Grad Guide 2007

Make a Start in Public Service

By Derrick T. Dortch
Special to
Thursday, April 19, 2007; 10:59 AM

Finally, after a long four years, you are graduating from college. If you want your first job to be in public service, you probably have two questions. Does the federal government hire college graduates? If so, how do you land a federal job right out of school?

The answer to the first question is a resounding "Yes." According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), there have been more new hires in the age range of 20 to 29 than in any other bracket since 2004. In 2006 the federal government hired 24,406 in this age bracket, more than 30 percent of all new hires.

"Young men and women looking to move from the campus into their first post-college jobs will definitely want to give the federal government serious consideration," says Robert F. Danbeck, associate director of human resources products and services at OPM. "Agencies are in a serious hiring mode as they look to groom talented young people to replace baby boomers who are expected to retire in waves over the next several years."

So if the government is hiring, how do you land the job? According to federal job experts and officials at OPM and the non-profit Partnership for Public Service, these tips can help:

  • Go online. Much federal job searching is now done online at agency Web sites and other sites including, Avue Central and
  • Find the right match. Take the time to do a self-assessment before you begin your job search to determine your interests, values, passions, purpose, strengths, weaknesses, skills, experience, education and qualifications. This gives you a picture of who you are. Use the picture of yourself to evaluate the various agencies and jobs in the government and find the match that is right for you.
  • Target your search. Do your job search based on the agencies and jobs that match you. Federal hiring managers are generally looking for candidates who meet specific needs, so graduates should look for opportunities where they have at least 80 percent of the skills, qualifications, experience, education and training listed by the agency in its job posting.
  • Target your application. Federal resumes and KSAs -- Knowledge, Skills and Abilities documents that detail your specific fitness for a position -- are key components of the application process. Your focus when composing them shouldn't be on simple descriptions but, instead, on illustrating your success stories, achievements and results you have produced. As a graduate this means using a combination of your education, internships, volunteer activities, work experience and skills to sell yourself.
  • Get help. OPM officials say the use of special hiring initiatives has increased as the need to bring new talent into the government workforce has risen. Programs including the Federal Career Intern Program, Direct Hire Authority and the Presidential Management Fellows Program all are options college graduates seeking government jobs should consider.
  • Attend career fairs. Many government agencies participate in career fairs. They are not just there to talk about their agency; they want to collect resumes and talk to people about job opportunities. If you make a good impression at a career fair you will more than likely receive an interview.
  • Look for agencies that advertise. As a rule, government agencies do not spend money on advertisements in mass media -- newspapers, the Internet, magazines and the like -- unless they are serious about hiring. When you see an agency that is advertising that they are hiring they usually are. That's a good time to target that agency in your search.
  • Network. Networking is very important in the federal job search. Utilize your network contacts including family, friends, classmates and fellow alumni to find out if they work for the government or know of someone working in the government who can be help you apply to positions. In federal searches -- as in any search -- it is both what and who you know that counts.
  • Target contractors and temp agencies. Government agencies hire contractors and temporary workers to do many of the functions within their agencies. In these positions you work directly with government employees and you can make a good impression by doing excellent work. When a position becomes available in the agency you will be one of the first to be considered. Many people become full-time government employees after being a government contractor.
  • Stop in and visit. There is nothing wrong with visiting an agency and making face-to-face contact with human resource personnel to find out about openings and build a relationship with the hiring staff. In fact, OPM officials and others actually recommend this. Meanwhile, the contacts you develop can help you follow up on opportunities and get information on the status of applications you've submitted.

Above all, however, experts agree that patience and perseverance are virtues in federal job searching. The federal hiring process is a long one. Agencies can take more than a month -- or several months -- to contact you about a position. Even after you interview, win a job and are given a conditional offer you may have to wait several more months to obtain security clearances.

Most college graduates cannot afford to sit and wait without work, so it is wise to pursue several federal jobs simultaneously -- as well as work in the private or non-profit sectors while you wait for the government to call. Meantime, continue to look for jobs, network with federal officials and go to jobs fairs where government agencies will be in attendance. You must remain dedicated to the government job search in order to succeed.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company