Monday, April 29, 2013

Seeking a Job in Government Communications? - Advice for Students

Posted By: Britt Ehrhardt, Technical Writer/Editor, April 29, 2013
Photo of Britt Ehrhardt

So you're a student with graduation headed your way and no job in sight. You're this close to a degree in communications, marketing, journalism, English, web design, or something similar, but the job market is tough.

Have you considered government communications?

Graduation 2011 -  Oath
Photo courtesy of Flickr user um.dentistry, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
The U.S. federal government employs many people to write materials and maintain websites for the public. Federal communicators also work with the media and specialized audiences, like scientists, people trying to pay their taxes, businesses, and others.

A background in journalism or communications can be helpful when trying to snag one of these positions, but it's not required. You'll find people with degrees in public policy, science, and many other areas in government communications.

How to start your search for a federal communications job

1. Look at the Pathways Program

The U.S. federal government recently reorganized its hiring programs for students and recent graduates. The program is now called Pathways, and it includes the Presidential Management Fellowship for graduate students and a range of other opportunities for current college students and recent graduates less than two years out from graduation. Some of these programs have long application processes with many steps. For those, you'll need to plan in advance and follow the instructions exactly. For other programs, it's helpful to find a government office that wants your help first. The office can then use one of the Pathways hiring mechanisms, many of which are quite flexible, to hire you.

But as a first step, get searching! See what's already posted in internships and jobs for recent grads.

2. Get in touch with a federal communicator

The best way to find out what a job in government communications is like is to talk to someone who does it. That's also the best way to find opportunities for students, many of which may not be posted on the internet. Seriously, you must get offline and speak to actual people.

Most federal communicators I know are willing to do brief (that means 15 minutes) telephone informational interviews with students--all you have to do is make a polite request to a specific individual. Look on agency website for the names of people in the communications or public affairs office. FCN maintains a list of federal communicators active on Twitter (Federal Communicators Network list of federal communicators on Twitter), and you can identify people that way too. You can also find these people on LinkedIn. If you don't have a good LinkedIn profile, read our LinkedIn advice and fix that too. We all know how to Google, so make sure you don't look like an idiot online.

3. Don't be turned off by jargon or long waits for response

084/365: Alphabet Soup
Photo courtesy of Flickr user bmhkim, CC BY-NC 2.0

Unfortunately, the government sometimes uses unfamiliar words and phrases to describe its hiring and application process. For example, someone might say "we want to bring you onboard" instead of "we want to hire you." Someone might also use series and grade alphanumeric codes to describe the exact kind of job they are advertising. It might look like an alphabet soup!

Try looking up the answers to your questions online first. But if you don't understand something and can't find the answer, it is OK to call the phone number in the job ad and ask questions. The person on the other end of the line usually doesn't make the hiring decisions, and they won't penalize you for asking a "dumb question."

You should also know that government hiring processes sometimes take time. Delays can happen for a wide variety of reasons, not worth describing here. The government does want and need talented people. A long wait does not necessarily mean bad news.

What other strategies have you used when looking for a federal communications job? Tell us about them in the comments below.

This discussion is brought to you by the Federal Communicators Network.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this nice post. Lots of people are looking for Federal Government Jobs because it gives real wages, and a competitive benefits and job stability like to make it an attractive place to work, where private companies are downsizing and laying off employees left and right.


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