As the need for talent is increasing, competition from the private sector is growing fiercer.

By Susan Fallon Brown
Byline Originally Posted on Government Executive
October 31, 2018 

Employers across the country are facing critical skills gaps, and the federal government is no exception.

Missions are evolving quickly and agencies need new talent to keep the nation safe and deliver critical services. We talk a lot about the tech talent gap and the need for more cyber pros and data scientists, but government also has needs in areas like public health and federal law enforcement. Unfortunately, as the need for specialized talent is increasing, the competition from the private sector for hiring that talent is growing fiercer.

It’s time for a reality check: Talented people have options. These highly sought-after pros are heavily pursued by the private sector. Agencies are typically competing against higher salaries, corporate recruiters with compelling advertising campaigns, and a faster hiring process.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, the average hiring time for federal personnel is 106 days. This time lag can perpetuate the lack of trust employees have in their HR team’s recruitment capabilities. The most recent Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, released late last week, revealed that just 42 percent of federal employees felt their team had the ability to recruit people with the right skills. In addition, the time it takes to hire personnel—typically more than three months—causes federal agencies to lose out on viable candidates who cannot wait that long to take new job opportunities.

These are major workforce challenges that the current administration is trying to change. In the president’s management agenda, the Office of Management and Budget called on agencies to re-evaluate their current HR processes and technology in support of establishing the “workforce of the 21st century.”

In its 2019 budget proposal, the White House noted that “the private sector continually finds new ways to evolve human capital management programs to maximize the return from their most valuable asset: their people. The federal government should do no less.”

To evolve workforce strategies and remain competitive with the private sector, federal agencies need to overcome four common challenges in federal recruiting:

1. Showcasing opportunities on the wrong platforms, to the wrong people

Today’s candidates have a consumer mindset to their job search—they essentially shop online for the right career. Top talent is continually evaluating new opportunities on social media platforms, job boards, and employer career sites. According to a recent Government Recruitment & Retention Study conducted by Monster and research firm Market Connections, HR professionals from the private sector are twice as likely to use social media channels and digital platforms to recruit as their federal HR counterparts.

The study also revealed that only 35 percent of federal agencies use social media sites and commercial job ads to find talent, while 75 percent of them depend on USAJOBS to advertise their vacancies. Imagine how many potential cyber leaders, nurses, accountants, and program managers agencies are missing out on because they “posted and prayed” that skilled talent would find them on a government job board.

How to avoid it: Take a “be where the people are” approach by engaging with candidates across a variety of digital platforms. The Government Recruitment and Retention Study found that 80 percent of private sector respondents post vacancies on commercial job boards, and 66 percent say they use social media sites for their recruiting needs, dramatically increasing their pool of highly-skilled candidates. The “post and pray” strategy for attracting top talent won’t cut it in today’s competitive market. Agencies can embrace digital platforms to drive the right talent to vacancies and deliver better candidates for HR pros to engage.

2. Too many candidates, not enough with the right skills

Federal agencies may have no shortage of candidates applying for open positions, but that doesn’t mean they are the right candidates. More applicants isn’t necessarily better, especially when it forces federal HR pros to manually sift through mountains of irrelevant resumes to find that diamond in the rough.

How to avoid it: The prescription for curing irrelevant resume overload happens on the front end with accurate position descriptions, thorough job analyses, and assessments capable of flagging the most qualified. HR technology tools can help automate tasks like candidate analysis and resume scoring to empower hiring managers to quickly identify the most relevant applicants, get out of the resume sifting business, and focus their time and energy on strategic talent engagement.

3. Forgetting to sell the mission

While most agencies can’t compete with the private sector on salary alone, federal HR professionals often miss out on an opportunity to highlight something even more powerful: meaningful work. Today’s job seekers, especially younger professionals, value an organization’s greater purpose. When seeking career opportunities, they want a work environment that prioritizes culture and a mission they can believe in.

How to avoid it: Job seekers don’t usually set out to work for the federal government—they set out to work for a specific agency with an amazing mission, such as NASA, FBI, the Food and Drug Administration, Homeland Security. As federal HR teams hone their message when recruiting top talent, it can be a powerful sales pitch to remind candidates of an agency’s purpose and impact, in addition to the robust benefit packages that agencies typically offer. In fact, 54 percent of respondents agree that creating an employer brand stands out among competitors in the hiring process, according to the Government Recruitment and Retention Study.

Non-government candidates often have a limited understanding of the unique work and hiring structure of the government, but an employer brand can help to remedy critical recruitment challenges, including the need to shorten time-to-hire, attract more quality candidates, and increase referrals.

By leading with a recruiting message focused on the unique mission of a specific agency, federal HR teams can effectively maximize their biggest competitive differentiator against the private sector, and attract a host of talented candidates that value making a difference above all else.

4. Not enough resources

We get it. Federal HR professionals are busy; they’re constantly managing a library of position descriptions, posting open positions, and sifting through resumes. Most of the time, there aren’t enough staff resources available for much proactive recruiting, and even if there was, there isn’t budget for sophisticated online advertising campaigns.

In the battle for talent with the private sector, agencies are often fighting with one hand tied behind their back. Federal hiring managers are up against full-time recruiters, massive advertising budgets, and dynamic digital recruiting strategies.

How to avoid it: Modern applicant tracking systems can automate and streamline manual tasks like posting open positions, managing position descriptions, and evaluating applicants, so that federal HR professionals have more time for recruiting. With the right system, agencies can align their customized talent search with their recruiting timeline, helping to further accelerate the overall recruitment process.

Today’s highly skilled job seekers have many options for where they want to take their careers. Modernizing HR technology and approaches can help federal HR professionals remain competitive, and maximize the resources they do have to build the federal workforce of the future.



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