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PSJD: A NALP Initiative

Careers in Federal Government

At first glance, seeking and applying for federal jobs can seem quite overwhelming. You may not know where to begin your search. Before diving into our extensive Content Outline, you can check out "Finding and Applying for Jobs in the Federal Government," a PowerPoint presentation by the United States Office of Personnel Management. (There is also a video of the presentation's author, Jason Parman, delivering this presentation at Georgetown Law.) It covers finding federal jobs using (PSJD is also a great resource for finding federal government jobs!), applying for jobs, resume writing, narrative statements, and changes to the federal hiring process.

In PSJD's The Federal Legal Employment Guide you will find clear, easy-to-read information about where to find federal government jobs and how to apply successfully for those jobs.

Below you will find additional information about the federal government hiring process:

Resources To Help You Find a Position with the Federal Government

  • - the good news: you're already here! We collect federal legal job postings from a wide variety of sources and post several new announcements every week in our opportunities database.
  • – This is the official job site of the United States Government, and the majority of all federal job openings are posted on this website. You can complete a job search by job type, location, salary, agency and other criteria. Job seekers can become members of USAJobs, at no cost, and then post resumes online, apply to jobs directly through the website, and receive automated email alerts of recent job openings.
  • United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions Book – This publication, commonly referred to as the Plum Book, is published every four years, just after the Presidential election. The Plum Book contains data for Federal jobs that are political appointee positions. If you find a position that interests you, apply directly through that agency.
  • The University of Arizona Government Honors and Internship Handbook –This Handbook provides application information and deadlines for federal, state and local honors programs and internships, including deadline tables arranged alphabetically by agency and by class year. The Handbook is geared to current students seeking summer employment and entry-level positions. Annual online subscriptions are available to law schools for distribution to their students and graduates. Law students and graduates are advised to contact their career services offices for information on accessing this resource.
  • Senate Employment Bulletin - This is the official recruitment site for the United States Senate. Updated weekly, opportunities range from unpaid internships to legislative counsel to chief of staff positions.
  • House Employment Bulletin - This is the official list of opportunities for the United States House of Representatives. Unlike the Senate's online version, the House Vacancy Announcement and Placement Service is by subscription. It is updated weekly and has member, committee, and internship vacancy listings.

Titles and Terminology for Federal Hiring

Political Appointments

In addition to civil servants, federal agencies have political appointees. Under the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, government officials are prohibited from considering candidates’ political affiliations when hiring for civil service positions. In contrast, political appointees are selected by the President or Congress to serve in specified leadership positions. The vast majority of jobs with the federal government are competitive service positions.

Civil Service Positions

There are more than two million people employed as federal civil servants. The federal civil service system includes all federal government employees except positions that are politically appointed and military positions in the uniformed services. The civil service consists of i) competitive service positions; ii) excepted service positions; and iii) Senior Executive Service (SES) Positions. The primary differences among these three services are in appointment procedures and in job protections.

  • The Competitive Service – The majority of Federal Government employees are hired through what is known as the “competitive service,” for which the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) posts open positions on and applicants compete in a merit system organized by OPM for those jobs.
  • The Excepted Service – All attorney positions in the Federal Government are in the excepted service, typically under an appointment called "Schedule A.” Therefore, agencies may hire for attorney positions directly without conducting examinations or working through OPM. To be safe, you should look at individual agency websites, in addition to USAJobs, when searching for attorney jobs. Nevertheless, many attorney positions are still advertised on USAJobs. See Go Government for more information about excepted service.
  • The Senior Executive Service (SES) – Senior Executive Service employees are primarily managers and supervisors, just below the top Presidential appointees. OPM manages SES hiring with a unique set of regulations. See USAJobs for more information.

Foreign Government Service Opportunities

The U.S. Department of State is the lead U.S. foreign affairs agency, focusing on achieving diplomacy around the world. For a great resource to learn more about how and where this work is performed, visit U.S. Department of State - Careers Representing America.

Security Clearances and Citizenship Requirements

Security Clearances

Most attorneys working for the U.S. government must pass security clearances. Law student interns generally must gain security clearance as well, although the process for summer employment is considerably shorter. If U.S. government employment is your goal and you engage in any illegal or questionable behavior, such as recreational drug use or inappropriate web postings, clean up your act! For example, attorneys with the Department of Justice undergo an investigation that includes a name and background check; interviews with references, close personal associates, former spouses, former employers, co-workers, neighbors, landlords, and educational institutions; a drug test; and a thorough check of credit, military, tax, and police records. The background investigation covers a period of seven to ten years. This process may take seven months or more to complete. As you move through a security clearance, you must answer all questions completely and accurately. Think carefully about your answers, and don’t hesitate to consult with a career services counselor if you have any questions. Students and alumni have been found ineligible for federal positions based on past activities that, had they been properly disclosed, would not have been a bar to employment. The Partnership for Public Service provides information on security clearances for prospective federal job applicants.

Citizenship Requirements

Many attorney jobs with the federal government are open only to U.S. citizens. Still others are technically open to citizens of foreign countries but extend offers to non-U.S. citizens only in extraordinary circumstances. Finally, at those agencies that regularly hire foreign citizens, the problems of conducting a security check overseas (e.g., interviewing employers, friends and family in a different time zone and in a foreign language) can significantly delay the start date of employment. If you are not a U.S. citizen or hold dual citizenship and would like to consider federal employment, please make an appointment to meet with a career services advisor.