I recently finished up an internship working as a GS-3 Fisheries Technician for the Forest Service in John Day, Oregon. This was my first time working for the government and I definitely noticed a difference between this and my time working for a nonprofit. Unfortunately, most of these lessons were learned the hard way so I’ve outlined three of the biggest differences between working for the government vs private or nonprofit internships to hopefully help others.
1. The PAPERWORK. My first day on the job I did five hours of paperwork, as well as multiple certifications and two weeks of further training just to work in a government position. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Was it kinda stressful and a pain in the butt? Also yes, so just keep that in mind. Have all your required documents accessible so this process can go smoothly.
2. The hiring process is SLOW. I applied for this position in October, was interviewed in January, offered the position in March, and was not actually hired until May. The background checks and multiple levels of hierarchy that have to approve your paperwork take time so be patient and plan accordingly.
3. There is a lot of hierarchy in working for the government obviously, but even when you’re working on a national forest. All I have to say about this one is to be ready to do a lot of teamwork with different departments and be able to accommodate others in making your daily decisions. It’s difficult and a little stressful but it’s for the best and facilitates your projects. An example would be my stream survey crew working with the archaeology crew on restoration projects. If there isn’t good communication between the departments, the project’s progress is slowed, people get confused, and supervisors get angry. Work together to reach your goal!
Federal work has amazing benefits (monetary, networking, experience, insurance, cross training, etc.) but is also difficult and slow so be ready to tackle those barriers and you’ll have great experiences. Regardless of the difficulties, I would recommend federal experience to anyone, especially working for the forest service, just be open to change and new (sometimes stressful) encounters.