2 big hiring events inform DHS’ recruitment strategy in 2017

The Homeland Security Department held the second of its major hiring events last December. It made about 40 job offers to college students and recent graduates ...

After two big hiring events in 2016, the Department of Homeland Security is taking stock of what worked and what didn’t as it continues to look for creative ways to fill mission critical gaps.

Both job fairs were part of the department’s ongoing effort to test a variety of ways to recruit and hire new talent.

DHS advertised a “virtual” hiring fair last December. This time, it focused on recruiting college students and recent graduates under Pathways program to fill a few positions across the department’s component agencies.

Candidates submitted their applications and received invitations from DHS to interview — either in person or over the phone or Skype.

“We thought that, perhaps, they would be a little bit more enamored with doing things virtually,” Angela Bailey, DHS’ chief human capital officer, said in an interview with Federal News Radio before the Obama administration left office. “That way it wouldn’t be as costly for folks to have to actually fly in or come into D.C. to do the event.”

The department received more than 2,000 applications for roughly 300 vacancies during the December event.

DHS tweaked its approach to the virtual fair after its experience over the summer, when it hosted a job fair for cyber and tech positions.

“For that event we had over 15,000 applications and it became unwieldy,” Bailey said of the July event. “So one of the things that we did to try to minimize that and actually just to, quite frankly,  help us manage the whole event, was as we reached a certain number — whether it was 250 or 500 applicants for each of the different announcements — we cut it off. We purposely controlled it to where it was around 2,000 applications.”

Like its previous event, the department brought human resources and security specialists to help prospective employees begin clearance forms or start fingerprinting.

DHS extended about 40 tentative job offers on the day of December event, and hosting the job fair virtually presented both some benefits and challenges.

“We didn’t make as many tentative job offers as we really had hoped to, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that again, some were virtual,” Bailey said. “There are kinks to work out, quite frankly, whenever you’re trying to do this hybrid approach. One of the things that I really appreciate about the Department of Homeland Security, especially with our leadership, is this ability to actually try things out and not be so afraid if it doesn’t go perfect[ly.]”

Because the department conducted interviews both virtually and in-person at the same time, it couldn’t make as many on-the-spot job offers as it did at its summer fair, when close to 200 people received tentative offers the day of the event. It’s added nearly 280 cyber professionals to its ranks now, for a total of almost 480.

Several applicants in December had interviews with multiple components, so they appreciated that all the agencies were in one place, said Sharon Wong, the department’s executive director of diversity and inclusion.

Hosting the fair online also meant that the department couldn’t use the interactive displays each of the components brought to the hiring fair in July.

“We didn’t bring in all of our cool toys,” Bailey said. “We didn’t have a Coast Guard cutter, the President’s limo, our FEMA response vehicles and the dogs, stuff like that. Our own community within DHS would really like the opportunity, if you’re going to do it in one place, to showcase what DHS is all about.”

Regardless of whether an applicant receives an offer, Bailey sees these events as an opportunity to introduce candidates to the department and its missions and tell them about their career possibilities at DHS.

Before the December fair, DHS contacted a variety of colleges, universities and organizations to advertise their positions. The goal was to strategically recruit from a diverse pool of applicants, Wong said.

The American Indian Higher Education Consortium, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the National Association for Equal Opportunity, the Asian-American Pacific Islander Association of Colleges and Universities, as well as the American Association of Community Colleges, all advertised the DHS hiring event to their students.

“When we say diverse groups, we’re looking at a broad context of colleges and universities,” Wong said.

The department spent the past year intently focused on filling cybersecurity and tech-related positions, but Bailey said DHS can apply these strategies and best practices to all of its 17 mission critical occupations. In crafting its recruiting strategies, DHS is considering whether in person or virtual hiring events make sense — and how it can best reach a diverse group of people.

Bailey said she and her team plan to sit down members of the Trump administration to discuss their hiring plans and goals — and then possibly readjust.

“If there’s a different direction or a different focus that they want us to take with certain positions, that’s not a problem because the underpinning of how we conduct and do the business of strategic hiring doesn’t really change that much,” she said. “Maybe we’ll have a different focus on the kinds of positions that we’re going to fill, but I don’t think it changes the fact that we want to go after our diversity goals, or our veterans goals, or our time-to-hire goals.”

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