Prospects

Looking for a job? Take the internship route.

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Derrick T. Dortch
Wednesday, September 29, 2010; 11:04 PM

Look for federal careers expert Derrick T. Dortch's column on government jobs on the second and fourth Thursdays of every month.

Internships have always been an important career-building tool, but in today's extraordinarily competitive federal job market, their importance may have quadrupled. They are considered to be the province of students - whether high school or college - but internships also offer great opportunities for non-students.

A few key points about government internships:

l Almost every federal agency, large and small, secret or transparent, has interns, from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the State Department to the departments of Justice (DOJ), Interior (DOI), Energy (DOE) and Homeland Security.

l Agencies have paid and unpaid internships that are both part time and full time.

l The majority of the federal government internships run year-round, not just during the summer. They usually still follow a semester schedule, meaning they may have fall interns, spring interns and summer interns. Some agencies will have interns on a one- to two-year program and some internship opportunities do not have any designated time period.

l Deadlines with internships vary, so you need to check specific agencies that interest you to learn about application deadlines and the materials required to apply.

l Some agencies will require you get a security clearance. Many of the defense, intelligence and homeland security agencies will require at least a secret security clearance. Any agency that requires security clearances usually will have deadlines that allow them several months to clear you before you can start its internship.

l Many internships are great door-openers because agencies usually look to their interns first when hiring new workers.

When you search the Web for various internships you need to know what to look for. Some of those used regularly include STEP (Student Temporary Employment Program), SCEP (Student Career Experience Program), TRAINEE, Volunteer, Fellowship, Temporary Hire Student, Career Intern Program (CIP), Summer Internship Program (SIP), Cooperative Education Program (CO-OP), Volunteer Service, Student Volunteer Service, Scholar Program, Training Assistance Program. One of the places to find federal internships is of course USAJOBS (www.usajobs.gov). Make sure you do keyword searches on the words I listed.

USAJOBS, however, isn't the only place to find government internships. I recommend you also look at the Web sites of the agencies you're interested in. You can find a good listing of agencies on USA.gov (www.usa.gov). Another good place to find internships is through search engines, specifically two specialized search engines focused on the government: Google's Uncle Sam site, google.com/unclesam, and a site run by the federal government. I call it USA Search, but the name is Search.USA.gov. It's run by the U.S. General Services Administration's (GSA) Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies. Both search engines allow detailed, targeted searches. You can find a number of internships that you would not find on USAJOBS.

Another great place to search is a site called Making a Difference (www.makingadifference.org), which is run by the Partnership for Public Service. Its Federal Internship Directory can be a helpful tool in finding great internship programs.

I mentioned that all internships are not just for high school, college and graduate students. First you have what are called Federal Career Internship Programs (FCIP) or Trainee programs, which are designed to bring professionals into the government on a two-year probationary program. These are full-time paid positions that are usually converted to permanent positions. (They have also been controversial because some have accused agencies of using them as a way to get around the government's hiring process.)

Then there are Volunteer Service positions.

For the most part agencies are prohibited by law from accepting volunteer service. But exceptions to this are employment in emergencies involving the protection of life or property; employment of assistants to handicapped employees; employment of experts and consultants; and employment of students to further their educational goals.

Some agencies, such as the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service, have specific authorities to accept unpaid services for specific jobs or functions. Many agencies will have provisions to allow volunteers outside of students to work for the agency. Individuals should contact the agency of most interest to inquire about specific opportunities. Volunteering is also a great way to open a door.

Got a question about getting hired? Post it in the comments section for the Prospects column at washingtonpost.com/fedpage, or e-mail it to federalworker@washpost.com.


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