A slow recruiting process, lack of awareness of open jobs, and outdated or unessential requirements in job announcements are limiting applications for federal jobs at a time when the government is facing a staffing crisis, according to a study by Qualtrics.

Less than half of recent graduates said they would consider federal employment, the study found.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 85,000 job openings across the federal government. As the world of work continues to evolve, the public sector faces unique challenges in attracting talent to federal agencies. For example, the average time-to-hire for federal employees is 98 days, 2 which makes it even more difficult to compete with private sector companies that have streamlined recruiting practices.

Very few recent college graduates are considering federal government jobs. According to the Qualtrics study, 20% of graduate respondents said they were not aware of federal jobs and 30% said the hiring process is too complicated.

Despite the fact that nearly 70% of federal jobs do not require a college degree, more than one third of recent graduates report they would not apply to federal jobs because they feel under-qualified. When asked about the reasons they felt unqualified, they cited years of required experience, required skills and credential and degree requirements as the top barriers. These results indicate that federal agencies may need to speed up the hiring process and clarify the skills needed rather than the years of experience required to attract new applicants, Qualtrics said.

“This study makes clear that targeted improvements to federal agency recruiting - even simple fixes like promoting flexible work and career progression, emphasizing the mission-oriented nature of the work and rewriting job announcements to replace required years of experience with required skills - can have meaningful impact on who is aware of open positions and who decides to apply,” said Sydney Heimbrock, chief industry advisor for government at Qualtrics, in a statement.

Recruitment strategies should also emphasize what appeals to younger talent who have not considered government jobs. When asked about the top qualities they look for in a job, recent graduates ranked work-life balance first, followed by flexible work arrangements and then job security. Corporate values also are increasingly important to younger workers. For graduates, having a track record of social responsibility, a strong reputation for services and a diverse leadership team were also among the most-selected qualities they look for in a job, according to the research.

College students ranked work-life balance first, followed by pay and the opportunity to do meaningful work as the top qualities they look for in a job.

Delivering services to residents equitably and effectively requires a diverse government workforce that represents the population. Yet the Qualtrics study found that minority graduates were even less likely to consider federal employment – only 40% said they would. Among minority students, 34% said they would consider federal employment and 37% were undecided.

“To meet minority students and graduates where and how they want to live and work, federal agencies need to create recruiting strategies that provide opportunities for folks to see themselves working in the agency - from being intentional about who engages with them at hiring events, to realistic job previews that show them how their values and goals align with the agency’s mission,” said Angela Bailey, former chief human capital officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and strategic advisor to Qualtrics. “Pay policies will need to address the value of the skills an agency is seeking, rather than rely on outdated compensation models to compete for minority, early career, skilled workers.

“Agency leaders can take this early talent feedback to make meaningful changes today to build their talent pipelines,” she said.

This study was fielded in April 2022 to understand perspectives on a career in the U.S. federal government. Qualtrics surveyed 1,129 Americans aged 18+ who are or were recently enrolled in a post-secondary education degree or certification program, including two- and four-year degrees, professional and doctoral degrees, and vocational and technical training.

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