OSU alumnus explains federal government hiring process to students
Monday, April 10, 2023
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As an Oklahoma State University alumnus, Matthew Palmer knows his way around campus. But he remembers what it was like trying to get his bearings in a new place. The international trade compliance analyst recently traveled to Stillwater to support students in navigating a different kind of landscape — employment opportunities with the federal government.
Led by Assistant Secretary Lisa Wang of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Enforcement and Compliance, Palmer, along with other department officials, met with students, faculty and staff on April 4 and 5 to give an overview on navigating the federal hiring process, to include usajobs.gov, to secure a career in the civil service. From creating a profile to interview tips, he had open conversations with participants about the application process and shared his knowledge on how to successfully apply.
“There are a lot of nuances to the federal hiring process and understanding those nuances can help make you more competitive for these types of jobs,” Palmer said. “What led me toward a career with the federal government was wanting to work in a role that allowed me to serve the public, make an impact and be part of an organization with a global mindset, which is something that I get to experience every day at the Department of Commerce.”
Elizabeth Payne, founding director of the OSU Center for Sovereign Nations, received an email last year from Palmer who shared that the U.S. Department of Commerce was planning a tentative visit to campus and that they would appreciate the opportunity to visit with students that may have interest in international trade and careers with the federal government, Payne said.
A year later, Palmer and his colleagues shared details about the Department of Commerce — specifically the role of the International Trade Administration (ITA) — through their own shared personal experiences and a group discussion at the Center for Sovereign Nations.
“It was such a synergistic environment,” Payne said. “Students and center staff sat together with Assistant Secretary Wang and her staff in one big circle. Following introductions and remarks, Mr. Palmer gave an insightful presentation. It made for a very interactive time together.”
As a junior studying political science and pre-law, Kait Pinkerton knows she wants to pursue a career working for the federal government in Washington, D.C. Attending Palmer’s presentation on the federal hiring process was an opportunity to learn how to get her foot in the door.
“My biggest issue has been trying to apply for internships on usajobs.gov, and I didn’t know how to work it. It was so difficult and confusing to me,” Pinkerton said. “Matt just broke it down really easily for me to understand it. I have better opportunities because I understand that website now.”
Wang also gave her advice about applying for White House internships during the discussion. Pinkerton said she came away from the experience feeling like she had just made a significant step in her career by simply being there to learn.
“Usually in presentations, it feels like we're being talked at rather than talked to. However, they were very good at communicating and took a genuine interest in our futures and everything,” Pinkerton said. “They did a really good job of tying everything back to us and making sure that it was all relevant.”
Palmer shared some of the challenges he experienced during his application process, having mistakenly excluded information, like using an unofficial transcript where an official copy was required. Inadvertently excluding or including some information can deem the application ineligible, in which case it won’t be reviewed.
“One tip I have is, if you're getting rejections, and you're not sure what's going on, reach out. At the end of the job announcement, there's the contact information for a representative assigned to that posting,” Palmer said.
Once he corrected some of these mistakes, he quickly noticed his application was being reviewed, and it changed his entire trajectory.
“Don't give up if the system is being difficult with you.” Palmer said.
OSU Career Services was also able to sit down with Wang, as well as Palmer and his colleagues to discuss ways to facilitate a relationship and promote the federal hiring process on campus.
“Meeting with Matt and his colleagues from the U.S. Department of Commerce was a great opportunity for our Career Services team for several reasons. First, it is very rewarding to have an alumnus return to campus to offer support and guidance for current students to explore opportunities within their organization. Matt is building an impressive career with the Department of Commerce, and his willingness to share that experience with current students is exciting,” said Kellie Ebert, Career Services director.
“Second, we were able to learn more about the types of opportunities that are available within the Department of Commerce. They offer incredibly diverse and exciting opportunities that would appeal to many of our students.”
Ebert said they also spent a lot of time discussing their recruitment process and making students aware of how many positions are available.“We hope to grow their presence on our campus and work with their recruiters to facilitate efforts to inform students of the many exciting career paths the [federal government] offers.”
Following their discussions with individuals in Career Services, ITA officials wrapped up their whirlwind tour, meeting with students from OSU Global, the Spears School of Business and Ferguson College of Agriculture. Palmer’s presentation took place in the same Wes Watkins Center classroom where he presented his thesis nearly three years ago.
“Every semester, we try to do a career workshop and bring in professionals to talk to students about careers that this degree would lead to and it’s great when people from Washington, D.C., come. It worked out great because Matt was one of our students and he also was an OSU employee,” said Jami Fullerton, associate dean of academic programs and director of the School of Global Studies master's program.
Palmer discussed the different pathways to secure a job in the federal government and how he did so through a recent graduate program, which provided him with many unique opportunities, such as being paired with a mentor as well as participating in various training and professional development programs.
“My personal experiences with ITA have been incredibly rewarding, with my current role focused on enforcing U.S. trade laws to protect U.S. businesses from unfair trade practices,” Palmer said.
The Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration leads this initiative for officials to participate in hometown tours to enhance ITA’s ability to connect with U.S. businesses and communities, with the overarching goal of improving America’s economic competitiveness.
“It was a privilege to be back at Oklahoma State University and to meet with so many talented students interested in opportunities to apply their skillsets toward public service,” Palmer said.