COMMENTARY

4 keys to finding the best new hires

Now is not the time for agencies to get complacent about talent recruitment

Ronald Sanders is a senior executive adviser at Booz Allen Hamilton, where he focuses on strategic human capital and organizational transformation. Jeff Pon is a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton, leading the firm’s human capital and learning efforts across the federal civilian market.

Thanks to the perception that the federal government provides job stability, government employment has seen a resurgence in popularity among younger job seekers. However, the economy is cyclical and will turn around sooner or later. When it does, the promise of stability alone might not be enough to attract the best and brightest talent to the government. Thus, now is certainly not the time for agencies to get complacent about talent recruitment. Indeed, with President Barack Obama and Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry making federal hiring reform a top priority, this is a great time to take advantage of the government’s inherent strengths as an employer and change the way it markets itself to younger workers.

Here are some ideas for how to do that.

  • Focus on the mission and convey excitement. For many young people, a job is more than just an opportunity to make money; it’s a chance to make a difference in the world. To reach those idealistic young workers, agencies should place their mission first and foremost when recruiting. Big, important policy issues that the federal government is addressing make it an exciting and meaningful place to work. In addition, government provides some of the best tools available in mathematics, the sciences, IT and other disciplines. By communicating the excitement of their missions, agencies will be able to recruit highly committed workers, which will be even more important as the labor market becomes more competitive.
  • Stress career mobility. There’s a continuing misconception among many younger workers that the federal government is one large employer. In reality, of course, the government is a collection of many employers offering workers far more chances than most private-sector positions of moving to exciting opportunities in related fields. Indeed, the sky’s the limit for new employees who are geographically, professionally and organizationally mobile. Agencies that tap younger workers’ desire for career mobility will find a wealth of eager talent to choose from.
  • Make internships a priority. It’s imperative that agencies focus on recruiting talent early. Career progression often occurs far faster in the government because many jobs require the latest skills and technological know-how. It’s common for relatively new federal employees to progress into positions of responsibility and leadership far faster than they would in the private sector. That factor will become even more apparent as the economy improves and triggers a wave of retirements among older workers who had been postponing that move. Agencies need to communicate that now is the time for the next generation of federal employees to get in the door and get a leg up.
  • Tap into social media. Today, digital natives are searching for and finding jobs on social networking sites, and agencies have to make a commitment to having a strong presence online. Whether recruiting CIOs in Second Life or making an enticing pitch on LinkedIn, agencies need to make an effort to meet candidates where they already are.

It’s going to take a different set of messages and tools to recruit and nurture the next generation of government workers. To attract the best and brightest workers — those who are committed to public service generally and a given agency and mission in particular — federal employers will need to articulate their value proposition using cutting-edge marketing strategies that speak to the aspirations of our next generation of public servants on their own virtual turf. If the federal government does this correctly, it has a great chance of competing with the private sector to become the employer of choice for years to come.

Reader comments

Fri, Sep 24, 2010

I was lucky enough to be recognized by management for my work in nearly all instances, and would say I did pretty well for myself in 2.5 years, moving from a GS-7 to GS-11 and receiving a number of monetary awards for various projects. I feel I made some changes and improvements, but was extremely restricted in what I was capable of. I would actually volunteer for the 'crap' jobs nobody wanted to take on so I would be considered the lead and make changes myself without needing to consult anyone. Consequently, I was doing much more than a select number of my colleagues at a much higher level (Gs-13 / 14) through this automation. Unfortunately the government has some antiquated promotion policies, so my advancement was still limited.

So while I received some great experience due to others unwillingness to work, the young talent is often 'abused' and poorly rewarded - I left my 'stable' job to become a contractor, and while I still face some of the same challenges (such as the unwillingness to change), I receive much better compensation (double), and better benefits (which surprised me after hearing so much talk about how Federal employees live 'the good life' and how overpaid they are), with far fewer hours. For me, I'm happy with the tradeoffs, since the "chance to make a difference in the world," as the article put it, was quickly smothered and is evidently impossible. Most new hires will be able to see that first-hand within no more than a year, and I guarantee they will become just as disenchanted.

So believe me, just recruiting young talent wont do much good unless other substantial changes are made. In fact, it may be detrimental to recruit young talent if they're treated much as I was - I've since cautioned friends looking into Federal employment to stay far away until they have the experience to land the 'cushy' GS-13+ jobs because of it.

Fri, Sep 24, 2010

As a young (former) Federal employee, just recruiting young talent is the first step. Once they're there, the government needs to do a lot more to keep them there. In the workplace (at least in IT), the most simple changes are stifled and there is absolutely no desire to improve efficiency. Instead, the latest buzz words are tossed around, money is dedicated to projects that have little meaning (or chance of success), and unrealistic deadlines are set - and then all of the work is put on this young talent; I have first-hand experience on that.

As a single example of the lack of change and efficiency, I proposed a simple method to automate some of our account management processes. Rather than even looking at my proposal, I was told to drop it - because it would cost 3 individuals their jobs. This, of course, would not have been the case - their jobs would have been made more efficient and allowed for more consistent results through better quality control.

There also is no concern with having the young talent work the extra hours needed - on numerous occassions, I was supposed to work with some of my so-called mentors and superiors to perform major upgrades during limited outages. One example of this is during a major snowstorm, I worked the full work day, went home and slept for a couple hours, and then proceeded to travel to our main data center ~30 miles away (which took a good 90 minutes to traverse due to the inclement weather) to perform a major storage infrastructure upgrade of which I had no familiarity. The 'mentor' who was supposed to be the lead on this informed me he wouldn't be able to make it in (while he lived ~5 miles away), but insisted I complete the upgrade (after an additional 8 hours and being able to leave at about 5AM Saturday morning) and simply keep him updated - so he could pass those updates along to management. I worked directly with vendor support (who thankfully was able to take my call at that hour) and one other contractor on a different contract - the other contractors deemed this not covered under their SOW.

(cont.)

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