Federal Recruiting: Is It Working?

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It’s no secret that many Federal agencies struggle with recruiting candidates. Skills gaps and shortages of qualified applicants in mission critical positions such as cyber security and STEM positions are pushing some to ‘think outside the box’ when trying to recruit top talent the Federal sector. Good news, positive changes are taking shape — and will be highlighted here. However, some of the most impactful approaches that could apply to Federal recruiting have yet to reach the federal sector in a significant way.

Recruitment advertising firms help many agencies position their recruitment brands as well as to increase awareness and exposure. That’s important progress that enables an agency to reach a broad candidate population. However, in meetings with Federal HR leaders, I’ve heard more times than I can count “attracting candidates isn’t a problem for us”, and the sentence that usually follows is, “our challenge is finding qualified candidates that meet the requirements and that our hiring managers want to select.” So, to address such challenges, many agencies hire contractors to help them with staffing and hiring.

Is this all working? What’s missing? And, where can federal agencies adjust to get better outcomes? We’ll share some ideas in a moment.

Steps in the right direction

The serious nature of gaps in mission critical skill areas has brought increased attention to the topic and will continue to do so. Federal leaders compete for talent against the private sector, which is often regarded as more attractive due to higher pay, incentives like stock grants and signing bonuses, faster hiring processes, as well as appealing work with leading edge companies. Federal leaders are making positive steps in their push for significant change where they can do so, such as in the following ways:

  • In the last 6 months, language in RFP’s and RFQ’s from agencies needing recruiting and hiring support are slowly starting to include technology requirements such as mobile apply; automated onboarding (and off boarding) with integration to the eOPF from OPM; and online assessments to screen out unqualified candidates; and on the services side, for the contractor to demonstrate ability to effectively leverage special hiring authorities that can expedite the recruiting process, to name a few.
  • In recent years, many federal agencies are making investments in their recruitment brand to make their employment environments and jobs more appealing. And, more are using recruitment advertising firms to increase exposure with digital media and social media initiatives – particularly for reaching the Millennial audience.

4 tips for more effective federal recruiting and hiring

While a variety of changes taking place over recent years are beginning to chisel away at the problems, perhaps the greatest opportunities reside in strategic advancements that have been happening in the private sector.

  1. Proactive sourcing: Imagine that you have a team of people working for you, combing networks and the online world to identify candidates that could be a great fit for your agency based upon their skills and experience — and then doing the outreach to them to begin building a talent pool. Your agency may be doing campus recruiting, job fairs, partnerships with education and community organizations, etc. Are you mining profiles in online databases on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and other sites as a part of your full recruiting strategy? Are you tapping into online communities and professional networks proactively? What opportunities do you have to employ such outreach as in the private sector?
  2. Dedicated sourcing resources: Dedicating a well-trained and focused sourcing team to find and interact with candidates who will meet initial requirements (prior to the vacancy being posted) improves the overall talent pool for an organization. And, it means that more costly resources with limited time — the interviewing, screening and hiring teams — are only spending time with more qualified candidates chosen from a wider, more qualified pool. Sourcing tasks can be assigned to earlier stage or less experienced employees as part of a career-track for HR functions.
  3. Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO): You might think these are great ideas so far, but how will you fund and/or staff them? RPO is an approach that can be designed to fit what you want and need. The firm “becomes” you to the degree you want it to do so and you design the approach with the provider. It can be entirely private-labeled where the contracted firm will manage part or your entire sourcing and recruiting process while leveraging your own Federal experts to handle the staffing/hiring processes, making compensation and onboarding decisions, and/or whatever you prefer to retain. You manage their efforts to the service level agreements you define.
  4. Recruitment process / “workflow” design and consultants: You may want to consider hiring a firm like this long before you start outreach to RPO or technology firms, as they can help you define where opportunities reside and what you want to include in an RFP. There are many consultants and firms experienced with assessing current processes and opportunities to help you make changes based on current best practices. Some are focused on helping you refine what you do so that you find more qualified talent faster — and get them on board faster. Here are a few questions to ask yourself: Take a deeper look at your processes. Are there points at which you seem to be the most focused on expanding reach? What happens next when they enter the applicant pool?

If you’re still wondering where you should start, take a look at your data. What are the numbers telling you? Are you getting more and more applicants yet still taking the same amount of time or more to find the right people? Are you finding out which of those 5, 50, 250 or more candidates who are qualified and truly interested in working with you? Are you doing so quickly enough that you get the best candidates before they accept positions with the private sector or another federal agency? And, ultimately the big question – are your hiring managers delighted with the cert list provided them for selection? We’ll share some thoughts on workforce analytics in future blogs.

In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this last thought:

“Mission-critical skills gaps within specific federal agencies as well as across the federal workforce pose a high risk to the nation because they impede the government from cost-effectively serving the public and achieving results,” the Government Accountability Office concluded in previous High Risk Report. Hopefully some of these ideas serve as a springboard for you, as you continue to tackle the important tasks of recruiting and hiring top talent in the federal sector.

Over the next few months, we’ll tackle some of the tools and practices used by commercial organizations to ultimately hire and retain the best talent. If you’d like to stay connected to this information, sign up here to receive future blogs by email.