Government Job Application Essays Made Easy

By Lily Whiteman, author of How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job

Most people would rather eat ground glass than write essays for job applications. Nevertheless, if you apply for Senior Executive Service (SES) jobs, training programs, fellowships or other selective career opportunities, you will probably have to answer odious essay questions.

Granted, writing application essays takes considerable time and effort. And any applicant who is unwilling to spoil an otherwise enjoyable weekend by spending it crafting impressive essays will probably be outcompeted by a more sacrificial applicant. But even when ruining a weekend, essay writing need not be soooo excruciating. Here is some guidance to help defang the process:

  • Remember: Hiring managers are in a rush–always.  They will likely read, remember and be impressed by relevant credentials that are blasted out loudly and clearly. But they will likely miss credentials that–like buried treasure–require an excavation. So your essays should quickly and concisely describe your most relevant credentials, and be formatted for a quick read.
  • Emphasize in your essays your academic qualifications, professional qualifications and success stories that most closely parallel the demands of your target job and had the highest impact (think BIG).
  • Hit ’em with your best shot up top. Just as people best remember the first items in a list, hiring managers will probably best remember and read most closely your first essay. So position your best credentials in your first essay, if possible. Also consider starting your first essay with some variation of this sentence:  I am qualified to succeed as a [title of your target job] for the following reasons: 
  • Write in short sentences and short paragraphs. Use headings and bullets.
  • Organize essays logically. Some organizing options: 1) Bulletize your relevant academic achievements under one heading and then bulletize relevant work experience under another heading. 2) Cover one or more success stories in an essay.
  • Consider structuring each success story around these headings: “My goal and why it was important to my organization“….”My actions“….”Special obstacles I conquered“…”My results”… “Evidence of my success”
  • Your evidence of success may include positive annual evaluations; other forms of written or oral praise from managers; colleagues, clients, or attendees of an event; improved metrics; time or cost savings; evidence that your work impacted large numbers of people; publications; and press coverage.  Identify other types of relevant evidence of success by asking yourself questions, such as “How do I know I am successful?”
  • Craft essays to be understandable to hiring managers outside your organization. Define acronyms and “inside baseball” terms.
  • Edit ruthlessly: If a qualification won’t realistically help you land your target job, omit it.
  • Solicit objective feedback from trusted advisors (friendly fire).
  • Proofread…proofread…proofread before submitting.
  • Review your essays as part of your preparation for interviews; your essays should provide good grist for your answers to interview questions.

What are your tips for writing essays for job applications?

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Jacob Hege

As someone who hates talking about themselves – tips like these are so helpful! I always try to come off very confident in my cover letters and also showing that I’ve done my research of the organization/their work. Thanks for the insight!