How the Public Sector Can Compete for Hard to Fill Jobs

by David Creelman on January 17, 2017

Talk to the talent acquisition team at Tesla and they’ll tell you some jobs are hard to fill. If even cool corporations with rich compensation budgets find certain types of jobs hard to fill then what can the public sector do? Well don’t give up, there is an effective strategy.

First we should recognize that the public sector does have a unique employee value proposition; the fact that it offers work in service of the public good is not a small thing. That value proposition may be attractive enough for some unlikely recruitment wins. However, an unlikely win can’t be the main strategy. That leaves us with a tough problem.

One man who faced a tough problem was pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger; he had the choice of attempting to get his crippled plane back to the airport or land in the Hudson River. Once he had decided that the unlikely win of making it back to the airport was too risky, the path ahead was pretty clear—land on the Hudson. He then had to make this difficult option work.

That’s the kind of thinking the public sector has to adopt. 

If we want a highly experienced community development engineer who is fluent in English, Spanish and Punjabi —well, it’s just too risky to assume we’re going to find them.  We’ve got to prepare for the tough alternative and then make it work. 

The talent acquisition equivalent to landing on the Hudson is to hire someone who is not proven. If it’s clear that candidates matching the desired profile are not available, then it becomes a matter of hiring mainly on the basis of competencies.  For example, you may want someone high on general intelligence, high on conscientiousness, and high on ‘grit’. You make the decision that you, an experienced HR professional, know enough about assessing potential that you can pick that unproven person, and that you know enough about development that you can grow them into someone who can excel at that job.

This isn’t easy, but once you decide to hire for potential rather than proven experience, executing that decision is well within HR’s ability. You’ll have to fire up the applicant tracking system to cast a wider net than usual, and yes it will probably take more interviews than the typical search, still it will result in filling the job, and quite likely filling the job with a high performer.

TWEET: Once you decide to hire for potential rather than proven experience, executing that decision is well within HR’s ability.

So don’t despair, don’t hire a B-player, make the tough decision to hire someone unproven but with potential then get it done.

How to Solve Government Recruiting Needs

David Creelman

David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research. He studies the pressing issues in managing talent and culture. His most recent book, with John Boudreau and Ravin Jesuthasan is “Lead the Work: Navigating a world beyond employment.”