Government Slow to Adopt Digital Recruiting

Public-sector employers should highlight their mission-driven brands

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer August 17, 2018
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Government Slow to Adopt Digital Recruiting

​Government contractors in the private sector are twice as likely as their public-sector counterparts to use online tools and social media for their recruitment needs, according to a recent survey.

Monster Government Solutions and market research firm Market Connections surveyed 200 HR professionals within the public sector and the private-sector government contracting community to compare how each uses digital recruiting technology. 

HR professionals working in federal, state and local governments were less likely to use social media, online job boards and other digital platforms when compared to private government contractors who are often hiring individuals to work in the same types of jobs.

Private-sector respondents post job opportunities through online job boards (80 percent), social media sites (66 percent) and digital advertising (46 percent), while only 42 percent of government HR professionals use job boards, 34 percent use social media and 23 percent use digital ads.

"In this competitive talent market, it's clear that government organizations have to close the gap with the private sector when it comes to meeting candidates where they are—online," said Susan Fallon Brown, vice president of global strategy and business development for Monster Government Solutions, based in McLean, Va.

Time for Change

"Part of the problem is that government for the most part doesn't recruit," said Jeffrey Neal, senior vice president at global consulting firm ICF in Fairfax, Va. Neal is a former chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Logistics Agency. "Government agencies post jobs," he continued. "The typical federal HR person posts vacancy announcements on USAJobs, the federal government's official employment website, which is required for most agencies, and maybe does some college recruiting. Because they typically don't recruit, you won't find them placing jobs on LinkedIn, or tweeting about vacancies or using Facebook to find passive candidates."

Neal added that a few agencies like NASA and the National Institutes of Health "do real recruiting"—generally, because they are looking to hire hard-to-fill, in-demand jobs.

"More agencies will recognize that in certain occupations, they simply can't recruit the way they have in the past," Neal said. "Competition for talent drives different behavior. Agencies are already recruiting for cybersecurity jobs differently because they have to."

As might be expected, government contractors are also more focused than their public-sector counterparts on diversifying their recruiting channel mix—from referrals to job board posts—to attract the right talent. "Contractors have customized recruitment tactics to the age of information, taking a 'be where the people are' approach that engages candidates on the platforms they utilize most," Fallon Brown said.

Leveraging a variety of platforms has the added benefit of reaching passive job seekers—talented people who may not be actively looking for new opportunities.

Passive seekers aren't visiting USAJobs, said Fallon Brown. And even if they did, "the typical 21-year-old" would not be impressed, Neal added.

It's not that federal HR is prohibited from digital recruiting, but budgets and, more importantly, legacy culture don't allow for innovative approaches to recruiting, Neal said.

The Brand Is Mission

The survey showed that government employers also need to improve their employer branding and reputation management efforts. Seventy-two percent of contractors feel they have a strong brand compared to 48 percent of government agencies.

An agency like NASA is great at branding because they are competing in a very different talent market than an agency like HUD looking for budget analysts, Neal said. "The driver of branding—that survival instinct, which the private sector has—doesn't drive the federal government. If you're HUD, you're not competing for customers."

"The government sector typically cannot compete with the commercial sector on salary alone," Fallon Brown said. "However, the advantage government does offer can be summed up in one word: mission. Government is tackling some of society's most important problems, and the purpose of making a difference and impacting people's lives is incredibly attractive, particularly among younger talent."

She added that candidates don't set out to work for government, they set out to work for "the FBI, NASA, USDA, or the City of San Francisco. These are organizations with important missions from national security to food safety, and they have a unique opportunity to brand their goals and values in their recruiting efforts."

Embrace a Consumer Experience

Only 29 percent of public-sector HR professionals surveyed said they are satisfied with their hiring technology and 32 percent rated their current hiring technology as having a negative impact on the applicant experience. On the other hand, over half (54 percent) of private-sector employers said they were satisfied with their recruiting technology, while 11 percent rated it negatively for candidates.

"It is asking a great deal for highly skilled candidates with multiple private-sector options to navigate inefficient hiring processes, outdated hiring technology and unreasonable hiring timelines," Fallon Brown said.

The Office of Personnel Management's average hiring time for federal employees is 106 days. "That's simply not competitive in today's fast-paced, dynamic talent market," she said.

Candidates want to know what is happening throughout the application process, and they expect decisions to be made quickly.

Glen Fowler, recruiting and training manager in the California State Auditor's office in Sacramento, believes that public-sector employers can be successful in hiring more quickly by going paperless, shortening the application process and incorporating automation.

"Many government agencies still use paper because that's how they've always done it," he said. "The more you can make your process all online—and even better, via mobile—the better. Applying might be as much as completing a profile."

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