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Targeting Top Students for Federal Service

Despite constraints on budgets for recruiting and retaining top talent, federal agencies cannot simply halt hiring. As the nation’s largest employer—with more than two million civilian employees—the government must fill most vacant positions so it can function effectively, and agencies can carry out their mission.

The Federal Student Ambassadors Program can help bring entry-level talent on board by providing a strategic way for agencies to reach out to and recruit college students. Through the program, run by the Partnership for Public Service, agencies tap stu¬dents who have successfully completed a federal internship to serve as public service emissaries on their college campuses when they return to their school.

The program is based on research suggesting that students’ peers are the most effective at recruiting college students. Combining peer-to-peer outreach with a proven methodology for selecting, training, coaching and monitoring ambassadors, the program leverages students’ on-campus presence and intimate knowledge of campus culture to brand and promote federal agency opportunities.

These campus ambassadors, with both federal experience and knowledge of on-campus activities and people, are able to work with their peers, professors and career counseling offices to promote federal service. They can help an agency strategically target specific demographic groups and, unlike recruiters, they are on campus all the time.

“Having ambassadors on these campuses allows the agency to maximize efforts beyond just a one-day visit, to a year-round presence for nearly the same costs,” said Michael Kane, the former Chief Human Capitol Officer at the Department of Energy. “The ambassadors program has also provided a critical resource for our regional human resources offices, giving them the ability to reach audiences they usually do not reach because of funding limitations.”

The ambassadors program attracts young talent to federal service by increasing knowledge about federal agencies and the work they do, thus inspiring students to apply for federal positions. The program can help create direct pipelines of qualified talent for government service.

Ambassadors’ duties include hosting educa¬tional visits from federal agency representatives, promoting federal job and internship opportunities to classmates, sharing their intern experience and meeting with key staff and faculty to bolster the government’s efforts to recruit and hire entry-level talent. Unlike recruiters, who visit for a short period of time, these ambassadors interact with student groups on a continual basis. They give classroom presentations throughout the year and are available for individual advising session as students navigate the federal application process.

More than 40 student ambassadors representing six federal agencies currently serve at universities across the country. Tim McManus, vice president for Education and Outreach at the Partnership for Public Service, believes that one of the key values of the ambassadors program is that it encourages students to apply for internships that may result in a “direct pipeline into federal service.”

The Department of Energy (DOE) is one of the agencies currently using the program, and managers there view it as central to its recruiting strategy. It enhances DOE’s brand rec-ognition, stimulates student interest in agency jobs and internships and, ultimately, increases applications from talented college recruits to work at the agency. The DOE ambassadors focus their efforts on disciplines related to specific agency hir¬ing needs, including engineering, science, technology, business and social sciences.

“The DOE Student Ambassadors Program has exceeded our expectations; it is a cost-effective means to brand and market our jobs directly to students while sustaining a credible and interactive presence on college campuses,” states Michael Kane, the former Chief Human Capitol Officer at the Department of Energy.

While DOE uses the program to fill mission-critical positions, other agencies have placed a strategic recruitment emphasis on key demographics, such as veterans or, in the case of the Department of the Interior, diversity. Bureaus within Interior pool their resources for the ambassadors program, increasing their impact on select campuses with strong academic programs in the agency’s mission-critical areas. The ambassadors are located on diverse campuses nationwide, including Indian-nations and Hispanic-serving institutions, and universities with high levels of student enrollment from the aforementioned demographics. Although each ambassador interned at only one Interior bureau, they are driving highly qualified talent to all four participating bureaus.

President Obama believes that the federal government benefits from a diverse workforce, including “students and recent graduates, who infuse the workplace with their enthusiasm, talents, and unique perspectives,” according a press release by the Office of Personnel Management. He signed an executive order establishing the Pathways Programs to streamline the path into federal service through internships and career positions. However, only 6 percent of federal government interns return to a job in the government. “Student internships are utterly underutilized for hiring,” said McManus.

Shevika Mitchell, a current student at Spelman College as well as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ambassador, encourages students not to “judge a book by its name or cover.” She promotes that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a place where students of varied educational backgrounds can flourish. She focuses many of her campus duties on highlighting the numerous opportunities available to students who choose to apply to the Interior Department, such as wildfire fighting and developing educational programs.


If you are interested in learning how your agency can leverage the Partnership’s Federal Student Ambassadors program, please contact Lindsay Johnson at [email protected]


Author: Lindsay Johnson works with the Partnership for Public Service.  She can be reached at [email protected]  

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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