Armed with an MBA, an MPA and two decades of private-sector work experience, Joseph Jankosky had high hopes for a new career in the federal...

Share story

WASHINGTON — Armed with an MBA, an MPA and two decades of private-sector work experience, Joseph Jankosky had high hopes for a new career in the federal government when he moved to the nation’s capital more than a year ago.

“I thought that people would be knocking on my door,” he said. “But that hasn’t happened.”

In fact, it’s been just the opposite: He has been knocking on doors all over town, and no one is answering. He has applied for nearly 20 federal jobs and met with some 50 officials about ways he could serve.

“All of them expressed an interest in my private-sector skills, but none really knew how to fit me into the government,” he said. “Unless you’ve paid your dues [by moving up internally] or unless you have some very specific skills, there really isn’t much of a fit.”

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

Jankosky — inspired to serve his country and not just the bottom line — still hopes something comes through. But his situation illustrates why Max Stier doesn’t hesitate to name the two attributes any applicant for a federal job is going to need most: patience and persistence.

Stier heads the Partnership for Public Service, which pushes for improvements in federal hiring. He credits the government with making numerous changes in recent years that have improved applicants’ experiences, including speeding up hiring and bolstering programs to attract midcareer workers. But he also insists there’s a long way to go.

“If this were an ‘Extreme Makeover’ show, we’d be dealing with a 1976 AMC Pacer,” Stier said. “People who might be otherwise inclined to go into public service are going to be deterred by the hiring process.”

The government lets applicants dangle far too long before making a decision, Stier said, adding that applicants don’t get a clear enough idea from vacancy postings of exactly what the jobs will be like and what skills are required.

Officials at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which oversees federal hiring, say they’re working with the Partnership for Public Service to make applying for a federal job more like applying for one in the private sector. For instance, they’ve set a goal of 45 days or less from the time a job posting closes to the time someone is hired.

They also point to recent upgrades of the office’s Web site,, that make it a one-stop experience for those interested in government work.

There, applicants can create and submit résumés, read job postings and fill out applications. Workers in the private sector can type in the name of their current job and find federal jobs that demand similar skills and training.

Mark Doboga, a deputy associate director at the OPM, said applicants should be flexible as they search the listings and recognize that career growth continues after hiring.

“When people apply for jobs in the federal government, they often shoot for something that is exactly what they want at the end of their careers instead of applying for something they would do at the start of their careers,” Doboga said. “There are merit promotions, and people have the ability to move up through the system fairly quickly.”

Stier, too, said it’s important that applicants keep an open mind and not limit themselves by looking at the agencies that seem most obvious. “You can be a lawyer in 100 different agencies, not just the Justice Department,” he said.

Stier said that no matter how frustrating the application process is, government jobs can be interesting and rewarding in a way that many private-sector jobs can’t.

“It’s worth the wait,” he said.