We Hire the Old Fashioned Way: We Wait for the Applicants to Come to Us

The Merit Systems Protection Board says in its most recent newsletter that agencies often prefer to hire new employees by waiting for the applicants to come to them. The result is that Uncle Sam’s civilian army brings in older and more experienced workers–even if that is not what the agency really needs.

When you think of a newly hired federal employee, what image comes to your mind?

Most of us probably picture a man or woman in his early 20’s with a new degree in hand but little in the way of practical experience. But, while that may be the stereotypical image, it does not reflect reality.

According to the Merit Systems Protection Board, the average age of new federal employees in fiscal year 2005 was 33. And it is not a new trend. It has been the same pattern going back to 1990.

As one might expect from the average age, these are not new college graduates. Only 24 percent of new government employees are recent college graduates according to the MSPB survey. In fact, almost 20 percent of new hires said they had more than 20 years of work experience.Thirty-two percent said they had up to five years of work experience before accepting a job with Uncle Sam.

This begs the question, why are so many of the new federal hires coming to work for the federal government older and more experienced workers?

The MSPB cites several reasons. One is that college graduates today are often older than in the past. In addition, many baby boomers are starting second careers when they come to work for the federal government.

Having a more experienced workforce is not bad in and of itself, But, says the MSPB, there may be other reasons that lead to the trend in hiring older, more experienced workers that are not helpful to the federal government.

Specifically, agencies use recruitment methods more likely to draw older applicants. People who are 30 or older are likely to go looking for a job. Recent college grads often find their first job through a college placement service or a college recruiter. Agencies are apt to rely on applicants coming to them rather than seeking them out.

Also, federal job requirements are slanted in favor of people with more experience or education and often do not consider future potential. And, observes the MSPB report, these requirements eliminate recent graduates even though the relationship between the requirements and job requirements are open to question.

In short, doing business the same way it has been done in the past is comfortable and may be easier for federal personnel offices. It may also be easier, quicker and cheaper in the near term to hire using applicants from the USAJobs website. But, despite the predicted difficulty in hiring to fill vacancies left by large numbers of retirees by current federal employees, federal agencies may be cutting off a flow of high potential new employees. Moreover, they may be eliminating their potential for hiring younger employees with potential for the wrong reasons.

No doubt, some people in federal human resources offices may feel that hiring people the old fashioned way is "good enough for government work." But, while it has worked in the past, it may not be "good enough for government work" as the federal government tries to compete in the marketplace when hiring the next generation of federal employees.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47