The Most Common Mistakes Job Applicants Make in the Public Sector


The typical job application process goes like this: you do a keyword search for jobs on,, or Once you find job postings that match your interests and skill set, you simply hit the apply button and upload a resume and cover letter. This process is so easy that you could apply to 50 or more jobs in a day with the same resume and cover letter (maybe just editing the name of the company you’re applying to). Some people approach the government application process in the same way, often copying and pasting a standard resume for every single job they apply to, even though the jobs have different skill and experience requirements listed in the job announcement.

As someone who has screened thousands of job applications at the state and local government sectors, I can tell you for a fact that the personnel analysts who review job applications have very strict criteria that guide their screening process. Here are a couple of most common mistakes job applicants make in the application process.

  1. Not Reading the Job Announcement: When people get into the job search mode, they often select and apply to all jobs – like throwing darts at a board in the dark, hoping one sticks. The problem with this approach is that you’re wasting valuable time: your time and the employers’ time. Depending on the job recruitment that I review, 30-60% of the applicants don’t even meet the minimum qualifications for the job. That tells me the applicants didn’t even take the time to read the job announcement to make sure they would be a good candidate for the job. Instead of throwing darts in the dark, carefully read the job announcement to identify whether you’re a good candidate or not. That will increase your chances of getting through to the hiring interview and allow you time to focus on creating a quality application on the jobs that you have a higher chance of being selected for.
  1. Accuracy: The application process requires candidates to list their employment history with exact employment dates. You cannot guestimate because these dates are often verified and if anything is off, you will be disqualified from the selection process. If your job application does not line up with what you wrote on your resume, it will be flagged for review and may delay the entire process. If there is clear fraudulent activity applied during the application process, you may even be disqualified from all future jobs and potentially dismissed from your current position if you’re already a government employee.
  1. Clear Minimum Qualifications: If your application dances around the listed minimum qualifications and doesn’t directly state that you meet them, the analyst can disqualify you because they are not going to make assumptions about your experience. For example, if the minimum qualifications stated that you need to have 2 years of supervisory experience and you have that experience, but your application shows you led a team of 5 full time staff for 5 years, yet doesn’t use the term “supervised,” that application could be disqualified. They don’t know whether ‘led’ is the same as ‘supervised’ in the organization you worked for. You could have just been a team lead, which is not the same. Analysts are responsible for defending the applications they moved forward in the process, so they are not going to take any chances on you if you don’t clearly state you meet the requirements.
  1. “See Resume”: Analysts also have no sympathy for applications that state “see resume” in the employment history form. Instead of looking at the resume, they would simply disqualify the application because it was left blank. So even if you’re the top candidate for the job, you’ll be disqualified because you were too lazy to fill out the employment history.
  1. Supplemental Materials: Applying to any government job posting can be daunting. Not only is the language and process lengthy and confusing, the job postings may require additional supplemental materials. Supplemental materials can be a work sample, a narrative, a statement of qualifications, or anything else the job requires that you submit with your application. It is critical that you spend time on these supplemental documents, showcasing your best work. If it asks you to write about your employment history, they’re not looking for another resume. They want you to write about how your prior experience and education makes you the best candidate for the position. What qualities set you apart? Only you can demonstrate that link. By spending the time upfront in your application process, you will have a higher chance of making it through to the hiring interview.

Now that you have some tips on how to improve your chances of getting to that hiring process, go and get that job you’ve been hoping to get!

Looking for more tips on the selection process? You can find more articles at You’re also welcome to write questions about the selection process in the comments below and I will answer them in future articles.

Ellen Steinlein is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). Check her out on LinkedIn and Facebook too! To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Dana Sims

I’ve absolutely fallen victim to missing supplemental materials in an announcement. Perfectly suited for the job but my application was rejected out of hand. Lesson learned! Great advice.

Ellen Steinlein

Thanks for sharing! You’re not the only one! The majority of job applicants don’t give the supplemental materials their best mainly because they had no idea how important it was.

Karl Schneider

Thank you for the job application “don’ts” and “do’s”. Some are common lazy mistakes. Because most initial interviews are based upon application and resume reviews with little people interaction I can understand the application blast process, see what sticks methodology.
While I’m not presently seeking a job, I appreciated your emphasis on information accuracy.

Ellen Steinlein

Thanks for your comment…accuracy is key. Most people like to guesstimate instead of looking up their actual days of employment just because its too much work to go back and dig through files. BUT having incorrect information can often be seen as providing false information which is a big deal in government hiring.

Violet Ungemach

Hi, these are all great points to note to help keep resumes updated and ready! I especially like point number three, using the correct language to show off your strengths in crucial. Thanks!

Ellen Steinlein

You’re right, having the right words to match up with what the job announcement specifically states the hiring manager is looking for is key to shining. You don’t end up letting the reviewers guess at your skills. Instead you tell them yes I have the a, b and c skills and experiences you’re looking for. Move me forward in the selection process!