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Applying For Federal Civil Service Student Internships




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Federal Civil Service Internships

The Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) and the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP) were replaced by the Internship Program in 2012. The Internship Program provides high school students, and college students up to and including graduate level, with the opportunity to explore careers and work with pay at agencies while attending school.  Students who successfully complete a civil service internship may be eligible to convert to a permanent federal civil service job. During my federal career, spanning over 35 years, we hired many students who successfully completed the program and landed federal jobs with tremendous career advancement opportunities.

Students are eligible to apply for federal civil service internships if they are currently attending  an accredited high school, college, junior college and community colleges; technical, professional,  vocational, and trade school; advanced college and university degree programs; or other qualifying educational institutions pursuing a qualifying degree or certificate.

Federal Internship Program Requirements

According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Interns may be converted to a permanent position (or, in some limited circumstances, to a term position lasting 1-4 years) within 120 days of successful completion of the program. To be eligible for conversion, Interns must:

  • Complete at least 640 hours of work experience acquired through the Internship Program
  • Complete their degree or certificate requirements
  • Meet the qualification standards for the position to which the Intern will be converted
  • Meet agency-specific requirements as specified in the Participant’s Agreement, and Perform their job successfully.

Agencies may waive up to 320 of the required 640 hours of work for federal civil service interns who demonstrate high potential as evidenced by outstanding academic achievement and exceptional job performance.

In addition, students working in agencies through third-party intern providers may count up to 320 of the hours they work toward the 640 hour requirement. Time spent under previous Internship Program appointments may count towards required work experience hours.

Seven Steps to Finding Federal Civil Service Internships

1.      Determine which civil service occupations would be suitable for your course of study. High school students can identify their target career choices. OPM’s comprehensive Federal Occupations by College Major list is available to help you identify occupations suitable for your internship. 

2.      Find internship and summer work job vacancy announcements on OPM’s www.USAJobs.gov  recruiting site.  Enter “Internships” in the Keyword box and then enter your city, State or zip code in the Location box and click on search.  If you are looking for summer jobs enter “summer” and click on search. Select a vacancy announcement of interest, print it out, and read it top to bottom. The job announcement lists the required qualifications, pay, benefits, and all of the information that you need to apply.  If you meet the qualifications apply for the position. Apply for all internships that you meet the qualifications for to improve your chances.   

3.     Expand your search. If you can’t find suitable vacancies in your area call local agency human resource offices to determine when they anticipate recruiting interns in your area. Use your local phone directory’s blue page government office listings or search online for agency offices in your area.  You can also contact the Federal Executive Board office for your area and discuss internship options with the manager and/or his staff.  They meet frequently with representatives from the majority of agencies in their area and often know about upcoming vacancy announcements.  Search for internships in federal, state and the private sector to expand your options.

4.     Complete a thorough federal resume and application. Unlike the private sector, a federal resume for an entry level position can be from 3 to 5 pages or more. All federal resumes must be tailored to the job announcement.  If you attempt to use a standard one page private sector resume your application may be rejected. Your federal civil service application and resume, in most cases, must be submitted online. Set up an account online and start your resume as soon as possible and before applying for your first job. Many job announcements are only open for a short period, from several days to a week or more.  You can store up to 5 different resumes online and you can save and automate job searches after you register. 

5.       Include academic achievements, class projects, and student activities in your federal resume to highlight your accomplishments, motivation, and drive. Include membership in organizations such as Toastmasters International, class room projects, reports, membership in professional organizations for students, and other activities that showcase your accomplishments.  You can review sample federal resumes and learn how to prepare one in the 11th edition of The Book of U.S. Government Jobs. This title was recommended by Library Journal and it is available at many libraries.   

6.      Explore ALL job options. If your future degree will be in the professional or technical area don’t exclude administrative positions to get your foot in the door. The majority of administrative positions require either a BS degree or 3 years of general experience to qualify for a GS-5 position.  You won’t have either as an intern however when you graduate you will meet the basic qualifications for those positions as well. After you get your foot in the door you can apply for internships that open up for your specialty.

7.      If you don’t land the first federal civil service internship you apply for don’t get discouraged.  Submit multiple applications for all job vacancies in your area and learn from your rejections.  Ask selecting officials if other positions will be available in the future and what you can do to be best qualified next time around. Many neglect to search for vacancies after their first application; check for new vacancies weekly and remember they are only open for short periods so be prepared to submit a new application in a minutes notice.  

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The information provided may not cover all aspects of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, and programs are subject to change. Our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic human resource guidance and factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM or any federal entity. You should consult with school councelors, hiring agency personnel offices, and human resource professionals where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

About The Author

Dennis V. Damp is a retired federal manager, business owner, career counselor and veteran. Damp’s The Book of U.S. Government Jobs was awarded “Best Career” title by the Benjamin Franklin Awards Committee. Damp is the author of 28 books, a recognized employment expert, and a retired federal manager with 35 years of service. He worked for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and held numerous supervisory and management positions and was responsible for recruiting, rating and interviewing applicants, outreach and hiring. His last government position was technical operations manager at the Pittsburgh International Airport’s air traffic control tower.