Job seekers continue to value face-to-face interaction

Federal agencies are catching on to the social media craze and leveraging that technology to attract job seekers, especially young recruits. For example, the Labor Department advertises open positions on Twitter and plans to upload its recruitment videos to YouTube. The State Department regularly updates its Facebook page and maintains the @DOSCareers Twitter account. But conventional wisdom, which holds that recent college graduates and tech-savvy young professionals respond favorably to anything on the Internet, doesn't always apply when it comes to federal recruiting.

Recruiting "can't simply be about information dissemination rather than a real engagement, dialogue, discussion with potential applicants," says Tim McManus, vice president for education and outreach at the Partnership for Public Service. "One of the best mechanisms is to use those who have walked in the shoes. People want to see where people like them fit in."

Recognizing the need to target the next generation of federal workers on a more personal level, the Partnership and the Office of Personnel Management have teamed up on Call to Serve, a program that brings federal career days to college campuses.

Government recruiters travel to schools and interact with students at career fairs and give presentations on navigating vacancy announcements on USAJobs. OPM also oversees several initiatives that offer students a taste of government service, including the Student Temporary Employment and the Student Career Experience programs and the Presidential Management Fellows program. PMF targets graduate students and commits to converting them to full-time positions after two years of service. Following a competitive application and testing process, program finalists are invited to meet agency representatives at a hiring fair.

Students prefer to interact with employers at career fairs, says McManus, in part because they use Web sites to determine which opportunities are available and then expect to speak to someone directly about specific job responsibilities and benefits, especially if that person has held a similar position.

"I enjoyed sitting down and talking to people more because it gives me an idea of what they are looking for rather than what they put up online," says Annie Medaglia, a presidential management fellow and State employee. "It also gives you a better idea of who works in that office and what the day-to-day process is like."

Young people often relate best to peers who are close in age and have similar job experiences or lifestyle concerns. As a student ambassador with the Partnership, Mackenzie Lawyer Davies, a former intern at the Government Accountability Office and graduate student at Utah's Brigham Young University, leads information sessions and works with career placement advisers to teach students how their skills translate into a federal job. "People like person-to-person contact. Facebook and social networks are fun, but I would never use them for professional gain," Davies says, adding that at BYU she creates "smaller and more intimate settings where you can ask questions."

State, whose globally focused mission tends to attract young employees, targets students by balancing a strong Web presence on the networking sites LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter with a more traditional person-to-person approach. The strategy merges high-tech, which leverages Web tools to convey its message, with high-touch, a human element that provides context, says Luis Arreaga, director of the Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment at State's Bureau of Human Resources.

One of the department's high-touch initiatives is the Diplomat in Residence program, which places career Foreign Service officers in universities across the country.

Diplomats are responsible for providing students with a personal connection to the department's programs. In addition to attending campus career fairs, they provide follow-up information sessions and opportunities for potential applicants to ask questions in a more intimate setting.

A personal touch "can also be particularly effective for candidates who weren't considering a job with the government," says Matt Crouch, acting deputy director of human resources at the Environmental Protection Agency. "In-person recruiting may be more effective for attracting diverse candidates. It makes people feel more comfortable and see that 'hey, this is a place where I'll be welcome.' "

The ability to connect with a current employee could be what ultimately convinces a job seeker to apply for a federal position. Young professionals in particular care about the work environment and benefits, but they also want to understand how their individual role connects with an agency's overall mission-something they wouldn't be able to glean from an online job description or a Twitter post.

"More and more people are looking for the ability to make a difference as soon as they get on the job to go and do something substantial," says Medaglia. "We want to start off running, but we also have to realize that we have to work from the ground floor up."

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