Four Skills that Will Help You Land a Job in Government

Nick Brown is a technology specialist at YPFP NY. The views expressed are his own.

Are you looking to land a role in international relations with the government?

Training programs are expensive. Any time spent teaching an employee how to perform a task or operate a piece of software, is less time spent on assignments. Resumes that demonstrate that a new hire will be able to “hit the ground running” are more attractive.

Here are four skills and experiences that you can use to beef up your resume and stand out when applying for a job with a government agency.

1. Critical languages

Studying a critical language is a great place to start. According to the National Security Education Program, critical languages are those “critical to U.S. national security, such as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Russian, and Turkish.”

Government agencies are always in need of individuals that can bring these language skills to bear in diplomatic channels, serving abroad as representatives for the administration, and as intelligence analysts officers, monitoring both intercepted communications and open source information, and predicting political instability as it begins to bubble up on social media.

Those interested in studying one of these in demand languages can turn to the Critical Language Scholarship Program, which offers scholarship opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students for 14 languages. YPFP NY also provides a 15 percent discount to all active members for classes at ABC Languages.

2. Deep/dark web

If sticking to a computer is more your strong suit, learning how to operate in the sub and murkier levels of the internet, the “deep/dark web” is a good way to set yourself apart.

The dark web is a collection of purposefully hidden networks and services not indexed by traditional search engines and only accessible through specialized browsers such as TOR, I2P, and Freenet. Those browsers hide users’ identities and the addresses of the websites being visited.

This anonymous network is both a challenge and an invaluable tool to various government agencies. For law enforcement, the dark web is a dangerous, wild west. The anonymity built into these systems has burgeoned international criminal networks, ranging from sharing child pornography to smuggling drugs. The 2013 bust of Silk Road, an online black market that generated roughly $1.2 billion in revenue, is a testament to the scope of the challenge officials are facing.

For humanitarian initiatives at the US State Department and USAID, the dark web can be used to promote internet freedom issues, and support counter censorship. During the Arab Spring, State Department employees were deployed to Egypt to train people on how to use the system.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is greeted by U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson upon his arrival in Mexico City, Mexico, on February 22, 2017. (U.S. Department of State/Fickr)

The TOR browser is free to download and use. Classes on how to navigate the networks are available, but not common. If you do decide to navigate TOR and other similar services like it, take some caution. There are potentially dangerous and criminal sites.

3. Big data

Beyond the basic Microsoft Office Suite, learning how to use industry or department specific software is a major asset. For many agencies in the U.S. intelligence community, that software are big data tools like Palantir Gotham.

According to Microsoft, “big data is the term increasingly used to describe the process of applying serious computing power — the latest in machine learning and artificial intelligence — to seriously massive and often highly complex sets of information.”These data sets allow intelligence agencies and other communities to recognize patterns, generate and generate more accurate/ actionable intelligence based on past events.

In addition to Palantir, other popular big data services include SQL and Amazon RedShift. For geospatial analysts, demonstrating how to use OCTAVE, ArcView, Google Earth, or Analyst Notebook may prove to be a useful stepping stone.

Big data allows government agencies to analyze the information that they have, and spot previously unidentifiable patterns. The US military used Palantir Gotham to more accurately predict the location of IEDs during the War in Afghanistan. The DHS, CIA, NSA, FBI, and the Marine Corps are all Palantir customers. According to TechCrunch, those agencies deploy “Palantir to connect databases across departments,” a feat that had previously been unachievable. The software is also reportedly capable of sussing out and hiding information whose collection would violate civil liberties and privacy laws.

Palantir Gotham is a private, and very costly software. You can practice your big data skills on SQL, and Amazon RedShift both available for free use. Microsoft Excel also provides a good stepping stone for data analysis. Classes in data analytics are available through services like General Assembly.

If you are looking for data sets to start out with, data.gov is a great place to play around with some of the very data sets you could be expected to work with an in a government job.

4. Corporate management

Transferable skills are the key to moving from the corporate world and into a government role. Government agencies are notoriously bureaucratic and difficult to navigate. As such, applicants with experience managing large teams and projects stand out when applying.

A critical skill in government is the ability to work across departments. If you’ve successfully led a large team, or have been responsible for a million dollar initiative, you likely have the ability to bring teams together.

Like government agencies, corporate teams can be siloed, with little connection to one another. Successful managers can make the case to other department heads that allocating some of their own resources to a different project is essential to the success of the organization as a whole. A product manager responsible for convincing already constrained departments to lend employees to build and sell a new feature, faces the same challenges that a Case Officer, for example, who must convince analysts, translators, and their own superiors, that their investigation is worth pursuing.

While the environment in a government office may be different, many corporate managers will find the challenge similar. Applicants that have excelled in the corporate sector are exciting as they can bring those same essential skills to a government agency.

Successful managers are also tasked with setting goals and consistently leading their team or teams to achieving it. This, above all, require managers to have an in depth understanding of their employees, and their goals, and to ensure that the employee feels fulfilled in the work being done. The communication skills built up in corporate management will find a healthy home in a government office as well.

Finally, the same network building skills that are often a lynchpin for success in corporate management can help you land a job.

In sum…

None of these skills will guarantee you a job, but they will help your resume stand out among the others in the pile. Transferable and in demand skills provide recruiters with a ready made case for why you belong in the role they are hiring for.

And while these skills will make you more attractive, and may even land you a job, they will not guarantee success. A willingness to learn, and adapt are the more important things. A data analyst that can synthesize unheard of of sums of data in Palantir, but who refuses to learn Amazon RedShift, or a corporate manager who refuses to adapt to a different culture, may find themselves out of work, faster than they found the job in the first place.