A recent overhaul of the job application process by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPM&C) asking applicants for a one-page pitch, rather than answering scores of selection criteria, should boost the number of recent graduates and private sector workers entering the public sector, says a government recruiter.
Secretary DPM&C, Michael Thawley, announced last month that his department would kill-off selection criteria and stop reeling off long lists of duties for each role and instead ask recruits to submit one page outlining why they believe they are the best person for the job, along with their resume and the names of two referees.
He also said recruitment would be done on a rolling basis, not just when jobs came up. A current job advertisment for team leaders and office administrators on the APS job search website sets out ‘the opportunity’ in a few sentences and five sentences about ‘the ideal candidate’.
Karen Evans, Managing Director of Acendre, which supplies software to many government clients to manage their recruitment process, says modernising the recruitment approach should help to attract recent graduates to public sector jobs.
“Looking at the make-up of the [public sector] workforce and shifting demographic – the retirement tsunami – I think it’s a wise thing to do,” Ms Evans says. “The younger generation is potentially not going to be as willing to spend a lot of time and that’s a real impediment.
“Graduate recruitment across the board is such a competitive environment. They’re always looking at what to do to attract that group.”
As the proportion of non-ongoing public sector contracts increases, Ms Evans says there is an even greater need to attract younger workers: “that for me, is the biggest challenge to that sector right now.”
Government jobs are notorious among recruiters and candidates for being incredibly lengthy, repetitive and jargon-heavy and this sometimes deters people who have only worked in the private sector from applying. She says client feedback suggested the selection criteria was a headache for a lot of people.
“If you’ve worked in the public sector you have got a better idea of how to respond to get your foot in the door and I think it would challenge most of us of that are used to just submitting a resume [and a covering letter].”
But despite the relief job applicants will undoubtedly feel, the time taken to achieve a security clearance has not been addressed, which may leave some frustrated, particularly if they need a higher level of security clearance with Ms Evans saying it can take up to 12 months, “it’s a real challenge.”
One question hanging over the application process is how much the Department will have to go back to candidates to ensure they get a good standard of recruit. At the moment, candidates who make it pass the initial gateway – based on their one-page pitch – may also be asked to fulfill other requirements, such as psychometric testing, written tasks to assess their skills and knowledge, role-playing and interviews.
The DPM&C was already permitted to take this approach under current legislation and other federal agencies and departments, and perhaps also state government departments and local councils, will be keenly eyeing the results of the Department’s job application shake-up. Ms Evans says the Department would be wise to analyse and evaluate the success of changes to the recruitment process and to tweak the process or move on if it was not working.
“Some [departments] will definitely come over, if it’s successful, but some will probably never come over,” she says.
Asked whether the Department could get more creative and accept video applications, Ms Evans says it is a possibility in the future.
“I know of one of the bigger departments that was talking about it and they had a trial but backed away because it was not that successful.”
But some public servants are known to be critical of scrapping selection criteria, saying it could ‘dumb down’ the process and give too much weight to the previous jobs a candidate has held. They also contend that it could weaken the candidate pool and make it harder to compare candidates fairly.
Easier and quicker job applications may also lead to a flood of job applications recruiters will need to sift through.