Gray: Market your advantages

If the government offers competitive salaries, why don't students know that?

As director of the Center for Professional Development at Howard University's School of Business, I meet with recruiters from federal agencies. They describe many opportunities for federal employment. Unfortunately, our most highly qualified students pursue few of those opportunities.

My job is to provide placement assistance to Howard students and to institutions seeking talented employees. The federal government has many job opportunities. But it needs to better publicize them. There are four areas in which it could improve the way it fights what some have dubbed the "war for talent."

First, job seekers want competitive salaries. Many federal opportunities are compatible with our students' goals and aspirations, but the students consistently say a lack of competitive salaries causes them to turn away from government jobs.

Marketing is a second area in which the federal government faces a challenge in hiring new college graduates. Some federal officials insist that the government offers competitive salaries in many areas. If that is true, why isn't the government doing a better job of publicizing those salaries?

If students are unaware of those good-paying opportunities, how can they take advantage of them? The federal government must use new marketing approaches to win more battles in the war for talent.

A third challenge for the government is promoting other advantages of federal employment. The government has long been known for offering exceptional benefits, such as generous health plans, educational sponsorships and reimbursements, and diverse job opportunities. But many students are not convinced that those are equivalent to extra pay.

Another benefit of federal employment is the chance for young employees to handle higher levels of responsibility earlier in their careers than they would in the private sector. All of these advantages should be publicized to college students planning their careers.

Finally, the federal government should be creative about attracting young people. Some recruiters believe a "call to service" will attract students. It sounds patriotic, and I am all for it. But it's time the federal government showed how creative it can be in winning the war for talent. Federal recruiters could start by observing their private- sector counterparts' strategies. They should use some of them or set a higher bar.

Federal recruiters can start to build solid relationships with colleges and universities. They should form dedicated teams that come armed with the same artillery their competitors bring to the talent battle every year.

That artillery includes offering scholarships, enlisting high-ranking officials to speak on campuses, purchasing tables at annual dinners, sponsoring student events, conducting case study competitions that offer great prizes, inviting students to facilities where employees are passionate about their work, hiring professors from targeted schools to work on summer research projects, and researching and implementing best-practice activities.

I see we're back to marketing.

Gray is director of the Center for Professional Development at Howard University's School of Business. He can be reached at

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