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Digital Talent Management Handbook

A comprehensive guide on how government agencies can recruit, hire, onboard, and retain digital talent.

Hiring

It's important to differentiate between those hiring behaviors that are done by convention and those that are specified by law. Hiring processes vary from agency to agency. Hiring and evaluations become very specific with hiring authorities, rules, and regulations.

In general, the basic hiring process should include these five steps:

  1. Establish a hiring team and evaluation process
  2. Workshop the candidate evaluation criteria
  3. Review resumes
  4. Conduct phone interviews to screen candidates
  5. Hold in-person interviews

To improve your hiring process:

  • Work with service design researchers to map your hiring process
  • Identify areas you'd like to improve
  • Partner with HR to make improvements
  • Measure the impact
  • Repeat

Learn how the U.K. Government Digital Service runs its interview process by reading this article.

Establish a hiring team and evaluation protocol

For each job description, you'll want to pull together a team to evaluate candidates. You'll need the following roles on your hiring team:

  • HR specialist
  • Subject matter experts (SMEs)
  • Hiring manager

The traditional resume review and hiring process is subjective and susceptible to bias. Work to ensure your hiring team is diverse. It's also helpful to have team members attend unconscious bias training beforehand.

The U.S. federal government has been encouraging agencies to include experts in their hiring process. Check out this article.

Workshop the candidate evaluation criteria

Because the review and hiring process is subjective, it's important to plan how you'll evaluate candidates upfront. By using the same criteria and interview questions for each candidate, you reduce opportunities for introducing bias.

Get together as a hiring team to discuss and agree on how you'll evaluate candidates during each phase of the hiring process. Then document what you come up with so that you can evaluate each candidate the same way.

To create a fair and consistent process:

  • Set criteria for screening resumes — document this criteria in a checklist, using the job description as a guide
  • Decide on the phone screen and interview questions in advance
  • Ask all candidates the same questions in the same order
  • Ensure that the questions actually test skills and experiences relevant to the position
  • Ask questions based on realistic scenarios at work — but don't use this to solve real problems or get free ideas

Review resumes

HR will do the initial review to filter out applicants who are ineligible for employment. Then two or more SMEs (for example, developers for a developer position) will need to review and determine which candidates move on to the phone screen.

Look for red flags, like an applicant who has:

  • No demonstrable experience for the position they're applying for
  • A history of switching jobs too frequently — while it's common to switch jobs frequently in technology, someone who's moved on every few months might be a problem

Conduct phone interviews to screen candidates

Suggested duration: 30 minutes.

For most roles, these can be conducted by HR. If you're interviewing for leadership and executive roles, it might be better that this is done by a subject matter expert.

Use the phone screen to determine if the candidate has the qualifications necessary to do the job. You're deciding who you'll bring in for an in-depth, in-person interview.

  • Ask basic background questions
  • Confirm salary expectations
  • Look for candidates who are passionate about your agency or mission, since they're likely to be productive and motivated employees
    • Ask why they're applying to this position
    • Ask why they're attracted to your organization
  • Clarify any parts of their resume you have questions about

Look for red flags, like:

  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Lack of preparedness

Hold in-person interviews

Suggested duration: 60 minutes.

In-person interviews should include at least one person the successful candidate will be working with directly. The candidate is evaluating you just as much as you're evaluating them. Here are some basic tips for a successful interview:

  • Create a friendly, comfortable environment for the candidate
  • Limit the number of interviewers to two — anything more than that is intimidating and unnecessary
  • Start and end the interview on time
  • Be prepared — review their resume ahead of time, and be sure to have the interview questions with you
  • You can be tough, but keep it friendly
  • Remind candidates to think out loud so that you can evaluate how candidates approach problems

Follow the same interview process for each candidate:

  • Introduce yourself and your role. While you already know a lot about the candidate from their resume, they don't know anything about you.
  • Ask questions.
  • When there are 10–15 minutes left, let them ask you questions.
  • Thank them for their time.

Resources

Checklist

  • Form a diverse hiring team
  • Ensure subject matter experts are part of your hiring team
  • Have all members of the hiring team attend unconscious bias training
  • Document the hiring process
  • Document and follow evaluation criteria for reviewing candidates
  • Decide what interview questions you are going to ask and set evaluation criteria for answers
  • Use interview questions that test skills and qualifications relevant to the position
  • Have two or more SMEs review each resume
  • Ask all candidates the same interview questions, in the same order
  • Be tough, but friendly

Case study: USDS and OPM

Historically, the federal government hiring process hasn't involved subject matter experts to qualify candidates. Instead, HR specialists review resumes and questionnaires, screening candidates in and out of the pool for consideration. The result is that agencies often don't receive qualified candidates to select from.

To address this, a team at the USDS is working with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to implement the Subject Matter Expert Qualification Assessments (SME-QA) hiring process. The SME-QA hiring process mimics best practices from the private sector and is designed for technical and other hard to fill roles at or above the GS-12 pay grade. In this revised process, SMEs work with HR to review resumes and conduct multiple rounds of interviews. Only then is an applicant determined qualified and veterans' preference applied.

The acting director of OPM issued a memo to raise awareness, encouraging agencies to try this process. While the SME-QA process is legal within current federal law, many agencies don't take advantage of it, because they don't know they can. Executive support — like the OPM memo — is vital for this type of change management.

With executive support, the team has worked with agency partners to hire approximately 20 qualified IT specialists to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of the Interior.

The SME-QA website provides resources for other agencies and levels of government to try it themselves.