Working for a state agency has come a long way since your grandfather's time. Benefits are better, and many offer flexible work schedules, informal dress codes and competitive salaries that, on average, have beaten the private sector in recent years.
But how can you land one of these highly desirable jobs when the competition is fierce?
Get a battle plan together, ratchet up your attention to detail in your applications, and get creative with landing informational interviews with people in your career field at a state agency.
Here are three simple steps to help you land a great job with a state agency:
1. Join a networking group for the state agency you're targeting.
Networking isn't just for corporate job seekers; there are plenty of state agency networking groups to join. First, do your research. Look up the agency where you want to work on LinkedIn and find employees who work there. Pay particular attention to people who hold the position that you eventually want to hold or, at the very least, find those people who work in the division you want to target. Next, see which groups and associations they are affiliated with and join those groups.
Pro tip: Before you fire off a message to them asking to join their network, do your research on them. Have they written any articles? Yes? Read them. This is a great valid business reason to reach out to them. When they see you've done your homework and are genuinely interested in the work they do, they will be more likely to answer your questions.
Another tactic is to draft two or three questions related to the work they do. Introduce yourself and mention something about the work they do and that you're interested in entering that career field.
Ask whether they would be willing to answer a few questions related to their work. This is what's known as an informational interview. This is your opportunity to glean tips and strategies from experts who successfully landed the career you want.
Don't take it personally if you don't receive a reply or if they say "no." Keep trying, and remain professional. People are much more likely to want to help you if you have an appreciation for what they do. Show your appreciation by asking questions related to their actual work history and experience.
2. Follow application requirements and directions perfectly.
The state employment process is meant to be a "blind" system to ensure fair employment opportunities for all applicants. This means that the system is bound by policies and procedures. If you fail to follow the application instructions, your application will be rejected. Take your time and follow the directions precisely.
This may seem like a no-brainer but, believe it or not, more than 80% of resumes are rejected in the first 11 seconds, according to Laszlo Bock, co-founder of Humu and former senior vice president of people operations at Google. Most applications are screened using algorithms called Applicant Tracking Systems. These systems not only search for keywords related to the job position, they are also very good at identifying and eliminating an application because of spelling and grammar mistakes.
Pro Tip: If you know that you qualify for a particular job, cut and paste the job description and qualifications into a Word document, then rewrite them with your experiences. Where the job description generalizes, you can add specific examples of how you meet the qualification with measurable past successes.
3. If possible, use volunteering as a way to enter the side door to a state job.
Many state agencies have volunteer programs, and working as a volunteer offers a great opportunity for you to show your strengths in action. In addition to getting to know key people within the agency, this offers you the chance to showcase your dedication, resilience and mission-oriented work ethic -- qualities that will help you shine when it comes to applying for a job (whether or not you end up working for the state).
Pro Tip: Be sure to write thank you notes to everyone who takes the time to do an informational interview or even those who just point you in the right direction. Be sure to get their work mailing address so you can follow up with an actual physical card. Emails are fine, but a mailed card is even better. It will help you stand out and show that you go above and beyond.
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