Agency Tip 1: Get out the message

Part of \"The Need for the Next Generation\" special report, GAO explains how the watchdog agency re-imagined its brand and recruiting methods to become a highl...

By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

This story is part of Federal News Radio’s special report, The Need for the Next Generation.

GAO recruits aggressively on-campus, sending former interns to as many as 85 universities each year. Pictured from left to right are some of GAO’s recent hires: K.F. Lee, Erika Navarro, Robert Campbell, Melissa Swearingen and Rachael Wojnowicz. Swearingen and Wojnowicz are former GAO interns.

Six years ago, the General Accounting Office changed its name to the Government Accountability Office. The change reflected the expanded role of the agency, explained then-Comptroller General David Walker, in a statement. GAO was doing more than following the money; it was making sure agencies stayed true to their missions, Walker said.

The name change was just one part of an overall rebranding, said Lori Rectanus, GAO campus recruitment program manager. The agency also changed its logo and revamped its website, Rectanus said. Walker appeared on television in interviews, including on The Colbert Report in 2007 to talk about the deficit.

Prior to the rebranding, accountants had probably heard of GAO but not people in public service, Rectanus said. Walker “really took us into living rooms.”

GAO has established a brand as the government watchdog. With that message, the agency sends former interns to between 70 and 85 schools. They hold informational sessions and assist students with capstone projects. The former interns offer a picture of what the internship is like but, more than that, the fact that the summer internship can lead to a full-time job, Rectanus said.

GAO’s internship program – separate from the dismantled Federal Career Internship Program – is in the excepted service. Each year, GAO makes offers to 70 percent of the 150 interns it recruits, and 70 percent of those offers are accepted, Rectanus said.

Rachael Wojnowicz, 29, a senior analyst, said she first heard about GAO through her public health master’s program at Columbia University. A former GAO intern had come to campus to discuss the program, Wojnowicz said.

“She sold it as, you can learn a lot about how government works, you get to go to the Hill, you get to go to hearings, and it’s also paid, which is really nice,” said Wojnowicz, who interned in 2007 and was hired on full-time the next year.

Melissa Swearingen, who was a fellow intern with Wojnowicz, said the internship gives potential hires a clear picture of what a full-time job will be like.

“Once I got my offer, I knew exactly what I was coming back to do,” she said. “It was something very concrete I could compare to other offers.”

If internship applications are any indication, demand is high to get into the agency. Rectanus said this summer, GAO selected 150 interns out of a pool of 8,700 applicants.

Read more from the special report “The Need for the Next Generation

  • Introduction: The need for the next generation
  • Innovation From OPM’s Basement
  • Agency Tip 1: Get Out the Message
  • Agency Tip 2: Provide Career Development
  • Agency Tip 3: Manage With a ‘Personal Touch’
  • Agency Tip 4: Make New Hires Feel Welcome
  • POLL: What’s the biggest challenge to recruiting and retaining young employees?
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