10 Hiring Tips for Attracting Underrepresented Digital Services Talent to Serve

Mar 16, 2022

The hiring process in the federal government is known to be challenging, for both applicants and for hiring managers. These challenges, coupled without dedicated outreach efforts, can add a layer of difficulty when trying to establish a diverse and inclusive digital team.

Research has shown that the most successful and innovative teams are diverse, but attracting digital services talent from underrepresented groups requires a thoughtful and intentional approach. Below are a few things we heard from our colleagues at various federal government agencies and from groups who represent tech talent:

  • Government has a bit of a branding problem, not enough of our stories are being told to people outside of the Beltway—especially related to innovation and modern approaches to products and services, and the people behind those successes.
  • Bureaucracy is very unattractive, and government is often considered to be “old school.”
  • Benefits and other perks would be helpful, including remote work, general flexibilities and autonomy for employees.
  • With a workforce reevaluating “purpose” as a main driver to career pursuits, that may be an opportunity to attract early-career individuals to mission-oriented work aimed at public services.
  • Consider hiring employees at part-time levels who can provide value to an organization. This can open access to more diverse types of employees. 

Given our own experience and various others we spoke to, we compiled a top ten list of ideas for anyone thinking about recruiting for their digital teams. While it is not an exhaustive list, it is meant to help you evaluate your organization or team’s approach to hiring with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) in mind.

  1. DEIA starts at home. What is the experience of your current employees?

    • Your employees are your greatest ambassadors. How can you facilitate or create opportunities for your organization to showcase more of their work? Are they sharing positive experiences about the organizations they’re part of and the work that they do?
    • How are your employees talking about the work that they do? Do they have the opportunity to spread the word about their experience?
    • Are you making it easy for your colleagues to share job postings via social media?
    • How could you continue enhancing your team’s experience and set an example for the rest of the office?
    • Does your organization have a sense of community? Are there Employee Resource or Affinity Groups that employees could explore and join? What partnerships are you creating with those groups and efforts for your hiring needs?
    • Does your leadership reflect diversity?
  2. Take inventory on where you are in your current DEIA efforts.

    • Do videos, photos, and other content reflect diversity? Are your materials accessible?
    • Does your team reflect the people you serve?
    • What does your DEIA training look like? Does it reflect your organization’s opportunity for growth? Have supervisors received the right training to promote DEIA? 
  3. Do your communications channels reflect DEIA?

    • Do you have a DEIA web page that talks about your agency’s DEIA efforts? How about employee-specific resources that outline your commitment to DEIA?
    • Is there a code of conduct, a handbook, or otherwise publicly findable information about the culture? Humanize your brand; real people work at your organization.
    • What is the story you are telling the outside world about your culture? How are you sharing it? Is that story true?
    • Are you on the platforms of the people you are trying to attract?
  4. Start with a measurable metric for wanting to improve your DEIA efforts.

    • Is it hiring? Is it retention? Is it improving advancement opportunities? Are you “diverse” in numbers, but not across job series? Even if your office is just in one job series, if there are issues across the organization with a lack of equity, this can impact your efforts.
    • Do you have a strategic plan or clear goals and objectives that you could either tie into or develop that will explicitly state how you will advance DEIA for your digital team?
  5. Would the position that you’re advertising on USAJOBS resonate? Is there a better description?

    • Civic technologists or public interest technologists look for jobs with titles that are not quite the same as government titles; figure out which titles on popular job boards would resonate.
    • Are you widening the pool for applicants? Consider making your opportunities open to the public.
    • How are you communicating in the job description the impact that this particular job and role has, and could have?
    • What does the career progression ladder look like at your agency? Are you able to easily articulate it to a candidate?
  6. Consider the paths of how candidates are coming to your agency.

    • Just like digital services benefit from journey mapping, consider your employees’ path to your organization and what their career progression looks like. Are you easily able to share success stories of promotions of people from typically underrepresented communities?
    • On what job sites are you posting these opportunities? Are you on the platforms where the talent you’re looking to attract are?
    • Consider exploring options beyond posting on USAJOBS and think about building a strong internship program like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)  does through the Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) program.
    • Other pathways could include sourcing from the U.S. Digital Corps and Presidential Management Fellowships.
  7. How are you attracting multilingual talent? What’s your LEP (Limited English Proficiency) strategy?

    • Are you considering multilingual talent for federal positions? With a large population in our country that has limited English proficiency, how are you investing in these communities? When disasters and emergencies strike, we often have a need for detailees to oversee contractors that are handling multilingual communications. But just because they speak the language, it doesn’t make them a translator or mean that they are comfortable working in that language. Do not burden employees who did not intend to work on or don’t feel comfortable being responsible for translation work.
  8. How are you attracting accessibility professionals?

    • How is your commitment to accessibility and 508 compliance communicated and is it an explicit value your organization espouses?
    • Will you be ready to answer how you’re bringing in diverse talent? Including the accessibility tools that some employees might need?
  9. Once a candidate “makes the cert” (is listed on the “Certificate of Eligibles” provided to the selecting official) and is interviewed, what will you share and what will their experience look like?

    • What are the perks of working at your agency? What is the value proposition?
    • What is the telework, remote work policy?
    • How are employees recognized for job performance?
    • What do your employee mentoring and sponsorship programs look like?
    • What leadership opportunities does your organization enable and promote?
    • Will your interview panel be interdisciplinary, cross-functional, and diverse?
  10. Are you leveraging the government brain trust?

    • If you are struggling to attract or retain employees from underrepresented groups, really take the time to understand why. Chances are you are not alone and others can help you rethink your approach.
    • Learn from your colleagues in government who are successful. There is always something that can spark an idea, gain momentum, and be a catalyst for change at your organization. Connect 1:1 and approach some strategies with an open mind.

Finally, examine your own attitudes and beliefs, and accept that as a supervisor and/or hiring manager—and human being—you also have biases. Take the time to learn. Take training, do the work on your own where possible, and be mindful; do not tokenize, or burden people of the communities that you’re seeking to engage with and understand to help you. Do have thoughtful conversations and engage others, but with intention to learn and the patience to step back when necessary.

Digital teams can set an example. They drive so much of an organization’s public footprint, and have the ability to set a tone that has positive ripple effects throughout an organization, an agency, and the broader government community.

What are your ideas for how to engage diverse talent effectively and authentically? We’d love to hear your comments, feedback, or if you have resources you find helpful. Let’s keep the conversation going on the Web Managers Listserv! Join the community.

Special thanks to the folks who generously gave us their time to reflect on hiring for digital and tech services: Brian Whittaker, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Edwin Torres, U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), Javier Ocasio Pérez, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and Julie Rivera Pérez, NASA.