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4 Steps to Active Federal Recruitment

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

In the public sector, the Competitive Service Act of 2015, enacted in March 2016, is meant to streamline the recruiting process by allowing agencies to share information on applicants and potentially fill positions more quickly with the most qualified candidates. But recruitment isn't just about filling positions when they become vacant. Government recruiters need to think ahead. Prepare yourself today to recruit tomorrow by thinking through these steps.

Determine Present and Future Needs

The key is to build your candidate pool before you need it. Waiting for a vacancy to occur creates the reactionary approach that many organizations fall under. Budgetary or personnel number constraints may prevent you from hiring ahead, but you can certainly predict some future areas of need by evaluating the tenure and ages of staff in your organization. How many are nearing retirement age or have 20-plus years with the agency and may be in a position to move on? Consider whether there any incentives coming in the next 18-24 months (such as early retirement bonuses) that may create a mass exodus. 

As you evaluate the need, you also must look at the multiple generations in the workforce. There are different triggers of success for each identified band of employees. Previous generations may have seen it as perfectly normal, understood, and accepted that young, new employees start at the bottom and work their way up in a very rigid hierarchical structure. That is not always the sentiment of new employees. You must plan accordingly.

Identify Available Resources

Join professional trade associations and groups that align with your industry and specialized workforce. Create master lists of industry leaders and other potential employees from customers, colleagues, co-workers, and friends. 


Invest in your employees and pay for their participation and networking in industry groups, conferences, and trade shows. Create a listing of employees' areas of study and any collegiate allegiances (where they graduated from or potentially a family member attends or attended). This can be used for recruitment purposes later.

Develop Candidate Pools

Start internally with your existing employees. Build a personalized recruitment section or board for them to learn of openings, and give potential internal candidates an interview. It's a chance for you to know them better and for them to learn more about agency goals and needs. Sometimes, a good fit is found between your needs and theirs.


If no internal candidate exists and your search reaches externally, reach out first to passive job seekers. All good recruiters should have a pool of warm candidates they can contact when a vacancy occurs. These are a group of people that you've interacted with and cultivated relationships with over a period of time. The better the cultivation, the more applicants you may have to choose from during your next vacancy announcement. No matter if the new hire is internal or external, always hire for strengths. Don't expect to develop weak areas of performance, habits, and talents. Build on what is great about your new employee in the first place. 

Establish Criteria for Success

Organizations often measure success as a filled job, but recruiting success is so much more than that. Success does include finding the right talent, at the right time, at the right price, but it doesn't end at the fulfillment of a vacancy. It extends well into the new hire's employment. When determining your success, you must answer these questions:  

  • How was the employee onboarding process?
  • Was the new employee assigned a mentor to help with navigating the organization?
  • How soon is the new employee contributing to the overall work?
  • How is the new employee adding value to the culture?
  • Has your new employee made it past the first 90 days, six months, or year? 

Recruiters also must understand internal relationship building and evaluate the process with the respective hiring managers and other internal constituents. What are more qualitative measures of success for each of these stakeholders? 
For more advice, check out my article, “Active Recruiting: Casting a Wide Net,” in the June 2016 issue of The Public Manager. You also can listen to the podcast interview with Jon Wolper. We define active recruiting and discuss how recruitment for government agencies differs from recruitment for the private sector.

About the Author

Timothy D. Howell is an HR professional who has held director-level roles in the private and public sector for more than 15 years, including most recently of director of human resources for the District of Columbia Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. Timothy has held other leadership roles as well, working directly with senior leaders at various Fortune 100 companies. He has consulted and coached many corporate leaders and executives in managing change, cultural diversity, conflict resolution, and implementing customer service initiatives. With an 18-year track record in public speaking and training engagements, Timothy’s ability to captivate his audience has allowed him to build a career spanning many industries.

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