Quick Tips for Getting Government Jobs

For many, the thought of finding a government job can feel a bit mysterious – perhaps even daunting. When should I apply? Where do I look? How long does it take? Who will hire me? These are all questions we hear from students looking to explore the government kaleidoscope of opportunities. So, if you are a student thinking about serving the public by becoming employed in a federal, state or local government program, read on!

  1. Start early.

Not only are government jobs competitive, but the entire process of applying can take a long time. Many require background checks or clearances, and even before you get to that point you may be waiting a long time to hear back from an employer. Additionally, some jobs are only posted for a short time – maybe just a couple of weeks. Agencies will also limit applications once they have reached a certain number, so it’s important to start early when applying and not wait until close to the deadline. On average, you can expect about a 1-4 month wait from application to hire date (and even longer depending on the strictness of the clearance, if required). It’s never too soon to get started!

  1. Know where to look.

If seeking federal jobs…USAJobs.gov is THE place to look! You can find state and local government jobs at state or local websites, or sometimes even aggregate job websites, including Handshake. But if you are looking to work for a government agency or within a federal department, USAJobs will be your one stop shop. The first step is making a free profile and uploading your information.

  1. Prepare your materials/know your background.

If applying on USAJobs.gov, you will need a federal resume, which is a bit different from your regular private sector resume. A federal resume can be 3-5 pages and they include a LOT of detail (like the number of hours you worked, your supervisor’s name, and more). So start digging back into your professional history to make sure you have complete and accurate information (which may really make a difference in passing a background investigation). Additionally, to score a federal job, you will need to prove you have all of the qualifications they are seeking, and your federal resume will be the first place to do this. But don’t panic – USAJobs.gov has a helpful resume builder that walks you through the process and saves you a ton of time. It’s not the prettiest version of your resume, but if you want to fix up the formatting you can download it from the resume builder after you’ve entered your information and work on reformatting it in Word.

  1. Network

I know, I know. *Groan* Most people cringe when they hear this word, but I promise, when it comes to the world of government, making connections can make a difference. Don’t have personal connections who work in government? No problem! Use LinkedIn to seek out Penn alumni who currently work in a role or at an agency that interests you. Reach out to have a casual conversation – you can use tips from our networking page. We call these “informational interviews” because they are meant to collect information – not ask for favors, convince someone to hire you, or anything else that may give you anxiety or feelings that you are bothering the alum. Keep it simple! Just make it a conversation to learn a little, and in the process you may develop a new connection that lasts throughout your career. Lots of government agencies also have networking and recruiting events, so feel free to connect with recruiters at them. Don’t forget to attend our Nonprofit and Government Fair on November 18th! It’s virtual on Handshake, and you can learn more about the 100+ employers attending here.

  1. Be patient.

Finding a government job that is the right fit takes time, but with the pay, the benefits and the security, it’s often worth it. Keep in mind, you may have friends who are interviewing and hearing back quickly from jobs in other industries (like finance and consulting), and that may feel frustrating for you, but try to keep in mind your own personal goals. If you are starting early, ensuring you are prepared, making good connections, and exercising patience, the right position will hopefully pan out. And, of course, always know that Career Services is here to support you should you need help through any part of the process!

Disclaimer: I could never highlight ALL of the important tips for successfully finding government work in just five steps, so here are a few more resources that can help! GoGovernment.org is an excellent and comprehensive website that gives many more tips for getting hired, including lots of coaching on the federal resume as well as career guides for the different types of government fields available. Also check out our Government, Law & Public Policy community page for more info and tips for getting hired in that sector. Good luck!

By Anne Dickinson
Anne Dickinson Senior Associate Director, The College