Navigating your way to a federal internship

Given GW’s proximity to the White House, the State Department and other federal agencies, it is almost impossible for students to ignore the vast field of internship opportunities available in the government.

But getting the right government internship requires research. Anne Scammon, director of career and learning experience at the GW Career Center, said students should use Web sites like and to search for available internships.

One resource to find out more about federal internships is The Partnership for Public Service, an organization that often attends Career Center workshops. The Career Center’s long-standing relationship with The Partnership for Public Service allows GW students to easily access a wealth of information on federal internships.

Jim Onusko, director of personnel security for the Department of State and a GW graduate, spoke to GW students earlier this month about what it takes to be accepted to an internship program in the federal government. He discussed security clearance, criteria used to evaluate students and red flags that can keep a student from getting the job.

Onusko said there are three main criteria used to judge applicants: trustworthiness, good judgment and reliability.

All students interested in a federal internship must be ready to have an extensive background check that may look into financial statements, prior alcohol and drug use or criminal records, among other things. Public Web sites, such as Google, can also be used to find more about each prospective applicant, Onusko said. But private Web sites, like Facebook, are not used.

One student who went through a background check was senior Brian Palo, who served as an intern at the White House in spring 2006.

Palo worked in the correspondence office, handling incoming mail and phone calls.

“I picked up phone calls from people who voiced their complaints, and I would have to field those comments onto higher-ranking staff members,” Palo said. “By answering these phone calls, the White House was able to measure public opinion.”

Palo learned about this internship through an e-mail from the GW College Republicans. He said he filled out some forms and went through a background check and brief training before he was put on the job.

Although Palo is a finance major, he said he thinks his experience as an intern at the White House will be valuable for getting jobs after college.

But the road to a federal internship isn’t always an easy one. Alumnus Elliot Gillerman had to apply twice before being accepted to his internship at the State Department his junior year.

Gillerman worked with the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor researching East Asia and analyzing political issues specifically related to human rights and democratization.

“During my internship, the coup in Thailand was taking place and it was a very interesting time to be at the State Department – coming in seeing everyone so busy and dedicated was a great experience,” Gillerman said.

Gillerman also helped compile the annual human rights reports and was responsible for writing reports for several small island countries, including Hong Kong. These skills helped him academically at GW as well.

“I remember using my annual human rights report as a major source for a paper I had to write,” he said.

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