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The Federal Coach

John Mayer's theme song for fed-hiring reform?

A few years ago John Mayer won a Grammy with the song Waiting on the World to Change. It's an upbeat, even memorable song, but here's my worry: That federal leaders may be taking this tune as their theme song when it comes to enacting government-hiring reform.

I know what you're thinking -- hiring reform, again? But as we've seen from your comments and emails, hiring continues to be a hot topic, with many people focusing on whether hiring reform will lead to broader, big-system change in government.

Talking about bigger changes in the future is important, but for those who are actually in government leadership positions, change starts today. There's no need to wait for the hiring process -- or the world -- to change.

This week, let's discuss four steps leaders can take right now to improve their hiring.

Step 1: Think about what you need, not what you had. Whatever the reasons, leaders often look to replace people who leave, rather than recruit the people they need. Before you dust off and use the last job announcement, ask yourself some questions and pose them to your teammates and subordinates too. What are the real responsibilities and tasks for this position? What kind of candidate would be the best fit, and what knowledge would they need to have coming in? What is the sort of previous professional experience we would want a new hire to bring?

Step 2: Write a job announcement YOU would find interesting. I just searched USAJOBS and found a discouraging announcement. The first line read, [This agency] "is conveniently located within walking distance to the Blue, Orange, Yellow and Green Metro lines." Not a great pick-up line, even in D.C. This is the type of announcement produced when leaders delegate this task to someone who cares much less about the result than they do. What leader can do instead is use the information you gathered in the previous step and work with HR to write a concise, jargon-free announcement that captures your agency's mission and impact. Remember, you want to find candidates who are more motivated by a sense of purpose than a convenient commute -- so write an announcement that reflects your priorities.

Step 3: Recruit beyond USAJOBS. In response to questions about recruiting, I'm no longer surprised to hear managers say, "Well, we posted our announcement on USAJOBS...." Yes, the site is a great place to catch those already looking for government jobs, but what about highly qualified candidates who might not think of looking there? Expand your pool of potential candidates by tapping into professional associations, alumni web sites, or social networking sites like LinkedIn or Facebook -- in most cases, posting announcements is free. Think of yourself as the head chef at a five-star restaurant: You want to find the best ingredients wherever they are, so don't just settle for your local grocery store.

Step 4: Communicate with your candidate.A new federal employee recently told me about her federal job search. The agency she joined kept her informed throughout the hiring process, from application to orientation. The other agency? She heard from them a year after she started her current job. Nice. Any agency using an online system should use that system to generate automated responses to applicants acknowledging receipt, updating status (i.e., you are/are not being considered), informing candidates of the final decision. If you're lucky enough to find a great candidate, don't blow it by essentially putting them on hold and delivering the message that "Your application is important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available operator."

What are you doing to hire great talent? What should leaders do right away to improve hiring? What would be a good theme song for reforming the federal-hiring process? I encourage you to share your ideas or experience by leaving comments below or sending an e-mail to fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

Please check back on Wednesday, when I interview Daniel Pink, author of bestselling new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, or receive a reminder by following us on Twitter @thefedcoach.

By Tom Fox

 |  May 21, 2010; 5:09 PM ET |  Category:  Getting Ahead Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Uneven success in federal hiring | Next: Why fed workers need more autonomy


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Real Leadership is seeing challenges not problems and solving them with an open mind...
so far everyone I see and read about is mindless and gutless to help their country...
how sad for us...

Posted by: DwightCollins | May 25, 2010 1:16 PM

Quite interesting... however I am not sure you really understand the way the federal government operates when hiring (in most cases and most agencies). I have worked in Treasury and I am now it DoD. But the hiring manager has LITTLE to say in the process. The HR folks control the whole process -- up to the highly qualified, interview and selection. Hiring managers have little to say about how it gets announced, where it gets announced and how applicants are screened for qualification...

So this article is worthless for most federal agencies!

Posted by: darbyohara | May 25, 2010 6:48 AM

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