Tips for hiring STEMM talent into government

May 20, 2013

The federal government’s demand for talent in the science, technology, engineering, mathematical and medical (STEMM) fields is growing, but is often in short supply.


Credit: Partnership for Public Service

According to research conducted by my organization, the Partnership for Public Service, and Booz Allen Hamilton, federal agencies face stiff competition from the private sector for people with STEMM skills, and cannot compete when it comes to salaries or to various workplace intangibles that are common at such companies as Facebook, Google or Apple.

About one-quarter of all federal employees, or more than 500,000 people, work in STEMM occupations today, and the number of people needed with these skills will steadily increase in the years ahead. So how can our federal government ensure it can recruit and hire the highly qualified talent it needs?

In the new report—"The Biggest Bang Theory: How to get the most out of the competitive search for STEMM employees"—we found that the federal government offers advantages that other employers cannot match, such as a chance to perform unique jobs for the country or to make a difference on a national or even international scale. NASA needs scientists to land a mission on Mars. The Department of Veterans Affairs needs physicians to treat those who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. And every agency needs IT experts who can improve service to citizens and protect our networks from cyber attack.

The trick is for agencies to market themselves and the opportunities they offer in creative ways. Some agencies are doing that, as the new report documents. Whether you’re in search of STEMM talent or some other mission-critical, high-demand occupation, as a federal manager you can learn from the best practices of agencies such as NASA, VA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services. Here are a few ideas from the report to help get you started:

Use your mission as the magnet. What can employees accomplish at your agency that they can’t accomplish anywhere else? You must communicate how your mission contributes to the protection, health or safety of the nation. Marketing what makes your agency unique is essential if you want to stand out among the pack of other recruiters fighting for STEMM talent. The National Institutes of Health, for example, kindles interest in its mission of ensuring the health of American citizens through research on AIDS, cancer and rare diseases.

Recruit early for more powerful success. Most agencies focus on recruiting college students, but the more determined agencies start even younger. The National Security Agency (NSA) runs a high-school mathematics summer camp so that students can learn about its work and so it can perhaps interest them in the highly-competitive Director’s Summer Program for exceptional undergrads. NSA also nurtures promising students through scholarships contingent on working for them after they graduate.

Simplify your application process. Applying for government jobs can be frustrating, requiring job seekers to wade through dozens of vacancy announcements and to submit separate applications for each opening. NASA found a way to streamline the process for people applying to its many centers and facilities by allowing applicants to apply once to the agency, but considering them for additional positions. 

Beta-test your talent. There’s no better predictor of on-the-job success than an internship that allows you to assess a potential employees’ knowledge, skills and performance. Of course, that means you’ll need to give applicants substantial assignments to test their skills. In the final stages of the hiring process at the Department of Energy, for example, finalists deliver presentations to DOE staff in the division or department making the hiring decision. This provides a chance for the staff to assess a candidate’s ability and interact with a future colleague.

Of course, this is just a starting point. In addition to these various strategies, there are many more outlined in the report such as enlisting peers to help recruit talented people, going online to promote and publicize job opportunities, and using competitions to attract a pool of potential candidates.

What are you doing to recruit and hire the best and brightest STEMM talent? Share your strategies by posting your ideas below. You can also email me at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

Read also:

Recruiting STEM talent into government

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