Expert Opinion: Five Questions for Craig Raynsford of the Department of Homeland Security

For our latest edition of “Five Questions for a Public Interest Leader” we spoke with Craig Raynsford of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (which has more than 1800 attorneys worldwide) Mr. Raynsford serves in the Office of the General Counsel at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) where his responsibilities include developing and managing a new Honors Attorney Program and Summer Law Intern Program. Prior to transferring to DHS in 2003, Mr. Raynsford spent over twenty years as an attorney with the United States Department of Justice. While specializing in immigration and international law issues he additionally managed his division’s participation in the Attorney General’s Honors Program and Summer Law Intern Program.  Mr. Raynsford is the recipient of the Attorney General’s John Marshall Award for Providing Legal Advice, the INS Commissioner’s Special Commendation Award for his work with the Government of Cuba resulting in the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the repatriation of Mariel Cuban criminals, and a Commendation from the DHS General Counsel for his work on the Katrina Task Force.

Five Questions on Federal Legal Employment:

1. You’ve done a great job developing the DHS Attorney Honors Program. What are some unique advantages to getting an entry-level lawyer job at DHS?

The DHS General Counsel’s Honors Attorneys have the opportunity to experience a wide variety of practice areas during their two-year rotation program. At present, Honors Attorneys spend eight months at the Headquarters Office of the General Counsel and are assigned to two practice groups. These assignments are based on the preference of the Honors Attorneys and our business needs. The practice groups include Immigration, General Law, Technology Programs, Regulatory Affairs, Operations and Enforcement Law, National Protection and Programs, and Legal Counsel. During this time they will participate in a variety of activities including legal research and writing, advising clients on legal and operational maters, drafting regulations, and preparing operational manuals. They will also get to know the attorneys in several practice groups and begin to understand the complexity of representing a client in a new Cabinet agency.

Honors Attorneys will also spend two eight month rotations in our component legal offices here in Washington D.C. These have included Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration, the United States Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In each rotation the Honors Attorney will have the opportunity to get experience in providing legal advice on issues that are unique to that component as well as address issues that effect multiple components across DHS.

Finally, Honors Attorneys will visit the official duty stations of many of their clients to gain a first hand understanding of the challenges they face every day. This will include visits to the United States Secret Service Training Center, The United States Coast Guard Washington Air Station, and port-of-entry Inspections stations for Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration.

2. Federal job applications can be daunting, especially when KSAs enter the picture. What are 3 things students or other job applicants should keep in mind when writing KSA responses?

There are dozens of Internet pages addressing KSAs (Knowledge, Skill, and Ability). Most federal agencies have a “KSA page” in their HR section. I think it all comes down to identifying yourself as the best applicant for the job using your prior employment and educational experience – and doing this in a clear and concise manner.

As far as the DHS Honors Program is concerned, we ask you to submit a cover letter, resume, unofficial transcript, and list of references.

[Ed. Note – some of those KSA resources can be found in the PSLawNet Federal Legal Employment Opportunities Guide]

3. Interviews are often intimidating regardless of the setting. What are three best practices for approaching federal interviews?

It goes without saying that interviews are critical. First impressions are always important – as each applicant may only get one interview with a particular employer!

  • Prepare yourself – Research the agency, the legal department, and the type responsibilities given to entry-level or experienced attorneys. Anticipate questions ahead of time and prepare answers.
  • Keep your answers short and to the point. You can expand on an issue, but please don’t recite your entire resume when answering a question.
  • Prepare questions for the interviewer. Avoid stock questions like, “What type of training do you offer,”or “How did you join the agency.” Find a particular issue or case that relates to the agency and use that as the basis for your question.”

4. We all know networking can be invaluable in the job search and application process. When somebody applies for a job through USAJobs or another federal site, how can they still use networking to their best advantage?

Networking can be critical. One of the most effective means of networking is to take a volunteer position, internship, or academic externship with a federal agency. This gives you an opportunity to look at the agency and see what employment opportunities may be available in the future and it gives the agency the chance to evaluate your work and consider you for any positions that may become available. [Ed. Note – scared of networking? Read our earlier posts on it for some tips!]

5. Federal applications can also be frustrating because they tend to run on a different timeline from private or non-profit organizations. Can you give us an idea about how the hiring process usually goes, and how long that takes?

Most federal agencies, like most law firms and non-profit organizations these days have their own hiring schedule. Very few employers are locked into the traditional fall recruitment schedule that we all participated in for decades. My best advice is to submit the strongest application that you can, politely follow-up, and be patient. There are many more qualified applicants than positions in both the private and public sector these days.

We’d like to thank Mr. Raynsford for his time and answers, and remind you that you can learn more about federal legal employment (permanent and internships) on the PSLawNet website. If you have other questions or suggestions for future interviews, ask them here!

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