Summer is officially over and for many college students it’s time to hit the books. But if you are an undergraduate or graduate student interested in a federal job eventually, then now is the time to focus on two key tasks: finding a federal internship and preparing to get a security clearance.
The federal job market has always been competitive, but as agencies tighten budgets and fewer workers retire, finding ways to get a foot in the door become even more critical. Internships are one of the best ways to achieve full-time federal employment.
The good thing is that internships are all around. Most agencies, bureaus, departments, divisions and offices have internships, and some are easier to find than others.
You should start your search at USAJOBS.gov. Do a keyword search under “Intern, Internship, Student, Pathways and Volunteer.” Note “Pathways.” The Pathways Program is one of the main tools to bring in student interns, fellows and entry-level workers. It focuses on internships, recent graduates and the Presidential Management Fellowship, and each of these programs is a great opportunity.
Use this link: www.opm.gov/hiringreform/pathways.
Next, go to SEARCH.USA.gov and use keywords “Intern, Internship, Student, and Volunteer.” Look for your interests. For example, you may search under “environmental internship” or “EPA internship.” You will find not only internships at the Environmental Protection Agency but also at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and many others.
Lastly, and obviously, check the Web sites of the agencies. Call the agencies, too. If you can’t find a main number, contact the public affairs office.
Acquiring an internship may also require a security clearance or some other kind of background check. What will be reviewed is your financial history, drug and alcohol usage, criminal history and much more.
Be careful about how you use credit cards and how you handle other debts. And watch your partying. A general rule: Make good choices. Remember, some decisions you can’t take back.
I suggest you download a SF-86, which is the National Security Questionnaire. This is the form that you have to turn in when you are being cleared at the Secret, Top Secret — and above — security levels. Check out the questions to give yourself some sense of what the federal government considers.
You can find the SF-86 at: www.opm.gov/forms/html/sf.asp.
Finally, be conscious of your social media image. Make sure that pictures of you on Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr or any other site are not negative, showing you drinking or doing anything that would make someone question your decision making.
Your internship searches, your decisions and your image — they all can make a difference to finding that job.
Dortch, president of the Diversa Group, is a career counselor who specializes in federal employment.