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.

About the Authors

Ronald Sanders is a senior executive advisor with 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.

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