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How to Hire Thousands of Federal Workers Fast – and Do It Well: Lessons From DHS

By Dr. Sydney Heimbrock and Angela Bailey

The Inflation Reduction Act signed into law this month has spurred speculation and debate on exactly how many employees the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will need to hire. While we don’t know the exact number yet, it’s clear the IRS is under immense pressure to ramp up hiring – and fast. Like the many other agencies to which Congress has bestowed millions of dollars to hire thousands of people in short order, IRS leaders are caught somewhere between doing a happy dance and holding their head in their hands at the enormity of the task. On one hand, the agency, which has had its budget cut by nearly 20% since 2010, may finally be able to modernize and staff up appropriately. On the other hand, it’s just plain overwhelming, particularly when the money is given late in the year with intense scrutiny and oversight.

Even on a good day, month or year, it takes a tremendous amount of coordinated effort to hire people at this scale. The good news is that the IRS can draw from proven models for getting thousands of people through the federal hiring process. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) knows a thing or two about these surge hiring efforts, including “on-the-spot” hiring where candidates are offered a job at the time of their interview. During Angela Bailey’s time as Chief Human Capital Officer of DHS, she learned a few lessons about expanding a workforce – the biggest one being that surge hiring is a team sport. Let’s dive into a few key underlying principles to succeed in hiring thousands, quickly:

  1. HR cannot do it alone. HR, leadership, line managers and security all have to work together to ensure a seamless hiring process. HR absolutely has the lead role in everything from mapping out the recruiting and hiring strategies, to ensuring the hiring and onboarding process runs as smoothly as possible. Leadership must provide “air cover,” when it feels like Congress and others are pressuring the agency to hire quickly without regard to hiring smartly. Line managers and subject matter experts (SMEs) should always play an appropriate and integral role in recruiting, reviewing resumes — including determining who is qualified for further assessment — and interviewing. And because so many positions require a clearance, having security involved from the beginning of the hiring process can eliminate months of unnecessary delays. 
  2. Data is key to designing effective recruitment and hiring strategies. A recent study conducted by Qualtrics found that a majority of students and recent graduates surveyed would not consider applying for a federal job. Why? Current students indicated they don’t consider themselves qualified, and recent graduates felt the hiring process is too long. This is particularly true for minorities and students in technical and community colleges – the very talent pool that the IRS will want to target to build a more diverse and technically skilled workforce. Be proactive in understanding your talent pool and what will appeal and motivate them to consider employment at your agency. Think outside the box to streamline the hiring process, including offering jobs “on-the-spot.”
  3. Take an inclusive approach to hiring. The benefits of hiring a diverse workforce are well-researched and clear, and shouldn’t be overlooked in the frenzy of hiring at scale. Be sure your recruiting strategy reaches all segments of society, not just a few select colleges and universities. Write job announcements that are easy to understand and appeal to the diversity of the nation. Clearly state the skills required for potential applicants to be qualified for consideration, so they don’t rule themselves out before applying. Be sure to include why and how the potential applicants’ values match the mission and values of the agency.
  4. Candidate experience is important. The interactions people have with the hiring organization determine whether they continue to engage, or drop out in favor of an organization that feels more welcoming. Fortunately, new methods and tools for managing the candidate experience can empower organizations to listen to and understand candidates’ experiences. Agencies can then use this feedback to quickly make changes that applicants would find most valuable.  

Naturally, there’s more to hiring thousands of people, especially at the tactical level. The interplay between HR, line management and SMEs is the foundation upon which all the tactical avenues are built. Line managers and SMEs should take the lead in determining qualifications, with HR determining education and veteran preference.   

This is not in any way intended to oversimplify the task at hand. It is, however, doable. Utilizing the four principles above, coupled with a solid foundation of HR, line management and security as one team, there is no doubt IRS leadership can make it happen. 

Check out this Federal Recruiting eBook for more findings on why students and graduates aren’t considering federal employment.

Dr. Sydney Heimbrock is Chief Industry Advisor for Government at Qualtrics, where she uses her global experience transforming governments through investments in workforce development and policy reform to help federal, state and local government organizations design experiences that build public trust. 

Angela Bailey is the former Chief Human Capital Officer of DHS, and current Founder and CEO of AnandaLife LCC. She serves as human capital advisor to the government team at Qualtrics.

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on pexels.com

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