Hopefuls log on for IT jobs

USAJobs

Many of the more than 19,300 people who applied for information technology jobs with the federal government during the first nationwide virtual IT job fair April 22-26 applauded the experience.

Still, there were some who complained of slow servers, inaccurate data entry mechanisms and a lack of real-time responses to their applications. Those problems, coupled with a protracted hiring process, could spell trouble for agency hiring managers seeking to attract new talent to public service, according to experts in online recruiting.

The response to the job fair — co-hosted by the Office of Personnel Management and the federal CIO Council — was so great that on the fair's first day, April 22, OPM added two more servers to handle traffic.

Several job seekers in e-mails to Federal Computer Week took issue with the delay. "It took me five days to get in [to the job fair Web site], then once in, it took me almost six hours to complete the process due to constant 'Server busy, please try later' messages and...failures to load pages," said a job seeker who requested anonymity.

The fair, which generated more than 1 million hits to OPM's USAJobs Web site in its first two and a half days, offered 270 job openings. The massive response meant that, on average, 71 applicants vied for each position.

"We're very pleased, and we're already getting requests from around the government for information on how to do some more fairs like this," said Ira Hobbs, co-chairman of the CIO Council's Workforce and Human Capital for IT Committee.

Technical problems accessing the job fair site, completing the online skills tests required for eligibility for the positions and determining whether the application had been properly forwarded to OPM concerned some job seekers.

"Aside from the fact that I know what job I want at the State Department, aside from the fact that no one has been able to settle once and for all whether or not this job is available via the job fair...and aside from the fact that I can't verify if my application ever went through successfully, I can declare that it was an experience I will never forget," applicant Bill Stettner wrote.

Without the delays and busy server messages, the job fair might have garnered even more applicants, said Bryan Hochstein, vice president of business development for QuickHire, an Alexandria, Va., maker of automated recruiting software.

"The biggest issue for the federal government is that they're trying to get people to come into public service," said Hochstein, whose company works with almost 30 federal agencies, including the General Services Administration, the National Science Foundation and the Food and Drug Administration. With the delays, "the government just infuriated a lot of people because they couldn't handle the load. So the question you have to ask is, 'Did the government lose good people?'"

Federal chief information officers hailed the diversity of the job fair applicants and predicted that the resulting new hires will be highly qualified.

State had two Web-enabled recruiting events in 1999 that served as the prototypes for the 2002 job fair. "The quality of 90 percent of the applications we received was very high," Fernando Burbano, State's CIO, said at a panel discussion April 26 hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

Burbano said he had visited several U.S. embassies overseas where many of the people hired following the online events are now working.

"People in the embassies are very enthusiastic about the employees that we sent them," he said. "If we get the same quality of people from this event, we'll be doing well, and I think we'll get that quality."

But the federal government will have to shorten its actual hiring process dramatically if it wants to compete with the private sector for qualified workers when the current recession ends, both job seekers and experts cautioned.

"The problem is it can take an applicant six to eight months to get a government job, and that's too long," said Barry Lawrence, a senior career adviser at CareerBuilder Inc., an online recruiter.

Because of the recession, there are more job seekers than jobs, Lawrence said. "Right now, it's a bad market so the federal government is lucky. They can take more time now. But when things heat up economically again, we will be right back where we started."

***

Virtual information technology job fair stats:

When: April 22-26

Sponsors: Office of Personnel Management and CIO Council

Applications received: 19,342

Job openings: 270

Total hits: 1.3 million, as of April 24

Number of participating agencies and departments: 21

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