Prospects: Internships are still a key to opportunity

We all know that the government hiring process has slowed to a trickle.

Agencies are still hiring, but many positions are specialized or at the senior level, where being hired would require tons of experience working on related issues within or around that agency. Entry- and mid-level jobs are fewer.

So how do you make it through Uncle Sam’s door in times like these? Internships will always be the simple and magical key.

If you are a student in high school, college or graduate school, you have a range of opportunities for government work. Agencies are using internships more and more as a gateway for new hires.

The opportunity to network and the overall experience are valuable tools that offer a competitive edge for hiring in agencies, with government contractors and, of course, in the private and nonprofit sectors. Government experience can make a difference. Private companies and nonprofit organizations have ties to the federal government, whether it’s dealing with regulations or seeking government funding.

Don’t limit your search to the federal level, either. State, city and county governments are all possibilities. Paid or unpaid experience, it carries weight.

Here are a few recommendations:

Virtual internships

These allow you to work for a government agency while still in school. Instead of leaving school, you take your assignments via e-mail or by webcam, for example, while working with a long-distance supervisor. The U.S. State Department and the Agricultural Marketing Service at the Department of Agriculture appear to have taken the lead on such efforts. Both have structured programs for students and post-graduates.

The State Department’s application deadline is Monday; you can find more information at www.state.gov/vsfs/. You can also find the job announcement at USAJOBS by doing a keyword search for “virtual.”

You can find out more about the Agriculture Marketing Service Virtual Internship by going to www.ams.usda.gov and doing a keyword search for “virtual internship.”

The National Library of Medicine, under the National Institutes of Health, will also start offering virtual internships this fall. Go to www.nlm.nih.gov/news/virtual_internships.html.

Many other agencies have great traditional internship programs. These opportunities are nationwide and international.

There are too many to name, but a few good programs I’m aware of include the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Park Service, the Department of State, the National Defense University, the Centers for Disease Control, NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Go to www.usa.gov and www.usajobs.gov and do separate keyword searches on these words: intern, internships, student, student employment, volunteer, fellowship and pathways. You will also find internships and openings for recent graduates at the USAJOBS Pathways site, www.usajobs.gov/studentsand
grads.

Most agencies will have internship programs, whether they’re publicized or not. If they don’t have one, ask whether they would be willing to take on an intern.

Application time is approaching for many agencies, so make sure you get started on opening doors of opportunity.

Dortch is president of the Diversa Group, which specializes in federal employment.

 
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