How to Recruit & Retain Top Talent in the Public Sector

by Mike Tannian on March 30, 2022

Your public sector organization depends on skilled professionals. But how do you find them? Learn how to recruit and retain top talent in this post.

Article Highlights: 

People tend to think of public sector organizations as perpetual motion machines that just keep on keeping on, seemingly all on their own. 

But as a human resources professional, you know this perception is far from the truth. It’s your employees that keep the wheels of the machine turning, undertaking diverse jobs and often taken for granted, all to serve the public good. 

Some of it seems glamorous: fighting fires, managing natural resources, building affordable housing. 

Most of it isn’t: treating wastewater, filling potholes, analyzing budgets. 

Yet each of these roles is as important as the next. And a key part of your role is attracting candidates for jobs that fulfill these needs and serve your community. So, how do you attract, recruit, and retain top talent in the public sector?

Let’s find out. In this post, we’ll discuss how to recruit and retain top talent to your organization, from writing compelling recruitment ads to winning over your ideal candidates – even in a tough market. 

How to Become an Employer of Choice 

The chance to make a meaningful impact on one’s community is a great employee value proposition. Many job seekers look for jobs in the public sector because they want to make a positive contribution to their communities. 

But being a mission-driven organization isn’t enough to recruit qualified candidates. To be competitive in the current job market, you need to become an employer of choice. These organizations attract job seekers due to their positive reputations and employer brands.

When it comes to being an employer of choice, one of the best things you can do is go back to the basics. Your average job seeker is looking for an organization that: 

  • Maintains an efficient and straightforward hiring process
  • Fosters a healthy organizational culture 
  • Tells compelling stories about its work 

So, how can you demonstrate you have these qualities? 

Since the public sector hiring process takes three times longer than the private sector, a great place to start is reducing time to hire. Software solutions like NEOGOV’s Insight can do this effectively by quickly screening applications and allowing each potential candidate to self-schedule interviews. 

Once you’re pleased with your hiring process, take stock of how you can improve upon your organizational culture. You might start by tackling some of the questions below: 

  • What benefits do you provide employees that support your ideal culture? 
  • Do employees have clear paths to promotion within the organization? 
  • How do you recognize employee accomplishments? 

Since 75% of job seekers apply to work for organizations that actively manage their brands, the last piece of the puzzle is strengthening your employer branding. Identifying stories that capture your organization’s best qualities is a great way to self-promote your brand as an employer of choice.

Best Practices for Recruiting and Sourcing Candidates

Establishing your organization as an employer of choice is a great first step when it comes to attracting talented employees to your organization. Now, it’s time to consider some of the other best practices for recruiting and sourcing candidates

Fortunately, when it comes to recruiting the best candidates, your talent pool is bigger than you think. As you work to build your talent pipeline, consider strategies to attract both active and passive candidates (passive meaning individuals who aren’t actively looking for a job). 

Since the number one reason that people switch jobs is for an opportunity that will better fulfill their career goals, highlight how your organization can help potential employees do just that. 

On the sourcing side, use social media to build your employer brand as a place full of professional development opportunities. On the recruiting side, “walk the talk” of your organization’s mission, vision, and values by offering constructive feedback after interviews. 

If you’re still having a hard time sourcing and recruiting talent for your open positions, consider implementing an employee referral program. Let current employees do the hard work of explaining what makes your organization a great place to work. Don’t be wary of tapping into your own employee network when creating a candidate pool, either.

And remember that sourcing and recruiting candidates is an ongoing process. When one recruitment cycle ends, another begins. Keep qualified candidates in your talent pool (including those you don’t ultimately hire) to manage your talent pipeline for the long run.

Why An Engaging Careers Site Matters

Imagine this: you’re a job seeker trying to find your next role. You’re scanning through job boards and you find what looks to be a great position. 

But when you click on the organization’s website, you find that their job board is outdated, slow, and unattractive. In other words, it lends credence to the idea (fair or not) that public sector organizations are often behind the times. 

And it makes you reconsider if that role is right for you after all. 

On average, you have just 15 seconds to capture the attention of visitors on your website. As such, your careers site should be engaging, intuitive, and attractive. This requires: 

  • An intuitive user interface 
  • Speedy loading times
  • Attractive fonts, color schemes, and visuals 

It should be easy to find any information your average applicant is looking for, such as details about the job, how to apply, and supplemental materials to include in the application. 

If you want to recruit qualified candidates, make it easy for people to apply. The number of people who apply to jobs using their mobile devices has more than doubled from 2019 to 2021. As such, making your career page mobile-friendly is foundational to increasing the number of applications you receive. 

If you’re not inclined to completely redo your website, you may consider services like NEOGOV’s GovernmentJobs.com, which can be integrated into your existing site. This job board has a mobile-friendly interface and is 177% more likely to find a qualified hire than Indeed since it services the public sector alone. 

The long and short of it is that engaging career sites matter. If you’re committed to recruiting and retaining top talent in the public sector, you’ll need to put in the work to make sure that your site is attractive to potential employees. 

How to Create Attention-Grabbing Recruitment Ads

If you’re wondering how to recruit and retain top talent in the public sector, it may be helpful to take a page from the private sector’s book. That’s because 86% of HR professionals surveyed feel like their recruitment strategies have relied more and more on marketing in recent years. 

Just like businesses write advertisements that encourage consumers to buy a product, you need to write attention-grabbing recruitment ads that encourage candidates to apply for your jobs.

There are a few simple ways to do that. According to NEOGOV’s 2021 Job Seeker report, the information below is most likely to influence an individual’s decision to apply to work for your agency or not:  

  • Salary and benefits 
  • Organization’s mission and values
  • Description of a day in the life of the job 

Naturally, this information should be front-and-center in your recruitment efforts. In addition to the components above, your recruitment ad should highlight exactly what makes your organization a great place to work. Speak to your ideal candidate as you underline why your existing employees love working for your organization. 

And just like private sector marketing practices, ensure as many people as possible see your ad. To accomplish this, make your recruitment ad easy to find through a Google search (known as search engine optimization, or SEO). 

Some quick ways you can search engine optimize your recruitment ad are by including keywords and making the ad easy to read. In particular, be sure to include a searchable job title and the role’s location in the headline of your ad. Then, make your ad skimmable by highlighting important information using bullet points and lists.

Public Sector HR: How to Win in a Competitive Job Market

Now, it’s time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. You’re reading this post for a reason, likely because you’ve had a hard time finding qualified candidates lately and you’re wondering how to attract candidates for a job. And you’re not alone. 

Human resources professionals have spotlighted the difficulties of hiring throughout the pandemic. But the reduced number of applications you’ve received is, unfortunately, part of a larger trend that’s been ongoing since 2015

This means you’re struggling alongside both public and private organizations for the exact same talent – a daunting task when you consider the resources available to private businesses, allowing them to offer higher salaries and more competitive benefits. 

But don’t let this get you down. While important, salary may not play as big of a role in career decisions as we generally think. In fact, 9 out of 10 people would take a pay cut to do more meaningful work. 

And since you’re recruiting on behalf of a public sector organization, that gives you a leg up.  

When it comes to competing in today’s job market, emphasize all of those things that set your organization apart from others. In particular, highlight the fact that professionals in your organization have fulfilling careers that serve the public good. In addition to having meaningful roles, job seekers want to work for organizations that offer: 

  • Job security and professional development opportunities 
  • Competitive benefits, such as 100% employer-covered healthcare and strong retirement/pension plans 
  • Flexible work schedules or remote work opportunities

Organizations that offer these perks should reference them in their recruitment ads. Employers that don’t have them should ask themselves why not, then find out how to integrate these policies and practices into the workplace. While there is an upfront investment of time and money, offering these benefits pays dividends. 

How to Use Recruiting to Support Culture in the Public Sector 

Each of the points we’ve discussed above are connected. We started by talking about how important employee brand and organizational culture are when it comes to recruiting and retaining top talent in the public sector. 

Now it’s time to bring things full-circle and address how attracting and retaining top talent creates a positive feedback loop for your company culture, too. Recruiting to support culture means that you have…

  • More people who can refer like-minded candidates (helping you source more talented employees) 
  • More people who can serve as brand ambassadors for your organization (promoting your org as an employer of choice) 
  • More people who will stay at your organization longer (reducing employee turnover and increasing employee satisfaction and cohesion) 

Taking time to think about how to use recruiting to support organizational culture is key to making this happen. You want a recruitment process that upholds public sector values of efficiency, effectiveness, equity, and economy – all while attracting candidates for jobs that maintain your strong culture.

Using recruitment software can be a great way to accomplish this. NEOGOV’s Insight product checks off what we’ll call the four E’s of a good hiring process: 

  • Efficient: Helps move candidates quickly through the hiring process 
  • Effective: Screens candidates so that you can schedule interviews with the most qualified applicants 
  • Equitable: Provides demographic information about candidates so you can see if the applications you receive are representative of the community 
  • Economic: Offers a cost-effective solution to recruitment 

The icing on the cake is that a proper recruitment culture leaves you more time and money to do the things that support your company culture as a whole. Whether that means hosting employee appreciation events or paying for professional development opportunities, both employees and the organization benefit when you get your recruitment strategy right.

Final Thoughts

Understanding how to recruit and retain talent in the public sector is no simple task. But there are certain things you can do to make things just that little bit easier on yourself. From learning how to become an employer of choice to recruiting for culture, you can make your organization more competitive in today’s market. 

We’ve also mentioned some of the ways that NEOGOV can help with recruiting the best candidates. If you’re ready for top-tier talent recruitment, schedule a demo to learn more about how our products can support your organization.

Mike Tannian

Mike Tannian is the Director of Content Marketing at NEOGOV. With a talented team of writers by his side, he aims to produce content that delivers real value to public sector HR professionals at every stage in the buying journey.