Understanding the Federal Hiring Freeze and Its Impact on Your Search

Dreama Johnson – February 2nd, 2017

Below is an update from the Partnership for Public Service (April 2017):

"For students who may be thinking about federal jobs and wondering how the hiring freeze impacts them, we want to highlight a few key points. The hiring freeze remains in place, with a longer-term plan to reduce the size of the federal workforce due from the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget by the end of April.

Remember that there are many exemptions from the freeze, including national security and public safety positions deemed essential. We encourage students to continue applying for posted jobs and internships during the hiring freeze, since agencies are still permitted to engage in recruitment activities, list job opportunity announcements, assess applications and conduct interviews. In addition, don’t forget that Pathways Internship and Presidential Management Fellows Programs are exempted from the hiring freeze, along with many unpaid student volunteer internships."


If you have applied to an internship or job with a federal agency, or are considering applying, you likely have questions about how the Presidential Memorandum (PM) entitled “Hiring Freeze” affects your internship or job search.  In this blog post we will offer our insights, share important resources, and answer the questions we’re hearing most often in office hours and appointments.  Please know that the Career Center is here to support you and help you navigate your search, for federal jobs and internships as well as in other areas.

What did the Presidential Memorandum “Hiring Freeze” do?

The Presidential Memorandum placed a 90 day hiring freeze on most federal agencies and departments starting January 23, 2017 during which “the Director of the OMB (U.S. Office of Management & Budget), in consultation with the Director of the OPM (U.S. Office of Personnel Management) will work to develop a long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition.  The hiring freeze will expire upon implementation of the OMB plan."

OMB Acting Director Mark Sandy has provided guidance to agencies and applicants on the implementation of the Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze (and any exemptions to the freeze) in these three, consecutive documents:

A few most important takeaways from these guidelines for you as a student include:

  • If you received an offer for a FULL TIME job before noon on Jan. 22, AND if the start date for the job is on or before Feb. 22, you will still be hired.
  • If an offer for FULL TIME was made to you after noon on Jan. 22 or if your start date was later than Feb. 22, then the offer will be withdrawn.  However, there are exemptions to the PM.

What positions and agencies are EXEMPT from the hiring freeze?

While there are a number of exemptions permitted that can be found in detail here, we will attempt to highlight the ones most likely to affect current students.  This is not an exhaustive list, so we highly encourage you to review the latest guidance from OMB and OPM.

  • Appointments made under the Pathways Internship and Presidential Management Fellows Programs are exempt from the freeze. The Pathways Recent Graduates Program has NOT been listed as exempt. Do keep in mind that the latest guidance regarding Pathways Internships and the PMF program explicitly states that “agencies should ensure that such hires understand the provisional nature of these appointments and that conversion is not guaranteed.”
  • Job offers made prior to noon on January 22, 2017 for which an individual has a confirmed start date on or before February 22, 2017
  • Job offers made prior to noon on January 22, 2017, but for which the individual has a confirmed start date that is later than February 22, 2017 (or does not have a confirmed start date), should be decided on a case-by-case basis and must go through agency-head review
  • The head of any agency may exempt any position that it deems necessary to meet national security (including foreign relations) responsibilities or meet public safety responsibilities
    • Department of Defense has issued a Memorandum with guidance on interpretation of the PM.
  • U.S. Postal Service
  • Office of the Director of National Intelligence
  • Central Intelligence Agency
  • Positions where limiting the hiring of personnel would conflict with applicable law
  • Appointment of seasonal employees or short-term temporary employees necessary to meet the traditionally recurring seasonal workloads
  • Members of the armed services and all federal uniformed personnel, including the U.S. Coast Guard

I have received an internship or full-time offer with an agency or department, but have not received any other updates since the offer was made. How can I find out more information about my status?  What questions should I ask?  How should I approach connecting with my Human Resources (HR) contact?

The best option at this point is to call your HR person or contact. A sample of what you could say:

Dear [human resources contact/hiring manager],

I hope you are well.  I know you must be extremely busy during the Presidential transition, but I wanted to check on the status of my offer with [agency name].  I am still very excited about this opportunity and would like to know if there is an update on the timeline and if there are any steps I need to take to help move the offer forward. 

Please let me know if it would be helpful to provide any additional information. 

I look forward to hearing from you,

[Your name]


What should I do if I have an offer but my security clearance process has not begun?

As we previously mentioned, we do anticipate that the hiring process for those with offers will be delayed.  That said, it is good to check in with your HR contact to see if they can provide any updates or if there is information you can provide that would help expedite the process.  Additionally, if you have applied and/or received an offer from the U.S. State Department, in addition to reaching out to your contact within the department, we strongly encourage you to review the U.S. State Department Forum for specific questions about next steps, security clearances and any updates to their hiring process.


What does this PM mean for government job seekers graduating in the near future?

Certain roles and certain agencies may be less able to hire new job seekers at this time. As a student you are also encouraged to keep track of decisions made about the Pathways Recent Graduates program. We encourage you to also consider opportunities with:

  • Agencies that have their own budget and thus are less affected by a government-wide freeze. Examples of these include the CIA and Federal Reserve.
  • Alternative career paths in government and policy, including work with state or local governments; government contractors; advocacy groups or lobbying firms; nonprofits; think tanks; and the private sector (some organizations have policy-related departments or do advocacy work).
  • Congressional offices (Capitol Hill staffing). Work on Capitol Hill is a pathway to many jobs in government and lobbying/advocacy
  • Should I continue applying for federal jobs? (via the Partnership for Public Service)
    • Yes! The freeze will eventually end and at that point applicants will again be considered for and offered positions. This may or may not occur in 90 days, pending the OMB/OPM plan. Many agencies may continue reviewing applications and conducting applicant assessments during the hiring freeze, although they cannot officially make offers until it ends.
  • I am now questioning whether I want to go into government, should I abandon this pathway?  (via the Partnership for Public Service)
    • Our government hires for every skill and background imaginable – from engineers to nurses to zoologists to scientists to computer experts. There is a place in government for talented young people, and your impact serving our country can last for decades to come. Through administration changes and beyond, government will continue to need smart, strong and dedicated people to deliver important services for the American people. 

Visit us!

While this is not the first time the federal government has experienced a hiring freeze, managing your expectations and knowing how it impacts your search can be difficult to manage on your own.  We are the Career Center are here to help listen to your concerns and support you in developing strategies for managing these types of transitions in the world of work.  Drop by our office hours or schedule an appointment in Handshake

  • General Office Hours: M-F 12-5pm in Newcomb 170
  • Public Service & Government Office Hours: 11am-1pm Wednesdays (1st Floor Nau/Gibson) & Fridays (Newcomb 170)
Additional Resources:

Hiring freeze myths (Partnership for Public Service)

Trump freezes hiring of many federal workers (Washington Post)

Trump hiring freeze could turn out to be less sweeping than it seems (Washington Post)

What Trumps hiring freeze means (Politico)