I spent a lot of my life saying “I can’t.” Whether it was deciding that a certain type of clothing wouldn’t look good before ever trying it on or waving away food, I had my mind made up. I couldn’t do it. As I got older, I was far more open to trying new foods, but changes in my lifestyle or work felt like too much. “I just like it this way,” I’d say and continue to do things exactly how I wanted.
In my mid 30s, I spent a lot of time wondering what life would be like if I had said yes more.Big, crazy ideas seemed more reasonable. Even living in a van. I never expected making the leap into van life to break me of the curse. Today, there are very few things I won’t try. I mean, I jumped out of a plane without taking Dramamine. I’ve gone to places I never imagined. I refuse to say “I can’t.” I won’t miss out on the magic of living and experiencing something I never have before.
While hiring leaders at government agencies may have adventurous lives, their approach to hiring is the exact opposite. The first words out of their mouths when I suggest a new approach on requirements is: “Well, I can’t do that.” There’s no van life equivalent to fix that at a city, state, and federal level unfortunately.
Navigating Government Jobs’ Requirements
They cite laws and regulations, acronyms and labor unions – some that are real and some that aren’t. However, we both know these laws stand between talent and being able to make an impact on our communities and the country through work as a government representative. In some cases, the law requires that many of these agencies break all the rules around bias in job postings.
They can’t change everything – but something needs to change.
The U.S. has added 12.1 million jobs coming out of the pandemic, but the public sector has lagged far behind private employers.People don’t grow up thinking they want to work for a state government. That means these government jobs need to do a better job of marketing – and ensuring their job postings are competitive.
Adding Context To Requirements
Rewriting the regulations around hiring won’t happen just by pointing out the problems – although I do have aspirations of lobbying against these requirements with my research someday. For now, we will take an abridged approach where we include some of the biases, but we also provide context.
Here are some examples that I’ve helped clients create in the past.
- High school degree requirements. Look, I don’t remember what I learned in high school. I often forget when I even graduated. So why are we requiring high school degrees? Policy. While you can’t delete the requirement no matter how ridiculous it is, you can provide an explanation of why you require it. For example, “High school degree required by law for all volunteers in our nonprofit.”
- Years of experience. Years of experience can quantify time, but it won’t qualify people. In government roles, I find these numbers are significantly exaggerated. Instead, opt for posting the bottom of the range and then provide that context. Explain what this person has done during the time period that would help them be successful on day one. It’s not “5-8 years experience in leadership.” It’s “5 or more years experience leading a team of 5 or more that was responsible for creating financial projections.”
- College degree. Government jobs use college degree as a blanket for soft skills. “They learn to be responsible,” people will say – but let’s be honest. If you weren’t responsible before college, I don’t know that showing up for class is going to instill values. Be explicit about the coursework completed that would help them be successful or offer an alternative to the degree.
If we want the best talent in government jobs to solve the big problems we have here in the US, it’s time that we start rethinking roles. That starts with inviting the best talent to apply and writing better job postings. Train your teams on the bias, teach them how to rewrite those requirements, and watch how your pipeline changes.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.