How Recruiting for Culture Helps Attract & Retain Public Sector Candidates

by Mike Tannian on March 30, 2022

Ready to strengthen your organizational culture? Learn how a thoughtful recruitment strategy can help.

Article Highlights: 

The distinction between hiring a qualified candidate and hiring the right candidate isn’t always obvious. After weeks of searching, you might hire someone you think is perfect for the job… Only to realize six months down the line that the culture fit just isn’t there. 

Alternatively, your organizational culture may not be defined enough to attract the right candidates yet. Your ideal candidates aren’t biting on your recruitment ads because you haven’t delineated what makes your organization an attractive place of employment.  

Either way, recruiting and organizational culture are deeply related. As such, your hiring process and your company culture should be considered in tandem. 

So, let’s find out how to cultivate a recruitment culture that supports your organizational culture. In this post, we’ll clarify exactly why this is so important, then dive into some specific ways you can use recruiting for culture. 

Ready to dive in?

How Does Recruiting Support Workplace Culture?

When surveyed, only 49% of public sector professionals believed there was a strong relationship between recruiting and workplace culture. So some of you reading this may not be sold on the idea, either. 

We need to clarify this basic premise before we can discuss anything else. How does recruiting support workplace culture? 

The short answer is that recruiting for culture gets the right people into the right positions at the right organization. Taking the time to hire people who are a good fit for your organization not only means they will be happier working for your organization. They may also have more-favorable performance evaluations and longer tenure

In other words, a thoughtful recruitment strategy can solidify your culture as a high-performing organization with low turnover and happy employees. 

And happy employees make great ambassadors for your organization. 

Think about it: what better way to strengthen your recruiting pipeline than by hiring and developing happy employees who excitedly promote your company culture? These employees drive others who desire a similar culture to work for your organization. Over time, new employees become established and refer even more employees, creating a positive feedback loop that continues to solidify your org culture and bring talent to your organization.

Since first impressions matter, aligning your recruiting culture with your company culture is key to successfully onboarding the right employees. Individuals should quickly become acquainted with your workplace culture from the start of the hiring process. In doing so, you attract talent that aligns with your organization’s values and customs. 

Now, let’s dive into the details of creating and curating a recruiting culture. 

Step 1: Understand Your Organizational Culture

If you can’t describe the culture of your organization, you’re going to have a tough time attracting people who align with it. Before you can even think about recruiting for culture, you need to take the time to understand what your organizational culture looks like in the first place.  

But take note: now is not the time to sugarcoat or downplay your organization’s less-than-stellar traits! Don’t advertise an employer brand that doesn’t exist – unless you want to lose employees, that is. Almost 30% of job seekers have left a job within three months of starting because they felt an employer brand didn’t match their experience within the organization. 

In other words, false advertising does more harm than good. 

So, how do you avoid this? By getting as many perspectives as possible. Consider conducting an organizational-wide survey of current employees and organizational leaders to avoid blindspots. You might ask open-ended questions like: 

  • What do employees see as strengths in the organization? 
  • Where are there opportunities for the organization to improve? 
  • Can employees list examples of when they’ve seen organizational values in action? 

Then, use this information as fuel for growth. Where do employee perspectives differ from leadership perspectives? What actions can HR take to refine policies or procedures that minimize this misalignment? Are there any positive workplace culture activities your organization can implement to improve the employee experience? 

Understand that changing organizational culture takes time and patience, but knowing where you stand right now is half the battle. Once you have a feel for where you are and where you want to be, you can begin creating and curating a recruiting culture. 

Step 2: Find Language to Describe Culture

Now that you know where you are and where you’re going, it’s time to refine the language your organization uses to describe this culture. This includes revisiting written artifacts like: 

  • Core values
  • Mission and vision statements
  • Brand promise 

Because these materials are often the first introduction to your organization, the language you use should be accurate, concise, and inspirational. These statements will appear on your organization’s website, in your job postings, and on onboarding materials, so take the time to get them right. 

For example, Starbucks has the brand promise “to inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” This message captures the organization’s humble yet inspiring goal of improving communities through something as simple as a cup of coffee. 

Getting your values, missions, and brand statements right is important for your recruiting culture because it attracts mission-driven workers. Not only are purpose-oriented employees more likely to stay at a company for the long haul – they’re also 30% more likely to be high-performers than employees who clock in and out for money alone. 

As a public organization, consider the ways you might encapsulate your mission and core values into a brand promise. How do you want your numerous stakeholders (from residents to current employees to board members) to describe your organization? 

Don’t be afraid to demonstrate your organization’s core values, mission statements, or brand promise in a unique way. That may look like asking the head of your organization to record a three-minute video discussing your organization’s values, mission, brand, or something else entirely. 

Step 3: List Desired Values in a Candidate

After moving through the first couple of steps, you not only understand your organizational culture but you can successfully talk about it. Now, it’s time to kick things up a notch by considering how your ideal candidate might embody the qualities your organization seeks. 

When doing so, take care not to get too bogged down in specifics. Rather than focusing on specific attributes, consider what underlying values you seek from an employee. 

For example, if you’re an organization that promotes continuous improvement, you’ll likely want to find candidates who value feedback. Or if your organization prides itself on innovation, you’ll want to interview candidates who pride themselves in thinking outside the box. 

Focusing on values rather than hyper-specific traits can help you minimize biases in the hiring process. In other words, you can avoid “like me” syndrome, where you simply hire someone because they seem similar to you, whether that’s in appearance, education, or experience, rather than because they add value to the organization. 

Step 4: Reflect Org Culture in Your Job Description

Writing job descriptions that exemplify your organizational culture is key to recruiting for culture. And it’s no mystery why. 

If you’re transparent about your organizational culture from the start, individuals know exactly what to expect from your organization. This can reduce the likelihood that your new hire will be one of the 46% of new hires that fails within the first 18 months

So, how can you reflect your org culture in job descriptions? When writing your job description, be sure to convey both what you want out of an employee and what an employee can expect from your organization. 

Expectations from employees

Now is the time to revisit the list you created in step three that outlines the values you want a candidate to possess. By listing these in your job description, you encourage candidates with those same values to apply. 

When reviewing job applications, consider how an applicant aligns with these expectations. Ask yourself some of the following questions: 

  • Does their cover letter speak to their values or how they might mesh with your organization?
  • What does their experience indicate about the type of work environments or roles they’ve thrived in before?
  • How does their previous experience align with the role they’re applying for?

After you’ve selected your top candidates, assess culture fit through an interview. Consider providing training or a checklist to each hiring manager so that they can ask candidates culture fit questions. And avoid biased responses by keeping questions open-ended. 

For example, rather than asking a candidate if they’re okay working around a lot of noise, ask about their ideal work environment. Develop questions that allow candidates to show, not tell, times when they put their values into action in the past. 

Expectations from the organization

When considering culture fit, job seekers want to know if an organization’s culture aligns with their professional needs. Candidates will explore your written materials to see how your vision, values, and mission align (or don’t) with their needs, so make sure that these are easy to find on your recruitment materials and website. 

And not everything needs to be explicit. The way you discuss some of the items listed below can also speak to your company values and how employees may expect to be treated by your organization once they’re hired. 

  • Salary 
  • Benefits 
  • Paid time off 
  • Work schedules (remote, flex schedules) 

As such, consider how your ideal candidate might “read between the lines” of your job description and recruitment ad. For example, do you articulate values of transparency but then discuss salary in vague terms (i.e. “competitive salary commensurate with experience”)? Do you walk the talk of strong work-life balance by offering flexible work schedules? 

Review your job description and consider what you may be telling candidates about the employee experience without realizing it. How might you refine your description to implicitly demonstrate the positive workplace culture activities or benefits that you provide employees? 

Step 5: Use Recruitment Software

Finding the right person for the job is fundamental to supporting your organizational culture. A key way to make sure you do this is by improving your candidate experience, which can increase your quality of hire by 70%

One of the best ways to improve candidate experience? Recruitment software. 

A primary reason that job seekers avoid applying to jobs in the public sector is the long hiring process, which can take 3x that of the private sector. Reducing time to hire is thus one of the first things to target in your recruitment process to improve your candidate’s experience.  

Recruitment software like NEOGOV’s Insight can help speed up the recruiting process and improve candidate experience in several key ways. In addition to quickly pre-screening and ranking applicants, it also provides candidates with a self-service portal that they can use throughout the interview process. 

This enables individuals to see where they are in the hiring process (reducing feelings of uncertainty and impatience) and allows candidates to self-schedule interviews. In other words, there’s no unnecessary back-and-forth between candidate and recruiter as you answer questions and try to find the elusive interview time that works for everyone. 

Insight also provides analytics on how many people have applied, as well as demographic information about applicants. Organizations that prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives will appreciate having real-time information about whether or not their recruitment pool aligns with community demographics. 

Final Thoughts

Creating and curating a recruiting culture is fundamental to building a strong organization. By taking small steps like finding the right language to describe your culture and reflecting your culture in job descriptions, you can make great strides in strengthening your culture as a whole. 

We’ve only scratched the surface on recruiting for culture in the public sector. Read more about how to recruit and retain top talent in the public sector on our blog.

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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.