https://mojdigital.blog.gov.uk/2019/12/23/hiring-technical-people-in-government-is-not-that-hard/

Hiring technical people in government is (not that) hard

There were more than 50% of contractors in technical roles when I joined MoJ in April 2018. In a technical workforce of about 200 that’s a lot of contractors. 

Hiring technical people in government is hard, they said. Let’s find out, I thought.

MoJ had a recruitment freeze when I joined. It thawed in October 2018 and I began recruiting technical roles the following month. By July 2019 the results exceeded my expectations:

  • 55 offers
  • 3 declined
  • 52 accepted

The numbers break down as follows:

  • 43 male*
  • 12 female
  • 13 BAME (11 male, 2 female)

*7 existing contractors applied and became permanent staff.

Strategy

I started by using the recruitment freeze to my advantage and used that time to gather information, ask for help and form a plan.

Gathering information

I wanted to find out why people felt technical recruitment in government was so hard. The dominant themes were:

  • civil service salary bands were too low to attract technical talent
  • background checks can take a long time, causing candidates to drop out
  • the internal process was unclear and confusing for interview panel members.

Asking for help

Next, I needed to find people willing to help. I asked the technical community for volunteers. 30 software developers, web operations engineers and technical architects stepped forward. I proceeded to arrange recruitment training for them all.

Forming a plan

Step 1: Create a partnership with our Recruitment team

I formed a close working relationship with our Recruitment team. The team was instrumental in my success.

Three key changes proved critical to achieving great results: 

  • a new recruitment platform giving hiring managers real-time access to candidate applications
  • faster turnaround of candidate background checks, reduced from three months to about five weeks
  • a new interim Digital Data and Technology salary framework offering competitive market rate salaries.

Step 2: Design a clear internal process

I needed to follow the Civil Service Commission Recruitment Principles. I'd be managing multiple concurrent campaigns for several months (as many as 15 at one point!). I was looking for mid-levels, seniors and leads in software development, web operations and technical architecture (junior roles would come later). And campaigns would be aligned to our UK regions; London, Birmingham/ Nottingham and Sheffield.

My process had to be slick and purr away in the background, I still had a day job after all! Here’s what worked:

Staying on top of things

  • I met weekly with a contact in each MoJ's six agencies/business units to plan requirements and update on progress.
  • I met weekly with the Recruitment team to track offers and discuss new and ongoing campaigns.
  • Rolling campaigns stayed open until available roles were filled.
  • Tracked campaign details and offers in a shared spreadsheet.

Managing interview panels

  • I assembled gender and, wherever possible, ethnically diverse interview panels (three members) before each campaign went live.
  • I asked each panel to agree a day-of-week they would hold as flexible for possible interviews.
  • I managed communication with panels in temporary private Slack channels set up for each campaign.
  • I shared the job advert, job description and CV sift sheet with each panel so they understood the role(s) to be filled.

CV review and interview scheduling

  • I ensured quality and consistency by reviewing every CV submitted to every campaign, along with a member of each relevant panel (Mondays and Thursdays weekly worked best).
  • I entered CV review outcomes into the recruitment platform.
  • I emailed our Recruitment team to request interviews for shortlisted candidates immediately after each review (the panel had agreed a day-of-week to be flexible so there was no need to wrangle diaries!).

Offers

  • I reviewed panel scores and feedback for all interviews across all campaigns.
  • Agreed salary figures based on panel feedback.
  • The Recruitment team made offers and negotiated with candidates.

I also spoke at a number of events to promote our vacancies and culture.

In time, I was able to delegate hiring responsibility to the leads I had recruited in each MoJ agency/business unit.

Step 3: Advertising

As well as appearing on our MOJ job board, our vacancies were cross-posted on some technical job boards. We also promoted them on social media, highlighting the benefits of joining the civil service:

Looking ahead

With the recent introduction of Success Profiles, I’m making changes.  

I’ve created a Hiring Manual to support panel members in giving candidates the best possible interview experience.

I’ve started creating detailed role-level definitions. I’m publishing these to help candidates prepare for their interview. They will also help interview panels assess and score candidate answers consistently.

The role level definitions for the technical architecture profession form a new career progression pathway. As well as being useful in recruitment, this pathway will be used in learning & development and performance conversations and to help set personal objectives.

I’ve also created a new bank of 100 interview questions. Each question relates to a behaviour & strength or technical skill in the role-level definitions. We can use these to create bespoke interview questionnaires for each campaign. Panel members can check each interview question against the relevant role-level definition for guidance on scoring candidate answers fairly.

Summary

Hiring technical people in government is not that hard...if you can offer market rate salaries, run a slick process and properly support the people involved.

I am committed to ensuring MoJ has the clearest, most open and supportive recruitment experience government can offer. For both candidates and colleagues who agree to take part in this important process.

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