Tips for a winning application


Here’s a sample of tried-and-true job application tips that have helped many of my federal clients advance.

*Remember that employers don’t hire people; they hire applications. No matter how impressive your credentials are, they won’t help you land your next job if they are not conveyed in clear and compelling terms on your application.

*Get a second opinion. To objectively evaluate how well your application comes across to others, show it to others and ask for their opinions.

*Even if your hiring managers know you, assume they have no prior knowledge of your work. Even if you are the “inside” applicant, treat your quest for your target job as seriously as you would if you were an outsider. Managers at your organization probably remember less of your achievements than you think they do. And if you demonstrate a cavalier attitude, you will likely be upstaged by more serious, prepared applicants.

*Research your target organizations. Hiring managers are almost always more impressed by applicants who recognize and show enthusiasm for an organization’s uniqueness than to applicants who are obviously desperate to land just any job.

Show your fire-in-the-belly for your target organization when you answer common interview questions such as, “Why do you want to work here?” Prepare by reviewing your target organization’s Web site, recent press releases, and relevant news reports. If you’re applying to another federal agency, check your target agency’s ratings on the Partnership for Public Service’s

*Prepare for interviews. Politicians don’t go into debates cold, expecting to wing their answers. They prepare by anticipating likely questions, developing answers and role-playing with trusted advisers.

You should prepare similarly before job interviews: Anticipate likely interview questions with your trusted advisers and then prepare answers to them. Also, role-play the interview; the more advisers you practice with, the better. Each of your advisers will probably correctly predict different interview questions and give you different but valid feedback on your answers.

A case in point: I know someone who has excellent credentials, including a doctorate from Yale University and a well-received book on environmental issues, but who nevertheless repeatedly failed to turn her job interviews into job offers. Then, the night before her most recent interview, she called me in a panic, asking for last-minute suggestions on how to prepare for the interview. During our conversation, she assured me that she had reviewed common interview questions. But when she admitted that she had never role-played for a job interview, and therefore had never received feedback on her answers and interview style, I encouraged her to role-play for the interview with her husband that night. The result: She got the job.

*Exploit the principle, “Actions speak louder than words.” Give each of your interviewers your success portfolio, which should feature labeled selections of relevant documents that reflect your productivity. These documents should include your résumé together with some of the following, as appropriate: your academic transcripts; recent annual reviews and awards; praising e-mails; printouts of Web sites, speeches or PowerPoint presentations you helped create; published articles or newsletters or annual reports that feature your contributions; samples of your artwork; or photos of products you helped produce.

*Send post-interview thank-you letters. Immediately after you get home from your interview — even before you take off your uncomfortable interview outfit and toss back a cold one — write a thank-you letter to your interviewer. Your letter should confirm your interest in the position, cite several ways that you could contribute to the organization and mention several appealing aspects of your target position and organization. Proofread your letter, and then send it overnight delivery. A thank-you letter stands out more than an e-mail. And an overnight letter that arrives right away will score more points than one that arrives even one day later.

Lily Whiteman is a public affairs officer at the National Science Foundation and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.’’ Her Web site is The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is Ask your career questions by email to or by Twitter to @Lilymwhiteman.

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