How to Find a Job in Government

Searching in Government and Nonprofit Organizations
A Guide for UT Political Science Students

A career in government offers the excitement of being at the center of the action, the satisfaction of doing good, interesting work, wide influence, respect and good pay. John F. Kennedy spoke of the need to fulfill our talents. Theodore Roosevelt praised the "man in the arena." Furthermore, those who work for government for a while, then move to careers in business benefit from the experience.

Starting a career in government is harder than in private business due to downsizing and more elaborate application procedures. Turnover is slow. Quite frankly, civil service positions are virtually lifetime sinecures. As Benjamin Franklin said, "few die and none resign." Furthermore, unlike the situation some years ago, present recruitment practices do not favor recent graduates who may be highly capable, but unproven.

This page concentrates on management positions. Like government employees in general, the vast majority of managers are in the civil service. This means they are hired at a junior level, have their entire careers in the system and are protected from arbitrary termination based on their party affiliation. For a recent graduate, however, non-civil service positions may be more available and interesting. Temporary positions may be more available and interesting also.

Strategies are to (1) buck the odds for regular civil service appointments, (2) buck the odds for elite programs, (3) take a route through nonprofit organizations or (4) take a route through partisan politics. Of course, for the last two, you may do very well and enjoy a fulfilling career and never move on to a civil service position.

Besure to distinguish between the national, state, and local levels. The US government tends to pay more, have more interesting jobs and be more competitive. States and cities vary widely. Look farther than Ohio or Michigan; a growing area like Florida may have more possibilities. On the other hand, a non-resident may be at a disadvantage and it is harder to use your contacts. Counties pay about a third less than cities, which decreases the competition. You can gain experience and move on later.

Nonprofits offer many opportunities. Because they are often understaffed, you will have more responsibility and variety. Because they depend on grants they cannot offer secure employment, which decreases your competition. You can gain experience and move on later.

Due to September 11, the national government is recruiting for the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security.

Organize your search beginning at the University Office of Career Services in Room 1532 of the Student Union. Telephone 530 4341. The office considers it ideal if you start exploring career choices in your freshman year. As a sophomore, you should plan experience from summer and part time jobs, internships and volunteering at the same time as you plan your academic program. By the end of your junior year (actually the summer after), you should have completed jobs and volunteering so you can begin a full scale job search in your senior year. Of course, you may not be ideal, so visit as soon as the need for a career occurs to you. Even if you are sure you want to go to law school or graduate school, you can benefit. The office counsels individually and conducts workshops on occupational options, strategies for gaining practical experience and resume writing.

Read Careers and the Study of Political Science: a Guide for Undergraduates published by the American Political Science Association. The department may have a copy to give away to you. Otherwise call 202 483 2512 to order. The department subscribes to the Public Sector Job Bulletin; copies are in Scott Hall. The Career Services office has a copy of Great Jobs for Political Science Majors by Mark Rowh. Another good book is Opportunities in Government Careers by Neale Baxter.     

Prepare a one page resume like this model.

Civil Service applications for the national government go to the agency directly or through the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Pay tables . The Federal Jobs Digest , FRS and HRS are commercial employment companies.

Graduates in criminal justice often apply to the FBI where the competition is stiff. The Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Alcohol, Tobacco Tax  and Trade Bureau and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are less competitive. The Bureau of Prisons is expanding.

Presidential Management Fellows are an elite selected for rapid advancement. Many already have an MPA.

The Foreign Service is probably the most competitive agency. Within it, the administrative track has the most opportunities, but does not lead to the elite duties in the State Department. The Peace Corps will give you more experience and a better start.

State government offers may opportunities. Check directly with the agency or with the Ohio Human Resources Division. In Michigan check directly with the agency or with the Civil Service Department. Browse other states like Minnesota , Florida   California or New Jersey . Commercial services like the Public Service Employee cover state and local agencies.

Check with professional associations like the Council of State Governments and the Government Finance Officers Association. 

Local governments have many job possibilities. Northern cities like Toledo are short of money, while sunbelt cities like Orlando and Phoenix are growing fast. Check with professional associations like the National League of Cities, the International City Management Association (ICMA) and the National Association of Counties (NACo). 
Non-Profit Organizations offer many opportunities for recent graduates because they are more fluid, and their salaries are lower, which reduces competition. Many non-profits undertake projects according to what grants they receive from the national or state governments. This means they cannot predict their needs. A typical situation is that a non-profit writes a proposal with an estimated budget and sends it to Columbus or Washington. Six months to a year later they learn if it has been approved and if so, for what amount of money. Now they must hire staff (often on short notice because decisions were delayed). The people they originally wanted may have taken other jobs, the budget may be cut and the scope may be modified. This creates your opening. You are flexible because you are unemployed, accustomed to being broke, and well educated. Older, more experienced professionals will not continue to work in such an unstable situation. Moreover, most non-profits cannot afford full time organized personnel officers who can recruit systematically.  

Consider a strategy of (1) identifying suitable non-profit agencies, (2) requesting interviews whether or not they have any vacancies, (3) keeping in touch with them once a month in person or by telephone. Within a few months you will hear of dozens of jobs. Move fast and don't say you are unqualified in any area you can learn in a few weeks. For example, you can learn how to interview clients, write proposals or run a new computer program. Spend the night before your interview in the library researching the skill. Link to course on Nonprofit Management. 

The Idealist has 8,000 nonprofit organizations and a job search engine. Public Interest Jobs covers environmental and consumer groups. Governmental and private jobs from Call to Serve. Environmental jobs from E. C. O. and Eco Career Builder is general. Also check Yahoo for national and local positions.   

Politics holds out the possibility of paid jobs ranging from summer internships to full time. The field is fluid and rewards partisan and personal loyalty. Summer positions with a Member of Congress are ideal for learning and experience. Start with your own Representative, then your own Senator. They try to reward their own constituents. Members of Congress may also be able to place you in the Executive Branch. For jobs in Columbus, check with your own state senator or representative in the legislature. Be able to say your are registered in the Democratic (Republican) party and voted in the last election. Volunteering in an election campaign shows dedication and gives experience.
Link to the Department of Political Science and the University .  Return to course on  Principles , Nonprofit or Environmental Policy.
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Last Updated: 8/8/17