Introduction to Careers in the U.S. Federal Government


If you are passionate about making a difference in the world and eager to help the United States government tackle complex issues, you may want to explore career opportunities in the federal government. From climate change to national security, highway safety to space exploration (and everything in between), the federal government offers a huge range of internship and job opportunities in every branch of government and in over 400 federal agencies.  Did you know:

  • Federal employees work in every U.S. state and territory, in Washington D.C., and in more than 140 other countries
  • No matter your major or area of interest, there are federal positions that will allow you to contribute your expertise - these Career Guides and List of Federal Occupations by College Major will give you a sense of the many options
  • Federal salary ranges are transparent, and benefits like vacation and health insurance often compare favorably with the private sector


Where to Begin

Exploring federal government opportunities can be overwhelming. With so many different career options, a unique recruitment platform to navigate (USAJobs), and new hiring processes to learn, it's important to take some time to get acclimated! Here are some great first steps to take:

  1. Think big picture: consider the three branches of government and how they may fit your interests. Most administrative agencies (that means everything from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Veterans Affairs) fall under the Executive Branch of the U.S. government. Note that the Department of Justice also falls into this category, even though it sounds like it could fall under the Judicial Branch! For the most part, these agencies use USAJobs for hiring, so your job search process will focus on this one site. In contrast, if you are interested in working in the Legislative Branch, your job search process will be decentralized. Each Senator and Member of Congress has their own hiring process and timeline, and you will need to visit each of their websites to learn more, as well as follow the House and Senate employment bulletins. Oppportunities in the Legislative Branch can also include working for House or Senate Committees, and working for Legislative agencies such as the Congressional Research Service, Government Accountability Office, and the Library of Congress.
  2. Dig a little deeper: explore the many resources on USAJobs and Go Government to learn more about possible career paths within the federal government. These Career Guides are a helpful place to start learning about the range of options within your field. Once you have some ideas of agencies and job titles that might be right for you, you can use this information to filter opportunities on USAJobs and start to narrow down the possibilities. While you're exploring, you can even take Go Government's quiz to Find the Right Federal Agency for You!
  3. Learn from federal employees: talking to people who currently work for the U.S. government is a helpful way to learn about how this type of public service might fit your own career goals. This step can be as easy as listening in on a webinar or virtual panel, or it can be as proactive as reaching out individually to Wellesley alums for informational interviews and advice. Sign up for Career Education newsletters for more information about events you can attend, and ask your advisor for tailored advice about setting up informational interviews!
  4. Connect with trusted advisors on campus: your professors and your Career Education advisors are eager to learn more about you, your interests, your values, and your goals. We will do our best to provide insight on how a job in the federal government might fit into your career journey. Make a Career Education appointment here!

Navigating USA Jobs

Create an Account
Even before you are ready to apply for federal government jobs, your first step should be to create a free USAJobs account. The account will allow you to generate specific searches and have the results e-mailed to you automatically, which is the most efficient way to familiarize yourself with a variety of job postings. Having an account also allows you to use the federal resume builder and save up to five customized federal resumes.

Students Page
StudentJobs webpage can be found from the homepage of This is a great starting point when searching for specific federal student programs. You can also take advantage of the following student resources offered on the StudentJobs webpage:  Federal Jobs by College Major, formerly known as the EI-23 Form, features federal jobs that are often filled by college graduates with various academic majors. This resource will help you to learn which federal jobs are appropriate for someone with your background and skill set. Entry-Level Employment by Graduation explains the amount and level of education typically required for each GS-level. The Student and Recent Jobs page is here.

Where do you fit?
To assist applicants in narrowing down a career path in the federal government, there is a reference guide that outlines what roles are available for different majors (link below for the full list). This serves as a great starting point to identify positions that are available in the federal government based on your interests and skills. Please note this does not mean that if, for example, you are an economics major that you cannot apply to the Foreign Service series. This is meant to serve as a general guide that gives students options and demonstrates that there are many opportunities available to students in all majors, and may give you insight into the coursework that can add value in a desired field.

Here are some examples:

Economics Majors International Relations
Community Planning Series 0020   Foreign Affairs Series 0130
Outdoor Recreation Planning Series 0023 International Relations Series 0131
Unemployment Insurance Series 0106
 Trade Specialist Series 1140
Economist Series 0110  

Reference Link: Federal Occupations by College Major

Searching on USA Jobs
Successfully navigating and taking advantage of the tools the site offers is extremely important to finding a federal job. The following tips should make the process of finding the right job on this site easier:  

  • Advanced search allows you to search for jobs based on a variety of different criteria from job title and pay to agency and location. By using the advanced search function you will be able to pinpoint which positions might be a good fit for you in government.  
  • Keyword search is a great tool for narrowing down your results. When looking for jobs, try searching for words that align with your interests or desired job title. You can also search “Intern” to find most internship opportunities.   
  • Refine your results after selecting your initial search criteria. Whether your advanced search yields too many or too few results, you can use the “Refine Your Results” button on the right-hand side of your computer screen to add or remove a variety of search fields.
  • Questions? Follow up directly with the human resources contact that is listed at the bottom of each vacancy announcement. You can ask this contact for more information about the position as well as the hiring timeline.

Vacancy Announcements
Each job vacancy announcement on will follow a five-tab format. See below for information about each of these sections!

  1. Overview: Provides a summary of the agency’s mission and impact, plus a brief description of the job and its key requirements.  
  2. Duties: Highlights the major responsibilities of the position, adding more detail to the overview.  
  3. Qualifications and Evaluation: Identifies skills and experience needed for the role, and explains how applications will be assessed.  
  4. Benefits and Other Information: Describes additional elements of the compensation package or perks associated with the job.  
  5. How to Apply: Includes step-by-step instructions on how to apply, as well as information about when and how you can expect to hear from the agency.  
  6. Questions: Lists information about who to contact if you have questions about the position or the hiring timeline.

Other Things to Note

  • The General Schedule (GS) is the government’s pay scale for most federal positions. Entry-level government jobs will generally be classified as a GS-5, 7 or 9 depending on education and work experience.  
  • You can save up to five federal resumes, each tailored to a different opportunity on this site! All you need to do to take advantage of this feature is create an account.
  • Some agencies do not always post on USA Jobs, including the following. These are called “excepted” jobs.  Please note that many roles will still require more detail and similar formatting to jobs on USAjobs, but may offer flexibility in requirements.  
    • Federal Reserve System
    • Central Intelligence Agency
    • Defense Intelligence Agency
    • US  Department of State
    • Federal Bureau of Investigation
    • US Agency for International Development


Special Programs

Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP) is a two year entry-level appointment designed to bring talented people into government through a streamlined process. Applicants should apply directly to the federal agency using or a specific agency's website. Agencies set individual deadlines for these positions and they are available throughout the year. All FCIPs will receive the same benefits as federal employees, as well as significant professional development and training opportunities. After two years, FCIPs can become permanent civil service employees.

Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) is a prestigious two-year program designed to prepare applicants for upper-level management positions in the government. In order to be eligible you must be in your final year of a graduate program and must receive a nomination from your school to apply. PMF programs are structured by individual agencies, however, all PMFs will receive training opportunities. After two years, PMFs are eligible for conversion to permanent positions.

Pathways Internship Program was created to address the issue of competitive advantage and to give students a clearer path to fruitful career in the federal government. Of these programs, the two that are applicable to current undergraduate students and recent college graduates are the below:

  • Internship Program: paid internship for students who are currently enrolled in a degree-seeking program at an accredited school from the high school to postgraduate level.
  • Recent Graduates Program: two-year career development program for recent graduates who completed a qualifying associates, bachelors, masters, professional, doctorate, vocational or technical degree or certificate within the last two years.

In addition, there are a number of fellowships that are sponsored by the US government and provide pathways to careers in public service. Please see our fellowships page for more information. 

General Tips for Applying

The federal hiring process follows firm guidelines when submitting applications. It is crucial that applicants take the time to research the roles for which they are applying and ensure that their application materials meet the requirements of the position. Below are steps outlined to provide guidance in creating a federal resume. I highly encourage students applying for federal positions to make an appointment with me to ensure application materials are ready for submission.

Plan & Prepare: It is important to clearly read instructions in the vacancy announcements. Researching agencies, positions and responsibilities can help you craft your experiences in the best light. This will also serve you well if selected for an interview.

Customize: your resume to the position. It is important to highlight qualifications, relevant work experience, extracurricular activities, skills requirements, etc.

  • CCAR Method: As you craft your position descriptions, use the CCAR method to highlight your accomplishments and tell your story.  Action and Result are the most important and allow the reader to see YOUR  direct impact in a role and in the organization.
    • Challenge
    • Context
    • Action
    • Result

Format: Federal resumes typically have a lot of information on them, as the opportunities require much more detail than the standard resume. This information needs to be formatted in an organized, clear way so that hiring managers can review a resume quickly and easily find necessary information.

  • A helpful exercise with the federal resume can be to bucket your responsibilities within a position. For example, what “hats” did you wear in a position? As you reflect on the different aspects of the position — it becomes more clear.
    • Sample buckets:
      • Research
      • Program Management
      • Operations
      • Administrative

Content: It is important to include all relevant experience and be concise and communicate your experience in a clear manner. It is imperative to emphasize the value you have added to your prior employers and any applicable organizations or student group with which you have worked. This may be including numbers and metrics to show performance or demonstrating leadership in your position descriptions. When applying through USA Jobs, it is important to remember that the hiring managers want to see WHAT you have accomplished, not your potential.

Proofread: As a general rule, please proofread your resume many, many times and have others review it as well.


Preparing Your Resume

The format for Federal Resumes is vastly different than the format for Private Industry Resumes. The chart below provides a quick overview for how the two formats differ. Please note this is a general format for the private industry — sectors within the private sector — have industry and formatting preferences as well.

Private Industry Resume
Length: 1 page

  • Reverse chronological resume (begin with most recent experience and end with oldest experience).
  • Freedom to personalize formatting

Specific Details

  • No “federal elements” are required (i.e. SSN, supervisor’s name and salary, veterans’ preference, etc.)

Keywords/Transferrable Skills

  • Highlighted within position descriptions

Position Descriptions/Proof of Experience

  • Short accomplishment bullets focused on results; less detail for position descriptions, but numbers are important.


Federal Resume
Length: 3-5 pages

  • Reverse chronological resume (begin with most recent experience and end with oldest experience).Include all relevant experiences as well as awards and extracurriculars. 
  • Traditional format with NO graphics
  • Use CAPS for the USAJOBS Builder Resume

Specific Details

  • Required:
    • Compliance details for each position for the last 10 years (i.e. month and years, street address, zip code, city, state, country, supervisor’s name, salary/GS level/military rank)
    • Resume should focus on the most recent 10 years

Keywords/Transferrable Skills

  • Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSA) must be covered in the resume to demonstrate your specialized experience.

Position Descriptions/Proof of Experience

  • Accomplishments are critical, so your resume will stand out and help you get best qualified. Use a blend of accomplishments and duties description details.

  • Quantify where possible: "produced 10 weekly memos" or "wrote policy that led to 25% increase in response rate"

  • Keywords from the job description are imperative


General Format of Each Position on Your Resume: Here “ACCOMPLISHMENTS” covers each “HAT” or BUCKET”

Position Title, from MM YYYY to MM YYYY

  • RESEARCH & ANALYSIS : fill in these blanks with descriptions of your duties, accomplishments, etc., using more keywords from the Job Announcement/Description.

  • PROJECT MANAGEMENT: This description should be a few sentences to a paragraph in length and should incorporate keywords from the job announcement/description.


For sample resumes, please visit Nicole Park in Career Education as there are sample hard copies available for reference. 

We recommend that you use the Resume Builder feature in USAJobs. 

USAJOBS also has a resume builder feature, which we recommend for first-time users and internships. 

This video from USAJOBS is also helpful in building your resume and this page from DHS has a good outline. 

Go Government also has helpful information about tailoring your resume and demonstrating expertise. 





Additional Government Resources

Profiles in Public Service Podcast

List of Federal Agencies A-Z

Go Government

Partnership for Public Service