, particularly when it comes to hiring. In fact, when I applied for my current job (at a large county government agency), it was almost six weeks before I was called in to interview.
Once you’re called in for an interview, the process will usually speed up considerably. Screening and contacting qualified candidates seems to be a slow process in government Human Resources Departments. This is the case in both of the public sector agencies in which I’ve worked.