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«Revised and expanded 6th edition Copyright © 2003 American Political Science Association All rights reserved. For noncommercial use only. No part of ...»

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There is one final category of positions in the federal government that is not regulated by the civil service: political appointments. These jobs may involve serving as staff assistant to the secretaries or assistant secretaries of the cabinet agencies, serving as legislative liaison between agencies and Congress, or working in the White House. If you have been active in a political party, perhaps working on a winning campaign either for the presidency or for a senator or representative of the president’s party, or have had internship experience with someone appointed by a political party to a top government position, this experience may help to secure an appointment in an executive agency. However, almost all appointees require White House approval, and many require Senate confirmation, before commencing employment and are not based exclusively on merit.

Applying for a Job in the Executive Branch

Many federal agencies fill their jobs like private industry by allowing applicants to contact the agency directly for job information and application processing. Previously, OPM maintained large standing registers of eligibles and required applicants to take standardized written tests. In addition, applicants completed a standard application form, the SF-171, to apply for all jobs. However, OPM no longer maintains registers of eligibles and only a few positions require a written test. The SF-171 is obsolete and is not accepted by most federal agencies. The new federal application form is Optional Application for Federal Employment, OF-612. In lieu of submit


Careers in Political Science

ting an OF-612, applicants may submit a resume. Also, job seekers do not need a rating from OPM to enable them to apply for nonclerical vacancies. Although the process is now very similar to that in private industry, there are still significant differences due to the many laws, executive orders, and regulations that govern federal employment.

USAJOBS, the federal government’s employment information system, provides worldwide job vacancy information, employment information fact sheets, and job applications and forms online, as well as online resume development and electronic transmission capabilities. USAJOBS is updated every business day from a data base of more than 12,000 worldwide job opportunities and is available to job seekers in a variety of formats to ensure access for customers with differing physical and technological capabilities. It is convenient, user-friendly, accessible through the computer or telephone, and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. USAJOBS also offers an e-mail notification service. You complete a profile of the type of job you want, and they will save it for six months and e-mail you any new listing that comes up.

USAJOBS consists of:

Internet. The official web site for jobs and employment information is www.usajobs.opm.gov. The Online Resume Builder feature allows job seekers to create online resumes specifically designed for applying for federal jobs. Many of the hiring agencies will accept electronic submissions of resumes created through USAJOBS for vacancies listed on the web site.

Touch-Screen Computer Kiosk. OPM has a network of self-service information kiosks in OPM offices and many federal buildings nationwide. Using the kiosk, job seekers can access a wide range of employment and job information or complete job announcements.

Automated Telephone System. An interactive voice response telephone system can be reached at (478) 757-3000 or TDD (478) 744-2299 or at seventeen OPM Service Centers located nationwide (for local numbers consult the blue pages of your telephone book). By telephone, job seekers can access current job vacancies, employment information fact sheets, applications, forms, and apply for some jobs.

Once you have found an opportunity that interests you, you will need more information on the specific job and appropriate application forms. Use USAJOBS to obtain a copy of the vacancy announcement, which is an important source of information. Most of the questions you may have will be answered as you read through the announcement. The vacancy announcement will include, for example, closing/deadline dates for applications, specific duties of the position, whether or not a written test is required, educational requirements, duty location, and salary.

Federal Government You may apply for most jobs with a resume. However, it is essential that you follow the instructions for applying that are given in the vacancy announcement and

that your application contain the following:

Job information. Announcement number, title, and grade Personal information. Full name, mailing address (with zip code), day and evening phone numbers (with area code), Social Security number, country of citizenship, veterans’ preference, reinstatement eligibility, and highest federal civilian grade held Education. High school name, city, and state; colleges or universities with name, city, and state; majors and type and year of any degrees received (if no degree, show total credits earned and indicate whether they were semester or quarter hours) Work experience. Job title, duties, and accomplishments; employer’s name and address; supervisor’s name and phone number; starting and ending dates (month and year); hours per week; salary. Also indicate whether or not your current supervisor may be contacted. Prepare a separate entry for each job.

Other qualifications. Job-related training courses (title and year), skills, certificates and licenses, and honors, awards, and special accomplishments.

Remember, a general background may be sufficient for a first federal job. If you have little job experience, substitute skills and other experiences related to the job being sought, if possible. In the resume, you should keep in mind the qualifications of the job being sought and be prepared to describe how your education and past work experience are related to this job. If the job description has two requirements (e.g., good analytical skills and knowledge of environmental policy), you should be explicit. In this case, it is useful to describe the analytical skills acquired and the source of knowledge about environmental policy, both in coursework and any actual experience, such as an internship. If the description of the job has six elements, you should try to describe six qualifications and work experiences. Also, you should not forget to list internships as job experience and even work as a paid or unpaid research assistant to a faculty member or as a student representative to the Board of Trustees of your school. The application should make clear that your qualifications match the job requirements.

A newly hired federal employee may need a security clearance, depending on the position. An investigation prior to security clearance can be quite a long process.

Careers in Political Science


There are good opportunities for recent college graduates to work in Congress, on the staff of an individual member of Congress, or for a committee. The Congressional Staff Directory and the web sites of the House www.house.gov and Senate www.senate.gov identify members of Congress and their key office staff as well as the congressional committees and their staffs. This hiring is handled individually by each congressional office. Members prefer to hire from their own states and districts, from their campaign staff, and from among those suggested by their friends and contributors. Most members prefer applicants who profess to be of the same political party and who would be comfortable with the substantive positions taken by the member. Undergraduates who think that they may be interested in working on the Hill should try to obtain an internship position with a congressional staff in Washington, D.C., or in a local district prior to graduating from college. Developing personal contacts is almost a necessity for finding permanent employment with Congress.

Although you should not overlook the placement offices in both the House and Senate, contact with individual members’ offices and committees will be most

effective. Job placement resources include:

House of Representatives Job Line: 202-225-2450, press option 4, then option 2. See www.house.gov/cao-hr for other contact information.

Senate Job Line (recording of Senate Employment Bulletin): 202-228-JOBS House Human Resources Vacancy Announcement Lists: 263 Cannon House Office Building Senate Placement Office: Room SH-142, Hart Senate Office Building, 202The number of job hires by Congress remains fairly steady, rising slowly over time. These jobs are not easy to obtain, but political science majors with a real interest in this type of work should not be discouraged from seeking these positions.

Publications such as The Hill, Congressional Quarterly, Roll Call, and National Journal may also list positions that are vacant or provide leads on staff who are leaving or have left their positions.

A number of party organizations exist in Congress. Democratic congressional organizations include the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, House Democratic Caucus, Blue Dog Coalition, and issue caucuses (which may also cross party lines).

Republican congressional organizations include the Senate Republican Policy Committee, Senate Republican Conference, House Republican Policy Committee, and House Republican Conference. All of these organizations can be accessed through the House and Senate web sites.

Federal Government Political science majors looking for jobs on Capitol Hill should keep in mind that there are other organizations, including the Republican and Democratic National Committees, and web sites where job seekers can search for political jobs, such as www.hillzoo.com/jobs.htm.

In addition, there may be jobs available at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and their Democratic counterparts.

The Library of Congress www.loc.gov and http://thomas.loc.gov and particularly the Congressional Research Service www.loc.gov/crsinfo/, Government Printing Office www.gpo.gov, General Accounting Office www.gao.

gov, Architect of the Capitol www.aoc.gov, and Congressional Budget Office www.cbo.gov are large support agencies for Congress that have many positions for which political science graduates are qualified. For the auxiliary and research support agencies, regular job openings are posted and a set procedure is followed in filling the positions. The details of these processes may be obtained directly from each office and agency. As many of these jobs are for subject matter experts and highly specialized technicians, students with graduate training and/or experience are the most likely to be considered for these positions.


Many political science graduates work in the judicial branch of government www.uscourts.gov/employment.html, often in the “executive offices” that service the federal courts. These include the Administrative Office of the U.S.

Courts, the federal Judicial Center, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the U.S. Tax Court, the Court of Federal Claims, the district courts, the courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court. Although many positions require law degrees, these jobs may be suitable for those political science graduates who are thinking about going to law school or are already enrolled. Hiring for these positions is under the purview of the judicial branch offices.


Opportunities abound for students to work in the federal government. They include the Student Educational Employment Program, summer employment through USAJOBS, various women and minority student internship programs, the Presidential Management Intern Program, and volunteer service.

Student Educational Employment. The federal government has several programs aimed at high school, college, and graduate students. The U.S. Office of Careers in Political Science Personnel Management has consolidated the previous programs (e.g., Cooperative Education, Stay-in-School, Federal Junior Fellowship, and Summer Aid Programs) into the new Student Educational Employment Program (SEEP), which combines key features of the old programs with added flexibility, thus, producing a more effective and streamlined program.

The federal government has always looked to educational institutions to attract talented students to federal public service. It is an opportunity to earn money and continue your education, to train with people who manage the day-to-day business of the national government, and to combine your academic study with on-the-job experience.

Most federal agencies use this program. Some develop additional student, intern, or fellowship programs to meet their specific business needs. No matter what agency you choose, SEEP will introduce you to the advantages and challenges of working for the United States government.

The program has two components—student temporary employment and student career experience. It is available to all levels of students: high school, vocational and technical, associate degree, baccalaureate degree, graduate degree, and professional degree.

Job opportunities under the student temporary employment component can range from summer jobs to positions that will last for as long as you are a student.

These employment opportunities need not necessarily relate to your academic field of study.

The student career experience component offers you valuable work experience directly related to your academic field of study, as it provides formal periods of work and study while you attend school. It requires a commitment by you, your school, and the employing federal agency. You may be eligible for permanent employment under this component after successfully completing your education and meeting work requirements.

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