“Some say, ‘Why would I do this to myself?’ But they still want these jobs,” said Lisa Andrews, head of career services at University of Maryland University College. The school, which serves mostly working adults, offers a federal résumé writing webinar that consistently draws about 100 people at a time, more than any other, she said.
The popularity of federal jobs reflects the continued weakness of the job market, four years out from the end of the Great Recession, federal hiring experts said. As much as the public sector has been buffeted by turmoil in recent months, it is still seen as a haven from something even more uncertain: the private sector.
“The government is still aggressively hiring,” said Lily Whiteman, author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.” “You look no matter what is going on because that’s where the jobs are.”
As of Wednesday, there were nearly 8,000 job postings and an average of 43 applicants for each job whose application deadline was
that day, said Office of Personnel Management spokesman John Marble.
The federal government, which hired about 90,000 people last fiscal year, is in the midst of a retirement wave. And that, in turn, is triggering a hiring boom. In the last fiscal year, nearly twice as many executive branch employees retired than did in 2009, according to government figures. And the number of federal workers 60 or older has nearly doubled since 2000 to about 262,000. Low morale is a factor, and the partial shutdown did little to improve it.
For many aspiring federal employees, just the idea of retiring, vs. getting laid off, is enticing. Others have done prior stints at federal agencies and want back in. They tell similar stories of leaving for higher pay in the private sector, then coming back to the government for the security and the benefits.
Genise White, 49, of Fairfax County left her job at the Social Security Administration several years ago for a higher-paying private-sector job and wound up getting laid off. She’d rather work for Uncle Sam now.
“Even though you might not be making as much, it’s very hard to get fired. It’s very hard to get laid off, and you get a pretty good retirement package,” she said. “Who doesn’t want that?”
At a federal job seminar in Annandale on Wednesday, in the midst of the final congressional wrangling over a deal to reopen the government, a 60-year-old former civil servant was looking for work. The woman, who would give only her first name, Jeanette, said she worked for the federal government in the early 1990s, then left to work as a project manager for better-
paying government contractors. She has been laid off twice since, most recently in September.