New USAJobs Portal Aims to Bring Students into Government


Love it or hate it, chances are if you’re looking for a job with the U.S. government, you’re going to have to get familiar with the USAJobs portal. Thanks to a push for increased equity in federal government hiring by the Biden administration, college students and recent graduates are now able to use a new section of the portal to find internships—many of them paid—in their hoped-for fields.

The USAJobs portal has been the government’s official job search website since 1996. Operated by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the portal is designed to connect job seekers with federal employment opportunities throughout the United States. Many Foreign Service family members have experience—some positive, some not—in applying for jobs through the virtual job board, which was expanded in February 2023 to include a separate portal specifically targeting potential student interns.

Shortly after coming into office in 2021, as part of his Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce, President Biden instructed OPM to issue guidance on increasing the availability of paid internships, fellowships, and apprenticeships and to improve outreach to individuals from underserved communities. E.O. 14035 also requires each agency to report annually on their progress. Although the Executive Order makes it clear that agencies should seek to increase paid work opportunities for students and recent graduates, it does not provide a funding mechanism for these jobs, instead encouraging individual agencies to fund the positions.

On Jan. 19, 2023, OPM issued the required guidance, which calls on federal agencies to increase the number of interns, with an emphasis on increasing paid opportunities; to better coordinate and fund strategic internship and early career opportunities; and to hold senior leaders accountable to using the new internship programs to “build an inclusive and diverse Federal workforce talent pipeline.”

The following month, on Feb. 16, OPM launched the USAJobs Federal Internship Portal.

Like the original USAJobs search engine, the portal allows applicants to search for internships by agency, job type, or geographic location. Students can save searches and set up job alerts, allowing them to receive notifications when new internships that match their search criteria are posted. They can also save multiple résumés and other pertinent documents within the portal, which should streamline the application process.

Federal agencies offer internships in areas such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as well as in fields such as public policy, law, and international relations, giving students of all backgrounds a place to start within the federal system.

“Federal internships offer a critical pathway into government and public service,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said in a Feb. 16 statement. “The Federal government offers opportunities in nearly every sector and every industry, from conservation, to housing policy, cybersecurity, and health care. Hundreds of internships are already posted with more opportunities going live every week.”

The intern portal should make it easier for interested students to find suitable opportunities while also streamlining the hiring process for human resources departments, which can use the portal to search for, screen, and communicate with applicants.

OPM hosted a February webinar to share tips for using the portal. More than 1,800 people signed up to listen in to the webinar, which can be found online. They also offer an FAQ on the job portal for students interested in learning more about the process. OPM advises student applicants to “make sure you list all courses, skills, projects, volunteer experiences, and prior internships or opportunities that may qualify you for the job.”

An OPM spokesperson told the Journal that students who are interested in tech careers within the government should also take a look at another new portal opened this year by OPM: The USAJobs Federal Tech Portal was started to centralize the search and application process for all federal tech jobs, from internships though mid- and senior-level careers. The tech portal was released in conjunction with a Tech to Gov Forum and Fair on Jan. 18, 2023, which attracted almost 1,900 attendees and hosted more than 50 organizations at the federal, state, and local level.

Of course, the portal will only be useful if agencies use it to recruit student talent. An OPM spokesperson confirmed that federal agencies have committed to hiring 35,000 interns across the country in Fiscal Year 2023, but a search of the internship portal on May 5 yielded just 70 job listings. None of the job postings on the site were for the State Department or USAID.

Donna Scaramastra Gorman is an FSJ contributing writer.


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