Changing Practices: Attracting Graduates to Government: Federal Agencies Miss Opportunities to Recruit Top Talent When They Fail to Debunk Myths That Steer New Graduates into the Private Sector and Rely on Archaic Hiring Processes That Today's Top Professionals Bypass for Easier and Quicker Private-Sector Job Offers

By Spahr, Adrienne | The Public Manager, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Changing Practices: Attracting Graduates to Government: Federal Agencies Miss Opportunities to Recruit Top Talent When They Fail to Debunk Myths That Steer New Graduates into the Private Sector and Rely on Archaic Hiring Processes That Today's Top Professionals Bypass for Easier and Quicker Private-Sector Job Offers


Spahr, Adrienne, The Public Manager


Young government employees face a number of acknowledged obstacles in choosing a path of public service: complex application processes that often drag on for months, lower salaries than those for comparable private-sector jobs, bureaucratic hierarchies and promotion caps that limit opportunities even for highly skilled workers, and an inflexible environment. Those entering the private sector face a different set of problems: limited benefits, longer work hours and fewer vacation days, and an environment lacking camaraderie as new employees compete for recognition and promotion. Public-sector organizations must recognize the common desires of new graduates if they want to attract the kind of professionals who can develop into future managers and leaders.

Young professionals make tradeoffs according to their personal preferences, priorities, and short- and long-term goals. Some sacrifice higher-paying jobs in the private sector for the longer-term security of government. Some choose government because of their passion for an issue or dedication to a government agency mission. Those who enter the private sector may have a poor perception of government or prioritize earning potential, particularly if they face student loan repayments and the high cost of living, especially in metropolitan areas.

The Differences Are Blurring

Public servants have days when they sit at their desks after comparing jobs with their private-sector colleagues and wonder, "Should I have gone the private-sector route to avoid all this bureaucracy?" Recently, however, I've heard complaints from private-sector employees more typical of those you hear from public servants. They cite management structures and decision-making procedures that are far from the fast-paced environment that public-sector employees perceive as the mode du jour. One colleague, who works for a large consulting firm, spoke of the bureaucracy he has encountered in his daily job because a project on which he is working requires multilayered contract approvals that often delay negotiation and progress for weeks.

Large consulting firms that contract with government may also find their organizations start to function at the government pace, particularly when bound to the regulations and requirements for procurement and other operations and when relying on approval processes from government officials to perform their work. This was the case I observed in reviewing disaster recovery and reconstruction funded by the federal government and implemented through the private sector.

The private sector is performing government functions through contracts, helping re build the Nation and other countries in a year of multiple natural disasters and a continuing war on terrorism. This collaboration blurs the differences between government and private-sector organization and behavior, and new graduates can have a hard time deciding on the best working environment.

The Government Is Missing Opportunities

The federal government is missing opportunities to recruit top talent because it has failed to debunk the myths that steer new graduates into the private sector and turned away candidates early in the process by maintaining archaic application and hiring processes that today's top professionals bypass for the private-sector jobs that come more easily and quickly.

The mounting federal challenges--fighting global terrorism and restoring livelihoods and infrastructure after disasters in the United States and abroad--are not enough to draw new graduates into public-service careers. …

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Changing Practices: Attracting Graduates to Government: Federal Agencies Miss Opportunities to Recruit Top Talent When They Fail to Debunk Myths That Steer New Graduates into the Private Sector and Rely on Archaic Hiring Processes That Today's Top Professionals Bypass for Easier and Quicker Private-Sector Job Offers
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