Heather Krasna, MS

Hi there,
As a university career counselor for the last 11 years, director of career services at the Evans School of Public Affairs MPA program, and winner of the Call to Serve grant from the Partnership for Public Service to promote federal careers across the University of Washington campus, I can weigh in on why college students don’t consider federal government.

1. The federal application process is totally different from the private sector one. Students have a hard enough time writing a one-page private sector resume; to ask them to fill in a USAJobs profile listing the name and phone number of each prior boss, plus salary they earned, plus their social security number, is totally foreign to them. In addition, college career counselors by and large are completely untrained in giving advice to students who want to apply for federal jobs. I can say for myself that I was a career counselor for 8 years or so before I actually saw a federal resume, and I was STUNNED that it had a social security number, employer phone number etc. on it.

2. Federal agencies take a very long time to hire compared to private sector or even local or state government. Students just can’t/won’t wait that long.

3. Students are afraid that federal agencies will run drug tests or credit checks as part of the background check process/security clearance.

4. Many federal agencies have trouble “selling” their mission. Classic example: Social Security Admin is always hiring people, but their claims processor jobs are not sexy enough for most students; plus students don’t see how important the mission is because they have been told Social Security won’t exist for them when they retire. But these are great entry-level jobs.
Students just don’t want to start at that ground level, and unless the agency can entice them by inspiring them with their mission, they won’t be interested.

5. The benefits offered by federal agencies are excellent selling points for more established, older adults who understand the value of good health insurance, job security, or a retirement plan. Younger students mainly look at paychecks (or maybe the mission of the job).

6. For years, there’s been a general negative view of government. Unfortunately, this still exists today, and many students who want to “change the world” only think they can do it in a nonprofit organization. This is changing with the new administration, though.

7. The best entry programs for students (STEP, SCEP, FCIP, PMF etc.) are seriously under-marketed by short-staffed HR staffs, and the obscure alphabet soup of misleading acronyms doesn’t help. For instance, Federal Career Intern Program is a full time job, not an internship. This is totally misleading and leads some students not to apply.

Anyway, federal agencies have a ways to go to fix these items. We are all doing our best at colleges that are part of the Call to Serve/Partnership for Public Service efforts, and there are lots of students who are really excited to be federal–so there’s lots of hope!