Students eager for federal jobs, unsure how to get them

There is a high level of interest in federal jobs among college students, but they don't know enough about specific opportunities and agencies to pursue them, a new study has found.

Forty-two percent of college juniors and seniors surveyed by the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit organization devoted to attracting young people to government service, said they were extremely or very interested in working for the federal government.

Interest in federal service was nearly as high as that for large private companies (49 percent) and small private companies (45 percent). And government work edged out nonprofit jobs (40 percent), arguably the sector in the most direct competition for employees.

But only 13 of the almost 3,000 students surveyed said they felt extremely or very knowledgeable about federal jobs.

Speaking at a panel discussion sponsored by the partnership, George Washington University student Megan Hanley said she visited USAJOBS.gov, the central federal jobs portal, frequently in her job search, but accepted a position with Teach for America instead.

"I didn't know what kind of jobs myself, as an entry-level [employee] … [could] do," Hanley said. "It was just different for me because Teach for America came to me."

Teach for America called Hanley and recruited her in person, she said, and USAJOBS.gov had too many listings to wade through. She said the 45-day wait for an answer was too long as well.

The survey, which included students from The George Washington University, Clark Atlanta University, Louisiana State University, The Ohio State University, Stanford University and the University of New Mexico, was the basis for a report from the Partnership titled "Back to School: Rethinking Federal Recruiting on College Campuses."

The report recommended that agencies develop ongoing relationships with university faculty members who can suggest jobs to their students, and educate students about the practical advantages of federal jobs, including generous benefits.

"The JFK message of 'ask not' is not good enough for this generation," said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service. "What you really need is something that offers up the opportunity for doing good, but also doing well."

The Partnership also stressed the need to emphasize human interaction in the recruitment process, rather than rely solely on Internet job sites like USAJOBS.

"High touch is as important as high tech," the report stated. "Although most students use the Internet to find detailed information once their interest is piqued, the most effective recruiting efforts come from people with whom the students can relate: parents, friends, professors and advisers."

The report comes a day after the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees recruitment efforts for the government as a whole, launched its first television campaign to boost job applications.

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