From Ho-hum to Trendy: government jobs in the recession

I’m surprised and encouraged to hear that federal, state, and municipal jobs are looking more attractive to new college graduates for the first time in many years.  The benefits are obvious:

  • a growing workforce instead of a shrinking one, 
  • relative job security (more on that later), 
  • a predictable, competitive pay scale.

Why did it take people so long to figure it out?  Here are some possibilities:

  • the application process is cumbersome beyond belief,
  • the “good enough for government work” mentality may still prevail,
  • takes too long to get ahead,
  • you can’t get anything done,
  • they don’t reward visionary thinking.

What is the truth here?  

Yes, the process is awful.  From lengthy applications (phone number of supervisor in your first job many years ago) to those pesky KSAs (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities questions designed to either torment you or elicit narrative of your relative accomplishments), filling out a federal application can take hours and hours.  It’s so complicated that a mini-industry has sprung up to coach you through it.  And state applications aren’t much better.  You can submit your packet and then wait and wait and wait. And while you’re waiting, you can read articles about the simplification of the application process.  Um-hum.

But there is an exception to the usual process. Did you know that jobs related to the federal stimulus package are handled differently?  Check out www.opm.gov and follow the link  to recovery jobs.  It is possible to apply for these special positions with a resume and cover letter.  Who knew?  

 What about the role of creativity and ambition in the bureaucracy? Some agencies get it and some don’t.  At least a decade ago, enlightened planners began to see the need to reward creative problem-solvers on the job.  And they have tried to infiltrate the workforce with mixed results.  I think that as the workforce ages and retires, things will move more quickly, more responsively to public demands.  This is a case of “hang in there”.  

What about job security?  The class of 2009 doesn’t want to go through what their elders are experiencing.  It’s traumatic all around.  Yes, government work is more predictable than the private sector.  But it’s not ironclad anymore, and hasn’t been for a long time.  Please never forget to keep up your network, to keep expanding your skills, and to keep broadening your horizons in many ways.  You will be glad you did, because nothing lasts forever in the world of work.

The pay scale is indeed competitive.  According to Karol Taylor, author of the brand-new Guide to America’s Federal Jobs (Jist), the average federal job pays $77,143 per year, versus the private sector job which pays $48,035.  And this is not factoring in the cost of the benefits package, which is substantial.  Note:  this figure does not suggest that you will begin your job earning this amount, but it does give an indication of what upward mobility is possible.  

Read. Pay attention to articles that compare worker satisfaction in different agencies.  Interview people that work in these places.  Send in applications.  And when you get an interview, don’t hesitate to ask about creative ideas, problem-solving opportunities, and the chance to get ahead.  

Once again, welcome, Class of 2009, to the major sources of employment around here.  You’re needed more than ever.

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