How to scare away federal IT job seekers

FEMA and other agencies are trying new approaches to attracting IT talent, some with more success than others.

You have to give the folks at FEMA some credit for truth in advertising: In a recent job posting for a network specialist, they warn applicants that the position could require extensive travel, weeks or months at a time, “with little advance notice.” They also point out that the work could involve “intense physical and mental stress.”

My first thought was: What a lousy way to start job ad. Who would sign up for that?

Who, indeed. But the folks at FEMA know what they are doing. “When disaster strikes, America looks to FEMA,” the ad continues. “Now FEMA looks to you. Join our team and use your talent to support Americans in their times of greatest need… .”

This opening pitch seems to serve two purposes. It scares off would-be applicants who probably would not be up to task, no matter what their technical know-how. And it sends a chill down the spine of those hardy souls who have a yen for public service and fond memories of “Mission: Impossible.” Slick move.

In fact, a casual survey of shows that many agencies are trying to shake the federal government’s well-earned reputation for writing some of the most incomprehensible job descriptions.

In most cases, agencies are emphasizing the opportunities they offer rather than the bureaucracy they inhabit. But not everyone has made the shift. Consider this opening pitch in a job description from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA): "This is an Occupational Band 3 job in the Defense Civilian Intelligence Personnel System (DCIPS). Band 3 duties are at the full performance level, and are equivalent to those at the GS/GG 11, 12, and 13. The selectee's salary will be set within the band equivalent to a GS/GG grade based on the selectee's qualifications in relation to the job."

Obviously, pay is important, but is it really the primary selling point for a job at the DIA?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology also seems to miss the mark in a recent ad for a senior technical adviser for technology acceleration (what a great title!). They start with a fairly prosaic description of the agency’s mission: “…to promote innovation and industrial competitiveness….” But the real pitch comes in the next paragraph: "Are you ready to explore your future with NIST? From automated teller machines and atomic clocks to mammograms and semiconductors, innumerable products and services rely in some way on technology, measurement, and standards provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology."

The Army’s 9th Signal Command gets extra points for creativity with this ad, which reflects both the coolness of the work and the eccentricities of the location:  "About the Position: The workforce of Dugway Proving Ground (DPG) is made up of varied professionals in the challenges of chemical and biological defense testing and counter terrorism and consequence management for the civilian sector. The majority of the workforce is on a 40 hour workweek from Monday thru Thursday leaving themselves a consistent 3 day weekend. DPG is physically remote, but entirely self-sufficient as regards housing and community needs. Nevertheless, many of its workforce choose to commute from outside communities. There are commuter vans that employees join and are subsidized by the government. This subsidy is offered in addition to the remote site pay given to employees that commute over 50 miles one way to work and work in the remote test areas of Ditto, Carr, Baker, etc. Salt Lake City is only a short 1 1/2 hour drive and the beauty of Moab, Zions National Park and Lake Powell are also within a short day's drive. Our Web address is"

That’s how to sell the job.