GAO aces recruiting test

Agency builds relationships with colleges

It’s a safe bet that the Government Accountability Office will never try to lure talented workers from the private sector with lavish perks. Instead, the congressional watchdog agency relies on a multifaceted, closely monitored recruitment program that goes far beyond the occasional on-campus interview.

“Booz Allen [Hamilton] will take you to an Orioles game, and take you out to dinner,” said Christopher Mihm, GAO’s managing director of strategic issues. “GAO will give you a highlighter with ‘GAO’ on it. We’re in trouble if we have to rely on that” to attract employees.

The philosophy that recruitment is more than simply going after potential employees is at the center of GAO’s program. It’s about building and sustaining long-term relationships with colleges that are fertile recruiting ground for GAO.

The agency’s approach to recruiting is paying off. In 2006, GAO made more than 400 entry-level hires, an increase from the average of about 325, said Jesse Hoskins, the comptroller general’s special assistant for projects.

Also, GAO’s internship program is a talent pipeline. Seventy-four percent of the interns at GAO received job offers last year, and 62 percent of those interns accepted positions.  “It was a banner year for us,” Hoskins said.

GAO’s recruiting program targets 46 universities, a group that includes Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale along with major public universities such as the University of Maryland at College Park and Texas A&M.

GAO assigns one senior staff member to lead the recruiting effort at each of those schools. For those assigned, recruitment supervision is a frontline responsibility, not a secondary duty, and the distinction ensures serious effort.

“This is not, ‘Yeah, if you’ve got some free time, would you help us out with some interviews?’ It’s part of their core responsibilities,” Mihm said.


Mihm has been assigned to George Washington University. In that role, he recently arranged for several GAO staff members who also are George Washington graduates to speak to policy classes at the university.

As former students, those recruiters have the ability to tailor their pitch, discussing the relevance of specific academic courses to GAO’s work. That specificity, Mihm said, “really seals the deal.”  

GAO’s program includes a second category of 32 emerging schools that recruiters visit less frequently. The agency closely monitors recruitment efforts at all schools. It collects extensive data every year, including the number of applications submitted; the diversity of the applicant pool; and offers made, accepted and refused.

If the number of successful applicants increases at an emerging school, GAO may decide to add the emerging school to the targeted category, Hoskins said. All universities are subsequently ranked according to yield and diversity of hires. By those criteria, top-ranked schools last year included the University of Texas at Austin, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, George Washington and Indiana University.    

Of course, some potential recruits still need convincing. Recruiters say students are often still somewhat unaware of GAO and its mission. They may think it is some sort of partisan political group and do not understand its role in the legislative process.

“I’ll sometimes hear someone saying, ‘What exactly is GAO?’ ” Mihm said, “which is why we’re continually out there.”

Tarallo is a freelance writer in Washington.

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