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State Department discovers qualified candidates via virtual job fair

The skeptics made no secret of their disbelief during the federal government's first nationwide "virtual" information technology job fair April 22-26. When State Department chief information officer Fernando Burbano noted during a panel discussion on the last day of the event that more than 19,000 people had applied online for jobs, a listener shot back, "Sure — but are any of them any good?"

The answer, several State Department executives say, is a resounding yes. And the proof is in the pudding — or, in State's case, the cookies.

Job seekers who logged on to the job fair Web site completed a screening questionnaire, a technology aptitude test and an interactive IT skills inventory. At the end of the event, the Office of Personnel Management ranked applicants by their test scores and qualifications and sent those rankings to agencies that had advertised openings.

How to use those rankings in the hiring process was left to each participating agency. On May 11, State assembled its hiring managers and security personnel at the National Foreign Affairs Center and held a "second phase" hiring event, conducting personal interviews and preliminary security checks for almost 70 applicants who scored at the top of the rankings.

Managers came away amazed. "I was thinking anybody from the Web could apply," said Nancy Serpa, director of the Foreign Service's Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment. "I definitely think I underestimated the quality of the applicants and their enthusiasm and the efficiency of the process."

The Foreign Service has approximately 70 IT jobs to fill. The online job fair "clearly worked," Serpa added. "We'll do it again."

"It was incredible. Some of these people had been making over $100,000 in the private sector and yet they were willing to come to work at State," said Manuela Paninski, director of the human resource office in State's Bureau of Information Resource Management, which seeks to fill 103 positions.

Annual pay for the positions advertised through the virtual job fair ranged from $44,786 for a GS-9 to a maximum of $86,095 for a GS-13, Paninski said. "So you can see that some of these people really were motivated by more than money," she added.

The time savings inherent in the online job fair also impressed Paninski. "When we announce a job in the civil service, it takes at least four months to get somebody to the job offer," she said. This time it took 15 days. This is unheard of."

Not that it was easy for job seekers to make it to the interviews. State received the OPM rankings on May 7, only four days before the "second phase" event, and many applicants had to scramble to get to Washington, D.C.

One applicant flew to Washington, D.C., from Newport Beach, Calif., for the day, while another came from Dayton, Ohio, according to Mary Swann, a spokesperson for State's Bureau of Information Resource Management. Still another applicant flew from Bahrain to Virginia Beach, Va., rented a car, drove to Washington, D.C., "and showed up at the interview with his suitcase still in hand," Swann said.

Perhaps the most motivated applicant of all was John Valente of Denver. During the first phase of the virtual job fair, Valente had completed all but the last few questions on the interactive skills test when his computer crashed.

He tried repeatedly to revive the machine. Desperate not to lose his chance, Valente grabbed a box of cookies from his kitchen and ran next door to Floyd's Barber Shop, which he knew had a working computer and an Internet connection.

Valente "told me he offered to trade them the box of cookies for 15 minutes on their computer so that he could finish his application," Swann said. The swap was made, and Valente was invited to Washington, D.C., for an interview with State.

***

State's numbers game

After the governmentwide "virtual" online information technology job fair April 26, the State Department invited qualified job seekers to Washington, D.C., on May 11 for one-on-one interviews and preliminary security clearances.

Here's a look at the process, in statistical form.

* Total interviews conducted, for both Foreign Service and civilian positions: 188.

* Total job openings: 103 in the civilian sector and approximately 70 in the Foreign Service.

* Pay range: With special IT salary rates, pay starts at $44,786 and goes up to $86,095.

* Total conditional offers of employment made on May 11: 82.

* Total time, under traditional hiring process at State, from first job advertisement to job offer: four months.

* Total time, under process established by virtual job fair, from advertisement to offer: 15 days.

NEXT STORY: Anti-terror bills march forward

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