The Great Resignation teaches both private and public sector organizations valuable lessons in talent resilience every day. Who is leaving? What is driving the surge of talent egress hitting organizations? And more importantly, how can governments fill all these open roles with the people best prepared to face tomorrow’s challenges?
Some pandemic-bred pressures of today’s talent market likely ring familiar to government human capital teams, as they’ve been battling the need to replace an aging, retirement-ready workforce with new talent for decades. The Great Resignation is only a different flavor of this uniquely government problem of getting young talent in the door.
Further, it isn’t enough to simply replace separating government employees. Growing need for specialized skillsets in government have spurred the standup of entirely new agencies, bringing with them recruiting challenges in industries which historically did not have strong government pipelines, such as electrical and network engineering and cybersecurity. Skills-based hiring has been lauded as the future of government talent acquisition, but little consideration has been afforded to what it takes to get target candidates in the door.
Recruitment branding is essential, but it must be done right
Brand marketing is often considered a “quick fix” to a talent problem, and some government agencies and organizations have invested heavily in aggressive social media strategies and fully integrated communications (e.g., social media presence, commercials, internal newsletters and flyers). Organizations looking to attract young, diverse and altruistic talent are choosing marketing methods which, at face value, appear sound. The bottom line is that most organizations know that brand marketing is important. However, a marketing strategy which overextends your hiring staff by attracting more applicants without consideration for attracting the right skillset may leave highly desired candidates feeling left at the sideline. While a clever social media campaign or a viral video can get your job posting more clicks, ultimately it may do more harm than good for your hiring process or retention goals.
Brand marketing must accurately reflect the employee experience
Pandemic trends alone suggest most government organizations are on the hunt for talent without the flexibility to unilaterally enhance offers (e.g., pay increases, special accommodations, etc.)—a tough place to be in today’s strong talent market as private companies are finding creative ways to get people on board. The solution is twofold— (1) developing a recruitment brand that will attract the right talent with the tools and resources available to you, and (2) successfully pushing that brand to market to capture the attention of target audiences.
The key to recruitment brand marketing is striking a balance between two objectives—sharing messages which will get applicants to the table and ensuring authenticity in the day-to-day work experience. Public sector employers usually know what brand messages will attract the talent they’re looking for, but those messages are often inconsistent with the employee experience, leading to higher turnover.
To avoid kicking the talent crisis can down the road, employers need to bring a critical eye to every aspect of the recruitment brand they are championing. It is easiest to think of this brand in two parts—tangible and intangible benefits. Both shape applicant expectations during the recruitment process.
Organizations have more control over their recruitment brand than they may think
An organization’s recruitment brand is among the leading factors shaping the applicant talent pool. For public service organizations, this has long been unfortunate news—it’s tough to boost tangible benefits within public constraints such as legislated pay scales, collective benefit structures and regulated roles/position titles. Public sector organizations do not enjoy the luxury of job description or flexibility in pay and benefit management afforded to their private sector counterparts.
However, not all hope is lost for public organizations looking to boost job attractiveness. Governments can deliver on intangibles like an opportunity to serve a greater mission, which 70 percent of millennials and 75 percent of Gen Z job seekers are looking for. Even still, by marketing tangibles such as pay scale transparency, government benefits, and predictable work schedule, competition areas traditionally seen as losers for public organizations can become winners. Understanding, shaping and championing a recruitment brand is often the difference between a failed recruitment campaign and success.
A traditional recruitment marketing campaign will cast a wide net to get your organization more job applicants, but how can you ensure those applicants are the right fit? A marketing strategy that brings in applicants without the skills or expectations you’re looking to attract can overextend HR resources, deplete culture and morale, and diminish overall organization output.
To get the most from the talent acquisition process, public organizations need to understand and enable their target recruitment brand in intentional ways to get the right people in the door to stay. Below are four steps that public entities can take to hone their recruitment brand to attract the right candidate for the job.
Learn how you are perceived
“How do potential job seekers view your organization?”
Future employees’ perceptions of your organization are shaped long before the recruitment process begins. While state-of-the-art recruitment tools (e.g., gamified talent acquisition intake models, end-to-end applicant tracking and communications technology, etc.) can move mountains to get applicants in the door, your applicant pool is predominately shaped by how you are initially perceived. For public service organizations, that initial perception is often shaped by a centuries-long legacy and the political climate, two things that may feel outside of your control.
Actions to take
- Understand how recruits engage with your organization
- Identify the skillsets you attract
- Engage with new hires to understand their recruitment experience
Set reasonable goals
“How do you want to be perceived?”
Your recruitment brand can take many forms. To best shape it, clearly articulate which skillsets and qualities you want to attract. Learn what motivates your target audience and consider how your current recruitment brand competes at market for desirable candidates. This is an opportunity to obtain organization buy-in, align on a shared vision for success, and identify the tools at your disposal to put a plan into action. By doing the work to understand your target recruitment brand, you will be well-positioned to attract the right applicants for the right position.
Actions to take
- Commit to a shared vision of the talent, experience and skillsets you want to attract
- Identify your differentiators/unique value proposition
- Align on key performance indicators and shared definitions of success
- Define the levers available to you to build the brand you want
Embed your brand throughout the recruitment and hiring experience
“How will you put your new recruitment brand in action?”
The task of putting your new recruitment brand to work may seem daunting, especially if your organization does not own the entire talent acquisition process. Most public organizations rely on external parties for critical candidate engagement and communications (e.g., USAJobs, Monster). It can be hard to ensure your chosen target brand is embedded in every element of the candidate experience if many candidate-facing elements are outside of your control. Even so, there are things you can do to showcase your brand across all candidate engagement platforms.
Actions to take
- Quantify gaps between the skills your current brand attracts and where you want to be
- Consider modifications to your brand and marketing strategy by changing the tangible and intangible attributes you can control
- Develop strategies for ensuring brand consistency across recruitment channels and external interfaces
- Pressure test your approach with existing employees who will be working closely with those you are looking to hire
Live your brand every day
“How will you retain your new talent?”
Once you’ve recruited and hired the talent you’re looking for, it’s essential to deliver the day-to-day experience you promised as part of your recruitment brand. To become a truly responsive employer, you need a fast recruitment process that integrates industry standards (think: pre-hire skills-based assessments, comprehensive technologies that offer recruitment transparency) and an employee management process that offers opportunities to learn and apply new skills.
Actions to take
- Better market existing brand elements that already meet expectations of target candidates
- Assess the employee lifecycle to blend the day-to-day employee experience with your refreshed brand
- Embrace transformation where needed and consider which attributes to enhance
- Revisit your recruitment brand regularly to ensure you are attracting the right candidate for the right position, given market conditions and talent acquisition trends (e.g., shifts in candidate expectations or requirements)
Make the most of your hiring resources by optimizing your recruitment brand and the marketing strategies employed to attract candidates. The world is changing rapidly, and so is today’s talent market. The costs of a poorly focused recruitment brand have never been greater, as public organizations compete for talent under challenging circumstances. By understanding how your organization is perceived, articulating branding and marketing changes, and demonstrating follow-through with existing employees, public organizations can comfortably adapt to shifts in candidate expectations while selling an authentic employee experience that will bring the right candidates in the door to stay.
Additional research support provided by Thomas DePatie.