I’m here to report the republic will survive, and the federal government will have the talent it needs to do things properly.
Given that the government teeters on the precipice of another shutdown and that next year two men nobody seems to want will nevertheless get their party nomination for president, I thought you’d want to know.
I know this from exactly five hours of research that took place within a roughly 6×8 foot job fair booth. One of hundreds arrayed in neat rows on the floor of the cavern-like Bryce Jordan Center, a ZIP code-sized structure on the grounds of Penn State University. I spent a day away from The Federal Drive with Tom Teminto represent Federal News Network, WTOP and our parent company Hubbard Broadcasting at the annual Penn State job fair. I didn’t attend PSU, but my daughter did, so I thought it would be fun to drive the old route and see some places I’d enjoyed on long-ago visits.
This task entailed setting up the booth with pop-up backdrops, spreading out the logo tablecloth and setting out the tchotchkes, or swag as they call it nowadays. Then waiting until the doors opened to the students. This occurred at 11 a.m. and a few minutes later I had my first of two dozen students to speak with over the next few hours. The sheaf of paper resumes lies before me as I write. We don’t have that many openings at the moment, but I handle the papers with a bit of reverence. I haven’t needed a resume in probably 30 years. But these sheets are proxy for the students’ hopes and dreams. We were all 22 once.
And what students they were. Nearly all showed confidence, ease of speaking with strangers their parents’ (or grandparents’) ages, and the ability to make eye contact. They were mostly well dressed and well spoken. You don’t have to worry about diversity, if by that you mean there’s talent in all colors and national origins and smart. They posed perceptive questions, spoke in full sentences with good English, and gave detailed anecdotes of what they’d done to gain experience.
A human resource consultant at Guidehouse I spoke with the other day said hiring should place emphasis on candidates apparent adaptability and capacity for learning new skills, rather than on what they can do now. These young minds are still fresh sponges.
Like many big state colleges, PSU draws a worldwide student body but enrolls large numbers from in state. Many of the students are eager to get away from the hamlets and ‘burbs they grew up in. A place like Washington, D.C. beckons. Pennsylvania has many towns and villages left behind by the disappearance of mining, drilling, and steelmaking and other manufacturing. The PSU break room for the employers featured Utz potato chips. They still make potato chips in Pennsylvania, and chocolate candy.
About federal human capital needs: My booth was directly across the aisle from that of the Defense Intelligence Agency. A Navy financial management intern group was down the way. I also saw a booth of Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Peace Corps and a few other federal units. They had steady streams of students from 11 until the end of the job fair at 4. In fact, the DIA was never without a line waiting to talk to the recruiters, nearly the entire day. Its sign had a great motto: “Do what matters.”
The students told me they were also aware of the health care benefits and defined-benefit pension plan the federal government offers.
I slipped over there in a short lull, and asked the recruitment rep, “Didn’t you tell them they can’t bring their phones to their cubicles?” He chuckled and said, “Nah, I didn’t bring that up.” But as someone who only joined the agency a few months ago from the private sector, he said he was surprised at the interest.
If the DIA is any indication, interest in federal employment runs high, at least among those young people willing to put in the effort to make a good presentation at a job fair. When I had a chance, I sidled over to the DIA line and asked a couple of students why they had an interest in something like the Defense Intelligence Agency. Kayla, an international relations major, said, “There’s a lot of money flowing into the Defense Department.” Dan, seeking an analyst position, liked the notion that the government will take care of his student loan debt.
A final thought. Those of us who’ve been working a while can be professors of life, if we do it deftly. One enthusiastic young man grabbed my hand, introduced himself, exuding puppy exuberance. But the poor thing was a slob, and his resume hopeless — listing his education as the last item on two pages of, shall we say, non-career jobs.
I felt obligated. Clearly his professors and his upbringing hadn’t fully prepared him for this moment. “Son,” I said, “can I just tell you? This is the worst resume I’ve ever seen.” Shocked, he proceeded to take notes on his phone as I advised him how to redo it. And I said, “Look, we’re all created in God’s image. But when you go to a job interview, tie your shoes.” He looked down in horror; I’d noticed both shoes were untied. “And buckle your belt,” I said. His belt actually was buckled, only five notches too loose, so it sort of sagged there like a holster belt for a six-shooter. And I added, “Ask a buddy if you have to, but learn to tie a necktie.” He clutched his tangled tie, but grinned and thanked me. I plan to email him, requesting a copy of his revised resume.