Federal agencies may be limited in their ability to hire new employees, but as a human resources professional, hiring manager or senior executive, you should make sure that your agency continues to have a presence on college campuses even if you’re not actively filling jobs.

In the current climate of budget uncertainty, there may be a temptation to pull back on campus recruiting because you don’t have specific positions to fill. This would be a mistake.

Indeed, it is actually more important than ever for agencies to continue to build and maintain relationships with universities. If you limit your campus engagement, history has shown that it will be very difficult to re-establish these connections in the future when you have critical hiring needs and want to bring bright young and energetic talent into your workforce.

The private sector invests heavily in ensuring that they attract and retain the best young talent, and government should be doing the same in both good and bad times.

Some agencies fully understand the need to create talent pipelines and the importance of their college connections. But too many agencies, even in the flush times, are passive when it comes to marketing, recruiting and hiring. They often are content to post job announcements and wait to see who applies. Change requires developing and sustaining meaningful relationships with colleges and universities, and targeting key departments and faculty.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has crafted an effective model for working with universities to find young talent, even as they are facing budgetary constraints like everyone else.

A cornerstone of the GAO plan is building name recognition and visibility with students and developing in-depth relationships with specific academic departments or schools within universities that have the “right” curricula, such as a public policy school or an IT department. The GAO actively nurtures and sustains these relationships. Clearly, GAO has recognized the need to go beyond career services and connect directly with faculty in those areas that they need talent the most.

It is noteworthy that the GAO has not retreated amid the nation’s current financial difficulties. Instead, it has adjusted to the economic realities. Rather than doing all of its campus recruiting in person, the GAO has established three tiers of contact with their targeted universities – virtual, a combination of virtual and in-person and highly personal. While their approach has been modified, GAO is still able to sustain connections that have taken years and money to develop.

In the long run, the GAO’s adjustments represent a much smarter and cost-effective approach than completely cutting ties. Severing connections would only mean the agency would have start from scratch when they have future hiring needs, and it would send the message to universities and their students that they are closed for business.

What is your agency doing to maintain its relationships with colleges and universities in the face of reduced budgets and limited hiring?

Please share your ideas and stories below, or email me at [email protected].