Students and alumni are often interested in federal government service during Presidential transitions and as new administrations ramp up. While transitions are relatively brief and fast-moving processes, hiring into a new Presidential administration continues beyond the formal transition period, as well as throughout an administration. OPIA has aggregated a sampling of frequently asked questions and resources to help you understand hiring processes for Presidential transitions and new administrations, and perhaps participate in them.
Informational Guides and Videos
Application Portals and Talent Banks
Frequently Asked Questions
How does a Presidential administration hire employees?
There are many ways to be hired by a Presidential administration, and the process can feel complex.
Some employees are political appointees. Of these appointees, some are Presidential appointees who require Senate confirmation, such as the Secretary of Energy or the Attorney General. Other Presidential appointees do not require Senate confirmation, such as Assistants, Deputy Assistants, and Special Assistants within the Executive Office of the President. Other political appointments include non-career Senior Executive Service (SES) positions, and Schedule C positions in confidential or policymaking roles. More information about types of appointments can be found in the Presidential Transition Guide released by the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition (see pg. 66), as well as in its summary of Presidentially appointed positions (pdf).
Other executive branch employees are not appointed, but rather hired through more common career pathways such as USAJOBS, the U.S. Department of Justice’s careers webpage, and other agency application procedures.
Prior to the inauguration, applicants seeking consideration for political appointments in the incoming Biden-Harris administration were able to submit materials through the “Build Back Better” portal, as well as to submit materials through third-party organizations or affinity groups, such as the Coalition for Women’s Appointments, Black Talent Initiative, and the LGBTQ Victory Institute.
Since the inauguration, hiring responsibility has passed from transition personnel to the newly installed administration. The White House Office of Presidential Personnel now manages selection of Presidential appointees and other roles that serve the President.
When does a Presidential administration hire employees?
Some employees are hired to serve on the Presidential transition team even before the incoming President is inaugurated. Others may be selected before inauguration for hiring in the very early days of the administration. However, Presidential appointments often continue during the first weeks and months of a new administration, and interested applicants who are not selected or who cannot apply during the period of transition should know that they have many other opportunities to serve in the executive branch, particularly through non-appointed positions. Job openings may become available after an inauguration, midway through a Presidential term (when there is often some reshuffling of personnel), or at other times of change for agencies or individual staff.
More information about transition hiring timelines can be found in the Presidential Transition Guide released by the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition (see pg. 10).
How can applicants learn about what political appointments are available, and whether they are qualified for those positions?
The Plum Book lists thousands of federal service positions filled through political appointment. This resource is updated after each Presidential election, and can serve as a tool for identifying agencies or positions for which to apply, as well as each position’s appointment category (e.g., Presidential appointment requiring Senate confirmation, Schedule C, etc.) and pay plan. Applicants can now search the 2020 version of the Plum Book (pdf), as well as the 2016 version (pdf) and other prior versions. Note that each edition will reflect the organizational choices made by the administration of the prior four years. In the case of the Biden-Harris administration, the 2016 version of the Plum Book may be a more accurate reflection of intended staffing than the 2020 version.
To learn more about the appointment process and administration hiring more generally, refer to the resources and guides above.
What are some tips for applicants drafting job application materials, including cover letters?
Before applying for a political appointment, applicants should review the Plum Book and think carefully about where they wish to serve within the federal government. Certain agencies and offices may contain more or fewer appointed positions than an applicant may initially believe. While the Plum Book does not list what level of experience is required for each position, applicants can determine whether their own experience is in line with that expected for a particular position by researching the current or prior incumbents in the position.
When applying through the administration hiring portal, applicants should consider the issue areas in which they have the most experience, then research and identify agencies that fit those areas. Applying to all of the agencies and offices listed, including those in which an applicant has little relevant experience, does not necessarily result in a better chance at placement.
Even when a cover letter may be optional rather than required, a cover letter presents a key opportunity to add details regarding an applicant’s background, experience, and motivation for wanting to serve, particularly those that may not be most apparent from a resume. A cover letter can also be used to show connection with the administration’s policy priorities and with particular issue areas or agencies. Review our general tips about public interest cover letters and resumes.
How can a law student participate in an internship at the White House?
A law student may apply for internship opportunities through the White House Internship Program, including placements in the Office of White House Counsel. Applicants should be aware that the White House Internship Program is open to undergraduate as well as graduate students, and that not all internship opportunities are legal in nature.
Separate from the White House Internship Program, a law student may apply for internship opportunities in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Both policy internships and legal internships are available at OSTP.
Both of these internship routes generally offer fall, spring, and summer opportunities. In addition to eligible summer opportunities supported by HLS’s Summer Public Interest Funding (SPIF), students may consider seeking placements during the spring semester through the Government Lawyer: Semester in Washington clinic.
What are some tips for students or alumni seeking to build their political networks?
Applying for political appointments through open application portals or general resume banks should not be an applicant’s only method of demonstrating interest. Networking, particularly with staff already serving in the administration, can be a crucial way to stand out from other applicants and be “pulled in” for a political appointment.
Students and alumni seeking to build their resumes or networks with the goal of applying to jobs within Presidential administrations in the future should consider multiple avenues to demonstrate interest, make connections, and gain experience. Such avenues include:
- Making and sustaining personal and professional connections with political candidates, elected or appointed officials, campaign staff, political staff, government agency staff, professors, other former employers, or friends who may already be connected to an administration
- Gaining professional experience working in federal agencies or on Capitol Hill
- Securing paid political campaign staff work
- Interning on Capitol Hill, in federal agencies, or in the White House as a law student
- Gaining and maintaining security clearances where opportunities are available