With big recruitment goals, DHS is learning in-person hiring still works best

More than 3,500 people submitted applications ahead of the Homeland Security Department's latest major hiring event.

With two major recruitment and hiring fairs under its belt, the Homeland Security Department has realized that showing off its rescue ships, bomb-sniffing dogs and mobile emergency weather centers is, in fact, a successful way to lure potential job candidates to apply to DHS.

It’s what helped draw roughly 2,000 veterans to submit their resumes to DHS onsite during a two-day, department-wide recruitment and hiring fair in Washington. Some showed up in the hotel lobby at 3 a.m., more than five hours before the event officially opened Aug. 22 and 23.

“What we’re learning is that folks really like to come out and touch and feel and see the mission,” Chip Fulghum, DHS’ acting undersecretary for management, said in an interview with Federal News Radio. “That’s a real gravitation to getting folks in the door.”

The department has about 900 positions available in law enforcement, business operations, finance and accounting, IT, human resources and program management, among others. DHS said it hopes to fill at least 500 of them at the two-day event alone. The department will hold onto all of the résumés it receives at the job fair for the next six months and will gradually fill more positions.

DHS held two large-scale recruitment and hiring events in the past. About 14,000 people applied to cyber and tech-focused positions at a department-wide event last July.

DHS also made 40 on-the-spot internship offers to college students and recent graduates during a virtual hiring fair last December.

“[It] didn’t really go that well in terms of the numbers we wanted,” Fulghum said. “We got some good folks, don’t get me wrong, but we didn’t get as many as we wanted.”

“To me, that’s the biggest lesson learned, which is surprising to me because we were actually targeting millennials,” he said. “We thought … the way to get at millennials was to go at it virtually, and they really want to come and touch and feel the mission, too.”

The department structured its veterans recruitment fair like the other major job events it held in the past. About 3,500 veterans applied on USAJobs.gov to a variety of positions before the job fair. The department contacted qualified candidates and set up interviews with them in advance, with the goal of handing out job offers to prospective employees on the spot.

Candidates who accepted the job began the initial steps of the security clearance process on site.

DHS also set up interviews with interested candidates on the spot and invited many applicants to return on the second day of the job fair to speak with a hiring manager.

The department estimates that interviewing, receiving an offer and beginning a security clearance application on the spot saves about 40 days from the hiring process.

DHS has struggled in the past to recruit, hire and onboard new talent quickly. DHS leaders have previously said the average time-to-hire at the department is 125 days, while the governmentwide average in recent years was about 100 days.

More than 500 DHS employees volunteered to conduct interviews or simply help guide veteran candidates from the interview room to what some in the department appropriately named the “happy room,” where some received official job offers.

“This agency, like no other, understands what it means to serve,” Fulghum told job candidates from the floor of the hotel ballroom, where DHS components set up displays and demonstrations . “It understands what it means to sacrifice, and it understands what it means to protect our nation. For all you veterans, most of you have been playing an away game during your time at DoD. We’re now asking you to play a home game.”

Agencies hired more veterans in fiscal 2015 than in the past five years, according to the most recent report on veterans hiring from the Office of Personnel Management. Veterans make up about 28 percent of the DHS workforce — roughly 54,000 of the department’s 230,000 employees.

As a veteran himself, Fulghum said he was looking for an opportunity to continue to serve after leaving the military.

“When I looked around and was looking at what’s out there, DHS was clearly a place I was attracted to because of its diverse mission, its impact on the public everyday and its impact on security,” he said.

Fulghum said he’s particularly focused on bringing in qualified veteran talent to fill mission-enabling areas of the department, like acquisition or human resources.

DHS, perhaps, is one of the few civilian agencies that is actively hiring new talent. The president called for the department to hire 15,000 additional employees at Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of his executive order on border security. DHS has a target to fill 500 of those positions within 2017.

Angela Bailey, DHS chief human capital officer, said both the veterans recruitment and other component-specific events are all part of the department’s overarching, multi-year effort to comply with the hiring demands of the president’s executive order.

“We’re going to continue to conduct these type of events,” Fulghum said. “We’re going to do them in a more rapid fashion, because they do work.”

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