Young People and Public Sector Careers

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This topic contains 28 replies, has 18 voices, and was last updated by  Kanika Tolver 8 years, 3 months ago.

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  • #160754

    Kimberly Denz

    I just read this–yet another article on the inefficiency of government and its negative impact on hiring (and succession planning):

    Young people aren’t necessarily clamoring to work in the public sector these days, and the clues to why might be found by looking at those who have chosen a federal career path.

    Emerging Leaders panelists during Monday’s Excellence in Government conference, presented by Government Executive Media Group, pointed to federal bureaucracy and a slowness to adapt to the changing workforce landscape as reasons young people could be reluctant to become government employees.

    Brandon Friedman, director of online communications for the Veterans Affairs Department, pointed to the government’s inefficient hiring and firing speed as a primary turn-off for young people.

    “It’s sort of inefficient by design. That’s the way the system was built,” Friedman said.

    “Did anyone in here get a job just by applying randomly on USAJobs?” he asked. Two of the five panelists raised their hands. “OK, good. The system is not totally broken,” he said.

    And I can’t help but ask: Do people REALLY get jobs by applying randomly on USAJobs?! Because I apply religiously in the most un-randomly fashion, and I have yet to make it past being referred to the selecting official. Actually, the majority of the time, I’m highly-qualified-but-not-referred due to the number of veterans in the same applicant pool.

    The private sector, particularly Silicon Valley, has displaced public service as the realm where America’s best and brightest want to see themselves, as outlined in a recent analysis by The Atlantic.

    Friedman and Uejio both anticipate they will move on to the private sector at some point. In Uejio’s case, he said he would leave government if he finds that’s where his work will have the most impact. In Friedman’s case, he sees himself doing it anyway.

    “It’s probably just my personality. I don’t think I can do something for more than a few years,” Friedman said, though he added he could see himself returning to the government years later with private sector experiences. He said the federal workplace has “a tendency to value experience over talent . . . One of the best ways to get ahead in government is to get old.”

    And some who are sticking around say they aren’t being groomed properly. “In the United States today we no longer have this emphasis on training leaders,” said Jaqi Ross, associate director in the Internal Revenue Service recruitment office. She added most talented people at the IRS routinely leave for the private sector.

    Career ladder promotions, which have spiked by 75 percent over the past three years, are poison for retaining young, ambitious minds, according to Navarro.

    “I think this idea that you get to sit in your current role for five to 10 years and then you get to progress to [Senior Executive Service] level, I just think it kills the government,” she said.

    So, yet another article. In all serious, though, my real question is: What is being done about it?

  • #160810

    Kanika Tolver

    The government can get more young employees if they are willing to pay a good entry level salary and if they will pay off student loans. The Federal government is too worried about doubling interest rates.

  • #160808

    Mark Hammer

    He said the federal workplace has “a tendency to value experience over talent . . . One of the best ways to get ahead in government is to get old.”

    Nah. A freshly minted MBA or MPA will get you much farther than 20 years of experience in the present climate. Once upon a time, the quote may have been true, but no longer. Most of those who might respect 20 years of experience and might possibly hire have retired within the last 4-5 years, and are replaced by those with other recently-minted MBA and MPA degrees – who aren’t really all that interested in your experience. Moreover, they are not among your network/contacts.

    The motivation to seek public sector work is still there. I encourage you to examine the accumulating literature on “Public Service Motivation” – for instance, here: .

    The challenge is that most recent graduates’ experience with hiring is either short-term contracts or in sectors where employment-at-will prevails. Those folks can afford to have quick turnaround time in staffing because if it doesn’t work out, you’re history. When there is the risk of commiting what an esteemed colleague once succinctly summarized as “a 30-year mistake”, hiring practices are long and laborious, and rife with procedural obstacles to rushing into things. When you have a huge personal debtload to ponder, sticking it out for however long it takes to hear back from a public-sector employer becomes less likely.

    Bridging that huge gulf between what private-sector staffing can afford to be and what public-sector staffing has to be is a huge challenge.

  • #160806

    Kimberly Denz

    I believed that, once, about having an MBA. Until I got one. I’m still in the same job, still at the same rate of pay as when I started my MBA program, and I’m still paying off that student loan.

    The issue might be influenced by demographics and location. In my area, there is a huge population of retired veterans. It’s nearly impossible to get a job through USAJobs because the applicant pool is flooded with veterans, AND those veterans know the people selecting and hiring (having worked with them during a 20+ year military career). Combined with veterans preference points, we random applicants don’t stand a chance. Even with our shiny MBA degrees. 😉

    Also, there is something to be said about those who are selecting the applicants. I imagine they are people who have been in their jobs for years, and they are set in their established ways and procedures.

  • #160804

    Mark Hammer

    Yeah, sounds like your context has some unique aspects.

  • #160802

    Kimberly Denz

    Thanks for your reply, Kanika! The federal government does offer the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which includes public service outside of federal employment. I love the idea of paying off student loans, especially in situations when entry-level pay can’t be with comparable private sector positions.

  • #160800

    Corey McCarren

    I can tell you it didn’t take me long to become aware of the realities of federal hiring and how pursuing federal employment just doesn’t have a justifiable return on hours invested. I’m not against Veterans getting preference by any means, but I will say that knowing that my application is already 10 points behind some others because I’m not a veteran makes it seem real silly to even consider spending hours on USAJobs.

  • #160798

    Julie Chase

    Yes, Kimberly there is a program for student loan forgiveness. I’ve looked, not found in DoD or DoN. Also, a hiring freeze or as we are told, dropping labor dollars to 2010 levels….means as the boomers leave, the billet goes “unfunded”….no new hires, period. I know a family with a young man, has two degrees and a disability….sorry, no Schedule A hiring either. Doesn’t matter that the disabilities organizations (at the fed level) are breathing down our installations neck to hire folks with disabilities. No can do. And the Pathways Program…yeah ok, if the Vet groups can keep it out of court. I don’t see that coming any time soon, here anyway. All the “goodies” and “happy programs” will remain in the beltway. Outside in other fed agencies, the cutting begins and never ends.

    Kanika, entry level for a BS degree here, is a GS05. I know a young man who would take it in a heartbeat. Not hiring. So the family of this young man is paying back his student loan while he works a part time job in retail. This is the reality for all of you outside the beltway….this is what is going on. I have spoken to interns a few years ago, who said there was no way, they would work here. The money, the hours, and the entry pay were at the top of their list. The real money making careers have shifted to WG college grads, shipbuilders, aircraft refit and maintenance, gov vehicle fleet maintenance, facilities maintenance. Nothing runs, moves, cools, heats, fly in the air or float on water without them. It is quicker to get WG workers in place, vs. contract workers because if all the “i” and “t” aren’t in place, the work comes to a screeching halt. Engineers, drafters, aerospace engineers, GIS technicians, IT service and support are “contracted out” these days in the fed. And the careers of the latter, I mentioned are not going to work for what the fed is offering. They can make more money and move around faster with a private sector contractor. DoN is “regionalizing” everything. HRO is in Norfolk, the minor installations have a handful of paper pushers.

    Young people detest USA Jobs. But when you are in an area where a military installation is your bread and butter you will keep trying to get in no matter what. If the base goes away (BRAC), you’re stuck. This is reality and young people are smart enough to look elsewhere as fast and as soon as they can.

  • #160796

    Heather Richtfort

    He said the federal workplace has “a tendency to value experience over talent…One of the best ways to get ahead in government is to get old.”

    I came in from the private sector a few years ago with the MBA, taking a job that was comparable to something I’d done 10 yrs ago just to get in (thank you, two layoffs in two years). Hasn’t really made a difference. There is still quite a bit of “aging” into promotions based on time in service.

    That, combined with a cultural reluctance to manage performance / manage out the inefficient folks, makes it very hard to be patient and wait for the next big wave of retirements. But…the mission is more meaningful to me here than it ever was in private industry, so I’m sticking it out and hoping to eventually be in a position to help change the culture.

  • #160794

    Heather Richtfort

    Do people REALLY get jobs by applying randomly on USAJobs?!

    As with any other organization, the most effective way to find a job is to do extensive networking, even with folks who are not the hiring managers. Having someone keep an eye out on the inside for what openings are coming up and when something will be posted on USAJobs is better than “randomly” posting for job after job after job through an online site.

    Networking worked for me; “randomly” never did.

  • #160792

    Kimberly Denz

    Heather, that’s a great attitude!

  • #160790

    Kimberly Denz

    It does seem a rather lengthy and complicated process, especially considering one’s resume will go through a process of electronic screening of keywords before it ever gets into the hands of a human being. For the majority of job seekers, this means having not only a targeted resume for each application, but also a completely different approach for public sector opportunities than for private sector opportunities; it can mean having four different application packets (cover letter, resume, transcripts) for one job title.

  • #160788

    I have a number of friends, fresh out of law school, struggling to use USA Jobs. They are frustrated because they cannot get to the interview phase of the process.

    was luck enough to get a Presidential Management Fellowship spot, but I am by no means using my law degree or my abilities as a barred attorney to do my job. I am also not getting paid what I would be in the private sector to do legal work. I took my job because I saw it as a way in to getting my dream job. I am hopeful that willingness to relocate and go where the promotion is will help to overcome some of the issues mentioned here.

  • #160786

    Robert Bacal

    I think there are MBA’s and then there are MBA’s. It’s probably faulty to think getting “one” is a magic career bullet, particularly when you are already IN government. I’d suggest, though, that graduating from Harvard with an MBA is really a huge advantage. Graduating from a lesser repped and quality program, not so much. And lots will depend on…well…a lot?

  • #160784

    Kimberly Denz

    It’s incredibly frustrating, Julie, I know. Even at the state level, more and more jobs are being contracted out–and more and more often, those contracts pay more than the equivalent state position (same job title + different funding sources = higher salary). Sadly, there is little accountability with those contract job responsibilities, so the work is often sub-par (as you’ve experienced).

    I just wonder what it’s going to take to turn things around for government career seekers. One pool of talent isn’t interested; the other pool of talent can’t get in. That make the future for government seem awfully bleak.

  • #160782

    Corey McCarren

    Question: What are the big benefits of networking for public sector jobs if the application still has to go through electronic screening and such?

  • #160780

    Michael Goode

    The government most definitely can attract more young employees, but career development must improve within our government organizations. If we bring them in, we must do all we can to train and engage them to be the next government leaders. Also in response to the part of the original post about inefficiency in the hiring and firing process…it’s a real problem. I’m one of the young guys who left private industry to join the government and I now hold a management position at my Agency. I’ve been involved in the talent acquisition process and let me tell you…its a bear to even get a position advertised on USAJOBS and the generic job descriptions we must use often yield applicants who don’t really fit the bill.

  • #160778

    Steve Ressler

    Yep – and there’s actually a student loan repayment program – just most agencies don’t use it.

  • #160776

    Kevin Schafer

    nothing, where I am at… 🙂

  • #160774


    This must be a typo: “Career ladder promotions, which have spiked by 75 percent over the past three years, are poison for retaining young, ambitious minds, according to Navarro.”

    Career ladders are one of the best tools to retain “young, ambitious minds,” as well as others who have ambitious of doing quality work in the government. It sounds like the person who made the statement does not know what a career ladder is. There is no career ladder where someone can advance non-competitively, year-by-year from GS-5 through SES. Common career ladders are GS-7 through GS-12 and GS-11 through GS-13. One of the things that seems to discourage people from government service is the perception of favoritism or “cronyism.” Career ladders help protect against those pitfalls.

    There is no substitute for good mentoring and relevant training. The career ladder is complementary to these other tools, though.

    Look at the alternative. What if you were in the U.S. Army as a lieutenant and saw that all the captains and colonels were getting hired from the Australian and British Armies, in other words, from the outside? Think of the impact on morale from taking away the career ladder. People are working hard for years in planning for having a chance to qualify for those spots. The military has a career ladder for a reason. While the civilian service may lack the career fostering culture of the military, there is no reason to worsen the civilian service. The military knows that in year 201z it will need x number of people at each level of the organization. It is in their interest to foster careers at the lower levels because it is a huge waste of time, money and staff resources to lose those investments. What would anyone say that offering more limited career ladders in the civilian service is a bad thing?

  • #160772

    Alice Tsai

    Thanks for sharing, echo many of the points in the article especially with the familiar “highly-qualified-but-not-referred” nice rejection letter from USAJobs. As an aspiring young civil servant, it often puzzles me how some/most parts of our gov are contracted out and perhaps young professionals should start out with seeking positions as contractors through the private sector (very efficient indeed), gain experience, and then apply for GS positions within the government? Any thoughts and/or suggestions?

  • #160770

    Brian Hoxie

    I was hired into a specific program, which is now canceled. Before that, I spent numerous hours on USAJobs with no luck and I’m also a veteran (5 point preference).

    From what I’ve seen thusfar in my internships and service now, is that the shear number of applications managers receive is probably the biggest issue with not getting a position. While you say “inefficiency of government,” I think a manager making a selection to fill a position looks at it as “Thank god I don’t have to go over 500 applications and just these 50.” I’ve seen the stacks of applications and it’s daunting just looking at them (My application for an internship was printed on 15 pages). I’ve also heard stories of deputy directors/directors trying to get a person to fill a security position that involves classified material receiving applications from security guards at the mall or WalMart. I’m sure they are great Americans and would do well in public service, but they are not the right fit for the job and a manager has to go through them. Managers have to deal with that aspect and anything to limit the shear number of applications they have to review because honestly, they have other responsibilities on top of that. This is really some perspective I wish I had when I applied.

    So the reality is that the system is what it is and if that’s reality, what do you do about it? For my two cents, I think it’s been mentioned before but networking. And I don’t mean having drinks getting business cards with random people in DC, I mean targeted, specific, agressive networking. What do you want to do? Who do you want to work for? Find them, and find someone to talk to directly. Find out who the hiring manager is and reach out to them directly. If there is a job on USA jobs, you need to figure out how to make your name (in bold 16 font at the top of your resume) to catch the attention of that manager. Anything that gets your application selected out of that stack of 50 applications is really the key. But in the end, if you want a government position in the current environment, you’ll have to work hard for it. And hey, if you are passionate about finding a position that probably speaks to the type of worker you’ll be when hired right?

    I hope that helps your job search and quite honestly, don’t hesitate to email me if I can help.

  • #160768

    David Dejewski

    I liked the idea of the PMF program, but I saw too many PMF’s shuttled around, given meaningless jobs, and generally underutilized. Heaven forbid a PMF thought too much and/or stepped on someone’s toes – transfer time.

    NSPS was a failure. The culture clearly wasn’t ready to embrace a pay-for-performance model and see youngsters hop over employees with former GS seniority. Pay pools basically found ways to replicate the status quo and local political will.

    I frankly haven’t seen much “done about it” that resulted in something that I would encourage my own kids to pursue. It saddens me as I write this. Even the mission is of questionable importance when it’s executed by selfish or politically motivated senior leaders.

    Honestly, the best way for young people to get ahead is to “use” the system. Jump from place to place. Pick up skills and contacts along the way. Network and transfer into a series of consecutively higher paying/ higher ranking jobs until they are satisfied they can meet the experience requirement to do what they really want to do.

  • #160766

    Carla Voorhees

    I disagree that a freshly minted MBA gets you a government job. Even with a master’s degree one only qualifies at the GS-9 level, and I have seen very few GS-9 positions (that I’m interested in – Public Affairs, Social Media, Web Strategy) posted. Most are GS-11 or above, which are far out of reach for a mid-20s candidate. Perhaps the government definition of “young” is older than mine. (Mid-30s?)

  • #160764

    Mark Hammer

    What about MPA?

  • #160762

    Terrence Hill

    Here is yet another article from the Washington Post which outlines why young people are not flocking to government careers:

    I can’t get over these statistics: Less than 6 percent of graduating college seniors say their ideal career is in the federal government; only 7 percent of federal employees are under 30 years old. That’s a third of the rate in 1975 and the lowest in eight years.

    Pretty dismal! Yet, despite the declining employment, scores on FEVS, and poor morale, it seems like there is still no sense of urgency to address workforce issues.

  • #160760

    Kanika Tolver

    At the age of 31 and after 13 years of government experience, I left the Federal sector. I am so happy I did. I can be creative and innovative in the private sector. Getting job offers from global fortune 500 companies really makes me feel valued. I was never really valued in the Federal government world. Less than 2 months, of leaving the Federal government I have been featured on CNN and I have been able to make connections with companies like Google and Intel.

    To be honest, I have given up on the Federal sector for younger people. I may go back when I am much older, but start up companies and larger private companies have more to offer younger people.

    Cnn article:

    LinkedIn Profile:

    Until the change the processes in HR things will never change. The leadership’s mindset has to view things that way private sector leaders view things. Its that simple.


  • #160758

    Julie Chase

    Best of luck to you. I am glad someone who was higher up on the food chain at the fed gov agency discovered there is no room for innovation. Everything a fed employee does is regulated and process driven. For a young person….burnt out comes quickly. I am close to the end of my gov service. …with about 14 yrs in. As soon as I am 62…with 18 yrs. In….I will retire. It it sad for me to note that there won’t be a young person behind me when I go…they aren’t interested. Kanika. go….enjoy your passion.

  • #160756


    “I think this idea that you get to sit in your current role for five to 10 years and then you get to progress to [Senior Executive Service] level, I just think it kills the government,”

    I agree with this statement. I have been in Federal Government for 12 years and I have seen bright and innovative staff leave. I have even saw first-hand how these employees’ drive diminishes and they just become unmotivated workers. There is a need for change but management is not aware of the need.

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