3 Tips from Federal HR Pros on Recruiting Talent in a Pandemic

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Proactive federal agencies are recruiting where the talent is: online.

COVID-19 has forced federal agencies to rethink the way they approach recruiting talent to the government ranks.

On Wednesday, federal officials from three agencies—the State Department, General Services Administration and National Nuclear Security Administration—explained how they’ve modified their recruiting strategies to meet the challenges posed by the pandemic. During a panel conversation hosted by Government Executive and Nextgov, they also explained why these recruiting changes are likely here to stay.

Go Digital

“In this environment, we’re realizing social media helps us level the playing field,” said Traci DiMartini, chief human capital officer for GSA.

DiMartini said GSA has onboarded more than 570 employees, many of them attracted to GSA’s presence through digital platforms liked LinkedIn, where the agency can take a nuanced approach to recruitment. GSA, she said, is targeting individuals with the right skillsets and the desire for public service, and hosting virtual job fairs through Zoom.

Partner Up

Lewis Monroe, director of human resources for NNSA, said his agency “jumped on the virtual bandwagon” early into the pandemic, ushering in more than 300 new employees, ranging from administrative personnel to rocket scientists. One of the keys, he said, was leveraging a robust network of partners, including universities and academic institutions, service academies and the contracting community. Those partners can amplify government openings to a broader talent pool and attract more potential applicants than traditional in-person job fairs. Monroe said one virtual job fair hosted by NNSA in August attracted more than 3,000 registrations and more than 1,500 resumes, and resulted in 30 new hires. Those individuals may or may not be able to work remotely due to the sensitivities of the job they perform.

“Recruitment has gone up, there’s a big plus to that,” Monroe said, adding that due to remote operations, NNSA can hire people from geographic locations that otherwise might have prohibited employment.

Flexibility Matters

The State Department’s Virtual Student Federal Service program has helped place thousands of college students in virtual federal internships across dozens of federal agencies annually since 2009. This year, however, was unlike any other.

“Early in the season, we realized it was going to be different because mentors were calling us—all these in-person internships were canceled—asking, ‘Can you save them?’’ said Nora Dempsey, senior advisor for innovation at the State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy. “We had to do something we’ve never done before, and help agencies make these in-person internships virtual so students have this important ability to work with agencies for the summer.”

For Dempsey and her colleague, Virtual Student Federal Service program analyst Megan Kuhn, the adjustment meant a massive increase in workload and engagement. The duo provided countless webinars, information outreach for career counselors and targeted information sessions specifically for students and parents. Kuhn said the team also did a broad outreach for virtual interns who could assist in mentors’ common-requested skillsets, including graphic design, videography and basic tech skills. Given an uncommon challenge, the team shifted its strategy to telling results.   

“For the previous school year, 3,000 students applied for about 1,200 virtual internships,” Kuhn said. “This year, we saw nearly 8,000 students applying for what will ultimately be more than 2,000 remote internships at more than 50 federal agencies. Everyone from the CIA to NASA to Veterans Affairs utilizes this program.” 

Editor's note: This story was updated to add context to employees hired by NNSA during the pandemic. 

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