State and Local Government Internship and Job Search Guide

Working for state or local government allows you to contribute to policy initiatives and projects for your community and see tangible results of your work. Internship, fellowship and job opportunities within state and local government span across industries and skill areas

The search for state and local government roles is different from a search in the private and nonprofit sectors. This guide includes information about hiring, compensation and benefits, and how to find internship and job opportunities within state and local government.

This guide 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

What type of fields can I work in within state and local government?

Common areas include:

  • Health and human services (doctors, social workers, nurses)
  • K-12 and higher education 
  • Law 
  • Management/administration
  • Public policy and politics 
  • Urban planning and engineering 
  • Emergency services (police, firefighters, etc.)
What types of opportunities are available within the state and local government?

State and local governments offer a variety of internships, fellowship and full-time opportunities. A fellowship is a short-term opportunity usually lasting from a few months to a few years, providing an opportunity to take on leadership roles within state and local agencies. Most fellowship programs require applicants to be recent graduates or graduate students, while internships can be open to many different class years.

Many state agencies offer internship programs and fellowships as a way to grow professionally and build experience. Opportunities are available within individual state agencies as well as:

  • City council
  • County and municipal departments 
  • Governor’s offices
  • Law departments 
  • Mayor’s offices
  • Offices of the attorney general 
  • Police departments 
  • Political campaigns 
  • State legislatures
How do I explore career options in state and local government?

It is important to consider where you want to work. Also think about the fields that interest you and skills that you want to build. States and counties face diverse needs from their constituents and work on different types of policy issues. Research job descriptions on state and local government websites and search for agencies that may align with your interests. A career adviser can help you with this process.


Another way to explore careers in government is through Career Compass, which has information on a wide range of career fields, related resources and opportunities to gain experience at Princeton as well as profiles of alumni and their career paths. The Government and Public Service section provides information to assist you in exploring the field and learning about different career options within government.

What is the hiring timeline for positions with state and local government?

The hiring timeline for local government typically ranges from a few weeks to a few months. State government hiring may take 3-6 months due to multiple interviews, process delays and extensive background check processes. Hiring timelines can also vary widely by agency and geographical location. It is important for applicants to apply early, and to remain communicative with hiring managers. 

 

Fellowships are typically posted August-March for the positions starting in the summer. Internships are typically posted between November-June for positions starting in the summer. Jobs are typically posted on an as-needed basis. 

What are examples of state and local-level fellowships and internships?

There are a wide variety of fellowships and internships available throughout the country. This is a small list of potential opportunities and many can be found by reviewing agency and state websites.

How long should a resume for a state or local government position be?

Resume length depends on type of role and the location. Applicants should always review the resume and application requirements for each role to which they apply. Some states may require shorter resumes than others, or may have applicants provide alternative materials. 

 

Early on in one’s career, these resumes should run between 1-2 pages. Generally, a government resume can be longer and go into more depth than a resume for the private or nonprofit sector, but a state or local government resume will not be quite as long as a federal resume.

What is a civil service exam?

When applying to state agencies, applicants may need to take a test called a civil service exam. A civil service exam is an oral, written, physical, or verbal test designed to test an applicant’s qualifications for a particular position within a civil service department. 

There are different types of civil service exams depending on the position and state in which you live. The test consists of job-related questions and are meant to promote equity in hiring since every applicant receives the same examination. Candidates that pass the exam are put on a list and are referred to the hiring agency for a potential interview. Civil service exams are very common for policing, accounting and finance, and other administrative roles. Not every role or state will require these exams

How do I start looking for roles within state and local political campaigns?

Interning or working for a state or local political campaign is a great way to get an inside look into a future career in politics and allows you to see firsthand the needs of the constituents in your community. Working for a state or local legislature is an effective way to get your foot in the door before seeking opportunities with national campaigns. Although some positions may be posted on job boards, the majority of these roles are found through networking. 

To start the process, research candidates of interest whose platforms align with your values. You can find opportunities on their campaign websites and contact Princeton alumni working on campaigns to help you get connected to individuals working with the campaign. 

Working on campaigns can entail long hours and relocation, so it is important to fully evaluate opportunities and find roles within campaigns that you find fulfilling and will help build your skills. Hiring for campaigns tends to be on an as-needed basis unless the position is with a high-profile candidate

What are some of the benefits of working for a local or state government?

Compensation and benefits can be very different from the private sector. Some of the benefits of working for a local or state government include strong healthcare plans, tuition assistance, professional development opportunities and increased job security. 

Many state and local employees may qualify for a pension. A pension is a retirement plan that is funded by an employer with optional or mandatory contributions from employees. This plan guarantees money at retirement. Many local and government workers also have strong job satisfaction and work-life balance.