By Carol Mendelsohn
State and local government agencies have a standard process for hiring that has very defined stages, with a few variations based on the organization and position. Unlike the private sector, which may skip or re-order certain steps to fast track a hire, the public sector typically moves methodically through a series of prescriptive steps for every position it hires. This is largely why it can take several months to land a public sector job, even for an entry level position. The average time to hire in the public sector is 119 days, which is almost four months, according to research by NEOGOV.
To help set expectations for job seekers who have never worked in the government, it helps to understand the stages in the government’s hiring process. Here’s a high-level snapshot of the common steps of many local, county, or state government hires. Not every position or government agency recruitment follows this exact process, but it's a solid representation of the common steps involved and will give you an idea of what to expect. We’ll get into the details below, but before we do that, take a look at this diagram of how hiring at a local government agency works:
When a position in a government agency needs to be filled or newly created, the hiring department creates a job requisition. Once it is approved, it is sent to HR where a job posting is created and opened up to interested applicants. Even for jobs that may end up being filled by existing employees in the organization through a lateral move or promotion, agencies often open up the job externally to provide an opportunity for everyone to compete for the job.
There is really no way to know whether a job will be filled by an internal candidate, which can be frustrating for job seekers. But keep in mind that often the agency doesn’t know whether anyone will apply internally (or if they do, whether they will be qualified), so they cast the widest net possible and promote the job to both internal and external applicants.
Open government positions fall into one of two buckets - continuous and non-continuous. A continuous job posting means that the agency is always looking for strong candidates, either because the role experiences high turnover, they have multiple positions with the same requirements, or it’s a difficult job to fill that’s not currently available but they want to be prepared.
A non-continuous posting has a predetermined duration of time when the agency will accept applicants. The period during which an agency will accept applicants often ranges between two and four weeks. The closing date is usually indicated at the top of job postings on GovernmentJobs.com. Because of the time constraint, it is important to pay attention to the closing date when looking for jobs you may want to apply for later so you don’t miss the deadline.
The Initial Screening Process
After the job posting closes, no additional applications received after that date are considered and the evaluation process begins. During this time, HR screens all the applications received to establish who meets the minimum requirements of the position.
Any applicants that do not meet the minimum qualifications of the role are no longer considered. It is a very cut and dry process. No one lingers over them and considers whether they should maybe interview them anyway because the applicant was a manager at a NASDAQ-traded company for 9 years or graduated from a prestigious university. In fact, some government agencies use automated software to make this first cut, so they don’t even look at the applications from those who don’t meet the standards. That’s why we recommend in another blog post that if you know you are not qualified for a job, it’s best not to waste your time applying.
In some cases, the applicants that meet certain criteria may be asked to take a test to measure competencies needed for the position. However, not all public sector roles require a test to be considered for employment.
How the Eligible List Works for Government Jobs
Once candidates have successfully passed all evaluations steps, they are placed on the eligible list and ranked. The ranking may be based on one or more of the following: experience, skills, certifications, education, responses to any supplemental questions that were asked on the application, and test results.
The highest rated candidates on the eligible list are now referred to the hiring manager. The number of people who applied to the role impacts what percentage of the eligible list is referred to the hiring manager. In other words, if only a handful of candidates were qualified, then all of them will likely make the referred list. Whereas, if there were more than 40 applicants on the eligible list, then only the ones with the highest ratings will be sent to the hiring manager.
The Interview Stage in Your Government Job Search
From there, the hiring manager decides who they want to meet with and interviews are scheduled. On occasion, applicants may be interviewed earlier in the process by an interview board to help determine eligibility, but in many cases the first interview doesn’t happen until after eligibility is determined.
Interviews are usually conducted by a panel made up of the hiring manager and a couple of other people to get a balanced perspective of the candidate. The other people are often peers in the same department. The average candidate will go through one or two rounds of interviews.
After all the planned interviews are completed and the hiring manager has made their decision, an offer letter is sent to the top candidate via email or sometimes snail mail. If the position requires a background check, then the offer will be contingent on the candidate passing the background check.
After that, a start date is agreed upon and the candidate becomes an employee. For those who have never been through the government hiring process, it can sound like a long and arduous road, but the fulfillment of being part of an organization that contributes to building a better community can be worth the wait.
Carol Mendelsohn is the General Manager of GovernmentJobs.com and the Head of Marketing for NEOGOV, the applicant tracking system used by many local, county, and state government agencies.