If you’re a millennial just finishing up your last years of college, you’re probably unsure which sector to enter to start your career. Fortunately, most federal agencies offer internship programs to let recent or soon to be college grads try out working for the federal government to see if it is the right fit. First 5 sat down with a millennial who had not one, but two agency internships. She gave some insight into how to shine at, and make the most of your public sector internships.
Behind the Intern
Lauren Goodwillie is a mapping intern at the Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. However, she previously worked as an intern at the Department of Interior’s Office of Political Appointees. In both positions, she has been able to experience and work on projects that most people wouldn’t typically associate with interns. “Most of my work at State revolves around prep work and original research to get projects started,” Goodwillie said. “This means I’ll do anything from a literature review on structural violence in various countries to exploring data trends on violence against civilians.”
In her role, there is also a lot of variation that helps Goodwillie learn different skills on a daily basis. She explained, “I get to do both research and data analytics so it has been very beneficial to see both sides of how analysis gets done.”
Goodwillie emphasized that the most valuable part about interning in the public sector is the variation of assignments she gets to work on. “I feel like I’ve gotten to grow a lot just because I do so many different things on a daily basis that I never really expected to be doing,” she said. Whether it’s decorating the Secretary of State’s office for the holidays or doing research on child soldiers in East Africa, Goodwillie has been able to gain experience that makes her more well-rounded on paper and as a person.
How You Can Be a Star Intern
Don’t give up on USAjobs. Goodwillie explained that the most important thing to remember when filling out applications and resumes on USAJobs is to be as detailed and as extensive as possible. “It is totally different from the typical one page resume that private employers want, I think my resume on USAJobs is closer to six or seven pages because I just included everything,” she said. This means all of your classwork, volunteer experiences, and previous employment should all be on the resume you use to apply to federal jobs.
Keep an open mind. Before coming to government, Goodwillie’s perceptions were shaped by her father who works in county government. “I sort of had this preconceived notion that all government employees were old and had been working in public service for forty years, but after working in government, I’ve discovered that that’s not true at all,” she said.
In her own experience, Goodwillie has seen two completely different workplace cultures at DOI and State. She emphasized that at State most people are in their 30’s and the culture errs more on the side of professionalism. On the other hand, her department at DOI was a much younger office, making it easy to fit in as an intern. Goodwillie emphasized that it has been good to experience different government offices as an intern because it helps you gain a better understanding of the type of culture you may look for in a full time position.
Be aware of what you want to take away from the internship. Originally from the Midwest, Goodwillie knew she wanted to work for a big agency. “I think there is this perception that it is really hard to get hired in the government, especially as a young person, but I don’t think this is necessarily true,” she said. Goodwillie got her job at DOI because she saw a posting on USAJobs and applied. Sometimes it really is that simple.
Goodwillie also emphasized that when starting out, it is important to connect with your supervisor. “I ended up choosing an internship at DOI over other positions because in the interview, I felt like I really connected with my supervisor and that he was going to care about my development as an intern and as a student,” she said. “In the intern field this should be a main priority because what exactly you’re doing matters less than how you connect with your supervisor and how much they are involved in your development process.”
Be mindful of the work you are doing. With most federal agencies being pretty large organizations it can be easy to have your work lost in the mix. Goodwillie explained that one of the biggest challenges she has faced is to make sure that she is not doing the same work as someone else. She explained that, “In order to avoid duplication, it is important to be proactive and contact other people within the organization and in external organizations to make sure that everyone has the same information and people aren’t working on the same things.”
Ready to become a star intern yourself? Keep Goodwillie’s tips in mind and you’ll be moving up the GS ladder before you even know it.
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This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5