IT job fair kicks off OPM online effort

IT job fair kicks off OPM online effort

'We can do things in a smart and more timely manner,' USDA's acting CIO Ira Hobbs says.

Horror stories about the government's hiring process are well documented. The CIO Council and Office of Personnel Management knew there had to be a better way. So next week the two are hosting a virtual IT job fair.

With the help of new software to let potential employees apply and take a skills test online, officials in both organizations hope to reduce the hiring process to as few as 30 days.

OPM developed the online tests and a document viewer so agencies can examine resumes through a Web browser. The April 22-26 job fair will mark the rollout of the software.

The job fair is one way the CIO Council and OPM are trying to change the way the government hires, said Ira Hobbs, the Agriculture Department's acting CIO and co-chairman of the CIO Council's Workforce and Human Capital for IT Committee.

'We can do things in a smart and more timely manner,' Hobbs said. 'This is a good time for OPM to pilot in real time some of the things they have been working on.'

Three-step process

OPM, which is sharing the job fair's expenses with the council, expects to receive about 25,000 applications and hire thousands of workers at the GS-7 to GS-13 levels.

Applicants will go to and work through a three-step process. Agencies will list job openings on the Web site, which will link to agency-specific Web pages written in an HTML template developed by OPM.

'Applicants will have a fairly easy process to go through and only have to do it once no matter which agency they want to work for,' said Pat Popovich, the State Department's deputy CIO for management.

The first stage of the application process is a request for basic information such as name, address, Social Security number and citizenship.

Then the applicant will take two online tests, one about IT terminology and another about Internet concepts. Both use testing technology developed by Brainbench Inc. of Chantilly, Va.

'The idea of the first two tests is to assess the applicants' skills real fast,' said Stephen McGarry, a program analyst and team leader for USA Staffing, OPM's online staffing service. 'The software presents questions on any given topic, and the degree of difficulty changes whether the respondent gets the answer right or wrong.'

After those tests, the third stage includes a test of the applicants' knowledge, skills and abilities.

Applicants can then upload their resumes and other documents or fax them. Applicants who don't have a resume to submit can create one using OPM's online resume builder.

The OPM team created the application and tests using Microsoft Active Server Pages. Applicants' data will be stored in an Oracle 8i database and converted to JPEG images for easy access by agencies. OPM also developed a document viewer for the JPEGs using ASP.

E-mail alerts

OPM will post a list of qualified candidates for each job on a password-protected Intranet site, and agencies will receive e-mail alerting them that the list is online. OPM used Extensible Markup Language to make the data accessible online.

'This really is just an integration of processes,' McGarry said. 'It will just be on a larger scale than ever before.'

'We wanted to make sure the applications were flexible enough for all agencies to use,' said Kim Leopis, acting team leader for USA Staffing Development at the OPM Technology Support Center in Macon, Ga.

Popovich credited Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) for providing the impetus for the job fair.

Davis, chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy, held a hearing last autumn on the federal IT shortage and ways to improve hiring and retention.

'This can be the model of the future,' Popovich said. 'We will have virtual job listings up all year long and a database full of potential applicants to pull from.'

Myra Howze Shiplett, director of the National Academy of Public Administration's Center for Human Management, said the job fair is making an important statement to IT workers.

'The job fair tells the audience the government knows how to use the tools of the trade,' she said. 'They are making the federal job even more available, and available with ease that we have not seen before.'

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