Virginia Tech®home

Federal job and internship search

Advising on federal search

  • Some elements of searching for a federal government internship or post-graduation job are the same as doing so in the private sector. Some elements are quite different.
  • We advise both undergraduate and graduate students.
  • We have advisors who are certified in federal job search, pictured below. 
  • To make an advising appointment to meet with a certified federal job search advisor: after you are in Handshake to schedule, you must choose "search for federal jobs / internships," as your appointment type. 
  • We look forward to assisting you.
Heidi Thuesen Gilbert
Heidi Gilbert, certified federal job search advisor
Jennifer Heinold
Jen Heinold, certified federal job search advisor
Alyssa Rametta
Alyssa Rametta, certified federal job search advisor

Exploring federal internships and careers

Federal occupations by college major [USAJobs.gov]

  • List of federal occupations that are organized by specific college majors.
  • Each occupation listed also includes a four-digit series code that can be used to search for job opportunities on USAJOBS.

Handbook of Occupational Groups and Families [OPM.gov: Office of Personnel Management]

  • Provides a more in-depth glossary of information related to the various types of series codes that correspond to each family and group of occupations found within the federal government.

Demo video [2 minutes] on using the Handbook of Occupational Groups and Families [Career and Professional Development youtube videos for VT students]

  • Learn how to use the Handbook of Occupational Groups and Families to identify federal jobs of interest, including a four-digit series code that can be used to search for federal jobs and internships on USAJobs.gov.

Career guides. [GoGovernment.org]

  • Explore federal opportunities in a wide variety of career fields.
  • Learn top agencies hiring for different career interests and series codes (4-digit numbers) that can be used to search for jobs on USAJOBS.gov.

Best Places to Work in the Federal Government

  • Explore federal agencies rated “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group.
  • Search by agency size or categories such as pay, support for diversity, and more.
  • Federal jobs are located throughout the U.S. and abroad. See GoGovernment.com FAQs which addresses this question (and other questions you may have).

The federal government offers a variety of internships and full-time opportunities for current students and recent graduates, including the Pathways program.

Pathways has three components, listed below. In addition to the Pathways program, there are a variety of other valuable opportunities with the federal government at both the intern and full-time level.

1. Pathways Internship Program

2. Pathways Recent Graduate Program

  • One-year career development program.
  • Participants hired in cohorts aligned with academic calendar.
  • Apply within two years of receiving degree (veterans within six years).
  • More about the recent graduate program on OPM.gov.

3. Pathways Presidential Management Fellows Program

  • Open to advanced degree candidates within two years of graduation.
  • No longer requires college rep recommendation.
  • More about the PMF program on PMF.gov.
 

Other federal and third-party internship programs and listings:

Applying for federal positions

USAjobs.gov

  • Most federal jobs are required by law to be posted on USAjobs.gov. You might apply directly through USAJobs or be prompted to finish your application on an agency's specific website.

Agency websites:

Some federal agencies (such as intelligence agencies) do not post their positions on USAJobs. If you are looking at specific agencies, visit their website to see if they have an agency-specific job board. Agency-specific websites include:

Job postings for government and public service jobs:

Determining your GS level:

The federal government classifies experience levels and pay based on the GS Scale (General Schedule Pay Scale). If you are qualifying for a position based on education alone, use the information below to determine which GS levels you might be most eligible for.

  • GS-5: Bachelor’s degree
  • GS-7: Bachelor’s degree + one of the following
    • Upper third of class (class standing)
    • GPA of 3.0 or higher OR in-major GPA at or above 3.5
    • Honor society membership
  • GS-9: Master’s degree
  • GS-11: Doctoral degree

Application tip: Consider applying to positions one level below your level for a competitive advantage, while still applying to positions at your level as well. (Ex. Qualify for GS-7, so apply for both GS-5 and GS-7 positions.)

Pay and the General Schedule (GS) [Go Government Published by the Partnership for Public Service]

Understanding the federal pay scale:

  • FederalPay.org
  • Learn about the starting pay by GS level. Note: actual pay for a position might be higher based on a variety of factors including location and specialty, so always consult the job listing for more specific salary information.
  • Click on a GS level to learn more about that level and what general education or experience will help you qualify for it.

Posting jobs and internships on Handshake:

  • Many agencies are not able to post federal jobs in Handshake due to federal hiring laws. However, there are some exceptions. If you see a federal job posted on Handshake, you can use your private sector resume and do not need to apply with a federal resume format.

On-Campus Interviewing Program:

  • See federal agencies scheduling interviews for students on campus (On-Campus Interviewing Program) by logging into Handshake. Under “jobs” select “on-campus” to see employers currently accepting applications through On-Campus Interviewing Program.

Campus career fairs:

  • Throughout the academic year, there are a variety of career fairs hosted by different departments and colleges at Virginia Tech.
  • View list of career fairs sponsored by VT colleges, departments, and alumni association chapters. Each fair name is linked to its website with details on employers participating, which could include federal agencies. Some fairs include next-day interviews so that employers can promptly conduct interviews with students they speak with during the fair.

Tips for speaking with federal agencies representatives at career fairs:

  • Research employers in advance so you can present yourself as a prepared candidate. Employers are disappointed when students ask, “What does your agency do?”
  • Avoid using the generic term "companies" to refer to federal employers. Using “agency” instead of “company” can show some knowledge of federal careers.
  • Due to hiring laws that federal agencies are required to follow, employers at fairs may require you to apply online to officially be a job candidate. However, having the opportunity to meet and interact directly with recruiter (whether through a virtual fair or in person) is a chance to learn more and stand out from other candidates.
  • See more about preparing to be successful at career fairs, both virtual and in person.

Resumes written for federal jobs may require different information and presentation than is expected on a resume for the private sector. Additionally, expectations can vary by agency.

Resources:

Federal resume examples:

Source for some samples, and published with permission:
Student's Federal Career Guide, 3rd Ed.; The Resume Place, Inc., Kathryn Troutman.

  1. SAMPLE 1: Current undergraduate student sample federal resume for internships or full-time positions:
    pdf version
    docx version
  2. SAMPLE 2: VT student hired for GS 7 Step 2 federal full-time position [pdf]
  3. SAMPLE 3: Recent college graduate seeking position as an intelligence analyst with the Department of Homeland Security [pdf]
  4. SAMPLE 4: Current undergraduate student seeking internship position with the U.S. Navy [pdf]
  5. SAMPLE 5: Current graduate student seeking position as a new media specialist with human resources [pdf]

Veterans’ preference can help eligible veterans elevate their applications for federal jobs. While it does not guarantee a job, it can provide a hiring advantage for qualified veterans. A successful applicant must still demonstrate that they are qualified for the position through their application.

Resources:

Find contact information for representatives (Selective Placement Program Coordinators) across the United States responsible for coordinating agency hiring initiatives for people with disabilities.

In 2010, President Obama issued an Executive Order that directed the federal government to increase their hiring of persons with disabilities for all levels and occupations. As a result, students with disabilities have access to specific programs and hiring authorities that can assist them with securing a job with the federal government. These programs are Schedule A, and Workforce Recruitment Program, described as follows:

Schedule A:

The federal job application can process is often lengthy and competitive. However, federal agencies are able to use Schedule A as a process to speed up the hiring of individuals with disabilities. Schedule A does not guarantee you a job with the federal government, and it is your responsibility to ensure the hiring agency knows that you are eligible for Schedule A.

Eligibility for Schedule A. Students asking to be considered under Schedule A must:

  • Be qualified for the job you are applying to.
  • Demonstrate proof of a disability. This is simply a letter stating that you have a disability, and can come from your doctor, a licensed medical professional, a licensed rehabilitation professional, or any entity that issues or provides disability benefits. The letter does NOT need to detail your medical history or your need for accommodations.

Applying with Schedule A:

  • Once you find a job you are eligible for, obtain your proof of disability and get your resume and references in order before you apply.
  • Reach out to the agency’s Selective Placement or Disability Employment Coordinator if you need help applying.
  • Include your Schedule A proof of disability letter along with your resume when submitting your application materials online through usajobs.gov or the agency’s website.

Workforce Recruitment Program 

The Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) connects federal and private sector employers to eligible students and recent graduates with disabilities and serves as the primary pipeline for bringing new hires into the federal government. Paid summer internships and full-time positions are available.

Eligibility for WRP:

For more information on WRP,  Virginia Tech students may contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) at Virginia Tech at ssd@vt.edu or 540-231-3788.

  • USAJobs videos on federal job search (two to five minutes each)
    [USAJobs.gov youtube channel]
    Several two- to five-minute videos explaining the process.

  • How to understand job descriptions on USAJobs.gov (under five minutes)
    [by Career and Professional Development for VT students]
    Learn how to read a job description on USAJobs.gov and important sections that will help you identify keywords to customize your resume.

  • Key search features on USAJobs.gov (under three minutes)
    [by Career and Professional Development for VT students]
    Learn how to search USAJobs.gov using a series code and other key features to help narrow your search.

  • USAJobs: Tips for filling out questionnaires (under five minutes)
    [USAJobs.gov]
    Learn tips to fill out questionnaires in a way that strengthens your federal job or internship applications.

  • USAJobs: How to save search settings (under three minutes)
    [USAJobs.gov]

    Learn settings on USAJobs.gov to make your applications and search easier. Explore how to save a search so you are notified when positions that meet your criteria are posted and how to receive email updates about positions of interest.

 

After an offer of a federal position

What is a security clearance?

  • Many jobs in the federal government require some sort of security clearance for employees once they are hired.
  • A security clearance is a license issued by the government to authorize an employee to handle classified or top secret information that relates to national security.

How long does the security clearance process take?

  • The entire security clearance process can take from a number of months to longer than one year, depending on the level of clearance and other factors.

Initiating a security clearance process:

  • You can only get a security clearance by being hired by the government, hired by the military, or hired by a government contractor. A student cannot initiate this process in advance.
  • Once hired, the employer will begin the clearance process by submitting paperwork to the Defense Security Service where a background check is initiated on the employee.

Security clearance process overview:

  • After you submit your security clearance paperwork, the federal government will verify all information provided. The security clearance process might also include
    • Citizenship verification
    • Fingerprinting
    • A National Security Questionnaire
    • Credit checks
    • Medical record checks
    • Investigation to check for illegal drug use
    • Conversations with family and friends with the possibility for additional questions for those who have relationships with foreign citizens.
    • Interview with prospective employee
    • Polygraph (for very high level clearances)
  • Upon completion of the investigation process, a clearance is either granted or denied.

Preparing for the security clearance process:

At the beginning of a security clearance process, you will complete a long document called Standard Form 86 (SF 86). If you are looking at positions that might require a security clearance, preview the document and maintain a record of key information as you go, including:

  • Addresses for all places you have lived the past 10 years, dates you lived there, and the name and contact information for someone who can verify your residency. This can be a landlord, neighbor, friend, etc. It is important to stay in touch with this contact so you maintain updated information even after you move.
  • Contact information for individuals who knew you personally during your time at every school you attended (after the age of 18). This could be advisors, faculty members, friends who also attend that school, etc. These people should be able to speak to your character and your time at that particular school. (Note this is not the same as verifying your enrollment dates; for Virginia Tech, this done through the office of the University Registrar; see enrollment certifications.)
  • Ten years of employment information, including the contact information for your supervisor. Stay in touch with your supervisors so you have quick access to current information in case they change jobs.
  • Information about any travel outside of the U.S. in the past seven years.

Courtesy and professionalism note:

  • Before giving the name of any individual to be contacted to speak about you (for security clearance or any other job search purpose), contact those individuals and seek permission first.

Learn more about the security clearance process:

  • OPM.gov (federal Office of Personnel Management) recommends this webpage for information about security clearances: https://www.dcsa.mil/

Negotiating federal salaries

Can I negotiate my federal offer?

Similar to other types of positions, federal offers are negotiable. It is important to note key differences in the negotiation process for federal positions.

Many differences in approach are due to how federal salaries are determined. For positions with delayed start dates (due to a long security clearance process), the agency may be able to re-evaluate your grade and step closer to your start date accounting for the experience you gain between the original offer and the start date. Reach out to your agency contact for more information if this might be an option for you.

Some agencies will request an updated resume at the end of the hiring process to determine your starting grade and step. However, make sure all materials submitted at every point of the process are current in case you do not have the opportunity to resubmit your resume before they decide starting grade and step.

What can I negotiate and how do I negotiate?>
See these resources: