Make an Impact
1. "Fast track" federal management training job and internship programs designed for students and recent graduates are available in many federal agencies. They go by many names, including "SCEP" and "FCIP." Learn these terms and ask for them when you speak with a recruiter.
2. Start early. Many of the government's internship and entry-level programs have early application deadlines. To figure out specific deadlines of your target jobs, visit the careers website of each federal agency.
3. Do a thorough research of opportunities that interest you. For instance, if you're looking to work abroad, don't just apply to the State Department, but also include other agencies that have an interest internationally, including the Department of Agriculture, U.S. Agency for International Development, and International Trade Administration. To find out which agencies have opportunities in your career interest, click here. To find federal job titles that correspond with your major, click here. If you like numbers and can tolerate a less friendly interface, you also might like using Fedscope to research which agencies are in your state and whether they hire people in your field by clicking on "employment" and the most recent data (month/year) on the federal workforce. To find federal agencies located near where you want to live, try www.google.com/unclesam , the blue pages of the phone book, or the local Federal Executive Board's agency list.
4. Attend job fairs. Federal agencies organize job fairs as well as participate in the fairs put on by colleges and cities. They often fill unadvertised openings quickly through job fairs. The Policy and Government Career Fair https://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/college/GovFair2009.html will be held at Penn on October 9, 2009. You can find job fairs by federal agencies' career websites.
5. Make sure you save or print out a copy of the USAJobs listing you submitted an application for. The federal job listing often contains information on how to contact the hiring officer and a ton of details about the job, but once the deadline has passed, you cannot go back and view the job listing. For the same reason, be sure a copy of your application as well.
6. If the job application requires essays, also known as KSAs to document that you have the knowledge, skills and abilities required for the job, spend time crafting each essay as they will determine whether you get an interview. Your career counselor at Penn would be more than happy to critique your KSA before you submit them for a federal job. Here are three online guides to KSA writing to get you started: one, two, three.
7. Prepare for the interview. I'd recommend reading Derrick Dortch's Washington Post article "Conquer the Federal Job Interview" in a pinch, but consulting the interview guides in the Career Library if you have more time to prepare.
8. Get in first and then move around. As with the private sector, in the government, it's much easier to switch to your #1 choice department after you prove yourself elsewhere in the government. Also, many government jobs give preference or even "non competitive status" to internal candidates.
9. Consider being a contractor or temp at first. Many times, a short term position with the government transitions into a permanent position in the government. According to Lily Whiteman, author of How to Land a Top Paying Federal Job, "You may find federal contract jobs by surfing through the web sites of federal contractors; a list of the nation's top 100 contractors is posted at http://www.usaspending.gov. You may find temporary agencies that help federal agencies staff up by surfing through the list of temp agencies posted at http://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/c21666.htm.
10. Learn the abbreviations and federal lingo for the job application process with this handy reference guide.