2016 Report to Congress

Hiring Top Technical Talent from the Private Sector

The Challenge

In order to deliver on the mission of transforming the country’s most important digital services, the Federal Government needs an infusion of modern software engineering, design, and product management skills. As demonstrated in earlier sections of this report, pairing individuals with these skills with dedicated civil servants across the Federal Government can dramatically accelerate modernization efforts on major IT acquisition projects.

However, hiring individuals with these skills has been challenging for the Federal Government for several reasons:

  • It is difficult to attract highly qualified applicants to apply for government technology positions.
  • The Federal Government often provides a candidate experience that is not competitive with the private sector in terms of timeline, ease of application, and frequent communication of application status.
  • It is challenging to properly evaluate these highly specialized and technical skills in order to select the most qualified individuals from among all applicants.

One of the early priorities of the USDS was to build a robust recruitment and hiring program that could address these challenges.

Project Impact Summary

  • It is difficult to attract highly qualified applicants from the private sector to apply for government technology positions, as the technology industry is one of the most competitive in the world.
  • USDS partnered with OPM to secure the tools necessary to recruit and hire the country’s brightest technical talent.
  • Mirroring technology industry best practices, USDS built an experienced recruiting team who sources software engineering, product management, and design professionals from industry.
  • USDS provides candidates with an easy application process and a fast timeline for hiring decisions, averaging 34 business days from application to conditional offer.
  • USDS hiring process has a satisfaction score of 4.5 or greater (out of 5.0) from among all finalists, including those who did not receive offers.
  • USDS uses subject matter experts to evaluate specialized skills.
  • USDS has shortened the personnel security process from 67 days to 20 days.
  • USDS reached its goal of recruiting 200 digital service experts by the end of 2016, ahead of schedule.

The Solution

USDS partnered with OPM to secure the tools necessary to recruit and hire the country’s brightest technical talent. Using these tools, we created a recruiting and hiring operation that draws on several private sector best practices.

  • Engage in Targeted Recruiting Activities. Mirroring private sector best practices, USDS has built an experienced recruiting team tasked with identifying and encouraging a diverse set of qualified applicants to apply for digital service positions. Specific tactics include targeted outreach to technology and design professionals (including those who are not currently seeking a new job), events, roundtables, and building a network of influencers who can validate the importance and professional respectability of the USDS’ public service mission.
  • Focus on Candidate Experience. The USDS hiring process puts a premium on providing a high quality candidate experience that is competitive with the private sector. Specifically, the USDS aims to provide candidates with an easy application process (currently delivered via the website), a fast timeline for hiring decisions (targeting 15 business days from application to conditional offer for qualified applicants), and good visibility into the process and application status.

    USDS measures its effectiveness by asking all candidates who complete the hiring process to complete a satisfaction survey, and target a satisfaction score of 4.5 or greater (out of 5.0) from among all finalists (including both those who receive offers and those who do not).

  • Use Subject Matter Experts to Evaluate Specialized Skills. Evaluating applicants with highly specialized skills is a challenging practice that requires subject matter expert involvement at every stage. USDS has fully embraced the use of such experts in the hiring process. Each candidate for the USDS is evaluated by a panel of engineers, designers and product managers who themselves possess the desired specialized skills. By ensuring that applicants are evaluated by technical specialists within their own discipline, the process ensures that individuals selected for USDS roles have the digital expert skills that are required to improve government technical services.

This hiring program is run centrally from the USDS headquarters unit inside OMB, so that all chartered USDS teams can benefit from a dedicated recruiting operation and a standardized, rigorous selection process.

Success Criteria Status
Hire 200 Digital Service Experts by end of 2017 On track to meet target ahead of schedule. 196 Digital Service Experts hired as of September 2016.
Days from Application to Conditional Offer = 15 business days In progress. Time reduced from 55 days in Q4 2015 to 34 days in Q3 2016.
Day from Conditional Offer to Final Offer (personnel security process) = 16 days In progress. Time reduced from 67 days in Q4 2015 to 20 days in Q3 2016.
Candidate Satisfaction Score for going through the hiring process is 4.5 (or above) out of a scale from 1 to 5 (5 being the most satisfied) On track. Average candidate satisfaction since Q4 2015 is greater than 4.5.
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