Federal Government Internship and Job Search Guide

The job and internship search for federal government roles is different than a search in the private and nonprofit sectors. It is not intended to serve as a substitute for working with an adviser to get individualized advice and create a customized plan. To do this, make an appointment in Handshake.

Top 10 Tips for Federal Job/Internship Searches

  1. Federal application timelines vary widely.  Make sure to check specific programs, opportunities and agencies for deadlines. 
  2. Be patient. The search and application process may last from 6-18 months. A security clearance may take an additional 3-6 months depending on the level of clearance required. Applications will be reviewed by a human resources (HR) specialist prior to being referred to a hiring manager. You can contact the contact person listed on the job announcement to ask for an update on the process. 
  3. Create a profile on USAJobs, the official hiring site for federal opportunities, and review the Pathways Program, which is geared toward students and recent graduates for opportunities within various federal agencies. 
  4. Sign up for agency mailing lists. While most positions can be found on USAJobs, some positions may only be posted on agency sites. Positions are typically posted for two weeks, so it is important to subscribe to agency mailing lists for job announcements.
  5. Research salary and benefits. Many salaries for government roles are competitive with private and nonprofit sector roles. Government roles also offer great benefits, professional development and educational opportunities.
  6. Include keywords in your application materials. The government agencies use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to screen applicants due to the high volume of applications. The ATS scans words within your resume and compares it to the language in the job posting. Look to see what key skills and qualifications are in the job description, and incorporate them into your resume. 
  7. Follow federal resume format guidelines. Federal resumes are longer and more detailed than traditional resumes and should be between 2-5 pages.
  8. Federal roles require applicants to list former supervisors' names and contact information on the resume as references. Contact previous supervisors prior to listing them on your resume.
  9. Prepare for the interview. Hiring managers are required to ask all applicants the same questions in the same order. Many of these questions are about your previous experiences and how they align with the role you are applying to. Review the Interview Guide to learn how to best describe your professional and academic experiences during the interview using the STAR method, and schedule an appointment with an adviser to practice.
  10. Use your network. Networking is an important component for any job or internship search. Conversations with alumni and other professionals working in the federal government can help you learn about their career paths, get inside knowledge and provide ideas and advice on your next career opportunity. You can refer to our Networking Guide for helpful tips on building professional connections, and read profiles of alumni working in government and public service on the Princeton Career Compass site.

Federal Resume Format and Sample

A federal resume is different from a resume you would submit for a job or internship in the private sector firm or a nonprofit. Federal resumes are longer and follow a specific format. Use this federal resume sample and tips to help you when you put your federal resume together.

Federal Search & Resume FAQs

Hiring Timelines and Popular Programs

A job and internship search in the federal government can take longer than a search in the nonprofit or private sector.

Full-time federal job searches can take from two months to a year, depending on the agency and the level of security clearance required for the role. 

Many agencies hiring summer interns post openings between August and March, though this may vary slightly so check agencies that you might be interested in and prepare a USAJobs profile and a draft of your resume in advance. Most postings are open for around two weeks.

Popular internship and job programs

Princeton Resources and External Sites