- The federal government is doubling down on early-career hiring. Job postings from federal employers on Handshake have increased by 22% over the past year.
- The federal government’s efforts to attract early talent are paying off. Total applications to federal employers have more than doubled over the past year, and the average number of applications per open job has increased by 55%, compared to a 38% increase across all industries.
- Jobs in the federal government are appealing to students with many different skill sets. Business, computer science, and civics and government majors account for a large share of applicants, and students in niche in-demand majors such as cybersecurity and epidemiology submit a significant share of their applications to federal roles.
- Students from minority-serving institutions are submitting more applications to federal roles. Total applications to federal employers from students at minority-serving institutions have doubled year over year, and applications from students at historically Black colleges and universities are up 110%.
- Federal employers are hiring nationwide. Unsurprisingly, Washington, D.C. has the highest concentration of federal jobs—but there are opportunities for early talent across the country, including in cities like Chicago, New York, Atlanta, and San Francisco.
The federal government is doubling down on early-career hiring
Building a pipeline of future leaders is an increasingly urgent priority for the federal government. A third of federal employees are over age 55, which means they’re nearing retirement, and only 8% are under age 30. Hiring more students and new grads is critical to shifting those demographics.
Earlier this year, the federal Office of Personnel Management issued new guidance encouraging all federal agencies to increase pathways for Gen Z to enter the federal workforce, and launched a centralized portal for students exploring internship opportunities in the federal government. Every federal agency uses Handshake—alongside other government recruiting tools like USAJobs—to connect with early-career talent, and federal employers are steadily expanding their activity on the Handshake platform.
Federal employers posted 22% more full-time jobs on Handshake between August 2022 and August 2023 compared to the prior year, with several major agencies more than doubling the number of jobs they posted. Some job types—including customer support, accounting, and environmental science roles—saw even stronger growth. Postings for tech roles also ticked up; for example, postings for data science and analytics roles increased 9%, and postings for computer and network security roles were up 6%.
To fill these new job openings, the federal government is stepping up proactive outreach and casting a wider net in both virtual and in-person recruiting. The average federal employer messaged about 24% more students through the Handshake platform between August 2022 and August 2023 compared to the prior year, and federal employers collectively reached out to students at more than 2,000 schools—an increase in school reach of about 25%. Federal employers also collectively registered for about 3,000 career fairs on Handshake between August 2022 and August 2023, an increase of about 15% compared to the prior year.
The federal government’s efforts to attract early-career talent are paying off
Students on Handshake are showing strong and growing interest in federal government roles. Total applications to federal employers have more than doubled over the past year, and the average number of applications per open job has increased by 55%, compared to a 38% increase across all industries. As a result, federal jobs now receive twice as many applications on average as jobs on Handshake overall. Visits to federal employer profile pages are also up by 26%, compared to an increase of just 17% across all employers. And federal employers received applications from students at more than 1,500 schools between August 2022 and August 2023—up from about 1,200 schools the prior year.
College and university leaders are seeing this increased interest firsthand. Saskia Campbell, Executive Director of University Career Services at George Mason University, says students at George Mason “are attracted to public service because they are seeking purpose-driven work, craving job security, and understand that the federal government is the largest employer with opportunities in our local area, across the country and the world.”
Gihan Fernando, Assistant Vice Provost of the American University Career Center, is seeing a similar trend. “American University students have always been interested in making societal impact through careers in the federal government,” says Fernando. “Federal agencies like the US Department of State and the intelligence agencies are regularly in the top five most desired employers among our students.”
Interest in federal tech roles, in particular, is quickly outpacing interest in similar roles with other employers. For example, the average number of applications to software developer openings in the federal government increased by almost 200% over the past year, compared to an increase of about 100% across all other industries, and we see similar trends for data scientist and information security analyst roles.
Jobs in the federal government are appealing to students with many different skill sets
No single academic major dominates the federal applicant pool on Handshake, and the majors that are best-represented range from business, to computer science, to social science and civics and government (including political science and international studies). Notably—and in keeping with the theme of federal tech roles gaining popularity—computer science majors are slightly overrepresented in the federal applicant pool compared to applicants on Handshake overall.
Total application volume is only part of the story, though, especially when it comes to students in small-but-in-demand fields. To understand interest from students in niche majors, we can look at the share of their applications that are submitted to roles in the federal government. For example, about 10% of applications from cybersecurity majors are submitted to federal roles, compared to only about 3% of applications across all majors—and that number has increased significantly over the past year. This is encouraging news for federal employers looking to recruit students with specialized skills.
Students from minority-serving institutions are submitting more applications to federal roles
The federal government has made a strong commitment to diversifying its workforce, and that effort is yielding results with early talent. Total applications to federal roles from students at minority-serving institutions (MSIs) have doubled year over year. Applications from students at Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) are up 87%, and applications from students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are up 110%.
HBCU students, in particular, are also submitting a significantly greater share of their total applications to federal roles. Between August 2022 and August 2023, 7.1% of all applications submitted by HBCU students on Handshake went to federal roles, compared to 3.2% the prior year. The same upward trend holds for students at MSIs and HSIs—3.3% of applications from MSI students went to federal roles over the past year, compared to 1.9% the prior year, and the share of HSI student applications submitted to federal roles increased from 2% to 3.1%.
Howard University is one historically Black university that’s seen rising student interest in federal roles. Kemi Omisore, Director of Howard’s Center for Career & Professional Success, explains that these roles have significant practical appeal for Gen Z. "There’s a pull toward government jobs that offer stability and essential benefits,” she explains. “Students who have witnessed layoffs in other industries want to connect with employers that can provide job security, and we’re excited that those opportunities are available to them within federal government roles.”
Federal employers are hiring nationwide
Early-career professionals don’t need to move to the nation’s capital—or even to the northeast—to pursue a career with the federal government. Although Washington, D.C. has the highest concentration of federal jobs, federal employers have opportunities for students and new grads in most major cities across the country, and many federal roles are posted in cities like Chicago, New York, Atlanta, and San Francisco.
The University of Texas at San Antonio encourages students to consider federal roles both locally and across the country. “UTSA's classroom-to-career training equips our students for success in government work,” says Mario Vela, Assistant Vice Provost of Career Engaged Learning. “Ensuring they are well prepared for federal jobs not only invests in their future but also in our nation's future, as they will play a pivotal role in shaping the policies and services that impact us all.”
Federal roles are a great fit for Gen Z
The federal government hasn’t historically been top of mind for young professionals applying to their first job, but that’s changing. Federal jobs can offer many things today’s students and new grads care deeply about, including job stability, pay transparency, and the opportunity to play a role in addressing critical social and environmental issues. In return, early-career hires are bringing in-demand skills and new ideas and perspectives to government agencies. As more young professionals step into these roles over the next few years, the positive impact on everyone—government leaders, early-career talent, and people across the U.S. who rely on government services—will only continue to grow.
Federal employers on Handshake were identified using ZoomInfo classifications in combination with publicly-available lists of federal agencies, departments, and committees. The findings in this report are based on data from a total of 508 federal employers registered on Handshake.
Unless otherwise noted, all data in this report is based on employer and job seeker activity on the Handshake platform between August 1, 2022 and August 1, 2023. Where year-over-year comparisons are indicated, the comparison is to the same period the prior year (August 1, 2021 to August 1, 2022).