Study to look at how agencies sell federal careers

"The Few. The Proud. The Marines." It's catchy, it's concise and it sells. The Marine Corps' famous tagline and well-known advertising is one reason why the Marines don't have a recruiting problem. While other government jobs might not seem as exciting as life in the Marine Corps, the Merit Systems Protection Board is looking for agencies that do an equally good job of selling themselves to job seekers. The board plans to publish a study early next year that looks at the advertising campaigns of federal agencies to pinpoint the government's strengths and weaknesses when it comes to recruiting, according to Jamie Carlyle, a research psychologist at MSPB and one of the study's project managers. "We want to look at the current state of recruitment in the federal government and at how well we are competing with the private sector," Carlyle said. The Merit Systems Protection Board, the administrative body that hears and decides complaints related to personnel actions, also conducts studies of the civil service and other merit-based federal government systems. The recruitment study, which will focus on the types of recruiting agencies do, the amount of money they spend on advertising and how successful they think their efforts are, is still in the planning stages, Carlyle said. To collect information on the government's recruiting strategies and get a better idea of how agencies are advertising, MSPB is creating a questionnaire for human resources officers and other managers involved in hiring. After it compiles the results, MSPB will conduct focus groups with federal recruiters. The focus groups should expand on the survey's findings and help agencies figure out how to successfully recruit with the resources available to them. MSPB wants to ensure that federal agencies are "getting the best bang for their buck" when it comes to recruiting, Carlyle said. "Based on the anecdotal information we've received, we know there is a lot of variability within agencies when it comes to recruitment," Carlyle said. "Some agencies focus their recruitment efforts on hard-to-fill jobs, while others emphasize general recruitment." For example, the Securities and Exchange Commission is focused on recruiting attorneys, accountants and security compliance examiners, according to Teri Ellison, branch chief of policy recruitment and work life at the agency. SEC recruiters attend job fairs, form relationships with law and accounting schools and offer a summer program for law students and undergraduates to learn what the agency does, Ellison said. "We also encourage employees who are invited to speak at events to also talk about employment opportunities at the SEC." According to Ellison, all of the agency's recruitment efforts are geared toward creating a network with schools and professional organizations to help the agency promote job opportunities. "It's as much a marketing campaign as it is a recruiting campaign," she said. "We need to make sure the SEC is out there at the same time other companies are, so people know about the opportunities at our agency." What works for the SEC may not be best for every federal agency. "Recruiting needs to be tailored to the job," Carlyle said. While a lot of agencies focus on recruiting for hard-to-fill jobs, others may not do any recruiting at all, she said. In addition, periodic hiring freezes can make it difficult for some agencies to sustain a thriving recruitment campaign.

"You have to establish recruiting relationships with different universities, for example, and that's hard to do during years when you can't hire, but that kind of thing is critical for recruiting during years when you do have jobs to fill," Carlyle said. MSPB would like information from federal employees, particularly human resources officers, on the recruiting strategies of agencies. Send feedback to or Karen Gard, who is also managing the project, at