How to find an internship in the federal government

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Elicia Moran has worked many jobs in her life – a restaurant server, a preschool teacher, a sales representative, a theater instructor – but she never expected to work in the federal government.

Moran, 37, recruits interns for the National Science Foundation, bringing people like herself into federal service via the same program she completed at age 30 – the Pathways Programs.

Facing a workforce that is increasingly older – only eight percent of federal employees are estimated to be under age 30 – the Biden administration is turning to interns as a solution, especially as a retiring workforce threatens to take crucial institutional knowledge with them. The administration set a goal of hiring 35,000 interns across federal agencies in fiscal 2023, and the fiscal 2024 budget from the Office of Management and Budget noted that the administration was on track to meet that goal.

At any given point, thousands of interns work in the federal government, through either agency-specific programs, or the federal Pathways Program – which offers three paid civil service tracks. The Pathways Program hired 5,087 interns, 3,085 recent graduates, and 395 Presidential Management Fellows in 2022. Agencies such as NASA, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Department of Energy (DOE) offer stipend-based internships in addition to the Pathways Program.

A group of WLP Summer interns. Photo courtesy WLP

The guiding light for prospective interns – and the cornerstone of federal employment – is A recently launched federal internship portal organizes opportunities across agencies, and online webinars are available to explain the process. The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service also manages an internship program. Applicants need to fill out a profile on the website and be prepared for opportunities to open throughout the year. Some internships will stay open for a few days or less – and others close when they reach a certain number of applicants.

Bethany Gracer, 25, was about to start a master’s program in emergency management at the University of New Haven when the covid pandemic began. Through she found internships at the GAO. She completed two internships remotely and now works full time as an analyst, reporting on subjects ranging from the Small Business Administration’s small business development program to immigration policies at the southwest border.

Ann Richmond, the staffing and classification program manager at NASA, said that students should make sure to know the timeline, and add volunteer and work experience to their résumés.

“Applicants should do their research and make sure that the information that they submit really gives a good picture of their whole personal background,” she said.

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Federal recruiters are looking for candidates

While is the most direct gateway into internship opportunities, networking can also be effective. Michelle Brown, a division director in the Office of Recruitment and Advisory Services at DOE, said that as applicants look for jobs, recruiters also are looking for them. She said applicants should make a LinkedIn profile, and allow their résumé to be searchable on

“This is becoming more and more kind of the way of the future, that federal recruiters are going in here, they’re finding candidates that look to be a match for their positions,” she said, noting that recruiters will use the platform to market career fairs and informational sessions as well.

Dameone Ferguson was completing a bachelor’s degree in communications at Voorhees University when he applied for the college’s grant program with the DOE. His junior year, he hopped on a flight to Las Vegas to spend a summer at the National Nuclear Security Administration as a minority serving institution fellow.

Now, Ferguson, 36, also recruits new talent as the diversity chief in the Office of Environmental Management. He hired 43 early career professionals during fiscal 2023 – the first time in 10 years they have hired so many people.

“This word we call ‘intern’ is that it’s not just individuals who are coming out of college for the very first time, because we’re seeing more and more people go back to school,” he said. “That has also given us – the Department of Energy, more specifically the Office of Environment Management – more opportunity to look at talent much more, intentionally and non-traditionally.”

At a recent public service event at Delaware State University, Moran sat down with students to go over their résumés and talk about jobs.

Moran grew up in Gaithersburg and Germantown, Md. After she graduated high school, she applied and was accepted into several universities – only to learn that her parents couldn’t afford to send her.

She took classes at community college before she got her bachelor’s degree in human resources management at the University of Maryland’s global campus – where she completed a Pathways internship at the Department of Homeland Security.

“It’s just been so meaningful for me to kind of break that cycle of poverty within my own family,” she said, describing her passion for making sure resources are accessible to people of color and underserved communities. “Internships are the easiest way to get your foot in the door.”

She recalled watching the eyes of the students widen as she spoke to them. “I could see them like their wheels turning,” she said, “like ‘this is really something that I can do.’

“That’s such a blessing and a gift to give to them,” she said.



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