The Virtual Job Fair

Pro Tip - STEM Job FairThe PMF Job Fair is where Finalists begin the process of finding their appointment. Typically, the Job Fair has been held in Washington, DC as a traditional, in-person event. However, this event became a Virtual Job Fair in Spring 2013. From what we can tell, it will be virtual again in 2015. You can use the fair to learn more about agencies to inform your decision-making process and meet agency representatives that participate in the event.

Should You Attend the Fair?

One question some finalists ask is: how important is it to attend the job fair? Our best insight comes from Bev Godwin, PMF Class of 1982 and now a senior executive at the General Services Administration, who has been involved in hiring PMF Finalists. Godwin said, “We don’t participate in the job fair if we don’t have an opening to fill. If we’re there, we’re looking to hire and we’re looking for the best person, and we’re usually very anxious to fill that position.” In other words, agencies that are serious about hiring will be at the event. If you’re serious about getting hired, you will likely want to be there, too.

Before the Fair: Do Your Homework

There are a few important steps you can take before the Job Fair. Below we’ve listed five of them:

1. Research agencies that interest you. Let’s face it: government’s big. Your options are immense. You will want to learn as much as you can about prospective agencies in advance so that you can chat knowledgeably with their representative at the fair.

bev goodwin small1The applicant should do research up front to know which agencies they are interested in…and then be sure to go and talk to people at that booth, but also to be open to agencies that maybe they haven’t heard of. They likely don’t know every agency. You can go online and look up the government manual to learn about the mission of every government agency…there are some interesting small agencies or offices within agencies that do really cool things. So be open to other things and spend time talking to as many people as you can.”  – Bev Godwin, PMF Class of 1982

2. Consider the size of the agency, its mission, and the experience you hope to gain.
At smaller agencies you may have the opportunity to make more immediate impact and receive leadership opportunities, but you may not have as many resources (training, technology, fellow PMFs) available to you. At larger agencies you may have all the resources you need, but you may not get the immediate leadership opportunities.

3. Prioritize your top picks, but remain open-minded.  Once you’ve done your homework on your favorite agencies, it’s always a good practice to rank them in the order of where you most want to work – and don’t just think about your placement, but where you might want to spend your career.

Steve Morris, PMF Class of 2009 and currently with the Small Business Administration, told us,

Morris - Pic“I had a short list of agencies in my mind, but I did keep an open mind and I ended up at an agency I had never heard of until I walked past the booth at the job fair. I had never heard of it, but I really liked the vibe that they had.”

Matthew Upton, a Career Advisor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, emphasized the importance of being open-minded, stating that:

Matthew Upton1“Finalists should be flexible. You may not get the position you wanted, but you can get one that enhances your knowledge, skills, and abilities and helps you network. Be open, therefore, to a position that diversifies who you are, but doesn’t change who you are.”

4. Don’t wait for the fair to make contact.
If you are showing up to the job fair and expecting to engage with the State Department, or one of the other big agencies, you will be too late. Ask your career counselor for contact information for the agency coordinators or past PMFs from your school who have a connection with that agency. Try to schedule your most sought after interviews ahead of time. Check the Projected Position System (PPS) website for PMF positions that may interest you. Email and/or call the designated point of contact (this is not always the PMF Agency Coordinator) for any PMF position for which you wish to interview as spots are limited.

Please Note: While many Finalists found their appointments during the job fair in the past, we learned from more than one PMF in the Class of 2013 that their best opportunities came from proactively reaching out to specific, targeted agencies before the Virtual Job Fair.

Jeffrey Bartelli, PMF Class of 2013 Finalist, said,

Bartelli - PicI don’t know anybody who got their position through the job fair. All the people I know either reached out to the agency they got hired with or the agency reached out to them.”

As a current PMF Coordinator for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Ginny Hill confirmed this thinking:

Hill - PicStart inquiring with agencies before the fair.  Some agencies do interviews before/during the fair. Some may not be ready for applicants but they can hold on to your resume.  If you wait too long, you might miss out on an agency you want.  If needed, tailor your resume to the specific job or agency to which you’re applying. It’s more work, but worth it.”

One PMF Finalist in the Class of 2013, Pat Hodgens, learned that this approach really works:

Hodgens - Pic“I reached out to offices who had either posted jobs that I was interested in or were doing work that I was interested in. I also communicated heavily with agencies who had contacted me. By the time the virtual job fair came around, I had already set up in-person interviews for the offices where there was a mutual interest. 

For me personally, the virtual job fair was not as useful as these personal interactions with potential employers. I was able to set up one meeting through the fair which did lead to an interview and an offer, but for the most part the informal connections were much more helpful. I would strongly recommend viewing the virtual job fair as a supplement to your search, not the main component. If I had relied solely on the job fair, I wouldn’t have the job I have now.”

If you needed any more evidence that this approach is worth your while, Denise Riebman, a Career Advisor at George Washington University, said:

riebman - pic“I talked to one of the three finalists about prepping for the virtual career fair, but I’m not even sure if she [the finalist] participated.  All three of our finalists landed positions through networking.


5. Get Your Professional House in Order.
Ask your Career Services advisor or other trusted person to review your resume (make sure your resume is free of grammatical and typographical errors). Make sure your resume tells a coherent story. Even if you’ve done a lot of different things, help recruiters find the thread. A couple introductory bullets at the top can make all the difference.

A PMF Finalist from the Class of 2013, affirmed this advice:

“I ensured my resume was updated.  I logged in very early to the fair and utilized the private message function to communicate with agency POCs.  I later received positive feedback from an employer for using this feature.”

You may also want to look over supplemental materials that show your skills (policy memos you’ve written for school, outreach materials you’ve prepared for a previous job) and have them ready to demonstrate your experience.

Getting Ready for the Fair

In late February 2013, GovLoop hosted its own Virtual Government Career Fair, using the same technology platform as the PMF Program. We had thousands of participants that took advantage of opportunities to drop off their resume and interact with agency representatives in virtual booths, attend educational webinars that taught attendees how to get ahead in government, and engage in live chats with government career experts – very similar to the Virtual PMF Job Fair.

GovLoop’s Amy DeWolf planned and managed that event as well as dozens of other virtual training events. Based on her birds-eye view of a virtual career fair, we asked her to share some of her insights for prospective virtual career fair participants.

DeWolf - Pic“It sounds simple but test your computer. You don’t want to waste time logging in when you could be talking to recruiters and gathering information.

Look at the schedule in advance and plan your day as you would an in-person conference.

Check your social media sites. Given the nature of the Internet, recruiters can quickly search for your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles while talking to you. Privacy settings are your friend.”

Jeffrey Bartelli, PMF Class of 2013, emphasized this last point:

PMFs need to have an up-to-date and well-populated LinkedIn profile. My boss found me that way in advance of the job fair.”

Moreover, Nikki Boudreaux, PMF Class of 2013 and now working at the Veterans Health Administration, also echoed DeWolf’s recommendations:

Boudreaux - PicI updated my resume as needed and made sure it was ready to be sent on short notice.  I made sure to watch the videos OPM posted about the virtual job fair prior to the actual day it started.  I also did the check to make sure I had the appropriate software on my computer.”

In short: much of your success on the day of the fair is due to the planning you’ve performed in advance.

Acing a Virtual Fair: How do you stand out from the crowd?

HAVE  A COMPLETE PROFILE. Upload a photo or avatar, upload your resume, and have all your contact information listed.

BE ENTHUSIASTIC. The best way to stand out is to express sincere interest in the agency/positions and knowledge of the organization. Be sure to share this with agency reps! Recruiters are busy. With the expected number of participants, they may have a hard time responding to everyone. To grab (and keep) their attention, respond in a timely manner to chats. Be clear and concise in your questions and answers.

MAKE TIME FOR DIRECT ENGAGEMENT with agencies – the most valuable part of a virtual career fair is interacting with agency reps.

MAKE THE INTERACTION MEANINGFUL. Stand out by asking “outside the box” questions and not standard questions where you could find answers on their website.

NETWORK! Take advantage of the “who’s here” functionality in virtual shows. This is the perfect time to talk with people in your cohort as well.

BUDGET ENOUGH TIME AND SPEND MORE THAN AN HOUR in the virtual show. Between the educational components (when applicable) and the time with agency reps, you’d be surprised how quickly the time flies by!

Communicating Virtually: 2 Tips to Remember

Remember that you are chatting with agency representatives (people in control of your future!) and not your best friend on g-chat. Don’t use abbreviations or slang and be sure to check your spelling.

If agency reps are taking a few minutes to respond to your question, don’t keep messaging the recruiters. They see your message and will respond to you when they can.

Again, Nikki Boudreaux from the PMF Class of 2013, engaged in the following process:

Boudreaux - PicI found the position I ended up securing on the virtual job fair.  I constantly checked the booths of the agencies I was most interested in.  Many of them had a file posted with their job vacancy announcement that contained specific instructions on how to apply (where to send your resume and/or cover letter).  I just followed the instructions that were provided.  Several days later I received an email from the agency requesting an interview, and it went well, they offered me the position and I accepted.”

If you take these few actions, you will likely increase your chances of landing some interviews and, ultimately, getting an offer.

After the Fair: Managing Job Offers

Pro Tip - State Hangout

Managing the virtual fair is tricky, but the real work comes in managing the job offers. We recommend that you not accept the first job offer unless you have taken the time to do some due diligence about the job first. Probably the biggest mistake people make is to get really excited about getting a job offer and then accept it right away.

It’s pretty important to do a lot of research about the position, agency, etc. Many people accept offers without meeting their new direct supervisor – unsurprisingly, a lot of them are unhappy in their positions now. This seems obvious, but a lot of PMFs get caught up in the excitement of the fair and getting job offers, and neglect to make sure what the work environment is really going to be like. Below are some more helpful tips.

Ask for some time to consider the offer and be considerate of the agency’s time. If you are offered a job, but you have more interviews scheduled, the offering agency would understand if you requested some additional time to respond.

Give them a time frame and stick to it. Be respectful of an agency’s desire to acquire as close to their top choice as possible. If you know immediately or sooner than agreed upon that you do not intend to accept, let them know as soon as possible.

…but if you really wanted that one from the outset, go for it! If you receive an offer from an agency you are genuinely interested in working for, and you are impressed by their PMF Program and the type of work you will be doing there as a fellow, accept the offer. Then inform all of the other agencies you have accepted another offer so that those opportunities can be made to other finalists.

Don’t be shy – call if you want to learn the results. If you haven’t heard from the organization that is your first choice, then call the POC and ask if you have made their final list.

Get a sense of security (clearances, that is): If you’re offered a position that requires a security clearance that you don’t have yet, understand that you may have to wait a year or more! Definitely get another job in the meantime, so you can afford to eat while you wait.


Want more tips about the entire PMF Process? Download the full version of the guide here!

The guide shares advice with applicants based on interviews with current and past PMFs, career advisors, and federal agency program coordinators.

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