E-mail, campus visits found to be effective in recruiting

Relatively inexpensive tools such as e-mails and campus visits can attract college students to federal jobs, according to a new report by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. But such outreach would be most effective if coupled with changes to the hiring process itself, the group found.

The report, "Making the Difference: A Blueprint for Matching University Students With Federal Opportunities," is the result of a two-year research project at five universities aimed at gauging student attitudes toward federal service. The Partnership found the biggest problem in attracting new graduates was not a lack of interest, but of knowledge about federal jobs and how to apply for them.

"There is this image of government service as a sort of bureaucratic service with a negative connotation," said Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., at an event Friday to launch a nationwide education campaign. "But in fact, there is no place more cutting edge or more exciting to be than in the federal government."

The government will need to fill about 193,000 vacant mission-critical jobs over the next two years, the Partnership estimates. But in recruiting for these positions, agencies must compete with the private sector for talent, a problem that is particularly acute on university campuses, the report stated.

The five universities that worked with the Partnership -- Clark Atlanta University, The George Washington University, Louisiana State University, Ohio State University and Stanford University -- agreed to try a variety of outreach activities intended to raise awareness of government opportunities over a two-year period. The activities included e-mails to students highlighting federal job options and career fairs featuring dozens of federal agencies and recruiters.

In the spring of 2007, the Partnership conducted a survey on the five campuses to see how students' perceptions of government service had changed since a 2005 questionnaire. On average, more than 60 percent of students questioned in the follow-up survey said the information provided about federal opportunities had made them more interested in pursuing public service careers.

Additionally, many of the most effective recruiting activities -- e-mails promoting hot jobs or internships and campus visits by federal employees -- had modest to negligible costs, the report said. The report cautioned, however, that while e-mails are memorable and inexpensive, they must be combined with effective human interaction to truly drive many students to act on federal jobs.

The Partnership study found that just more than 21 percent of students across the five pilot schools actually applied for either federal jobs or internships, and only 4 percent said federal service was a part of their immediate plans after college.

Outreach must be combined with other efforts, such as streamlining the federal application process, the Partnership concluded.

"With so many students applying for government opportunities and so few entering government, it is possible that the problem lies on the government side," the report stated. "The [federal hiring] process appears to be turning students off."

Meanwhile, the Partnership is doing what it can to help. The group has started a new campaign to further expand outreach. A "Making the Difference" toolkit will be distributed to 600 universities to help them deliver the public service message to students. Resources include a Web site featuring an interactive internship directory, a library of guidebooks on topics from student loan repayment to navigating the security clearance process, monthly job and internship listings and workshops for students and university career services staff.

Additionally, the Partnership is providing $3,000 grants to help colleges and universities implement the new campaign. It also plans to connect universities receiving the grants with mentors who already have gotten results from the campaign on their campuses.

"The opportunities for young people to make a difference and have a good quality of life are there," said Max Stier, president of the Partnership. "The Making the Difference campaign will give students the chance to seize them."

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