Veterans have many avenues for landing a job in the federal government. We all should know about veteran’s preference and how many points we qualify for, and we should be familiar with the USAJobs.com application process. What many veterans may have not considered are ways to beef up their resumes and become eligible for other "preference" systems (or hiring authorities).
Two programs that can help in this way and build up your resume are the David L. Boren National Security Education Program (NSEP) and the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS). Ensure you highlight your veteran status in your application, as it is likely to help with both of these.
The National Security Education Program
Veterans looking to work in the security and defense fields of the government, but who are going to school first, should consider the NSEP program. There are options for undergraduate and graduate students, and more. The key here is that you do your studies internationally, but agree to work "in qualifying national security positions."
I participated in the program for my senior year of graduate studies, following the military. As a participant, I was given living expenses every month to help cover my year spent in Japan, where I studied international relations at Keio University. It was an amazing year, but I don't believe I would not have been accepted if it weren't for my veteran status.
With help from my college's career center, I played up my military time and wrote about how I wanted to continue to serve my country through government work. You should do the same, while focusing on what makes your journey personal.
Along with putting you under a special hiring authority, being a Boren Fellow (graduate programs) or Boren Scholar (undergraduate programs) means you are part of another network that you can leverage in the job search.
Due to the requirement that alums of the program work for the government for at least one year, you are bound to run across many alums in your federal government job search. Just as you use your fellow veterans to network, reach out to these folks for advice and informational interviews.
The Critical Language Scholarship
Veterans who are interested in spending a summer abroad should consider the CLS program. It pays for pretty much all of your expenses (airfare, lodging, classes, etc.) and involves studying language and culture all day long as part of a group. They accept applications from undergraduate and graduate students.
My one word of caution with the CLS program is that you, as a veteran, may be in a group of young students, so you might feel out of place. That is often the case with veterans returning to school, though, so it's something you will have to get used to.
My time with the CLS program was spent in Korea, where I was able to visit the demilitarized zone (DMZ), make some friends for life and eat great food (our dorm had a food court with a big bowl of bibimbap for only a couple of dollars).
Since the programs "seek participants with diverse interests," playing up your veteran status in this application can be very important, especially if you are not considered "diverse" in any other way. Also, since it's a program of the Department of State, that is one more connection to the federal government that you can leverage when applying through USAJobs.com or networking at government hiring fairs.
But Remember to Have Fun
Above all, remember to have fun. You served your country, and if you are going to participate in either of these programs, you now get to live abroad as a civilian, with no work commitments.
Take advantage of the GI Bill. Enjoy the time and use it to find yourself, build your network and beef up your resume. They both include alumni networks, and NSEP has a career fair for its participants. These and other programs can be wonderful steppingstones to your dream job.
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