Kelman: The hiring season is here

Leaders need to make time for one of government’s most important tasks: recruiting young talent

A recent issue of BusinessWeek had a cover story on the best places for new college grads to get a first job. As in last year’s ranking, the State Department and the CIA scored among the 50 best employers for first jobs, which is good news. The bad news is that the ranking for both of those organizations declined. State dropped to 19th from 6th, and the CIA dropped to 50th from 32nd.

That aside, I thought the date of BusinessWeek’s workforce story — the magazine’s Sept. 24 issue — was interesting. Students won’t be graduating until next June, but they are thinking about jobs now.

I wrote a column in Federal Computer Week Oct. 17 last year, “The War for Talent,” about how consulting firms and other private employers were recruiting at Harvard University’s Kennedy School in September and October, many months before most federal agencies come. I checked our bulletin board this afternoon for employers coming to campus, and I was pleased to notice an improvement from last year. Two agencies will soon visit the campus to discuss two great-sounding opportunities — a Homeland Security Department Senior Honors Fellowship and an FBI Special Advisor Program — with interested students. Kudos to both organizations. I hope they hire some of our good students.

More agencies need to realize that although June seems far away, our best students are recruited months before graduation. Advance planning is necessary to allow time for security clearances at many agencies. And because students can be nervous about landing a job, early offers give an agency an advantage with students for whom a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Agencies must take the job of hiring young talent more seriously than most do. Several years ago, the chief executive officer at Bain Consulting — who is a Kennedy School grad from the 1970s — said he spent about 10 percent of his personal time recruiting entry-level employees. He said that includes personal visits he makes to campuses to interview candidates.

There are examples of this in government. David Walker, comptroller general and head of the Government Accountability Office, assigns each GAO senior manager, including himself, personal responsibility for entry-level recruitment at different schools that GAO targets.

In many agencies, recruitment and selection of entry-level employees is a subsidiary task, a sort of other-duties-as-
assigned chore typically delegated to junior people or even mainly to workforce specialists.

How often can we honestly say in government that senior managers find time to get involved in such things?

The CEO of Bain Consulting said he believes recruiting is worth his personal time. With the importance of talent for increasingly complex government jobs, can we afford less?

Kelman is professor of public management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. He can be reached at steve_kelman@ Find his blog, “The Lectern,” at

About the Author

Kelman is professor of public management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. Connect with him on Twitter: @kelmansteve

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