Making government service the first choice for more college students

Original Reporting | By Kevin C. Brown |

In addition to cultivating a sense of the prestigious nature of getting a job in these industries, Lovett added that “what we have found with working with students is that [part of] the lure of finance and consulting…is that students go through a clear recruiting process.”

“That element of competition — whether it’s real or artificial — creates a sense of prestige.” — Travis Lovett

Andrew Simmons agreed. The director of Brown University’s Center for Careers and Life After Brown (CareerLAB), Simmons told Remapping Debate, “the finance group…[has] a certain structure to it that looks appealing, because they come to campus, they do formal recruiting. It seems more straightforward than what a traditional job hunt would otherwise be like.”

“The way it works on our campus,” Simmons said, is “you can come to our center, and you can do on-campus interviewing, and you post your job through our searchable database. You can run info sessions, and you can also attend career fairs.” In addition, however, “a lot of these entities will also have developed relationships in other places on campus, either through student ambassadors who have been interns with those companies, or perhaps with course instructors…so it works on the radar and a little bit below the radar.”

 “The big banking and consulting firms, and maybe Teach for America, are the ones who engage with this the most, and the big technology firms as well,” he added.


A clear path

When it comes to filling out an application, the “the process is very easy…[human resources departments] make applying to financial services look like applying to college in such a way that it seems like a logical next step,” said Chris Wiggins, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics at Columbia University.

Finance companies come to campus, they do formal recruiting. It seems more straightforward than what a traditional job hunt would otherwise be like.” — Andrew Simmons

Not all of the activity that draws students to these sectors takes place in the final months before graduation. As Karen Ho told Remapping Debate, though many students may have a dim view of finance before entering college, students “are pretty much bombarded when [they] start [their] freshman year,” both by the campus culture and events hosted by campus clubs, or by advertisements in campus newspapers.

More directly influential, said Tim McManus, is the role that summer internships for undergraduates play in getting students interested in particular companies or economic sectors early in their academic careers: Finance firms “get the students early as well. So they are not waiting to try to get those students until they are a junior or senior when it is actually time to start thinking about a job, they are actually trying to get to students earlier in their college careers so that they are actually setting the path forward.”

Companies say, “’Come and work for us for a summer: You are going to find out first hand what it is like to work in this industry,’” McManus said.

Indeed, Goldman Sachs told Remapping Debate, its Summer Internship Program is “the key feeder” for its “full-time analyst and associate roles.” The program allows Goldman to “evaluate talent,” but also for undergraduate interns to “determine if the firm is a place where they want to build their careers over the long term.”

Collectively, these recruiting efforts have paid off for financial services and consulting firms. At Harvard, for example, 22 percent of surveyed graduating seniors had found employment in finance or consulting in 2012. By contrast, just 5 percent of students planned to enter “government, military service, [a] non-profit agency, or NGO,” a number that does not include education.


What about the path (currently) less traveled?

“To the extent that these students come with broad training, enthusiasm, resources…[and] can bring these tools to bear on the new institution they are a part of,” said Karen Ho,  “why shouldn’t government institutions take advantage of that?”

A 2011 survey of college students — conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers and subsequently analyzed by the Partnership for Public Service —  showed that only 6 percent were planning on working for local, state, or the federal governments. (Just 2.3 percent planned on entering the federal workforce.) It is plain, said Philip D. Gardner, the director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, “Government is not necessarily the employer of first choice unless that is the only place you can go” given your career field (as in forestry or geology, for example).

One reason that new graduates haven’t flocked to government, said Steve Ressler, the founder of GovLoop, an online community for government employees that has also co-published an 88-page online guide entitled “Getting into Government: A Guide for High Achievers,” “is that they really don’t know about it. The average, smart 21-year-old coming out of SUNY-Albany doesn’t even know how the State of New York government works, or how to get a job at the City of Albany. And honestly, even if they tried, it is probably very complicated, confusing, and bureaucratic, which makes it hard for them to consider.”

On the other hand, he added, “The KPMG recruiter…is there knocking on their door, or the CitiBank recruiter…is there kind of pinching them.”

Send a letter to the editor