Hiring the Right Talent for Government Positions


In a recent article written for Public Sector Digest, Micki Callahan, Human Resources Director for the City and County of San Francisco cited a committed to public service as a key trait for prospective employees. She points out that the public sector cannot always rival the private sector in terms of monetary compensation and other perks like complimentary meals and stock options. Coupled with time-intensive hiring processes against hundreds of candidates, attracting top talent can seem like an uphill battle for hiring managers.

However, instead of trying to compete for the ideal candidate, Callahan suggests that government should instead revise the definition of what constitutes such a candidate. First and foremost, a commitment to the public mission is critical. “Government must market its mission to candidates, finding those who care enough about their community to help build and maintain it,” writes Callahan.

With the looming retirement crisis and need to attract and retain talent top of mind, it led me to delve into Callahan’s point a little further. While it may seem obvious that government employees should be driven to do meaningful work, it’s not always reflected in the hiring process. Below are a couple ideas on how to do so:

Streamline the hiring process
This one is a no-brainer. It’s well-known that USAJobs isn’t the most user-friendly recruitment platform out there. While changes are coming, Stewart Liff, Fellow at the Performance Institute and HRM professional, suggests that hiring managers at all levels look beyond USAJobs – or its state or local equivalent – to advertise vacancies. Relevant publications and web platforms that cater to your target audience is a good place to start. In this way, those drawn to public service are less likely to be discouraged by tedious hiring processes.

Look beyond hard skills
While knowledge and technical skills are important, the selection process should also consider an applicant’s predisposition for public service. Why is the applicant interested in the job? What are his or her passions and professional goals? If the position requires the candidate to relocate, why is this agency or this community attractive? These are all ways to gauge interest in a government position beyond compensation and job security.

Make a compelling case for public sector employment
Be transparent in the hiring process, illustrating to candidates how their work will make a difference at the local, state, or federal level. Even better, allow applicants to observe life on the job and speak with existing employees. Then, keep strong candidates in the loop on the status  of their application, which McKinsey & Company identifies as an effective way to reduce the likelihood that he or she will pursue other opportunities. The application and interview process should reinforce, not deter, an applicant’s interest in the public sector.

While I’ve only scratched the surface – and incorporating a commitment to public service into government hiring practices won’t happen overnight where it doesn’t already exist – it’s a starting point for redefining and attracting the right talent for government positions.

Brittany Renken is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Presley Reeves


Good topic! A commitment to public service is a good metric. I was in the Air Force for twenty years and was a GG15 supervisor with DoD for 12 years. Our federal personal system focuses too much on a person’s ability to to their job, i.e. knowledge-skills-and-abilities, and not enough on “if” they in fact are motivated to do the job. One of my best hires was a really good candidate from Silicon Valley who was leaving a lucrative position because they wanted to get some of that public service experience. That was a big win for the new employee, and to the public.