Turning Government Recruitment On It’s Head

Government recruiters have got it backwards and here’s why

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By Joel Smith

In the federal government you can’t escape risk management.

It’s built into everything you do – or, it’s supposed to be. The commonwealth’s framework  –  RMG211 for those in the know –  is a mandatory framework that is supposed to help agencies manage uncertainty, and make coordinated decisions when they are aware of the risk

So, what are the risks they should be aware of in recruitment?

Risk in recruitment

The main risk in recruitment is that you hire the wrong person. This costs a lot of money and any organisation can tell you this. 

Recruitment processes themselves cost money, and if you hire the wrong person there is also the wasted cost of their induction, their training, productivity losses, costs of managing someone out, and potential unfair dismissal claims. 

It’s a headache for any organisation.

Managing risk in recruitment

Have you ever wondered why government agencies ask for such detailed selection criteria? 

Risk management is the reason; the agencies are outsourcing their risk management to you

When questioned by their boss about why they want to hire a certain person, the selection panel can say:

“We did everything possible to manage the risk – look at this, the applicant filled out six pages explaining why they’re the best at the job, and then they ticked a box saying it was true at the end of the application!”

Minimising risk is key in all activities in government, so evidence collection becomes integral to the recruitment process.

Why the process is upside down

This risk management approach might seem harsh, but it actually makes a lot of sense. 

Governments should do their best to manage any financial risk. But let’s take a look at the risk mitigation strategies in two recruitment processes:

An example:

The Department of Health started recruiting for their 2021 graduate program early in 2020.

Graduate recruitment in the Government is a very long process, and the hurdles these recent students have had to jump might explain why. The application process, if you follow this Whirlpool thread, seemed to have included so far:

  • An application including a resume
  • An online gamified personality test
  • An online numerical and verbal reasoning test
  • A video interview
  • A two hour assessment centre which included:
    • a behavioural interview with Department of Health representatives (likely their first engagement with a real departmental employee)
    • a written exercise
    • verification of identity
  • Two referee checks
  • Establishment of a merit pool
  • Offer
  • Pre-engagement checks

From the same thread, it looks like this filtered out 2000 applicants over about seven months.

As roundrectangle concludes at the end of this thread, ‘Government departments take their time, after all…’

But executive recruitment is easier.

Let’s compare this with executive recruitment.

Typically, this will involve:

  • Asking a well-paid external executive search agency to source high-level candidates from across the country, while also placing an ad
  • Reviewing the candidate’s CV and a summary put together by the agency, who is of course selling the candidate to the organisation
  • Behavioural based interview
  • Reference checks

The executives who hire other executives are of course busy; who has time for extensive testing?

…But where is the risk?

There is absolutely no doubt that hiring a bad executive is a greater risk to an organisation than hiring a bad graduate.

An executive can immediately impact an organisation’s culture, their productivity is far more wide-reaching, and their induction costs so much more.

Why is it like this?

Rather than recruiting to risk, these agencies are recruiting to volume. There are so many tests in the first case study because they need to go from 2000 applicants to 50 offers. So, they lay out as many hoops as they can.

Rather, they should identify the critical requirements for the job, and one assessment that confirms an applicant’s ability to do that work, paired with an interview to further assess capability and fit. 

For my job, the key assessment as part of a selection process would be to write a high-quality one-page resume. This would be a better test than a litany of online personality horoscopes. 

Then, invest in better reference checks to confirm their assessment – which means an actual lengthy, probing phone call. This package of three assessment tasks would be a more suitable response to the risks associated with hiring a graduate.

At the same time, there is a need to better consider the advancements in recruitment exercises, and how these can be applied to executive recruitment. 

Numerical and verbal reasoning skills are significantly more important for an executive, so why has that process not flowed upwards?

Enhancing the recruitment process for an executive to ensure all elements of their capability are carefully examined – as the graduates currently are – is a better response to the risk associated with executive recruitment.

We hope this helps you with your understanding of governmental hiring.

Happy hunting!