‘Posting and Praying’: Why Agencies’ Old-School Approach to Recruiting Tech Talent Needs an Update

Roberto Piras/Shutterstock.com

Federal hiring strategies need to consider more than just jobseekers’ altruism.

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith says she wants college students to think of working for Uncle Sam as sort of like Teach for America.

“So many kids at the top schools apply” for the short-term teaching fellowships, Smith told The New York Times in a recent interview. “I’d like to talk to those young people and say: Consider government. It’s real service, and you can affect hundreds of millions of people.”

The federal government’s ability to shell out for top salaries – even for high-skilled, high-tech and in-demand technology positions – remains as elusive as ever. So, in a bid to entice applicants for these positions, agencies are increasingly focusing on the uniqueness of the mission inside government.

But their recruiting strategies shouldn’t only play on jobseekers’ altruism. Experts say agencies also need to think smarter about the whole recruiting process.

Agencies’ Recruiting Strategy: Post and Pray

Most agencies are still simply “posting and praying,” said Kris Van Riper, managing director at CEB, an Arlington, Virginia-based consultancy, in an email.

“Agencies tend to post jobs and wait, while applicants spray their resume to many jobs at one time,” she said. “This results in a mismatch of skill need and candidate pool.”

Amid fierce competition for talent from the private sector, “organizations must take a smarter approach to building the pipeline of candidates for the IT workforce,” Van Riper said.

Recently, two new startup-type organizations inside government – the U.S. Digital Service and the General Services Administration’s 18F team – have shared bonafide tech-recruiting success stories.

The White House’s U.S. Digital Service, which aims to be a “Navy Seals” of federal IT problem-solving, received about 750 applications to fill just two dozen positions. Meanwhile, over the course of less than a year, another federal IT fix-it shop, GSA’s 18F grew from just a handful of staffers to nearly 100.

“USDS and 18F have inspiring missions, and those missions are a way to attract great candidates,” Van Riper said. “It’s possible to attract those candidates to other government roles if you appeal to their desire to serve their country and its citizens.”

How Can Agencies Target ‘Passive’ Jobseekers?

Still, a focus on mission will only get agencies so far.

“My message is: Don't confuse the amount of applications that you get for a job posting with the quality,” said Steve Cooker, executive vice president of Monster Government Solutions, in an interview with Nextgov. “You can extend your reach and really find more quality candidates."

The government-focused arm of Monster, the well-known careers site, used to run the Office of Personnel Management’s federal jobs portal, USAJobs.gov, before the agency brought management of the site back in-house in 2011.

The company continues to play a supporting role in the federal recruiting and hiring process. Traditionally, that has included helping agencies sift through streams of resumes using intelligent keyword searches. But increasingly, the company is also helping agencies use social media and other avenues to target “passive" jobseekers.

One of the more sophisticated new tools the company is piloting is called TalentBin, which Cooker called a “social profiling technology.”

The site creates profiles of potential job candidates – even if they aren’t actively seeking work – based on publicly available information, such as posts on social media and GitHub, the online code-sharing platform for software developers. These profiles can then be searched by employers looking for particular talents, especially in the IT realm.  

Monster doesn’t have any agency customers lined up for the service yet. But if the federal government does get involved, there are sure to be questions about privacy.

"It's more than just a small consideration,” Cooker said, stressing that the company takes user privacy seriously.

“In this particular case, we actually will let people know that we are creating a profile on them and where we can, we outreach to individuals,” he added.

Commercial clients are already expressing interest, Cooker said. “This is right on the cusp of innovation right now, we think,” he said.

(Image via Roberto Piras/Shutterstock.com)

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