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Resumes and Cover Letters

First impressions are critical in the job search. Developing and executing the best documents possible will help to ensure that you put your best foot forward and increase the likelihood of progressing to an interview.  Make sure to check out the Resumes section of the website for helpful general advice and sample resumes and cover letters. If you're having trouble communicating your story, try taking a look at the Tools to Assess Fit or Resumes and Cover Letters in Social Impact Careers that might help you craft language that sounds like you and is appealing to your audience.  

Federal Resumes

The Federal Resume is required for many positions in the federal government.  Many government agencies utilize the platform usajobs.gov to post their opportunities.  This website will allow you to create an account and within your account you can utilize their resume building tool to create your federal resume. For specific information on how to write federal resumes, check out the resources below.  

Intelligence Community Resumes

Security and intelligence agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency do not post to usajobs.gov and ask for different information than a federal resume. For specific information on how to write intelligence community resumes, check out this blog post: 

International Development: Curriculum Vitae (CV) vs. Resume

In many organizations, the term CV is used interchangeably with Resume, and most employers will expect a one-page snapshot of your experiences.  You will find, however, that a few fields have different guidelines for resumes.  One of these fields is International Development.  Here the document requested is most commonly a CV, and the term is used to indicate that your resume can be more than one page in length.  Check out this International Development Resume Example and Webinar: Development CVs That Make a Difference (Devex) for more information on creating a CV for this particular field.  Additionally, if you are applying to the Peace Corps, check out the Peace Corps Resume Samples found on this section of our website.

Nonprofit Resumes

You can demonstrate that you have relevant experience and exposure to the field by including employment as well as volunteer and internship experiences in a nonprofit organization on your resume.  If you have multiple experiences working with a nonprofit(s), you might even include a header within your resume titled "Nonprofit Experience." 

Nonprofit Resume Example (Middlebury College Career Center)

Experiences Working with Diverse Populations/Multicultural Competencies

Working in public service or government can mean working with people from all walks of life, including working for an organization with a mission to support specific populations.  If you have experience with the particular population the organization works with or the particular issue it addresses - whether from your own personal lived experience or from other opportunities - it can be important to share that information.

Relevant Academic Coursework/Projects

Finally, don't forget to highlight your academic experiences. Think about the classes you have taken that would relate to a career in public service or demonstrate your knowledge about a specific population or issue. Have you written a major paper on understanding a culture for a sociology class, or conducted a group project for a religious studies course on the social impact on religious-based community organizations? Include these experiences on your resume! 

Action Verbs

Using action verbs when describing your experiences highlights transferrable skills and makes a strong statement. There are many action verbs you can use, but here are a few helping verbs that would be powerful to add to a Public Service resume or cover letter:

Adapt, Advise, Advocate, Assess, Assist, Care for, Coach, Collaborate, Communicate, Cooperate, Counsel, Design, Develop, Educate, Enable, Encourage, Evaluate, Explain, Facilitate, Foster, Guide, Improve, Instruct, Integrate, Lead, Listen, Mentor, Model, Moderate, Motivate, Observe, Organize, Plan, Provide, Refer, Resolve, Restore, Serve, Set Goals, Support, Teach, Train, Tutor, Volunteer

Interests and Skills

The Interests and/or Skills section on your resume is a great place to identify additional skills that would be valuable to the organization and its work. Examples of interests and skills might include:

  • Foreign language 
  • Technology, Assessment, Grant-writing, or Volunteer Management skills
  • CPR, First Aid, or other general certifications
  • Interests in working with particular populations/cultures

Sample Cover Letters

Sample Cover Letter: Campaign Organizer

Sample Cover Letter: Executive Assistant of a Human Rights Nonprofit

Application Timelines

Hiring timelines for both jobs and internships vary by industry, so it’s important to get to know the timeline for your target industry.  In general, the more structured the opportunity, the more in advance the organization will hire. Many opportunities in the federal government that require a security clearance and background check will recruit in the fall.  Timelines vary for state and local government opportunities.  Nonprofits, NGOs, and other public service organizations normally hire internship and full-time opportunities based on immediate needs.  Some positions may become available in late spring/early summer, so you should continue to look for opportunities throughout the academic year and beyond. See the table below for some examples of recruiting timelines and target industries, but again, note that these are general guidelines. While it's important to start early and be aware of deadlines, your job search will and should follow its own path.

General Recruiting Timelines for Select Industries

(August - November)

8 – 10 months in advance

(December - July)

4 – 6 months in advance

  • Some Bridge Year Programs (e.g.Fulbright)
  • Some International Organizations
  • Intelligence and Security 
  • Other Federal Government Positions that require Security Clearance and Background Checks (e.g. State Department Internship)
  • Nonprofit Organizations
  • Research Institutes
  • Educational Institutions
  • Environmental Organizations
  • Federal, State and Local Governments
  • Capitol Hill 
  • Bridge Year Programs, especially those with rolling or multiple deadlines

Interview Questions & Format

If you have never interviewed before, make sure to check out the Interviewing section of our website. You can also conduct a mock interview with a career counselor for practice. Most interviews will contain some mixture of questions about your past experiences (resume-based) and your ability to handle typical workplace situations (behavioral).  For full-time positions, depending on the size of the organization, you should expect to start with a 20-30 minute phone or virtual (e.g., Skype, Google Hangout) screening interview, then a longer virtual or in-person final interview.


An invaluable tool to practice and hone your interviewing skills from the comfort of your own home. InterviewStream is available to all UVA students and allows you to practice interviewing and receive feedback. Practice makes perfect, and this is a great tool to start building your comfort and communication skills.

Here are some sample interview questions for various fields in Public Service and Government; you can find more interview questions by accessing InterviewStream via the Online Job/Internships Resources tab in Handshake.

  • What is your motivation for wanting to work for our organizations?
  • How do your career goals align with the mission of our organization?
  • Describe your experience working with individuals from different backgrounds and cultures.
  • What community service project do you believe allowed you to make the greatest impact and how?
  • What has been the greatest challenge you have had to face during your volunteer experiences?  How did you overcome such challenge?
  • How would you go about building a trusting relationship with the populations we serve?
  • What is your experience with volunteer management?
  • Describe your experience with evaluation and assessment of community programs.
  • Describe the most complicated or challenging situation you've been in related to race, class, or gender.
Are You Ready for Your Internship/Job Interview?

Have an upcoming interview and unsure if you are ready?  Take this 5 minute quiz to find out!

Federal Interview Prep

Interviewing with the federal government has a lot of similarities to interviewing with any industry, but there are some unique aspects that you want to make sure to expect. Below is a quick basic list of five fundamental items you need to know before starting the interview process for federal government positions.

  1. Know the format of the interview (one on one, panel, phone, or video)
  2. Know the exact location and do a dry run
  3. Understand the specific dress expectations
  4. Follow-up questions from interviewers are not always allowed; therefore you need to provide comprehensive answers in a concise manner, without expecting to be able to explain further based on a follow-up question
  5. Thank you notes are a must (recommended that you write to all individuals you interview with)

These are just the tip of the iceberg of what you will need to know to successfully traverse the federal government job interview process. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the associated resources.

Background Checks & Security Clearances

Background checks and security clearances are required for many careers within public service and especially government. Making yourself aware of the specifics that go into clearing these checks, and the various levels of clearance required, is important to help you as progress through your educational career and plan to embark on one of these careers.

These are great resources to serve as a broad overview of the background check and security clearance process. Researching the specific criteria or requirements for any position early is vital to ensure that you are prepared and qualified to pass the background check and security clearance processes - you don't want to miss out on an amazing opportunity because you started too late or can't get the right kind of clearance.

Diversity Resources

Job search resources are readily available, but finding tailored resources to a specific identity group or groups can be challenging. Below are a few resources that provide details on some of the industry areas within the Public Service Community. Also, make sure to explore the Specific Populations section of the website to find great general career diversity resources.