Martha Guzman professional photo

Martha Guzman

Human Resources Subject Matter Expert

When I think of recruiting in the public sector, I think of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity. You’ve heard it before – “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” That’s what’s happening in public sector recruiting. We’re continuing to post complicated job descriptions full of organizational acronyms and jargon that don’t really “sell” the job, even though this approach has been unsuccessful in the past. While change can be difficult, it’s important to embrace a modern recruiting strategy and break out of the typical government recruiting cycle to attract and retain top talent.

Attracting the right talent for your government agency

Successful recruiting practices for private sector companies don’t necessarily work for government organizations. Think of Google or Apple - based on their reputations alone (and their ability to pay substantial salaries), they have a solid pipeline of qualified candidates proactively reaching out to them for opportunities. How can public sector entities create an active, qualified talent pipeline? That’s a complex question, but let’s start with job postings. By adjusting how you market your positions internally and externally, you will see a significant improvement in candidate volume and quality with relatively little investment.

Here are a few tips for creating a marketable job posting:

  • Choose the right job title. Avoid confusing internal titles, especially when posting externally. Instead, choose a descriptive, searchable title. 
  • Write a clear and concise job description. Your job description should instill excitement in your potential candidates. Avoid using standard templates with generic language and ensure the role and associated responsibilities are clearly and accurately outlined.
  • Promote non-salary benefits. While livable wages are essential, many public sector organizations can’t compete on salary alone. When this is the case, tout your non-salary benefits. Be proud of what you have to offer your employees. From job security and career development to retirement plans and inexpensive medical benefits, public sector organizations can create attractive offers for a variety of employees.
  • Be transparent with salary. Finding the perfect candidate and then realizing you can’t afford them at the end of the interview process is a waste of time and resources. Be upfront about the salary structure for the position and avoid misleading candidates with overly broad ranges.

Partnering for success

Collaboration between the hiring department and recruiting is critical for success. Communicating early and often reduces your overall workload and prevents misunderstandings or unnecessary delays. Consider making the following steps a standard practice when initiating recruitment:

  • Embrace the recruitment consultation. In this meeting, the recruiter and hiring manager will discuss the position and align on the primary duties outlined in the job description. The hiring manager should clarify the experience, skills, and abilities a candidate must already possess versus what can be learned on the job. This 30-minute structured meeting helps the recruiter understand how to best move forward when recruiting for the position.
  • Leverage “knock out” screening questions. Invest in a recruiting platform that seamlessly incorporates screening questions into the application process. With the information gained through the recruitment consultation, recruiters can craft screening questions around “must have” requirements and automatically disposition candidates who do not meet those minimum qualifications. This is a lifesaver for popular job openings that yield hundreds of resumes.
  • Craft an advertising strategy. While some positions may only need to be posted on your organization’s job board, many will need further promotion to build a qualified candidate pool. This strategy may include generic job boards, such as LinkedIn or GovernmentJobs, or niche job sites for your hard-to-fill positions. Since the advertising strategy will vary based on the position and recruitment urgency, it’s important to discuss this topic during the recruitment consultation.

Communicating with candidates

Finding the right candidates is just half the battle – you must keep them engaged throughout the interview and selection process. Avoid losing your top candidates by following the suggestions below:

  • Contact qualified candidates quickly. When qualified candidates are identified, they should be contacted immediately for a screening call to avoid losing them to competitors.
  • Promptly schedule interviews. If the candidate is still of interest after the screening call, don’t delay in scheduling an interview.
  • Confirm skills during the interview. At the interview, don’t be afraid to do an assessment to ensure the applicant possesses essential functions required of the job, e.g., writing skills, conducting presentations, etc. Often, resumes are exaggerated and/or written by professionals, so they may not represent the candidate’s experience, knowledge, skills and abilities.
  • Communicate often. Even if your organization has a streamlined recruiting process, some steps require external partners, like background checks. In these processes, your organization has limited to no control over the timeline. During these times, it’s imperative that candidates are informed of the overall progress. Keep your top candidates engaged with regular communication. This could be simple status updates or more information about your organization to keep them excited about their opportunity. 
  • Extend the job offer verbally. Instead of sending an email or a letter, personalize the job offer with a phone call. Be sure to sound sincere and share excitement about them joining the organization. Reiterate all of the other benefits you provide that captured the candidate’s attention to begin with. 

Break the cycle

According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, the average cost to hire an employee is $4,700. From a financial standpoint, it’s clear that getting hiring decisions right the first time is the ideal path forward. However, modernizing recruiting practices has a broader impact than just dollars and cents. It improves employee engagement, work culture, and organizational effectiveness. By attracting the right talent, thoughtfully partnering with recruiting, and clearly communicating with candidates, organizations can break the cycle of traditional government recruiting.

To learn more about CGI’s government expertise, visit our state and local government website or connect with an expert.

About this author

Martha Guzman professional photo

Martha Guzman

Human Resources Subject Matter Expert

Martha Guzman is a Human Resources subject matter expert at CGI. She previously served as CHRO at the Arizona Department of Child Safety and worked in various HR leadership roles with the State of Arizona during her 30+ year tenure. Martha is passionate about improving ...