Expert Opinion: Top 10 Tips for Government Job Applicants (Illinois Attorney General’s Office)

Editor’s note: Our “Expert Opinion” series offers thoughts, insights, and career advice from public interest lawyers, law students, and others who work for the public good.  PSJD’s current Expert is Ruta Stropus, the Director of Attorney Recruitment and Professional Development for the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. Stropus has graciously agreed to offer some much-needed tips and advice on applying for government jobs. This edition, Ruta breaks down her top 10 tips for graduates applying to jobs within the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

If you are new to the practice of law and are interested in our Office, the following guidelines might help explain our hiring process:

1)     We only hire by vacancy.  Due to budget constraints, we only hire by vacancy.  Hence, the positions that are listed on our website today might not be those listed tomorrow.  We modify our listings daily to reflect our open positions.  Positions are listed on the website until they are filled.  There is no other deadline or timeline in terms of the posting.

2)     Always go to our website to check on open positions.  Various sites can cut and paste our postings and make them available.  However, to get the most accurate and current information, visit our website.

3)     Read the posting carefully.  Each one of our vacancies is different in terms of experience and minimum qualifications.  Therefore, although you might be interested in a number of positions, it is unusual for any one candidate to qualify for all of our open positions.  Make sure your cover letter is specific in terms of your qualifications and your interests.  Instead of sending multiple cover letters for each position, just send one cover letter.

4)     Consider geography.  Chicago is a saturated legal market.  We are inundated with resumes every time we post for an open position.  Therefore, newly licensed attorneys are often outmatched by experienced attorneys.  However, our Springfield office often seeks out candidates and struggles to find the right person for the job.

5)     Be honest.  For example, if you are a native Chicagoan and have never visited Springfield, Illinois, we question your commitment to remain in central Illinois.  We do consider candidates for our Springfield positions that hail from the northern part of the State, but we also want to make sure that an attorney who fills our Springfield position is not going to flee at the first opportunity.

6)     Get a license.  Because our vacancies and hiring needs constantly change, we need someone already licensed in Illinois at the time of application.  We do not hold positions for 3L’s.  Although other agencies employ licensed attorneys as “law clerks”, our clerkship program is limited currently enrolled law students.  We have participated in some fellowship programs, but fellowships are limited to our Springfield office and are available only through the law schools that participate in the fellowship partnership agreement with us.

7)     Do your homework.  On average, we review upwards of 50 resumes a week.  I am constantly reviewing resumes, interviewing candidates, checking references, etc.  We have tried to provide quite a bit of information about our recruiting process on our website.  And, although we are available to answer questions, we appreciate those candidates who have taken the time to read and review the information first.

8)     Be patient.  Given our volume, it takes some time for candidates to hear back about their application.  Typically, we receive your information and enter it into the recruiting database.  Then, I review the resumes and decide which resumes meet the minimum qualifications listed in our job postings.  If the resume does meet the minimum qualifications of any available posting, it is sent on for further review.  Individuals at the bureau and division level decide if candidates merit an interview.  Usually, you will hear back from us in a 2-3 week period regarding your candidacy.  If you do not, then feel free to email or call to check on status.  We use three stages of interviews, weeding out candidates at all stages until we have a finalist.  Hence, the process is lengthy.

9)     Respect the process.  I do not meet candidates informally to discuss positions.  Please do not be offended if I decline an invitation to meet for coffee or do not meet you at reception if you are there to drop off a resume.  I respect the process  because it is the best means to provide fairness to all applicants.  My task is to make sure I find the best candidate for the position, not vis versa.

10)  Know what you are in for.  We have had a long-standing salary freeze.  Our pay is very modest, and the work is sometimes tedious and overwhelming.  Government service is challenging in many ways.  The candidates who impress us are those who have a commitment to public service, an amazing work ethic and who are willing to work independently and as part of a team.  During the interview, I ask candidates about their past – I want to know about those times in your life when things did not go as planned, when you had a disagreement with a colleague or supervisor, when you had to manage multiple and overlapping deadlines, when you had to enforce an ethical boundary.  In addition to the qualifications listed on a job posting, I want to know if your past performance or actions have prepared you for the future challenges of a position as an Assistant Attorney General.

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