Government Jobs: Why They're Hot Right Now

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Posted by Cara Scharf on June 19, 2011
Government Jobs: Why They're Hot Right Now

Omari Monteilh entered his Howard University MBA program with hopes of becoming a consultant at a private financial firm. But the dismal state of the economy has changed his mind. "The bottom has fallen out of the market," he says. "Now it's my second year, and I've decided I want to do government consulting. I think the government is a more secure route-a recession-proof route."

Monteilh isn't the only one who recently set his sights on government employment. An increasing number of job seekers are viewing the government as a smart career choice, not only for the security it provides in a weakened economy but for other compelling reasons such as its support of professional development opportunities.

"I've absolutely had more students speaking with me about government employment, especially in the last six months," says Alan More, employer in residence at George Mason University and 32-year veteran of the CIA. More's position, counseling students who are interested in US government jobs, was recently made full-time to accommodate the increasing number of interested students. He says the career center saw nearly sell-out attendance at Fall '08 government agency sessions and workshops, and the center expects a similar, if not increased, turnout in the spring.

The first reason More points to for the spike in interest is the stability of government jobs, which is especially relevant right now. They tend to be more secure because, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, federal employment is "not affected by cyclical fluctuations in the economy," like private sector jobs. But the economy isn't the sole reason the government appeals to students-there's also the Obama factor.

"Students are energized by the transition of power to a completely different administration under a charismatic new leader," explains More. Evidence of Obama's appeal to young people can be seen in the record number of 18 to 29 year olds who came out to vote and, according to exit polls, favored the president 68 percent to 30 percent. Because this age group showed so much support for Obama on November 4, it's not surprising that they'd want to take part in enacting his agenda.

According to More, the new president isn't the only reason for millenials' attraction to government jobs; another reason is their desire to do meaningful work. "Before there was this idea that millenials are more materialistic. I think students nowadays are not like that," says More. "They would rather do something they can feel good about."

Elizabeth Halash is a senior studying electrical and computer engineering at Wayne State University. Like Monteilh, she hopes to one day obtain a career with the government as a technical engineer, and she admits that she's drawn to the opportunity to do meaningful work. "Rather than try to generate sales, government employees provide a service to the country," Halash says. "This would give me a sense of satisfaction, and I'd be less concerned about working with profit-focused executives."

Halash's desire to work for the government also stems from her desire to work with the latest technologies. Several government agencies, such as the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Health and Human Services, are focused on creating efficiencies and solving the country's problems. The nature of the work, then, means employees have a high possibility of being involved in innovative projects and cutting-edge research. And there's enough interesting work to go around because the government employs workers in every job category. From biological scientists to architects to lawyers to communications specialists, there's essentially a job for every major and concentration.

So with the advantages of stability, a new administration, a chance to make a difference, and a range of exciting opportunities, it's easy to see why students are taking the government route more seriously. And More, who acted as a manager, educator, and recruiter during his 32 years with the CIA, stresses that there are even more advantages that students may not realize.

One major perk of a career in government, he says, is the opportunity it presents for mobility. Because the scope of government activities is so large, it's easy for students to engage several different skills without having to change employers. That's something a private company with one central mission can't always offer.

And from his experience working as a manager in the CIA, More knows the government is invested in training and educating its employees. "The government wants people to be better and contribute more," he says. "Over half the people I managed went to local universities for graduate training with government tuition. Even I took a course nearly every semester." These courses cover all kinds of topics, as long as they're deemed appropriate for the job. The Office of Personnel Management's leadership training site details more than 50 spring courses on everything from "Science, Technology, and Public Policy" to "Women's Leadership."

Still, perhaps the most attractive aspect of the government is that the hiring forecast is fairly positive-largely the result of an aging workforce. The Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit that encourages young people to work for the government, published a 2007 study on government hiring, saying the average age of federal employees is 46 years old, and almost 60 percent are older than 45, compared to 40 percent in the private sector. They also projected that 550,000 federal employees will leave the government between 2007 and 2012, mostly due to retirement. And then there's Obama's economic plan, which calls for the creation of around 600,000 additional government jobs. That brings the total to roughly 1.15 million positions to fill from 2007 through 2012.

For students considering a government job, a good place to start is StudentJobs.gov, or USAJobs.gov. But these sites can be overwhelming, so More suggests speaking with a career counselor first to hone your interests. And patience is essential, as the government is a bureaucracy and there's a lot to fill out when applying for a job.

"The perception of a government worker used to be this old balding guy with a potbelly, but now I think there's a new level of energy being injected into the government workforce," says Monteilh, the MBA candidate from Howard interested in consulting.

And if the new workforce includes a wave of young people with new and interesting ideas, he's probably right.

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