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5 Tips for Hiring the Next Generation of Feds

Attracting millennial job seekers requires a different approach.

You’ve likely seen articles and anecdotes about the upcoming retirement wave, in which a large portion of federal employees will retire in the next several years, possibly creating significant leadership and staffing gaps. While there is considerable debate about when and at what velocity the wave will hit, one thing is for certain: There will be many vacancies to fill, and the government needs to begin recruiting the next generation of employees, who will be very different from those who have come before them.

The millennials, defined as those workers born between 1980 and 2000, are flooding the national job market and represent 37 percent of the private sector workforce. But they represent only 18 percent of the federal workforce. The federal government cannot afford to ignore this group—not only because of upcoming hiring needs, but also because this cohort has the potential to bring significant digital innovations and service perspectives to agencies.

CEB research shows that to successfully recruit and retain millennials, agencies need to follow a different set of recruiting practices. The way millennials undertake job searches is unique to their generation, and there are some key steps organizations can take to stand out and influence this critical demographic:

1. Use social media—but don’t overestimate it. Unsurprisingly, millennials are more likely than any generation before them to use social media to learn about organizations. But they are skeptical of the information they receive there. CEB research shows that only about a third trust the information they receive through social channels. Regardless of generation, job seekers place the most trust in friends and family, so more traditional channels such as referral programs are still a critical recruiting strategy.

2. Don’t stop recruiting once you get a resume. Although millennials participate in the same number of job interviews as candidates from other generations, they receive 12.5 percent more offers. So the competition doesn’t stop after you get an application. The candidate’s experience is more critical than ever when recruiting this sought-after demographic. The atmosphere in the office during interviews, attitude of team members and timeliness of feedback during the selection process all make a difference.

3. Tell, don’t sell. Millennials spend less than half as much time as other generations learning about organizations before deciding whether to apply. To stand out, agencies should use employment brand messages that are consultative and not overly promotional. Explaining and connecting roles to mission and clearly comparing the organization to competitors, helps candidates determine whether or not they will be a good fit before they apply.

4. Emphasize personal development—but don’t neglect other areas. Millennials value career and individual development more than other generations. They want opportunities to learn quickly and make a difference from day one on the job. While their parents prized stability, the younger generation seeks new opportunities. Yet overall, the top two most important factors in attracting candidates to apply are the same across generations: compensation and work-life balance. These must not be overlooked.

5. Optimize your website for mobile. Millennials are more likely than other generations to use mobile devices to learn about employers. The number of people looking at jobs and prospective employers on their smartphones and tablets will continue to grow, but a striking two-thirds of companies have yet to optimize their websites for mobile devices.

As agencies prepare for the future, they cannot successfully plan without considering the demographics of the next generation of job seekers. By understanding what millennials look for in a job, how they go about finding them and how to tailor recruiting strategies to meet those expectations, today’s executives will be better positioned to hire the next generation of leaders.

Jean Martin is an executive director and Kris van Riper is a managing director at CEB, a member-based advisory company.