Young people want to make a difference but misconceptions and barriers to entry keep them out of government
Back to Blog

Young people want to make a difference but misconceptions and barriers to entry keep them out of government

May 22, 2024

A recent Partnership for Public Service survey suggests that federal careers are natural fits for members of Generation Z, who often seek employers affecting positive change. However, hiring barriers and misconceptions about federal jobs prevent more young people from joining government.   

The online survey, issued in February 2024, shows that 67% of Americans aged 18 to 34 agree that a federal career offers the opportunity to make a positive impact on their community. However, 68% have never considered applying for a federal job, another 21% have considered federal work but never applied, and only 7% have actually applied.  

Today, only 7% of federal employees are under 30 compared with 20% of the U.S. workforce overall.  

These gaps can be attributed to three main barriers young people face when considering federal service, all of which were cited repeatedly by students and career advisors who met with the Partnership’s Call to Serve team during its latest Public Service Roadshow, which seeks to connect campus communities with opportunities in the federal government.  

Barriers to entry 

1. Perception and availability of federal opportunities 

Two common misconceptions about federal jobs are that they are all located in the Washington, D.C., area, and that they all focus exclusively on policy.  

In fact, 85% of federal jobs are located outside the Washington, D.C., area, and they touch every type of career field imaginable—from mail carriers and park rangers to food inspectors, human resource specialists, data scientists and more.  

Through its GoGovernment site, the Partnership offers free federal career guides that illustrate the breadth of opportunities available. 

2. Understanding the federal hiring process 

Unlike the private sector, federal hiring is not a straightforward process. Federal resumes require more information than a regular resume, including number of hours worked per job, supervisors’ contact information (optional), and extensive details on role responsibilities and accomplishments. Most federal resumes range from two to five pages total.  

Navigating USAJOBS, the federal government’s main job portal, is also complex. Job titles often do not correlate directly to duties, some job announcements open and close within days or a week and understanding hiring authorities and appointment types can be dizzying for jobseekers. Many also become frustrated with long lead times, often waiting upward of four to six months to hear whether their application has advanced to the next stage of the hiring process.  

To clarify this process, the Partnership’s Call to Serve team has published resources on GoGovernment to help students and recent graduates crack the federal hiring puzzle.  

3. Compensation in government versus the private sector 

Another common myth about federal jobs is that they do not pay as well as those in the private sector. While the private sector as a whole may tend to pay more in annual salary, many young people do not consider the full compensation that comes with federal work. Federal benefits include: 

  • Salary—based on the federal pay scales for specific locations 
  • Paid time off (annual leave) and sick leave 
  • Health insurance 
  • The Thrift Savings Plan (retirement savings account) and the Basic Benefit Plan (pension) 
  • Federal student loan repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness 
  • Paid parental leave for 12 weeks 
  • Job stability 
  • Much more! 

While sometimes tricky to understand and navigate, federal employment is a great avenue for students and recent graduates who seek roles that are mission-focused and deliver tangible outcomes for communities nationwide.  

By revealing young people’s positive perceptions of federal service—and their hesitancy to apply for federal work—our survey offers a roadmap for agencies to adjust their recruitment strategies and more effectively appeal to Gen Z to inspire the next generation of public servants. 

Leave a Reply