Recruiting Practices in Federal Government Jobs

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Recruitment and retaining high-quality personnel is an issue that plagues human resources departments in any field. The employment of individuals can be a delicate process. Human resources administrators in the federal government are faced with the cumbersome process of recruiting for sensitive positions within the United States Government. Due to the sensitive nature of these positions the practices used to recruit for these jobs have to be extensive. The unique nature of federal government positions will be analyzed to determine the effectiveness of these recruiting practices. Policies within federal government employees have also made it so that government agencies have not been effective in retaining quality employees. These human resource issues have resulted in a lack of a consistent and knowledgeable federal workforce.

Employees within the federal government make up a large and varied workforce. The government’s multiple agencies employ individuals in the highest positions of the bureaucracy while also hiring individuals in blue-collar positions in agriculture or forestry. The government agencies within which the employees' work can range from small to large agencies. These employees often have difficult jobs which place a large amount of responsibility for them. “They are charged with making our communities and our society better by fostering citizenship, making cities safer, educating youth, healing the sick, protecting the vulnerable, and keeping the country and the world clean, safe and prosperous” (Denhardt 2012, 1). This is a responsibility that cannot be managed by most individuals. As federal employees often have to represent the government agency where they are employed, they at times will face harsher scrutiny from the public especially if their agency has made unpopular decisions. These employees have to be of a unique nature to handle public outrage. The government must utilize an extensive recruiting process to ensure that the most qualified individuals are selected who are able to represent both the agency and manage its responsibilities. 

The recruiting process that the United States government utilizes requires applicants to go through an extensive process before an offer of employment is offered. Individuals who would like to apply utilize the website to review the position and its qualifications. The use of the online system demonstrates that the federal government is implementing recruiting strategies of the modern age. 

“Public personnel management research and practices increasingly focus on creative human resource management (HRM) strategies for recruiting individuals with information technology (IT) expertise and retaining employees with institutional knowledge, particularly in light of impending retirements”(Mastracci, 2009 34). 

While the website is not a creative and new endeavor it makes the process to find and apply for jobs easier on applicants. The job listings are in-depth as they provide job requirements, qualifications needed, training and salary information. The individual is then able to submit a resume and cover letter through the online system. The applicant will be first screened to determine if they fit the minimum qualifications of the position. The human resources employee who screens the applicants may not belong to the agency the applicant is applying within. If an applicant passes the screening process they will move onto a ranking official who will rank the qualified applicants in terms of education and experience. The ranked applicants will then be moved up to the official who will select the applicant. They would then be hired on a probationary status. Once an employee passes probation they would receive the full benefits, such as health insurance, sick leave,  paid leave and job security,  of a federal government employee. 

The recruitment process has a number of benefits. The applicant has to go through at least three different human resources administrators who review the applicant's qualifications. This ensures that the most qualified individuals are able to be put through the process. However the way the process is designed makes it so that an applicant can be stopped at one position before they can potentially impress the next recruiters. However the use of the internet has been beneficial to both applicants and the employers who are seeking a position. “The appeals of e-recruitment lie in the several advantages that it offers including savings in time, money, resources and outreach potentialities to a diverse and broader group of job seekers” (Ahmed, 2010 2). During a recession where jobs are scarce applicants do not waste valuable time by going from agency to agency to seek employment. Rather they go to one site and apply to any jobs that are applicable to their experience and education level. Applicants are able to browse a number of positions at the click of a mouse while employers are able to screen through a number of applicants quickly. Employers do not waste time interviewing unqualified employees. However despite the benefits changes could be made to improve this online federal government recruitment system.  

As an applicant goes through the recruitment process they do not receive much information in the form of where their application is in the process. This might make it so that valuable candidates may end up obtaining employment elsewhere. The fact that the initial screening individual is not always working in the agency where the applicant is applying is also an area of needed improvement. Although recommendations were made for the human resources department to use this procedure. “Improve hiring processes by authorizing agencies to use category ranging systems bases on applicant's skills and experiences” (Liebowitz, 2012 39). The guidelines however do not directly state who will be in charge of ranking the applicants. The human resources employee may not accurately screen an employee as they may not fully understand the requirements of the position. An individual may have work experience that would make them a good candidate for the position but they may be overlooked if their resume does not directly match the requirements listed for the qualification of the position. This could also result in the loss of a valuable potential employee who could contribute to the government agency in the future. The federal government cannot afford to lose valuable employees especially when the public is critical of the role of government.

With the difficulty of retaining employees within the federal government losing potential valuable new employees can be detrimental for human resources. The issue of retaining employees has become a cause of concern as the baby boomers approach retirement. This large amount of federal employees approaching retirement age deprives federal government agencies of experienced employees who do their job well. The government must also pay out in forms of retirement benefits.  Liebowitz (2012),  found that numerous other factors also contribute to the drain of valuable employees from federal government positions. “The factors contributing to a human capital dilemma include a knowledge bleed due to retirement eligibility, changing perspectives on work and escalating knowledge loss” (Liebowitz, 2012 1). Loss of human capital is a serious problem as it drains resources from the government who have to pay out retirement benefits. They must also pay for training for new employees who may or may not last in the agency. The new employee may make mistakes in the new position which could also potentially cost the agency. The best practice to avoid this drain of resources is to retain high-quality employees. 

Exploration of the other factors affecting the human capital dilemma will provide possible solutions to addressing the problem. As Liebowitz found the changing perspectives of work in the younger generation has contributed to the human capital dilemma. “Many of these examples are the result of government downsizing over the past decade, the graying workforce, little infusion of new young talent into the government, the mobility and changing work patterns of entering workers, lack if interest in working for the federal government due to salary shortfalls in the government versus those in the private sector...” (Liebowitz, 2012 19)

These changes in workplace attitude from the older to the younger generation have had an impact on the recruiting and retaining efforts of the human resources department. Older generations of workers spent their whole lives working for one agency in the hopes that they would move up in the company. These days employees change jobs on average every three years. Employees pursue other positions in hopes of seeking opportunities that are not present in their current positions. Federal government agencies could retain staff by providing increased chances of advancement. This could occur through ensuring that each position has a corresponding position that the employee could advance towards. The government could also provide merit pay that could be earned as an employee demonstrates that they are meeting the standards of the position. This incentive would not only retain staff but also encourage them to improve their performance in the position. Merit pay and other incentives would benefit both employees and employers alike.

Often positions in the public sector are training grounds for entry-level employees. Once these employees have experience they will move into private sector positions which often pay more. When these employees leave the government must not only find new employees to take their place but they also have to deal the loss of knowledge that occurs when a qualified employee leaves. The government must recognize the value that their employees hold. “Organizations are rapidly realizing that their employee's brainpower is what distinguishes them from their competitors and it’s not the one or two shining stars in the organization; it’s the collective synergy of the organization's employee workforce” (Liebowitz, 2012 2). If federal government agencies are able to make a shift in their culture regarding the value of their employees they may make an increased effort to retain them. This increased effort could evolve into a work culture where employee turnover is low. In certain positions employees leave with their knowledge and also there with the valuable connections to other professionals that could benefit the agency as a whole. The federal government can address this knowledge loss and network loss by providing incentives for individuals to remain in the public sector positions. Government positions should no longer be training grounds which lose knowledgeable employees on a frequent basis when these employees leave to pursue opportunities in the private sector. 

Although these incentives could make some difference it can be difficult to keep employees in a position they no longer want to be in. Another approach the human resources department can use is to recruit knowledgeable and experienced individuals who would bring their own knowledge base and network with them. “As the retirement wave of Baby Boomers approaches, retaining newly hired, mid-career and retirement-eligible employees will be early as crucial as hiring top-quality new people.” (Cho, 2012 4). Hiring individuals in mid-career positions can offset the knowledge loss that occurs with high employee turnover. These individuals have more knowledge and experience than their fresh out of college rivals and may be more likely to remain in their positions. However often human resources will hire younger employees. Pursuing mid-career individuals is an effective recruiting and retaining strategy for the federal government.

Within federal government positions that work closely with the public, such as with Veterans, employee turnover affects not just the agency but also the clients they directly work with. Clients who have numerous changes in caseworkers or clinicians due to employee turnover will have difficulty with making progress or achieving the goals set for them. Individuals who rely on the government to receive assistance or benefits may also find themselves affected by employee turnover rates. When employees leave it takes time to hire newly qualified staff to take their position. During this time the agency will be short-staffed which will reduce the efficiency of the agency in providing service. 

“At the Social Security Administration between 1928 and 2001, the number of employees in regional and field office, telephone service centers, and program service centers fell by 28 percent. The number of managers and supervisors in front line staff were cut in half” (Liebowitz, 2012 28). 

This example of just one agency demonstrates the impacts employee turnover and retaining efforts of human resource department can affect clients. Reduced efficacy would indicate that the agency is not performing up to standard, which would jeopardize the program’s ability to obtain funding from the government and its existence as a whole. As political groups cry out for reduced government role it is crucial that government agencies are able to justify the expenditures they make. They can do this by providing valuable services.  Since the goal of the human resources within the federal government is to assist the agency achieve its long term goals they must improve their process of the hiring of staff who would be able to contribute to the agency’s mission.

The government has been criticized for the lack of efficiency in their agencies that provide these services. However, criticisms have also been lobbied against the recruitment practices of the human resources department for these agencies. There has been considerable criticism about the lack of diversity in the workforce. The low numbers of Hispanics and women in federal government positions is an area of much-needed improvement. In a time where there are concerns about retaining high-quality staff the government would benefit from utilizing the diverse workforce that is available. The federal government ensures that the private sector provides equal opportunity for all and it must also ensure that its own agencies are providing this opportunity. Government agencies often cite in their policies that they welcome diversity. “Agency fosters a climate that values diversity. Employees believe that difference is welcomed and contribute to the work of the organization. Agency sets realistic diversity goals and targets and is meeting them.” (Liebowitz, 2012 39). Statements like these are found in numerous agency manuals however the recruitment data demonstrates that this is not necessarily the case when it comes to the hiring of minorities for positions within the agencies of the federal government itself. 

The low rates of employment in the federal government also is a disservice to the minorities who receive services and assistance from the federal government. Clients are more likely to comply with federal government employees who are similar to them or speak their language. A barrier for receiving services for clients is often the language difference or mistrust of government officials who they may feel are out to get them. Having a diverse staff would demonstrate to clients that they value them and are knowledgeable about their cultural needs. The increased hiring of minorities would solve the problems experienced by human resources of the knowledge drain, retirement of the baby boomers and the changing perspectives of the workplace. 

As the largest employer in the United States, the federal government has a duty to its employees and citizens to ensure that their staff is of the highest caliber. The staff who comprise these agencies effectively work together to ensure that the government is working towards achieving the goals of protecting its citizens and running the country. This can only be done through the recruiting and retaining strategies developed by the human resources department. Therefore this department is the backbone for the agencies that comprise the federal government. The human resources department has taken steps to adapt to the modern age we are in through the use of its website to hire new employees. The department needs to continue to make progress on this by developing new and creative strategies to overcome the barriers of recruiting and retaining high-quality staff. 


Ahmed, S., & Adams, A. (2010). Web recruiting in government organizations. Public Performance & Management Review, 33(4), 653-670.

Cho, Y. J., & Lewis, G. B. (2012). Turnover intention and turnover behavior implications for retaining federal employees. Review of Public Personnel Administration, 32(1), 4-23.

Denhardt, R. B., Denhardt, J. V., & Aristigueta, M. P. (2012). Managing human behavior in public and nonprofit organizations. SAGE Publications, Incorporated.

Liebowitz, J. (2012). Addressing the human capital crisis in the federal government. Routledge.

Mastracci, S. H. (2009). Evaluating HR management strategies for recruiting and retaining IT professionals in the US federal government. Public Personnel Management, 38(2), 19-34.