How to target your job application


When you’re job hunting, you should target your application to each opening you aim for as assiduously as a dart player aims his darts at the bull’s-eye.

Put another way: Hiring managers will probably reject a generic, untargeted application about as fast as you reject your junk mail — and for many of the same reasons. But they will probably give about as much attention to a targeted application — an extremely rare and valued commodity — as you would to a long-awaited letter that personally addresses you.

Targeting tips:

Your application should describe credentials that are required by your target job — not credentials you wish were required. No matter how many irrelevant credentials your application describes — impressive though they may be — they won’t compensate for missing required credentials. For example, an application for a speechwriting job that merely mentions speechwriting but waxes on about other types of communications will almost certainly fail.

Your cover letter and resume should describe your academic and professional experiences that address the duties, qualification factors and credentials identified in your target job’s vacancy announcement and short-answer application question. Warning: to access your target job’s application questions, you must enter its online application; don’t rely on questions from “application previews,” which frequently differ from actual application questions.

Format each job summary in your resume as a series of fast-read, achievement-oriented bullets that sends the reader’s eye flying down the page. Begin each bullet with an action verb.  Bullets should include specifics that match the substantive requirements of your target job.

For example, if you’re applying for a speechwriting job that addresses environmental issues, your application should identify the environmental topics covered by your speeches, the presenters and audiences for those speeches and related praise.

Create bullets in USAJOBS with asterisks.

Cover in your resume prestigious acting positions you held — even if you “acted” for only short periods.

Include headings in the job summary for your current and recent jobs that match your target job’s evaluation factors. For example, if these factors include “leadership,” “communication” and “strategic planning,” use those terms as headings in your job summaries. List relevant bullets under each heading.

Order your bullets under each heading according to their relevance to your target job, even if they accounted for a relatively small proportion of your time. Likewise, provide the most details about your most relevant bullets, regardless of the amount of time the associated activities consumed.

Give yourself the highest rating for each self-assessment short-answer application question you can without lying; grade yourself liberally and leniently on these questions.

Upload with your application a concise, one-page cover letter that features a table that has two columns:  “your needs,” and “my credentials.” Draw the “your needs” column from your target job’s vacancy announcement, and your credentials from your academic and work experiences.

If substantive knowledge of topics covered by your target job is not explicitly required and you lack that knowledge, but you have the necessary skills for the job, consider stating in your cover letter, “I am confident that my skills would easily transfer to your organization because of my reputation for adaptability, quickly mastering new material and going the extra mile.”

Prominently identify your veteran’s preference and security clearance in cover letters and resumes.

Update your LinkedIn profile and add to it annotated hyperlinks to relevant documents and multimedia products and online praise of your work. Alternatively, hyperlink your profile to a Dropbox that showcases work products, like images, maps and PDFs.

Identify your LinkedIn address under “Additional information” in USAJOBS resumes and in a “career overview” or “highlights” section of hard-copy resumes, and state that it contains relevant hyperlinks.

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 Email your career questions to and view her blog at


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