Connecting state and local government leaders
COMMENTARY | By rethinking its recruitment processes, technology and organization, one city cut the time it took to fill vacancies by 38% in two years.
Government is facing a major workforce shortage. Without better job recruiting and hiring, agencies may alienate existing employees who must fill in the gaps, damage customer experience and be unable to deliver on their missions.
According to MissionSquare Research Institute’s annual state and local workforce survey in June 2023, 45% of public sector HR managers said they are seeing more people quit this year than last year, and 36% said they are seeing retirements increase this year.
To combat these headwinds of turnover and disengagement, government HR teams must hire quality talent to fill positions as quickly as possible. The key steps are having a streamlined hiring process, developing a clear partnership with department clients, building a strong employer brand and job marketing strategy to attract candidates and using a modern applicant tracking system to boost efficiency and ensure goals are met.
When I worked as the chief human resources officer for a city government, I had one clear goal: improve hiring and retention. In two years, we cut the time it took to fill vacancies by 38%.
Reducing “time to fill” is how organizations determine efficiency in hiring. It typically is measured from the point when a position requisition is created to the date the new hire starts.
When we first measured our time to fill, it took us over four months to hire for general recruiting jobs and nine months for positions in public safety. If we wanted to hire more quality candidates faster, it was clear that we needed to rethink our processes, technology and organization.
But before any process could be improved, the current state had to be accurately assessed. A cross-functional team of key stakeholders—recruiters, hiring managers, admins—walked through what actually happens from job requisition to the final offer and documented how long it took. Insights from that exercise ensured everyone knew how the process actually worked, as opposed to how they thought it worked.
After determining the existing time to fill, the HR team collaborated with department leaders to create a new streamlined hiring process by identifying where the agency can save time at each stage of recruitment. Once a new hiring procedure was developed, the HR team documented the new process and confirmed that all parties agreed to the new process, roles and responsibilities.
Meanwhile, we launched what I called “Operation No Paper.” The HR team worked in small groups to think through how we could automate all our HR processes and found an applicant tracking system that could improve recruitment efficiency. The system would help us widen the pool of candidates, identify bottlenecks in the hiring process, streamline workflows for hiring managers and provide performance metrics to leadership.
We also created a new talent management organization. At the time, the city had employment analysts, rather than the recruiters or talent acquisition specialists typically found in the private sector. We created a modern employment, testing and talent development organization, including a new recruiter position that had full lifecycle recruiting responsibility. In addition to hiring new recruiters, we invested in training to upskill the current staff.
The HR team then set up processes for client departments to conduct interviews and provide feedback in a timely manner. Talent management and compensation teams were aligned to ensure timely and competitive and internally equitable offers.
Building the Brand
We also partnered with marketing to improve candidates’ perception of the city’s brand and expand its social footprint to reach the widest pool of applicants.
Even though state and local government agencies don’t have the cachet of Apple or NASA, they can still build a compelling brand that helps establish the employer value proposition, or the “give and get” between an employer and employee.
According to author Bryan Adams, candidates evaluate an organization’s reputation by its culture, its potential to move their careers forward and its impact on the community. For government organizations, the discussion around public service is a compelling component of the employer reputation and value proposition that can enhance the agency brand.
Once an agency is clear on its brand, then it is time to make sure that its career website and marketing strategy convey that message. A good career website that has clear branding, a compelling value proposition, is easy to use and also offers links to similar city jobs will expand the pool of good candidates.
With the groundwork laid, we then sold the idea to the department leaders. Even though many civil servants are traditionally resistant to change, I championed a new recruitment strategy, repeatedly stressing the importance of changing the way that we recruit so we could attract more candidates and get them through the hiring process faster.
Attracting the right candidates gets agencies just part way to reducing time to fill. Agencies committed to faster hiring can improve their recruitment efficiency with an applicant tracking system.
These tools can eliminate much of the manual work of communication with applicants by automating interview scheduling, moving applicants through the workflow, creating job offers and reporting hiring status to leadership. Some systems also feature tools to streamline pre- and post-hiring onboarding.
They can also help agencies widen the pool of candidates by:
- Managing and promoting hiring events. Recruiters can create and post events that are embedded seamlessly alongside open roles in the job portal, helping candidates discover these opportunities while searching for jobs.
- Recommending jobs to candidates. Candidates that provide their resume to the job portal can discover new opportunities that match their skills and interests.
- Streamlining the application process. Allowing applicants to get started using just an email or phone number without creating an account can accelerate recruitment.
The right system can help HR teams spot bottlenecks in existing workflows and ensure that recruiters are spending less time working on manual processes and more time doing the impactful work of finding and engaging candidates.
We committed to our new strategy, landed some early wins with certain departments, got leadership buy-in from elected officials and were able to build momentum for change. As a result, we drastically expanded the number of applications received, improved the quality of hire and reduced our time to fill.
Alex Smith, Head of Strategy and Execution, Public Sector, HCM, Oracle and a member of the Route Fifty Advisory Board.