Why Millennials Should Consider Federal Jobs

Millennials Federal Jobs

Let’s paint with a very broad brush. As the story goes, the millennial generation just doesn’t fit the federal workforce. Federal jobs are perceived as old-fashioned, stodgy, bureaucratic, restrictive, and a dozen more pejorative adjectives that make them undesirable for millennials. It’s conventional wisdom, and like many of the assertions about the 20 – 35 year old age group, it’s just not true.

The much-maligned generation, born between 1980 and 1985, has gotten a very bad rap from employers. Characterizations of this large segment of the US population go something like this:

Millennials are entrepreneurial – more inclined to start businesses of their own than to enter a conventional career.

They’re wired in – the first generation of digital natives to enter the workforce, millennials are early adopters of technology and more likely to consult the internet and contribute their thoughts online than within an organization.

Ideas are valued more than experience – the millennial generation likes collaborative work and dislikes hierarchy and structured career paths. They thrive in open, casual environments where the quality of output is valued more than the time put in.

Millennials rebel at structure – they prefer bosses to coaches, dislike annual reviews, and don’t stick around in conventional work environments.

In short, the millennial generation doesn’t fit the stereotypical model for government work, right? It’s easy to paint both the generation and the perception of government employment with a broad brush, but the illustration really doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. In fact, federal jobs may be some of the best jobs for millennials.

Wait . . . Innovation is a Good Thing

First, the generation is too large to be ignored. 80 million potential employees can’t be characterized in sweeping strokes. The millennial generation began entering the workforce in difficult times. The tech boom of the 1990s was ending and many couldn’t find jobs during the Great Recession. They were forced to be innovative. Many pursued higher degrees – they’re the most educated generation in our history. Others were forced to be entrepreneurial, stringing together multiple gigs to make ends meet.

Education, innovation, collaboration, digital acumen – these are all qualifications that potential employers desire, including the federal government. The federal government needs a fresh pool of employees. That’s a fact. The current age breakdown is skewed to older workers. Sixty percent of federal employees are over 45, compared to 31 percent in the private sector, and the government is facing a swelling tide of baby boomer retirements.1

Surprise! Government Work is a Good Career Fit

Second, there’s plenty of research on what millennials actually seek in their careers and it’s not a bad fit for a federal job. In 2013, Universum, the global employer branding and research company, surveyed more than 65,000 U.S. college students to find out what they are looking for as they enter the world of work, as well as their views on the attractiveness of specific employers 2. Here are a few of the findings:

Career Goals:

1.  Work/life balance – 62 percent

2.  Job security – 57 percent

3.  Dedicated to a cause or feel I am serving a greater good – 49 percent

4.  Be competitively or intellectually challenged – 34 percent

5.  Be a leader or manager of people – 26 percent

Workplace Values:

1.  Respect for its people — 53.7 percent

2.  Secure employment — 52.5 percent

3.  Creative and dynamic work environment — 49.1 percent

4.  Professional training & development — 45.7 percent

5.  Friendly work environment — 45.6 percent

Perhaps it’s surprising, but federal agencies were among the most preferred employers for students across many fields of study.

Millennial Federal Government Employees Like Their Work

Millennials Federal Job Graph

Third, it turns out that millennials that currently work for the federal government are pretty happy with their jobs. Employees born after 1980 now make up sixteen percent of the federal workforce. A 2014 Office of Personnel Management study discovered some mixed feelings, but found that 86 percent of survey respondents believed that their work was important, 83% thought that their bosses treated them with respect, and 66 percent agreed that their agencies support their personal development. On the whole, these sentiments were more positive than the responses from older federal employees 3.

A fascinating research paper by Deloitte University Press debunks four “myths” about millennials who work in government4. Citing survey data and their own external observations, the Deloitte study makes several conclusions that contradict “common knowledge”:

1.  The millennial generation is actually sticking longer than previous generations – comparisons by age-specific turnover show that the younger generation stays longer on the job than their Gen. X predecessors.

2.  Millennials are at least equally as engaged as older workers – Overall, employee engagement has declined in the federal workforce since 2010, affected by pay freezes, government shutdowns, and fiscal uncertainty. 95 percent of millennial government workers agree or strongly agree with the statement, “I am proud to work for my employer.”

3.  Career orientation and interest in government employment is strong – 25 percent of college students rank government as one of their top 3 career choices.

4.  Millennials are no more or less difficult to hire than previous generations – the data shows that the declining percentage of younger employees is caused more by reduced hiring than by rapid attrition in the millennial generation. Older workers are leaving faster than younger workers are hired.

A Changing Work Environment

Finally, the federal government is adapting, albeit slowly, to meet the specific needs and desires of the modern workforce. A great example is a program created by the Office of Personnel Management to assist government employees with student loan debt. The Student Loan Repayment Program repays $10,000 in debt each year to a maximum of $60,000, making it one of the best jobs for a millennial with lots of student debt. Employees are asked for a 3 year commitment to participate in the program. Hiring practices are changing, and new hiring authorities allow increased flexibility to reduce hiring times and simplify processes.

There are plenty of other indications of modernization:

  • The USAJobs website was recently redesigned to make applying for a federal job online more accessible.
  • In response to an executive order in 2010, a “GovConnect” program has been instituted that allows federal employees to take a few hours each week to work on outside projects of interest.
  • The General Services Administration (GSA) has created a model for the “total workplace” that envisions a new environment that promotes collaboration and integrates space and technology to meet the work preferences of the next generation of federal employees.


Navigating the Waters

It turns out that the broad brush conclusions about millennials and federal employment don’t really hold water. Sure, there are still difficulties and obstacles. The federal government is less agile than the private sector when it comes to adapting to new work environments and practices, but millennials who are looking for a fulfilling career shouldn’t shy away from opportunities to make an impact in government service and to be compensated well for their contributions.

A primary barrier to a federal career is simply navigation. The application and advancement process can be daunting, but there’s plenty of help available. CareerPro Global has assisted literally thousands of candidates with federal resumes and USAJobs applications to start and progress in their careers with the agencies of the federal government. The initial consultation is absolutely free and our services come with an iron-clad guarantee. If you’re a millennial with an eye on a federal job, give us a call today!


1 Flato, John and Lavigna, Bob, Millennials Are Attracted to Public Service, But Government Needs to Deliver, EREMEDIA, 2014.

2 Ibid.

3 Rein, Lisa, Millennials like government work, but don’t stay long, survey finds, Washington Post, 2014.

4 Viechnicki, Peter, Understanding Millennials in Government, Deloitte University Press, 2015.

Photo Credit: ITU Pictures, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0 Generic.

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