Hiring is a broken government service

Monique Baena-Tan
Code for America Blog
5 min readJul 31, 2017

Hiring is an extremely complex service for everyone. Anecdotally, I hear all the time of people who want to work in government, but end up taking jobs at Salesforce and GE because the hiring process took too long. I’ve also seen departments having over 15 positions vacant since the beginning of 2016 (i.e. 18 months of vacant roles in just one department in one city!)

Stories like these are what spurred the Talent Initiative at Code for America to use design thinking and data analytics to better understand the government hiring process and begin to re-imagine what a user-centered, data-driven, iterative hiring process might look like.

Last month, Daniella DeVera and I hosted an event for SF Design Week. We decided to put this event together to share some examples of our work redesigning the food stamp application process in California, and unpacking some of the ways we are helping people break into public interest tech, which you can learn more about here.

At Code for America, we have technical teams working on helping people get access to food assistance, and helping people clear their criminal records. But we also recognize that the best way to create sustainable change at scale is to build great teams in government. There are already plenty of incredibly talented public servants, but we envision a future where all government departments have UX evangelists, real time data dashboards, acquire new technology through modular procurement and have iterative processes built into their workflow. Together, these changes in operations ladder-up to outcomes that allow governments to operate more effectively and efficiently.

Hiring is tough for everyone

If we look at the private sector, hiring and recruiting is something on everyone’s mind. Organizations like Buzzfeed have redesigned their hiring process and Intercom has reflected on the 5 steps they take to making sure they’re hiring the right people.

What we do know about this double sided market

  • People want to work in public interest tech. Our job board has seen 5,840 sessions in the last 30 days.
  • Departments need talent and have vacancies. We hear this every day from hiring managers who have open roles but can’t find the candidates.
  • The current process isn’t optimized for matchmaking, and a lot of this has to do with hiring.

The government hiring process is complex

Government hiring service blueprint

We’ve done a lot of research with applicants, hiring managers and HR specialists to begin to analyze the whole system, and understand how all the various pieces interact with each other, or don’t. We followed the end-users (in this case applicants and candidates) through the process to better understand roadblocks they encounter to surface operational inefficiencies.

Before we can jump to conclusions or solutions, we need to take into consideration what this process is like for the government user (in this case the hiring manager and/or HR specialist).

If we were to just look at roadblock #2: “the process takes too long” and unpack this further to understand what the operations might be like on the government side, we can immediately see several operational inefficiencies that prevent government employees from making the most use of their time.

Common roadblocks include: waiting, manual data-entry, and serving as a liaison

HR is under-staffed and under-resourced

Job markets have changed and HR tools have changed to facilitate the hiring process and optimize for candidate experiences. Governments however, have layers of civil service laws and compliance regulations they must abide by. These added layers of complexity makes it much more difficult to procure new tools like Greenhouse and Lever.

The systems government HR departments currently use are outdated and intended for a set of needs that are no longer applicable today. They have limited access to tools to help them with scheduling, tracking vacancies, projecting hiring needs and assessing technical skills. In addition to all this, they are operating in an extremely under-resourced environment (think: processing 150,000 applications/year).

Imagine trying to identify the problem, articulate the problem and innovate while keeping the train moving?

Courtesy of Giphy Images

Reimagining this government service

As government teams across the country begin to think more strategically about finding the right people to build out their teams, we need to begin to iterate and improve this government service. Adhering to the status quo has the potential to exacerbate the problem.

As we continue pushing forward with this work, it has become evident that a lot of cities are thinking about improving their people practices and re-imagining various aspects of the hiring process. We have plans to write a series of case studies outlining how cities are tackling this issue from various angles, and not just placing this issue in the hands of solely HR to solve:

  • San Francisco on their new pilot hiring model for technologists
  • Austin on their Fellowship model to bring in new talent
  • Walnut Creek on the creation of their first Innovation Lead position to introduce new processes
  • Boston on the role their Talent Acquisition Manager plays in recruiting technologists
  • Louisville on their Performance Management and Innovation team focused on leadership development and succession planning

Check our job board to browse our resources section (currently being built out) which will outline these stories.

What can you do?



Monique Baena-Tan
Code for America Blog

design researcher • improving the government hiring process @work4sf @sfgov, follow that project https://medium.com/@sfhiring • previous @codeforamerica