I need a playbook for hiring..

If you follow me on Twitter I probably owe you a bit of an apology. In recent weeks I have become obsessed with using my networks to publicise a couple of jobs that we have open at ONS and I think I have probably pushed the patience of my network to the edge.

It is unlikely to be the last time either. Recruitment for digital jobs to implement the ‘multi-disciplinary’ dev-ops type of approach advocated by GDS (and entirely supported by me) is tough.

[I think the team behind the ‘Digital People’ blog on the blogs.gov.uk network might be working on some of this so this might be premature but it won’t hurt to get my thoughts written down.]

The are a number of major obstacles and some of them are not things that are easily solvable (geographic location, national skills shortage..) but there are things we/I should be able to influence and I want to get a better handle on how to do those things better. I just need a little help (well a lot.)

For a start we need to get away from the whole..


..attitude to posting jobs. If there aren’t budgets associated for advertising the roles on the major jobs boards – and even if there are – we need to better understand how to make sure the right kind of people see the job descriptions.

To be honest somebody should probably do a proper ‘discovery’ on this but in the meantime I’m interested in identifying things like a list of national and regional networks, mailing lists, meet-ups, job boards etc where the jobs could be publicised. Equally important I want to know the rules of those communities when it comes to posting jobs – last thing we want is to be seen as spam.

Next I’m convinced all the job descriptions and job titles could do with some work. Take some of that vaunted GDS approach to plain English and content design and rework them so they are more straightforward (and reusable). The job descriptions that are available on the Service Manual are a helpful start but that is all. I think a common vocabulary across Government when talking about these digital jobs is great but at the moment it seems more of an informal effort to get a little residual GDS attention rather than a consistent approach?

I’ve read a little (and need to read more) about the need to ensure that job descriptions aren’t written with hidden biases that discourage a more diverse pool of people from applying. Is anybody thinking about that? Is that on me as the ‘hiring manager’? Which is fine – I just need to be better.

So you have got managed to get somebody to follow a link* to a job and the description has got them interested now what? Well anecdotally at least for some some people they take one look at the application process and decide their time could be spent better elsewhere.

Is the more simple CV plus a covering letter approach more acceptable than the slightly intimidating ‘competencies’ based application forms? I’ve noticed DVLA take this approach. Is it acceptable to ask designers for links to portfolios. To ask developers for links to Github? (I understand this is controversial as it creates one of those biases against people who might have responsibilities outside of work that prevent contributions like this?)

I actually think the competency based interviews we tend to do in the civil service are a good approach (but I’d love a note taker in the interviews so I could focus on the interviewee!) but what about things like coding tests? Are they useful? Does the artificial nature of them mean you are likely to miss out on talented individuals who work in a different manner?

I don’t know but I know people have opinions.

How much do things like good chairs, standing desks, the latest hardware matter? What kind of wider benefits have the most impact? There is no way the civil service is going to be able to compete when it comes to the best salaries out there for some of these jobs but regionally at least (i.e. not London) they don’t seem miles off (albeit there is a tendency to ask for the world in the job descriptions – see above about rewriting them!) and much as things have changed in recent years the civil service does still have a lot of pluses.

The big thing we have to offer I guess is what Will McInness calls a ‘Purpose of Significance’ in his book Culture Shock. The idea of a job having some worth beyond just being a way to earn a living – that what you are doing is meaningful in some way. A part of a wider mission. GDS have been great at creating this I think and teams like Ministry of Justice Digital and the DWP Academy work is putting their own spin on it. Only GDS really has that wider recognition though.

This has been a bit of a rambling mess of a post and congratulations if you managed to stick with it this far. Really I guess what I want to try and do is ‘crowd source’ answers, suggestions, thoughts – and probably more questions – about all these things and start to build a practical resource that can be shared because I can’t be the only person thinking about all these things? (Maybe I am – it wouldn’t be the first time!) Maybe a wiki or something? I’m happy to set something up if I am not just talking to myself on the back of the bus…

* One quick win would be to just make the Civil Service Jobs URLs more easily shareable – they are horrible at the moment and although there is a nice little hack** that isn’t a great long term solution.

** Just use this template

https://www.civilservicejobs.service.gov.uk/csr/jobs.cgi?jcode= REFERENCE NUMBER

2 responses to “I need a playbook for hiring..”

  1. Hey Matt, sounds like you’re grappling with an interesting challenge – I got a sense of it, but after reading this I wasn’t sure what the exact problem is. Is it finding a diverse pool of talent for these jobs, or finding a deep enough pool, or both, or something different? 🙂

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