Hiring Borens: Conversation with Scott Wiedmann

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Podcast Transcript

Shabnam:      Welcome to the Boren Around the World podcast, a podcast by the National Security Education Program for Boren awardees, language lovers and public service enthusiasts. In today’s episode we will be speaking with Scott Wiedmann. Scott serves as a deputy director of the Department of Defense Federal Voting Assistance Program. He has been with the program since 1993 and began his public service at the US Department of Treasury working as a licensing officer in the office of foreign assets control, governing transactions with countries sanctioned by the US government. Mr. Weidman has a Master of Arts in International Business and a Bachelor of Science degree in Management and Marketing from George Mason University in Fairfax Virginia. To start us off could you tell us a little bit about your department and agency?

Scott:             Sure. We are the Federal Voting Assistance program, and we exist in the Department of Defense to carry out a federal law that’s called the uniformed and overseas citizens absentee Voting Act which is just kind of what it sounds like. we assist members of the military and their families and any US citizen outside the United States to vote absentee in their home state for federal offices and we do that during the election cycle, the two-year election cycle and Boren awardees around the world a certainly folks that have taken advantage of being able to vote while they are on their scholarship time frame and we're happy to say that we've been able to hire a few folks upon their return.

Shabnam:      You’ve hired quite a few Borens. In your experience how do you go about finding candidates?

Scott:             When we have a vacancy in our office, typically it would involve some sort of specialty, it might be budgeting or fiscal planning or social media, communications, that type of thing. When we have that vacancy, if we’re able to hire at more of an entry level position or trainee type position, we will contact the Boren program with that position description and then they will advertise that through their process so that the Boren scholars or fellows with the resumes already active in their system will come and apply for the job I guess and they were able to reuse those resumes.

Shabnam:      In your experience how should candidate's position themselves to be noticed by a hiring official?

Scott:             Well I think that having that resume as up to date as possible is a good thing, using USAJobs is a good thing, that's a good way to get a feel for the type of positions that are out there, and of course within the Department of Defense those agencies that are aware of the Boren program and the fact that there is a pool of very talented individuals that are available perhaps to take positions within the Department - that's another way to have that out there. So keep your resume current and then check for the postings on the Boren website as well as USAJobs.

Shabnam:      You mentioned USAJobs and the Boren program as the best way to go about finding in applying the job opportunities, would you say that that's true especially if the market is either already saturated? Do you think that online sites are effective when applying to government jobs?

Scott:             So I don't use any of the commercial sites, online job sites, typically we hire through our human resource programs we look at USA jobs and the Boren site as a way to get someone internal, so to me because those are internal and we know that the folks that are in those especially the folks that are in the Boren program have some governments experience, have some familiarity with Department of Defense issues - obviously some folks in the Boren program are looking more for the for the security side of things so maybe the Federal Voting Assistance Program where we assist people to vote, may not be the track that they would like, but a small program like ours - and there's many of them within the Department, in the office of the Secretary of Defense - is a place where you can really get in and learn about a lot of the pieces, working pieces, within a federal office. There's budgeting there's Contracting there is dealing with States localities state departments, other Federal agencies, so it's really kind of like a microcosm of an entire agency. So, you can get your feet wet and learn a little bit about the way the government works and some of the types of jobs that are available with the government and then when you stay with us or go to another program somewhere else, you're able to get that experience and get started with that.

Shabnam:      Thank you Scott. I also wanted to transition into what factors hiring officials consider when they select individuals into the organization. As a hiring official, as a supervisor yourself what thoughts kind of go through your mind before you consider someone for an interview?

Scott:             So what happens is; if we put out a position description and we work with the Boren program we will get a group of resumes, maybe 8 to 10 resumes of folks who have expressed a desire to perhaps work at the Federal Voting Assistance program. We'll look at those resume specifically in the light of a particular specialty perhaps that we might need, our most recent Boren Scholar hire last year had some budgeting background in the work they did overseas and some Government Contracting background both from the contracting ide as well as from the government contract side. We were able to see that from the resume and then that puts that person in line for one of the three or four interviews that we did, but in more general terms as well we just want to look for indicators that the person is interested in learning, that they are active, and they want to expand their knowledge base a little bit and get their feet wet. We want, while the person is at the Federal Voting Assistance program, we want them to be challenged, we don't want to just give them busy work. We want to make sure they are challenged; they continue learning and expanding their skills or learning new skills and have growth potential as much as possible because that really leads to a win-win for both the hire and for the Federal Voting Assistance program.

Shabnam:      What usually stands out to you as a recruiter in an application and in an interview?

Scott:             Whatever indicated that they have a continued interest in learning, that shows that they are continually applying themselves, you know it's kind of a stereotype but sometimes if there's a gap in their resume where the person wasn't doing anything for a year, I might put some thought into that person, what were they doing, what was going on, so any explanation that you could have on the resume, and there’s plenty of possible reasons why you might have had a gap and that's okay, but to leave it unmarked or without saying why it occurred, we might say “well maybe we'll move on to the next resume” and if there are other candidates it may not be picked because of that. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of good reasons why a person might have had a gap, but this is something that people should be aware of as they're putting a resume together.

Shabnam:      For the interview, what are some questions a candidate should focus on and be prepared to answer?

Scott:             Well interviews and jobs are things that people spend lifetimes trying to perfect, and interviewers are going to ask different questions depending on that person's background and perhaps some of the skills that are required for that particular job. So we will ask some questions particular to item on the resume especially if they are talking about experience that they might have had and we would ask about how they fit into that particular specialty, whether is was in budgeting or resource management - or what did they do or what was the role in that, but then we'll also talk to the person a little bit about themselves and ask them a little bit about their background. Then we might probe about the work experience they’ve had not just as a Boren awardee but other parts of their life as well, and maybe one of the achievements that was that they had, what they feel like was a good achievement they had was at one of their jobs. Another thing we might discuss is the type of work environment that they prefer you know, is it best to be teleworking and get a task so they can take it away for two weeks and come back with a finished product, or are they more of a person who likes to dive in with a team and work together to see a project through, that type of thing, to figure out that type of variation. We might - depending on the way the discussion is going we might talk about a creative solution that they came up with for a challenging situation they may have faced at a previous job and how they were able to use that solution to solve a problem and then of course you know what type of supervision do they like and then with our program to Federal Voting Assistance program, we work directly with a lot of individual voters as well as local election officials who will either call in or send an email with questions about the process so we do ask a little bit about their customer service background just to figure out what they've done in the past in that regard and how they might fit into a program here going forward should they be hired.

Shabnam:      What would you say are some common pitfalls that candidates can or do or have done that could hurt their chances both in the application phase and in the interview phase?

Scott:             Well I’ll start by saying that all the Boren awardees that we’ve talked to in interviews have been very impressive and they've got great skills and background so that's just a start off there, but one thing that individuals want to do, and I'm probably guilty of this myself maybe on this very podcast, but it’s to spend too much time on any specific answer. If there is a question asked, try to give a complete answer and be as concise as possible while giving - making sure that all the points are touched on and be careful to only answer the questions that are being asked. Obviously, everyone has something they are excited about, or have skills that they want to stress, it’s a good idea to highlight those strengths, but be sure that if you’re doing that it’s relevant to the question that was actually asked, don’t try to squeeze in or fit some type of experience that doesn’t really apply to that question into every question per say.

Shabnam:      How important are relationships during this entire process? IU know we talked about the importance of finding contacts and building relationships. How has your experience been with that component in this process?

Scott:             Well that can really differ on the individual and how much of a desire they have to be in a particular field. As you know today’s fields are very micro-oriented, you can get into a very small part of one major field, so if you were really interested in focusing in on something, then getting in, finding out who those folks are, who’s written papers recently, published books on things recently. Talking to those folks, trying to engage with those folks is a good idea, but in general it’s a good idea to have contact with a solid group of professionals in various fields and I think Boren awardees and the Boren program is a great space for that because so many of the folk have such a wide variety of experiences, and it allows the other folks to hear about the other types of experiences they’ve had, and what might interest them going forward. Given all that, a lot of those types of relationships and networking can lead to getting apposition or getting a job but then what really matters is once that individual is there in that job, that’s where the success happens, and when they’re working hard there and they’re showing what they’re skills are and what they’re capable of, that’s when they can progress and when they can move forward in their career.

Shabnam:      So the reference can connect you, but it’s really up to the individual to show through the hiring process that they are qualified and capable for the position.

Scott:             Yeah and obviously if you have connections from a previous position and may times for hiring and we will ask for references, and we'll talk to those folks that they might have worked with, or a previous supervisor from another job as part of the hiring process just to verify information that may have been provided to the resume during the interview process. Getting in on the ground level, working in that office and being prepared to do that work once you're there, be curious about everything is going on in an office, don't be shy to take on new tasks, I would always recommend that people ask lot of questions just to be sure they’re understanding why this is occurring, why something is happening so that they can then get the most out of their experience. Finding a mentor within the new office is always a good thing, doesn't have to be an official relationship - mentee mentor relationship, or even someone who's been there for a while but is experienced in one particular area, can give a lot of feedback as too how to negotiate some of these things, and then there's always office politics no matter what the size of the office is. My suggestion is this just a steer clear of those type of things as much as possible and focus on your job, the task that you have at hand, obviously if there's something or someone getting in the way of your ability to carry out what you're doing then you want to let the supervisor know that might be occurring, but stay away from that type of day to day drama, and then just take advantage of all the opportunities that arise. Always say yes, if someone says, “can you help with this?” say yes. Yeah, maybe you may not be able to dive in fully, you know some people like to always give 100%, but if you say yes at least you can figure out what it is and then if there's prioritization issues because you've taken on too many tasks then just work that out with your supervisor. Especially when you’re starting out, say yes to everything and then you can really – it gives you experience in a lot of different things, and you can figure out where you best fit in with your skill set.

Shabnam:      I think that’s a really good perspective to have especially to keep in mind when you do begin starting your work and now you want to grow in that position. Could you discuss the process of converting a Boren to Career or career conditional status through their hiring authorities?

Scott:             I’m not a total expert in the human resource side of this, but I do know that as a new government employee and as a Boren awardee as well, there's two things that you want to be aware of specifically, one is that Boren program requirements, and I think that obligation differs depending on the length of the particular award that the person had with the Boren program or the time abroad, but whatever that is if that’s a one year requirement or what not, and that is just to make sure that once you're hired that the human resource department or your supervisor is aware that you have that obligation so when that time is complete it can be recorded or reported back to the Boren program so that that can then be checked off if you will, so that that is no longer a concern. The second half of that is a conversion to a career stats in that Federal position so a lot of that depends on the actual type of position or the billet or the slot that they actually came into, if they’re hired into a temporary position then it might not be as easy to convert, but if they're being hired into a regular full-time position then you want to be aware that conversion to career status and then - so check both of those things and just keep in touch with the human resource department and your supervisor on those to ensure that as you're moving through - I'm sorry on my second point, once you convert to that career status in a government it's much easier then to move around within the Department of Defense or within other agencies as well as a civilian government employee. One other quick aside on that is that when someone is hired by the federal government, that date that they become a federal employee and is based on the number of hours worked or not, you get what's called a service computation date, and that's the date from which your retirement, your leave, the number of hours you earn, annual leave, are started to compute. Some of the human resources offices we found through the Boring awardees we’ve hired aren’t always aware of including the Boren scholarship period as part of that service computation time. So if you come on board in June of a particular year, and you had a year over seas, your start date might actually be close to a year before that June, where you’re actually starting, so that you can start earning leave and what not earlier. That’s just something you might to discuss with the human resource folks and you supervisor as you’re coming on board to make sure you get credit for that time.

Shabnam:     What thoughts or what advice do you have for someone who is new to either the Federal Workforce or new to this position or might just be starting off - this might also be their first job; do you have any advice for somebody onboarding into this type of federal environment?

Scott:             I think it's a great opportunity for anybody to come on board with the federal government because you can get a lot of responsibility, a lot of interesting tasks that to my understanding - and I’ve always worked for the government so I can’t say for sure, but in the private industry it might take much longer to before you’re given the level of responsibility, overseeing a budget, overseeing a contract, you know where you have contractors working on various tasks, and you know as you progress through your government career, and then once you reach the mid-level and you’re able to start supervising other people on tasks it really is a way to gain a lot of experience and to feel good about what you’re doing full time as well, because it really is all in service of the government and servicing the citizens of our country.

Shabnam:      Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with our listeners?

Scott:             Just again, we appreciate the talent and skills of that the Boren awardees that we’ve hired have shown, and we know there’s a great big pool of bright young folks out there. Remember that if you are a Boren awardees who’s over seas to go ahead and take advantage of the Federal Voting Assistance program so that you yourself are able to vote in whatever election may be occurring while you are overseas at FVAP.gov, we have information there so you’re able to register and request a ballot for your state, but just keep up the good work, stay inquisitive, never stop learning throughout your life, and you’ll go far. You don’t want to become that typical government bureaucrat that you hear about. There’s not a lot of those out there, there’s a few, but you want to make sure that you’re focused and you’re always interested and always pushing forward on things, and you’ll have a great career.

Scott:             You’ve been listening to the Boren around the world podcast. If you haven't yet, go to Spotify to subscribe, rate and view this podcast. If you're interested in participating in the podcast, email [email protected] with “Boren Podcast” in your subject line. Join me soon for another episode. Thank you for listening!

 

In this episode, our host, Program Officer Shabnam Ahmed connects with Mr. Scott Wiedmann, the Deputy Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program to discuss the federal job search, and what he looks for in new hires. Mr. Wiedmann provides a plethora of tips and advice related to finding work in the federal government, what hiring officials are looking for and how to be noticed by them, how awardees can leverage their status and hiring authorities, common interview questions and mistakes, and more.