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Finding Your Agency’s Shining Stars

According to Katherine Archuleta, Director of the Office of Personnel Management, four out of ten federal employees will be eligible for retirement in the next five years. With the impending emptying of desks, who will step up and be the government’s new shining stars?

Defense and intelligence are fields of government where there is no lack of interest, but the real question is how to weed out the best talent. Sue Shumate, Chief of the Talent Acquisition Division at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), spoke with Christopher Dorobek for the podcast DorobekINSIDER on their techniques for finding the best person for the job.

First, the NGA recruits entry-level talent through partnerships with universities. This seems like a basic technique; however, the NGA implements a careful strategy of engaging with targeted audiences through an ambassador program. For instance, if they need editors, they reach out to the English department, or if they need STEM workers, they’ll find campus organizations geared towards that field.

“It’s about relationship building… and it’s also about us getting to spend time with the individuals who possess the skillsets that we are looking for,” said Shumate.

Beyond university outreach, the NGA has innovated by taking the hiring process to the virtual world. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the Chief Human Capital Office (CHCO) recently hosted a virtual career fair for hiring in the field of intelligence.

Online career fairs have a slew of benefits, according to Shumate. First of all, it does away with the physical barriers of location – anyone with an Internet connection can attend and learn more about applying to work in government intelligence.

Seemingly paradoxically, virtual career fairs allow for more individual attention. In an in-person career fair, everyone is pushing to get to the table, and physical space often prevents one-on-one questions. “In a virtual career fair, it’s a long, open conversation where people can just ask questions and get responses from subject matter experts,” Shumate explained. “But we also have the opportunity to go into breakout rooms with the attendees. And what that means is if they want to ask specific questions of a particular recruiter, they can do so. We have a little bit more time to engage back and forth.”

Shumate reported that the NGA’s hiring process is generally understood as highly successful. What makes the NGA so good at finding talent, then?

First of all, it’s the nature of the organization that draws interest. “The people who come to us have familiarity with the NGA, and they tell us that they want to contribute to our mission,” she explained. “It’s about the mission.”

Secondly, it’s the nature of the audience. Millennials coming into the workforce today care more than their predecessors about career development and opportunities for advancement after being hired.

“NGA is very focused on our career service model – we’re looking at building careers for employees who come through our agency,” Shumate said. “What’s really important to certain generations is [questions like] when I take a job, is my organization going to take care of me? Is it going to be important to them that I grow, develop, and have the training I need? Will I solve important problems?”

Additionally, the NGA uses social media to find new hires. They recently held a Twitter town hall and online education session to field questions about their summer internship program. Shumate was satisfied with this event not only because it drew attention and spurred interest in the program, but also because it provided an easily-quantifiable way of understanding the return on investment for reaching out via social media. They were able to count how many questions they received, as compared with fielding questions through in-person events or singular emails.

The intelligence community is lucky, because smart, young employees are arriving at its doorstep in troves. Now that the crowds have arrived, how do we find the best of the best – the rising stars who will help the government do its job better?

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