Making the Federal Government an Employer of Choice for Early Career Professionals

If you want to place the right people in the right roles, it’s time for a more creative and comprehensive approach.

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The Partnership for Public Service is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that strives to build a better government and a stronger democracy.
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Accenture Federal Services is a leading US federal services company and subsidiary of Accenture LLP.  We empower the federal government to solve challenges, achieve greater outcomes, and build a digital core that is agile, smart, and secure. Our 15,000 people are united in a shared purpose to advance our clients’ mission-critical priorities that make the nation stronger and safer, and life better for people. We draw out the best of Accenture’s global network in nearly every industry, bringing proven commercial innovation to solutions built with advanced R&D, emerging technologies, and human-centered design at speed and scale. Together, we help clients create lasting value for their workforce, customers, and partners and make a difference for the country and our communities. See how we make change that matters at accenturefederal.com.
Table of Contents

Introduction

 

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Inspiring the next generation of civil servants is critical for the future of American democracy. As the federal government seeks to solve some of the nation’s toughest challenges, it needs an inclusive, agile and engaged workforce with the right skills, and workplaces with modern technologies to support them

Yet, just 7% of the federal workforce is younger than 30. It has not been easy for our government to compete with other sectors to attract early-career talent. In fact, according to recent data from the Office of Management and Budget, there was just a 13% increase in early-career employees under 30 in government in the past couple of years, which shows there is critical work to do in this area. 

To help human resources leaders address this challenge, the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture co-hosted a talent acquisition boot camp in Washington, D.C., focusing on recruiting early-career talent. During the five-session boot camp, we shared practical strategies and tactics leaders can use to improve their hiring of early-career talent through pathways such as internships and apprenticeships, and by using digital-recruitment marketing practices. We also discussed how to use data analytics to measure hiring success. 

Below, we share recommendations from the talent boot camp that your agency can apply to its own hiring processes. We encourage leaders to deploy these ideas, using an agile approach to learn what works most effectively.

Step 1: Plan and understand
Step 2: Attract and brand
Step 3: Source and build
Step 4: Engage and convert

Stage 1: Plan and understand

 

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When developing a strategy for recruiting early-career talent, start by looking within your own agency. Conduct an audit to assess and understand what you have versus what you need. For instance, what are your target goals? What recruitment tools do you have? Do you have an effective digital presence? How are you managing workforce plans, position descriptions and collaboration between HR professionals and hiring managers? Have you optimized how you track applicants?  

Next, analyze your data. Where are your biggest workforce needs and gaps?   What is your return on investment for your current recruitment practices?  How many candidates are in the hiring pipeline? How many vacancies does your agency have?  

Then, start planning. Define your employee value proposition, which should be your competitive edge. Use surveys and focus groups to collect data. This will help you equip recruiters with the talking points that play into your agency’s strengths. Some examples of government benefits that are important to early-career job seekers include work flexibility, student loan repayment programs, job stability, a strong organizational culture and the opportunity to work in innovative areas such as cybersecurity, tech and the green economy. 

Stage 2: Attract and brand

 

Photo credit: Shutterstock

73% of 2024 graduates surveyed are more likely to apply to a job after seeing employer content. One of the first places people look? Career sites. With that in mind, it is important to invest in expanding and elevating your brand’s reputation, particularly when it comes to your digital presence. How? First, use your existing career site and social media channels to tell your story. People like to hear from other people, so collect authentic employee testimonials and share them frequently—in blogs, articles, podcasts and social media posts. 75% of 2024 graduates read reviews of an employer before applying to a job, so you should encourage employees to post on employer review sites as well.  

Additionally, expand your digital presence beyond your own channels. According to Glassdoor, a jobs website, 79% of job seekers are likely to use social media on their job-seeking journey, so you need to meet people where they are: namely, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, Snapchat and others. Tailoring your content to each specific channel can make a positive impact. When you launch your campaigns, start small, with pilot projects, learn, adjust and expand from there. 

Stage 3: Source and build

 

Photo credit: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

You can develop your talent pipeline in a variety of ways: You can hire people with the skills you need, or you can provide your current employees with new skills. Even better, do both—recruit people and develop agency employees.  

One of the most important things that we look for actually, no matter who you are, is your ability to learn—learning agility,” according to Julie Sweet, Accenture’s CEO, speaking in a Harvard Business Review video. “We know that while we may hire you for a certain set of skills, the rate of change…. is quite rapid.” There is a lot of research on this, she continued: For example, about 40% of the skills that were around in the Fortune 500 in 2017 are no longer relevant.  

The ability to learn is particularly relevant when attracting and retaining early-career talent. Some of the most effective ways for federal agencies to build diverse, equitable, inclusive and accessible pipelines of talent is through internships, fellowships and apprenticeship programs. For example, the Office of Personnel Management has an intern portal with many paid internship opportunities for early-career talent. We recommend you have a webpage that clearly communicates the earlycareer opportunities at your agency and enables you to collect data before and after the internship experience. The Partnership also launched the Federal Internship Finder last year, which features over 900 internship opportunities across government and allows early-career talent to search for opportunities with ease. We recommend your agency features its early-career opportunities website in this powerful GoGovernment tool.  

We also suggest finding and developing leads through talent networks, particularly student-focused platforms such as Handshake and Symplicity . Finally, work across agencies to share resources, and expand your reach by making sure your open positions are available on USAJOBS. 

Stage 4: Engage and convert

 

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Think about and plan for the potential to convert temporary employees into permanent positions at your agency. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 75.5% of interns who are converted to full-time employees stay with an organization after the first year, compared with 51.5% of employees who did not start as interns. This data shows that internships have a good return on investment when it comes to longer-term service in federal agencies. 

When developing your hiring strategy, focus on making it easy to apply, so applicants have a positive early experience with the agency. It is important that your help desk is responsive and that you have an outreach team. Applicants will also be looking for digital resources, such as a hiring process guide and videos that answer their questions.  

Holding events is critical for connecting with potential employees. On-campus events, career fairs, whether in person or virtual, and resume support can all lead to attracting candidates to your agency, or at least educate college students and others about government careers. If they do not apply immediately, they still may be interested in joining federal service in the future.  

Building applicant pipelines involves several phases and requires support at points along the way. Depending on your need for talent, consider also getting involved with industry events, such as conferences or association convenings. Finally, analyze your recruitment performance with data that measures the effectiveness of your engagement and your conversion rate. 

At the talent boot camp, it was clear that sharing ideas helped everyone reimagine how to think about recruitment and retention.  


“The boot camp offered me a different perspective in finding solutions to strengthen my agency’s hiring pipeline. The resources and tools shared will help my office as we continue to assess and retain our current workforce and work toward recruiting the new talent.”

– Crystal Taylor, Director, Office of Talent Strategy at the Department of Commerce


Looking ahead, we believe that apprenticeship programs will play a larger role in federal early-career talent development, especially following the Executive Order signed by President Biden in March 2024 on scaling and expanding the use of registered apprenticeships in industries and the federal government. We also know internship programs have a high return on investment, and we encourage agencies to continue to build structured, high-quality internship programs to engage interns and potentially convert them to permanent employees.  

We’re excited to continue partnering with federal agencies to help develop the most effective tools and innovations for talent acquisition. And together, we know we can continue inspiring the next generation to serve and contribute to building a strong workforce that effectively serves our diverse nation—now and in the future. 

 

Header photo credit: U.S. Agency for International Development

Footnotes
Authors

 

Brett is a senior leader in the Human Capital Practice at Accenture Federal Services and is the Lead for the Talent Acquisition capability.  He is passionate about helping the government find the right talent at the right time to fulfill their mission.  He was recently privileged to co-facilitate the Talent Acquisition Bootcamp with the Partnership for Public Service.  Brett has been working with federal clients in the HR Transformation and talent acquisition arena for the last 6 years and is especially knowledgeable in the area of early career talent attraction and retention.  His experience also spans recruitment, digital marketing, and candidate experience for several law enforcement clients.  Brett is an alumnus of James Madison and loves to recruit early career talent from his alma mater (Go Dukes!).

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Katy Hogan leads the Partnership’s strategy to inspire the next generation to consider a career in public service. In her role, she manages several key federal internship programs and oversees the Call to Serve network of colleges and universities. Previously, Katy directed Ohio State University’s Washington, DC internship and fellowship programs through the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, welcoming 75+ students to Washington annually for career-launching internship experiences. Katy also worked on a U.S. State Department program that sends high school students abroad to learn critical languages. Through this work, Katy developed a passion for building high-impact professional programs and supporting the career development of aspiring public servants. Katy’s favorite public servants are the National Park Service rangers that have made her visits to 24 National Parks (so far—she’ll visit all 63 someday) fun and engaging.

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Bronwyn is the Lead of our HR Transformation capability at Accenture Federal Services.  She has worked with many clients in her 15+ years in the HR Transformation space, bringing solutions that put people at the heart of work.  She’s passionate about finding creative ways to source, engage, recruit, and retain talent.  Her career experiences have given her a unique perspective on how to think outside the box when it comes to finding talent.  She has worked with both commercial and federal clients to help them transform how they think about their people.  One of her favorite roles at work is interviewing and mentoring new talent in the AFS Human Capital Practice.

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