Land a Dynamic Federal Internship

Too many students and recent grads waste their summers flipping burgers when they could be getting paid to work career-boosting jobs. But in this tough job market, how can young people — go-getters though they may be — afford to toss away their spatulas for meaningful jobs?  By landing dynamic federal summer internships.

Granted: Some federal internships are dominated by busy work. But one of the best kept secrets in government is that hundreds of federal internship programs — located throughout the U.S. — are specially designed to offer resume-stuffing experience, opportunities to schmooze with power brokers, interact with mentors, network and earn competitive salaries.

Some summer federal internship programs are already accepting applications for next summer. Deadlines for applying for many other programs will close later in 2015 and early 2016.

So if you or someone in your personal or professional circle would like to land a paying internship for next summer, beware: the time to start seeking such opportunities is NOW.

The designs of internship programs vary: They each recruit students or recent grads of different levels — from undergrads to newly minted PhDs and lawyers; have their own application requirements; address varied subjects; and offer different types of career-boosting activities. Salaries also vary. In addition, some programs specially recruit for minorities, women and people with disabilities. So it is important to research opportunities.

A sample of paying federally-funded internships:

  1. Collegiate Leaders in Environmental Health: Undergrads who are passionate about environmental and human health issues work in environmental health programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in Atlanta, GA. They participate in environmental health projects, interact with federal officials and scientists, visit important environmental health sites and attend lectures by leaders in the field.
  2. FDIC Financial Management Scholars Program: This program recruits majors in economics, business administration, finance, accounting, or a related field. Interns attend a one-week orientation in Washington, D.C., followed by eight weeks of on-the-job work in an FDIC field office. Teams of interns check that banks are following sound banking practices, managing their institutions effectively, and complying with applicable regulations. This program may lead to permanent jobs.
  3. Transportation Department Internships for Diverse Groups: College/university students receive hands-on experience, training and mentoring designed to strengthen their understanding of the transportation industry and prepare them for future leadership positions in public service. The program, which is located in Washington, D.C. and provides housing, specially recruits for women, people with disabilities, and members of diverse groups.
  4. Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science: Does it get any better than this? During successive summers, undergrads conduct cutting-edge research on atmospheric research and related topics in state-of-the-art facilities in hip and beautiful Boulder, CO. In something akin to a total immersion experience, interns are mentored by multiple top scientists, attend workshops, prepare scientific papers, present their research in professional meetings and live together in modern group housing. Travel expenses are covered.
  5. National Gallery of Art: Undergrads and grad students work on projects directed by a curator or department head in Washington, D.C. Seminars cover a broad spectrum of museum work, programs and Gallery staff.
  6. The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON): Undergrads conduct scientific research, engineering, and computing projects in Boulder, CO that help advance the mission of NEON — a new high-tech, nationwide ecological sensing system. Interns work closely with NEON mentors on real-world projects; attend weekly career seminars; and formally present their projects.
  7. FBI Honors Internship Program: Undergrads and grad students get an insider’s view of FBI operations — from counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and fraud investigations to vital support services, such as laboratory exams, fingerprint identification and behavioral analysis. Also, interns explore the agency’s varied career opportunities. Interns are assigned to the FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.; the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia; the Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, West Virginia or a field office.

More Hot Summer Leads

Find other dynamic paying summer internship programs by:

  1. Typing “internship” or “summer internships” into the search windows of these organizations: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; NASA; the Department of Energy; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  2. Checking the Congressional Research Service’s list of federal internships.
  3. Typing “summer internship” into the search window at
  4. Checking the career pages of federal agencies that interest you.

Application Tips

Customize each application to each target program. One creative way to do so:  Obtain the contact information of several program alumni from each target program.  Then ask each alumni about what they learned from their internship activities and from other interns; incorporate the results of your research into your applications and interviews.

In addition, explain in each application and interview how: 1) your interests align with the internship; 2) your skills and knowledge would contribute to the program; and 3) the internship would help you advance your academic and professional goals. Also, convey zest!

More Insider Advice

My Washington Post article — Summer Work Can be a Launching Pad — features more insider advice (based on interviews with dozens of federal hiring managers and interns) on finding and landing dynamic well-paying internships.

By Lily Whiteman — author of How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job; consulting career coach; and seminar leader

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