5 tips for landing your federal dream job in DC

May 1, 2023

GSPIA graduate Topher Hoffmann (MPA '16), a Senior Analyst at the US Government Accountability Office, kicked off the 2023 DC Career Trip with a keynote speech to GSPIA students at the Hall of the States.  

During his address, he shared his top 5 career tips that helped him get where he is today—living in the heart of Washington, DC with a full-time, federal, senior position. 

1. Keep an open mind.

"I had never heard of my current employer [the US Government Accountability Office] before my first DC Career Trip with GSPIA, so it was really influential for me. Had I not approached this career trip, and my time at GSPIA in general, with an open mind, I could have missed the opportunity to be here today."

2. Develop a personal vision.

"One thing I wish I had spent more time thinking about in school was my own personal vision and goals. Ask yourself where you see yourself in two, three, or five years from now. Then, use that answer to make decisions today that set you up for that future. 

Your vision doesn’t need to be granular—in fact, avoid getting too specific so you can remain open minded. As was the case for me when I was a GSPIA student, there are many career options out there that you might not currently be aware of. 

Think about your “KSA’s,” as they say in federal parlance—your knowledge, skills, and abilities—that you could be developing now to set yourself up for that first job. Personally, as a student, I valued the classes that developed my writing skills, my knowledge in different leadership and management styles, and my abilities to managing resources, especially time and money. One of the best things that grad school taught me was how to learn. Being able to pick up new skills and topics quickly in your new position is a huge asset that I’ve had to use in all my jobs since GSPIA."

3. Develop a big-picture vision.

"Given GSPIA’s focus on the public and nonprofit sectors, many of the positions you might likely be looking into will be mission-driven rather than profit-driven. Think about the types of missions or causes you’d like to support through your career, in tandem with your personal vision."

4. Focus on quality over quantity when it comes to job applications.

"There were sometimes suggestions when I was a student that you should apply to as many job listings that you can, send your resume to everyone who might look at it, and cross your fingers and hope someone responds. It was literally called the 'spray-and-pray' method. 

As someone who has been on both sides of that, as a student applying and now as an interviewer, I don’t subscribe to that method anymore. Frankly, I find it to be a waste of everyone’s time. If you’re applying to fifty jobs that you don’t know or care that much about, and spreading yourself too thin, as a result, the quality of all those applications will suffer.  

Rather, prioritize quality over quantity, and focus on creating thoughtful applications for the handful of jobs that you really do care about. Pass on applications for jobs that you think you’d be settling for."

5. Be persistent and patient.

"It took a year and a half after I moved to DC until my current employer had the right opening for me. Then, the hiring process—from submitting my application to receiving my official offer—took six months. Federal government processes take time, so have patience.

If I hadn’t been persistent in keeping an eye out for openings with my current employer, I might have missed it completely. Thankfully, there was a friendly GSPIA alum who worked at GAO at the time who posted in the Facebook group for DC-area alumni that this job was open.  

There are a ton of GSPIA alumni working in DC—and probably some working for the organization you want to work for. Find out who they are, and get in touch with them."


"Topher Hoffmann headshot"About Topher Hoffmann: 

As a Senior Analyst at the GAO, Hoffmann conducts performance audits related to health policy issues of federal agencies. His work primarily examines the Department of Veterans Affairs’ healthcare system and health impacts of migration to U.S. areas under the Compacts of Free Association.  

Prior to GAO, Hoffmann managed state-level data analyses for a Medicare program at NORC at the University of Chicago, and he conducted research and advocacy on global health issues at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research.  

Hoffmann graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Master of Public Administration, Master of Public Health, and Bachelor of Science in Biology. In his free time, he enjoys cooking, exploring DC, and spending time with his friends, his partner, Ish, and his adventurous cat, Cleo.