Most young people do not understand the full breadth of government jobs available—or that there are public service careers for nearly every academic major and course of study. In this episode, Partnership for Public Service President and CEO Max Stier moderates a conversation at the 2022 SXSW EDU conference on the federal government’s talent ecosystem and how to recruit and retain the next generation of public servants. Listeners will hear from three incredible speakers working in the federal government and career services about how young people can find their entry point into the public sector and how federal leaders can reduce barriers to working in public service, particularly for underrepresented groups including those with disabilities.
Episode speakers include:
- Kiran Ahuja, the director of the Office of Personnel Management Director who leads recruitment and talent management for the federal government and its more than 2 million employees.
- Tara Duprey, a career and professional development leader at George Washington University’s Center for Career Services.
- Callie Higgins, a materials research engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Higgins is a winner of the 2021 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals’® Emerging Leader award, given to young federal employees who make important contributions early in their federal careers.
- Refer to the Partnership’s Go Government site to learn more about applying to opportunities to work in the federal government, how to use USA Jobs and more!
- Learn more about The Pathways Program which offers federal internship and employment opportunities for current students, recent graduates and those with an advanced degree.
Tune in to this episode from “Profiles in Public Service” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Follow us and subscribe to our show to receive notifications when we release a new episode.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: From the Partnership for Public Service, this is Profiles in Public Service—
a podcast that shares the stories of the public servants who work on our behalf every day to make our country safer, healthier and more prosperous.
We talk to career public servants, emerging leaders, journalists and more to better understand what it means to be a public servant… the incredible variety of careers possible in government… and how public service impacts all our lives.
I’m Loren DeJonge Schulman,
Rachel Klein-Kircher: And I’m Rachel Klein-Kircher.
This week we will be hearing a discussion moderated by Partnership for Public Service President and CEO Max Stier at the South by Southwest EDU conference in 2022 on the federal government’s talent ecosystem and how to recruit and retain the next generation of public servants.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Federal agencies must attract and retain top talent from diverse backgrounds to ensure that our government is well positioned to tackle our country’s most pressing challenges both now and in the future.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: Unfortunately though, most young people, including those who have recently begun a career or are about to enter the professional workforce, do not understand the full breadth of public service occupations available—or that there are public service careers for nearly every academic major and course of study.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: According to recent statistics from the Office of Personnel Management, roughly 7% of the full-time federal workforce is under the age of 30. By comparison, more than 20% of private sector employees are under 30. Meanwhile, about one in three federal workers are eligible to retire in the next five years.
The conversation we are about to hear includes three wonderful speakers working in the federal government and career services. These panelists share their perspectives on:
- Why more young people should choose careers in the federal government.
- The challenges that federal leaders must overcome to hire people, especially young people.
- And how government leaders and educational institutions can better support young people who are interested in pursuing federal careers.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: We will hear from:
- Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja, who leads recruitment and talent management for the federal government and its more than 2 million employees.
- Tara Duprey, a career and professional development leader at George Washington University’s Center for Career Services.
- And last but not least, Callie Higgins, a materials research engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Callie is a winner of the 2021 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals’ Emerging Leader award, given to young federal employees who make important contributions early in their federal careers.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Let’s turn now to this wonderful conversation!
Max Stier: Welcome everybody. My name is Max Stier. I’m the president of the Partnership for Public Service which is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization focused on helping the government work better. We have an incredible set of talented panelists. Kiran we’ll start with you and really, Kiran Ahuja runs the Office of Personnel Management, the central personnel body for the entire federal government and it’d be tremendous if you tell a little bit about yourself and why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Kiran Ahuja: Sure. It’s good to be here. So, I‘m really, you know, a big believer in government and the power of government and how it can be for good and change. I had my first job after law school, coming into the federal government, as a civil rights lawyer. So, it was this idea and the ability to have tremendous impact at a scale that you sometimes don’t fully appreciate because you were sitting within government, just an incredible opportunity to be working with like-minded people.
So, I really caught the bug of just being in that environment, but I also didn’t stay in government. I came in, I left, and then I came back in again, and then I left again. And so, I think those kinds of opportunities, especially the fluidity to be able to think about public service as a way to give back, to gain a set of skills and experience, to take that elsewhere, has been really very beneficial for me.
I came to OPM really, because the aspiration has always been about really being an advocate, doing advocacy. And I found that I could actually do that also inside of government, whether I was outside or inside. And so, the work I did on behalf of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community by leading this White House initiative that was focused on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders was just a perfect example of doing that work and working across government. I will say that, you know, when you’re in government, the opportunities are plentiful being the largest employer and I found myself at the Office of Personnel Management, leading that organization at the end of the Obama administration as chief of staff, and then finally now as the director of Office of Personnel Management. I’ll just say that I never actually envisioned myself being in this role at all when I started.
So that’s always an interesting journey, right? When I think what the government can offer.
Max Stier: Well, I think it’s tremendous that you again connected the dots. That you’re a great advocate. We’re lucky to have you as an advocate for the federal workforce in the federal government at OPM. And then we are very lucky to have Tara Duprey here representing another important slice of the talent ecosystem. Tara is a long time career service professional who has worked in many institutions, helping students find great opportunities for themselves and currently is at GW leading the relationships with employers. I welcome your description of why you’re doing what you’re doing and your journey as well.
Tara Duprey: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, it’s funny. When I think about my interest in public service, I’ve actually not worked for the federal government, but I’ve been working all this time in my career to help students get there. So, I think where it started, I was a first generation American first-generation college student.
Both of my parents worked in public service, I had a military dad and so we got to travel as a result of that. My mom worked as a civilian personnel person for a number of years, [and] retired from the federal government. So, I think the attraction was just sort of there naturally for me and when I started in recruiting, that was my first career out of college, from there, I was working with HBCUs specifically, working on foundations and helping students get access to higher education. From there that connected me then to getting into the higher [education] space, which is really where I wanted to focus my time. I realized that getting students excited about their next steps in careers was what I wanted to do.
And for the last almost 20 years, which is frightening to think about, I’ve been working in career services, working both on the coaching side with students trying to help them tap into resources like the Partnership has, opportunities that OPM leads and connecting them with people, like Callie, who can talk about and get so excited about the work that they’re doing.
Max Stier: Fantastic.
Callie, it’d be great to hear, you know, direct words from you, what led you into government and why did you make that choice?
Callie Higgins: Yeah. So actually, it’s funny that you said that you didn’t expect to land in your position. Like, oh, this isn’t where I expected.
And I was actually just telling Tara earlier, I honestly never would’ve thought about the federal government and if it weren’t for colleagues that I was collaborating with at the end of my PhD and they had, you know, they were just, they were wonderful and they asked me to write a fellowship application, or a grant for this funding for some research that I would be pursuing at NIST.
And I was like, okay, well, I can defer my industry positions for two years, which is the length of this post-doc and I fell in love. And the thing with that makes NIST specifically unique and I think in general, I think people don’t recognize this about the federal government enough is that it is like for NIST specifically it’s the only, uh, federally funded lab that’s directly funded from Congress, and so everything that we do needs to benefit taxpayers basically. So we exist to serve U.S. Commerce and we are part of the Department of Commerce, and so the research that I would be able to do would directly translate into industry and into taxpayers basically. And that was just this amazing, like microcosm. It’s like, ‘Hey, you can do this awesome research and do fundamental research, but then also you can have this, this cool industry-like relationship that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to develop.’ And the mentorship opportunities have been, obviously, as I mentioned, incredible.
So I came in and I am never leaving.
Max Stier: Awesome. You know, it’s interesting that you talk about purpose and the ability to do this on behalf of the American people and Kiran, you started at the Department of Justice as a civil rights lawyer and I’d just be interested in hearing how that created a, you know, a better sense of achievement in your job. And then how, how important was that sense of purpose for your experience inside government?
Kiran Ahuja: Yeah, I think for me, what was such a draw was that, you know, I’d grown up in Georgia and I guess 1.5 generation immigrant, or you’re coming from a family who immigrated from India and, you know, just the impact of, of being in the south, like in the wake of the Civil Rights era and just the dynamics there. I attended a school that was under a desegregation order. So, the year I graduated was the year the high school got out from under that desegregation order. So, for me to go work for the department of justice in the civil rights division and the power that it held was just a lifelong kind of dream of mine.
And they had an honors program. They had a program that brought in young attorneys. And it was a very, you know, selective process and I actually applied once and didn’t get in and applied again and so to the point of keep persevering in that, was able to get in. And I think what was fascinating at that time was that there was a confluence of all these, young leaders and I’m sorry, leader, attorneys of color who were coming in who were just as passionate.
And so for me, it was amazing environment of individuals in their late twenties, early thirties, we were so passionate about the work we were, it felt like, you know, we were representing the United States on these issues around civil rights. So, I was working on longstanding desegregation orders. You know, we were, I was basically going back into the south and working on these issues that were very personal to me.
You know, it was those individuals who are still like my lifelong friends. Those individuals are the same individuals who are now similarly situated in government and leadership positions, and we have helped each other through that process. Which has just been, you know, you ask him about this, and I have not thought about it for a long time, but, so I think it’s, you know, really, you know, Callie talks about this mentorship, the bonds that you create.
The idea that you’re in a mission driven organization with individuals who are similarly motivated with that level of passion. Like, I mean, that’s why I think I keep coming back to, to this work.
Max Stier: It’s a fantastic description there. And I think maybe unstated, but clear is that there’s no other place like it, that you couldn’t get that purpose.
You can’t represent the U.S. In any other environment. Tara I’m curious though, since you’re engaging with students all the time, you know, one of the issues that we’ve heard a little bit about Kiran talks about the honors program at justice, you were talking about the help you got on the post-doc applications.
Where do students get trapped? Where did they get stuck? And what’s your advice to them about what to do about it?
Tara Duprey: Yeah, so I think for a lot of students, what I hear more often than not, and if there are educators in the room who are familiar with the federal system, I think it’s often the elephant in the room is getting through the door.
It’s like that entry point, it’s really challenging. And so I think there’s a lot that’s been done. I think I’ve definitely in my 20 years, I’ve seen some progress. Now you’ve got the Pathway Program. I absolutely am pushing students in that direction because it is one of the best ways to kind of kick start your career.
I would say beyond that it’s some of the specialty new programs that are popping up. And so I know the Partnership has created a lot of new opportunities for students from different academic backgrounds. Just get dabble into cyber as an area. Or there are lots that agencies are doing to introduce students to the work that they’re doing.
They’re trying to be creative in finding ways to connect. And so, you know, more and more using social media as a way to connect. I’m seeing also lots of conferences and forums and things that agencies are putting out. And so there’s, there are ways to get there, but I think it’s also sort of a labor of love.
It’s sort of a recognition that if this is, a career path that you. That it might be a situation, I think I hear it a lot from folks in the federal space, that you apply, and then you apply again, and then you apply again, and you try something else. And you have to that perseverance, I think is a big, uh, sort of factor because you do have to consider the fact that the barriers are, are there.
Max Stier: Right well, persistence, I think is an undervalued virtue in all regards. And certainly here. Kiran, do you have any advice on that score to you? Obviously since this is a place that you have a significant, but not complete, you know, a purview over?
Kiran Ahuja: No, I think there’s a lot of truth to it. I think there is, you know, listen, federal government is more than 2 million individuals plus, and you know, each agency is like, for a lot of the large agencies, like some of the largest companies, you know, in this country, so it can be, it can be very challenging and so I am very sympathetic that’s a focus that I’m taking
and in my, my role now as director is, one, the acknowledgement that we are focused on that issue as far as what does it mean for students to come in and how to really kind of smooth that path, make that path a little bit easier, in the process. We’ve created a couple of different what we call in government speak, you know, hiring authorities, where we have, it’s a little bit easier to come in through a post-secondary path or a recent graduate path.
In government, if you’re familiar with some of the internship programs were making improvements to some of the Pathways Program, creating other avenues for young people to come in and there’s a big push, you know, DC and government has been known as the land of unpaid internships.
We want to correct that. So, and no longer be, you know, there’s a big focus on, you know, accessibility and what does it mean to have these opportunities? Tara, you talked about being a first gen student, you know, I’m out talking with students, uh, about that. And I think we have to absolutely do a better job.
And I think, you know, we have to talk about dedicated resources to pay for internships. You know, we’re focused on, you know, encouraging agencies to do that. And really thinking about also just the mechanism and platform for how folks come in.
Right. So, we always hear that USA jobs.gov. It’s a great place to go and check it out and see all kinds of positions. But sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. So how can we also create a more centralized process for students to come in and just be able to then navigate because every agency has a whole set of different internships.
So, so one, we want to lift up the opportunities, in places where agencies are doing it well, we want to replicate that. We want to create some different paths into government that make it easier for agencies to bring people early in their career. So these are things that we are very much focused on and, and really do want to recognize the importance of young people in, I think we went on mission. I think we can talk about that for days. And we want to do a better job talking about that as well.
Max Stier: Yeah, no, I think so. So powerful and not found any place else.
Another issue that has, uh, sort of we’re sitting in Austin right now, we’re talking about the government and a lot of people associate that with Washington D.C., but Cali, maybe you talk about what’s the community like where you are in government and a recognition that 85% of the federal workforce is actually outside of DC. So what are those opportunities outside of DC to be a fed?
Callie Higgins: Yeah, that’s a great point. I was actually going to chime in because it’s interesting in D.C., I’m sure that you’re just surrounded by government.
So obviously that’s an employment option, but I’ve always lived on the west coast and I’ve only really been kind of based in Colorado. And I never even thought about the federal government or government in general as a position, aside from being a politician. I just assume working for the government is: you’re a politician or a lobbyist or something to that effect.
And I think one thing that we really need to do better on is education. Like literally just educating people at any stage of their, their academic lifetime. So, like from high school, I think high school would be a great time to like actually tell students, “Hey, these are the opportunities if you wanted to go into public service like this is,” I just never even saw that as a career option unless I wanted to be a politician.
And that was just not something I was particularly interested in. But if I had known like, oh, you could actually be a scientist. Like that’s a thing and it’s like a beautiful life and I would have more actively pursued that. And I think I’m just trying to be more of that advocate for a lot of people because it’s an incredible opportunity.
They just, people don’t know about it.
Max Stier: Right.
Tara Duprey: I’m just going to add to that. I think, there are some agencies who are doing some really great things when it comes to early childhood education and exposing students to what careers are possible, which thank goodness, because I’m thinking specifically of USPTO [U.S. Patent and Trademark Office], which I know has done a lot in the, in the elementary and high school space.
I’ve been blown away at the kind of engagement that they’re getting from students. And to your point that the system. A lot of inroads have been made. We’re sure. But there’s also lots of creative ways that I think agencies are starting to find connections to students.
And on the flip side, you know, I’m not above, you know, a student reaching out to somebody they saw on Facebook, which I know they don’t use, but the reality is, um, the agencies are using it. And so, I absolutely reach out. And that is I’ve seen students actually get feedback back. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s like everything else, you know, in the private sector, you don’t always hear back either.
So, it’s not a new thing, but it’s worth it. And I see on the federal side folks who are on that Facebook page waiting for somebody to show up and, you know, they actually get a ping from a student, and they get very excited. I think there’s lots of ways to be creative about how you connect into the federal space.
Max Stier: Right. All right. So, I want to pull on a point and ask Kiran a question about it. Well, first to say it, like on the federal workforce, there’s 150,000 federal employees in the state of California as an example. So, the [federal government is] the largest single employer, I think in California, I should know the Texas number, but I do not.
I’m sorry to say, but you Kiran talked a little bit about the different elements of our government. And I think this notion of experiencing the federal government is one that no one really actually has. You are either dealing with United States, you know, U.S. Patent Trademark Office, or, the defense department or the state department, whatever else.
So, I think if you could also just demystify what the master brand is, maybe the federal government, how does it work as an entity? And what should talent or people who are trying to guide talent trying to understand when they’re engaging with the government. I think some more description on that would be really helpful.
Kiran Ahuja: You know, I would say just a few things. One, I think that, you know, the purpose of like this one portal that we have, where, uh, we taught, I’ve talked about it before USAjobs.gov. It’s a place where we are really trying to centralize all these opportunities.
It’s a great one-stop shop to even just get a sense of like your set of skills and where would you like be matched in so many different places across the government? Every agency has multiple bureaus and sub-components in their agencies. It’s like, I wouldn’t even know where to start. So, I do think, you know, a part of that is doing, you know, encouraging students to do some of that research, uh, to say like your interest in the environment or climate change, get onto the, you know, EPA website, you’re interested in health issues and then there’s so many different from CDC to HHS. So, I think, you know, it’s almost like every facet of your life is governed in some way by government. And if you’re, you know, either spending some time getting to know that agency, you know, they’re often themselves.
Posting opportunities that way. We have this main portal, I think individuals like Tara, who is there in the schools and certainly, you know, where she is in DC, of course they’re going to be focused on public service. But I do think that, you know, part of our conversation here is really encouraging schools to share this as an option. I think you’re also starting to see more agencies actually want to get out in the schools and do more of that recruiting and have more of a presence. So one, we’re trying to build the capacity and the imperative to encourage agencies to take on more individuals early in their careers.
We talked a lot about the retirement wave taking place in government. I realize, you know, sometimes a challenge in government can be the kind of skills they need. Oftentimes it’s based on like, what experience do you have and what experience can you bring in? It’s like two sides of the coin.
One is that when you come into government, like I mentioned my story in department of justice, like if I had gone to a firm, I would just be like reviewing documents. When I went to the department of justice, I basically had my own cases day one, and I was in court in a few months. So, benefit, downside is like, I had to know what the hell I was doing was scared completely out of my wits.
But you know, it’s this idea of, um, you get these incredible opportunities. If you’re willing to kind of take advantage of them and. So, you know, I don’t know if that really answers the question because I think it’s mixed.
Max Stier: I think it does. And we already heard discussed when you have a bad experience with a private sector entity you don’t say, oh, the private sector is terrible, but I think there is a real issue in a lot of people’s minds.
And I think your point, Callie, is that most people, when they think about the federal government, they’re thinking about politicians, they’re thinking about Washington DC. And in fact, that’s missing out on the gazillion interesting, purposeful careers that are available all across the country. So, I think that’s helpful to pull it apart a little bit to understand what’s there.
Kiran Ahuja: Yeah. I was just going to say, you know, it’s executive, like that’s where I think where you do you think of the legislative side, you think of the politicians, but you know, the executive side is I find very fascinating to be inside agencies and to kind of see how the wheels are turning. So, if you’re interested in policy issues or from science or whatever technical skills.
That’s an incredible experience.
Max Stier: Right.
Callie Higgins: And that’s a good point because that just made me think, you know, I think people think, oh, if you want to know, make change, you just have to be a politician. If you want to help shape our country, you have to be a politician to do that. And that is what I’ve realized is so not the case.
Like you can literally do exactly that through other government positions. And I think that’s what I would have loved to have communicated to me earlier on, because it’s a guess if you were going to complain about the state of our country, you can affect change in many ways by pursuing other, other employment positions aside from, you know, running for office.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: After opening up to the crowd for questions, the panel was asked about the challenges, some applicants face after sending in an application to work for the federal government, including long wait times and lack of communication regarding the applicant status. We’ll hear first from Tara Duprey.
Tara Duprey: I’ll take a first stab because I hear it all the time. It’s absolutely one of the challenges. I think there are a couple of things that you can do. I think the reality is that you have, you know, if you’re a student you have access hopefully to, for services, professionals or others who’ve worked in the government who hopefully can give you a little bit of insight.
I often, you know, at our institution, we have a lot of alum who are also working for various agencies, so informational interviews and critiques and that sort of thing is a piece of it. I would also say because you don’t get the feedback, which is also true in the private sector, unfortunately. Frequently, not all the time, but frequently they’re legally they’re not able to give you much feedback. I think you have to make the conversations with people who are working at the places that you’re interested in a part of your application process. So it’s not as simple as, I see a position that looks really interesting to me let me go ahead and submit. I would recommend, and I often recommend.
Hopefully you got a sense of what you’re interested in in terms of the types of positions. Talk to some people who are doing that job now so you can fine tune those materials in advance of sending it to the posting. So again, it’s sort of, it’s a labor. It takes a lot of time and energy, but it’s the piece of the process, I think.
So having other pairs of eyes and kind of getting people who are familiar with that sort of the language that they use, the language you want to avoid, sort of the little jargon that might be helpful to kind of help your resume along the way, I think is one thing that’s worth considering. Uh, the other pieces.
I think that in the federal government you can do a lot of networking that could be happening. It doesn’t necessarily mean your resume is going to be popped to the top, but I think part of it is sort of being aware of what announcements might be coming out. And so, yeah, it’s really talking to people I think even if it’s not the person who actually saw your resume, uh, it will be another person who will be able to give you some insights.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Now, a response from Kiran Ahuja.
Kiran Ahuja: Yeah. I was just going to say is, you know, and it really just depends on the position. I mean, for some of these positions, they get hundreds of applications.
So sometimes there’s just kind of the ability or capacity, that being said, you know, we’re doing a lot of work within my agency to really train and encourage HR professionals across the government to say it’s important to give a response, you know, to let an applicant know where they are and that is, you know, something that we’re going to continue to encourage in a lot of those best practices.
There’s been also just a real, you know, just a capacity issue within government within HR specifically. It’s not easy, but I think we’re also trying to think about what are the ways and tools that we have to really, um, you know, employ some of those best practices.
Max Stier: So, I’m going to pull two things out. One, Kiran, you describe what the experience is on the government side, that you may have hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of applications.
And so I think understanding, um, you know, the difficulty of triage through that and knowing that you have to be very thoughtful and careful about actually ensuring you’re reading what the qualifications are and giving back what is being asked for specifically, because this stuff may be automated and then Tara, your point which is, above that system piece, you can’t sort of sit back when you’re in front of your computer and think you can do it all right there that ensuring that you connect the human element, the relationship, the information interviews, the networking, all that is still fundamental and vital. And in fact, more vital given the nature of a world in which people can be applying to hundreds of jobs and throwing their resume out in a gazillion places.
So, I think those two pieces, I think really come together in a very nice way.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: Another question from the panel’s audience asked Tara, Callie, and Kiran, what skills they would suggest students focus on right now to support their candidacy for the types of roles in government that need to be filled by new talent. First, we’ll hear Tara’s suggestions for applicants to pursue opportunities that further their expertise in both STEM related skills and communications.
Tara Duprey: So, the first thing that comes to mind when you, when you ask that question, um, it’s funny, cause it’s not specific to government it’s, um, it goes across sectors, but I would say certainly the government. Strong stem period stem across the board. And I think finding and for as a non-STEM person, myself, a psych major personally,
Callie Higgins: It’s basically stem.
Tara Duprey: I mean, but I do I think stem and multiple facets. So, I think data is so important right now. Everyone’s talking about. Cyber is so big, coding, all of those things are skills that quite honestly, regardless of what you’re looking to do, it’s a sort of thing I thought of getting my little side, you know, education and because it is desperately needed in the government in particular.
So, I think anything with respect to sort of quant information, data, is just useful to have, beyond that in terms of so some of the other skills, I would say, honestly, again, it goes across sectors, but I think in the public sector in particular, there’s a certain kind of communication and writing that’s required.
And it can look
Kiran Ahuja: I’m so glad you said that actually. I was going to kind of jump in.
Tara Duprey: Yeah, communication for me is probably one of the biggest ones, because there’s a speak that’s involved with government and a policy brief looks very different from, you know, a report or a proposal in contracts and there’s so many things that have to be written in particular types of ways and certain ways for information to be shared. So again, when you’re talking to someone who’s doing the work, you’ll be able to get that insight as to what I should be. My cover letter needs to look a little different because of the kind of writing or communicating I’m looking to do. And so that’s the only way you’re going to get that is from talking to somebody who’s doing the work that you’re hoping to do at some point.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: Now turning to Callie and Kiran.
Max Stier: What skills do you see as sort of fundamental for someone, an aspiring federal employee.
Callie Higgins: I mean, one thing that I would say, which is obviously like, as you said, like true for anything that you’re doing, this is kind of a little bit different of a take, uh, is reaching out to as many people as possible. I think it’s a very difficult thing to do to put yourself out there and reach out to people that are in positions that you might end up wanting or you admire, but that’s something that is hugely beneficial and it’s developing of those connections almost out of the context of needing a job. Because then all of a sudden, they know that you are a hungry professional. Like you want something out of your life, and they associate you with that. And that’s something that they could do now, and they can start just like, Hey, what are you interested in?
Like, do you, do you like science? Do you like, you know, what do you like?’ And then reach out to somebody in the field that you admire. And if you don’t, you don’t reach Fauci, you might get as like assistant, you know, that’s just what has been very, very impactful. Also, I was just talking to like a high school class the other day, like being kind to everyone, like no matter who you encounter, like at a conference, like it is bizarre.
Like you don’t know where the cross or the paths are going to cross, just be kind to people. And then all of a sudden you might get a great job. I know that sounds so silly, but that is legitimate. Like, if you’re just a nice person, like. No matter what it ends you end up wanting to do I think that makes a huge difference for sharp.
Kiran Ahuja: And I would say for high school, like I’m just trying to think, you know, I think what for what I’ve also seen and how that translates actually those who really do become leaders in government, certainly being kind is helpful not all of them are, so we can kind of work on that.
And we doubled down on like, you know, the writing. I would say like, just being, well-read like current events, right? Like you’re, you’re trying to be informed as a young person, what is happening in the world? Um, cause there’s so many agencies that are doing just really interesting. You know, I think that that’s always an asset.
And finally, like when I was in high school, like taking public speaking classes, like getting comfortable with, cause you’re doing tons of presentations and kind of, you’re kind of being out there. And, uh, so anyway, in the sense of what might be tangible for folks?
Tara Duprey: Yeah, I was just going to offer, um, I think having writing samples, just a concrete example of something. I would say also students are so informed and have such thoughtful opinions on all sorts of matters now that to the extent that they’re able to, if they’re keeping a blog, if they’re giving examples of sort of how they’ve dug deep on a topic, it speaks to so many things not to you certainly, it can be a reflection of their writing and how they present this information succinctly or coherently.
But beyond that, it also speaks to their passion about a thing.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Lastly, Kiran shares what the Office of Personnel Management is doing to increase the recruitment and retention of federal employees from a diversity of backgrounds.
Kiran Ahuja: A huge focus for the president right now that he issued an executive order last summer, focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the federal government. And a part of that is really focused on the diverse recruitment by all agencies.
Definitely some have been doing it. There is more that we could be doing. And so you’re seeing it across the board. I’m seeing it from the White House on down, like we’re all talking about from MSIs minority serving institutions to a whole set of diverse institutions, first-gen students, and so there is really much more of a focus and acknowledgement that it is incumbent upon us, the responsibility within the federal government and the agencies to do this kind of recruitment.
There is a specific hiring path in the federal government called Schedule A which is targeted for individuals with disabilities. It’s not specific to an age but it is a pathway to bring in individuals with disabilities.
The government has prided itself on being a model employer. And a part of that is really the kind of diversity across the spectrum.
And, you know, I think one thing that we’ve been doing also that we continue to do with agencies is reminding them that we have this specific hiring path for individuals with disabilities, and those who actually get on that list are available for agencies then to go back to that list in order to select individuals. And talk about like, not having to deal with a protracted process, you have people kind of ready and waiting who’ve already been kind of vetted and on this list. So, it’s definitely an area that we’re responsible for, that we have continued to do the outreach to agencies, that they have this pathway on them that they should utilize it, as well.
And it is part of the executive order that the President recently issued and will be a part of the plans that agencies will be providing to OPM on how they’re going to continue to focus on increasing the number of individuals, you know, across the board who represent different, you know, diversity markers, such as individuals with disabilities.
And again, you are starting to see it in certainly there are some agencies that are doing it better than others, but I think because we have this mandate from the president, we’re now having to account for it in our assessments, there is a keen commitment, and interest and passion in how we think about diversity throughout government. So we’re talking about it at the senior levels, what that looks like. We’re talking about pay equity in government. We’re talking about the pipeline in government is just really being infused through every aspect. And if we think about where diversity lies in our society, it is in the younger generation.
Right. So, if we just want to be smart and talk about numbers that’s the way to continue to make sure that you’re fulfilling that promise. And we are also functioning as a better government because you were having people from all walks of life who have those experiences that they bring into the federal government.
I didn’t, my family was, you know, an immigrant didn’t really even think about government. I think There’s those of us in students that I meet, they say, listen, my parents had a certain experience I’ve taken from that. I want to be in government where I can pull those levers of power. I can feel like I’m addressing issues that were challenging in my own personal life. Um, that’s the kind of passion and experience we want.
Max Stier: So we are, I think we just have a few minutes left. And so I’m going to just offer up to each of you parting comment opportunity, and Callie let’s begin with you.
Callie Higgins: I would say, you know, just broadly trying to expose yourself to as many different opportunities as possible is always, you know, obviously a wise decision, and being open-minded, I think that’s something that I wasn’t initially because I didn’t think that I wanted to go into government. I didn’t think I wanted to go into academia any longer.
I was done with research and staying open-minded was definitely one of the biggest things that I’ve learned, especially just being at NIST and the federal government.
Max Stier: Well, thank you for doing it. I’m glad you made that decision.
Callie Higgins: Likewise.
Max Stier: Tara.
Tara Duprey: Sure. So, I would say, it’s kind of along the same lines. I think the idea of being consistent and persistent with the drive to get into public service. I’ve tried, I will tell you, multiple times to apply to positions that I have not gotten selected for. So even as a career coach, I know, myself, that that is the reality of the process. But it’s a labor of love.
I think it is, there’s a reason why I’m drawn to it and I think there’s a lot of benefits that come along with being in the federal sector and it it’s that mission centric piece it really speaks to me. So I think it is sort of continuing to fine tune, to connect with as many people as you can to kind of keep that network growing.
And then, you know, just when you get tired of you and when you apply and it doesn’t work, try again when you’re up for it. Right. And then right now there is a big push. So hopefully that’ll create some opportunities for folks.
Max Stier: Thank you for helping so many. It’s really awesome. And Kiran, the last word for you.
Kiran Ahuja: I was going to say the flip side is it’s great to have those with the perseverance.
Right. But, you know, I also think as representing OPM that, you know, we have a set of responsibilities and there is a significant commitment, not only for myself, but across the leadership and I’m seeing it more than ever. I think we’ve learned a lot from this pandemic. We’ve learned people are our biggest assets.
And so I’m seeing this incredible focus on what it means to bring in the right individuals in the sense of the commitment to diversity, focus on early career talent, how are we supporting people once they’re in? How are we positioning the federal government as like a model employer?
Not only when it comes to the kinds of great experiences. Because I think we went on a mission, but we also, this embrace of remote work and workplace flexibilities and all of that. So, uh, there’s such a desire to have you in, it does pain me to hear about the challenges of coming in and I think that’s, that’s what just even, I think solidifies for me and I know my team, you know, the further commitment to do as much as we can.
And I think there’s a real opportunity.
Max Stier: Yeah. A hundred percent. Thank you for doing what you’re doing and thanks all for participating here.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: If you yourself are interested in opportunities to work for the federal government but aren’t quite sure where to start, check out our Go Government website at www.gogovernment.org which is designed to be your guide as you consider, apply for and secure federal employment.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: So that’s our show, thanks so much for listening! If you haven’t already, please follow or subscribe to “Profiles in Public Service” wherever you get your podcasts.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: You can also check this episode’s show notes to learn more about today’s topic and be sure to follow the Partnership for Public Service on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram to find out about future episodes!
Loren DeJonge Schulman: “Profiles in Public Service” is created by the Partnership for Public Service.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: Our writer and producer is Abigail Alpern Fisch.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: Our script supervisor is Barry Goldberg.
Rachel Klein-Kircher: And our executive producer is Jordan LaPier.
Loren DeJonge Schulman: See you next time!