Same location, different hiring methods: City of Seattle, King County, Sound Transit, Tacoma

Same location, different hiring methods

You would think that local government hiring processes might have similarities to one another when they are located in the same geographic region. As I conducted research for my book, Jobs That Matter: Find a Stable, Fulfilling Career in Public Service, I found this definitely to not be the case.

For instance, in the Seattle area where I live, there are several different local government agencies that all have a fairly different application process:

  • The City of Seattle has a straightforward application via their website,, in which you fill out a profile on their website (powered by NeoGov), answer basic questions about your eligibility to work, education, skills and so on, and upload your resume. You can attach a cover letter but it is not required. In some applications but not all, you will be given a 30-minute online “test” which asks some very simple questions:
    • Whether you have relatives working for the City
    • EEO data
    • Vouching for the truth of your application

The whole application (not counting the time you need to write a good cover letter) is very quick.

  • King County’s application process, also using the NeoGov system, can be more complex. There can be restrictions on who can apply, limiting applications to current King County employees for example. King County takes its tone from federal applications, going into “knowledge, skills and abilities” required for the job. The job specifies whether it is a union position. The application can include:
    • Numerous “supplemental questions” asking whether you meet the requirements of the job (one job I saw asked 27 questions).
    • Some of the questions were multiple choice (choose how many years of experience you have, etc.), but others require essays, such as “Please provide an example of a human resource issue you handled in a unionized environment. What was the issue, what policy or law did you apply, what was the outcome. Please list your job title at the time, the name of your employer and the approximate date.” Or “Please explain in detail your experience in advising in at least one of the following: employee relations, labor relations, Human Resource policy, performance management, progressive discipline, training and development, FMLA/leave management, and/or recruitment (hiring, selection, and compensation). Please provide your job title, employers name and approximate date for your experience.” You still have only 30 minutes to complete all the questions.
    • Some of the questions were very interesting, like “Have you used marijuana in the last three years?”
    • Interestingly, because both City of Seattle and King County use NeoGov, my data was pulled from my City of Seattle test application into the King County one.
    • The demographic questions were much more detailed, and ask about veteran’s preference (City of Seattle didn’t ask about that).
  • Sound Transit seems to be somewhere in between City of Seattle and King County in its level of complexity. It also uses NeoGov:
    • Some jobs have supplemental questions, some don’t.
    • Those that have them ask for essays
  • City of Tacoma, only about 30 minutes’ drive from Seattle:
    • Asks about veteran’s preference—and gives specific numbers of points based on the type of service
    • Asks about relatives who work for the City
    • City of Tacoma has a civil service process, which means most staff are protected by civil service protections. In addition, for some staff, one has to pass a civil service exam to be hired, and be placed on a list of “eligibles” to be considered for an interview.
    • Similar to federal hiring, candidates are scored on a scale of 70-100 points.
    • There are usually residency requirements—you must live in Tacoma to work for the City.
    • Many positions are only available for current staff (as promotional opportunities).
    • Details on the complex personnel rules can be found at

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