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The most effective strategies for surge hiring

By Kevin Johnson, II
June 17, 2021 | Updated on June 21, 2021

Federal agencies must rapidly grow their workforce to tackle both external and internal challenges, such as national emergencies, large-scale attrition, new mission requirements or the need for talent in emerging fields. When these challenges arise, however, agencies tend to “post and pray,” or list job announcements on USAJOBS without making additional efforts to recruit applicants. This standard federal hiring practice makes it difficult for agencies to quickly hire large numbers of candidates—or implement surge hiring.

Last year, the Partnership for Public Service examined federal surge hiring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With support from the Democracy Fund, the Partnership conducted in-depth research—including a literature review, and interviews with current and former federal HR leaders and other agency officials—to identify the most effective and widely applicable strategies for surge hiring.

These findings were distilled into a report titled “Rapid Reinforcements: Strategies for Federal Surge Hiring.” The report outlined three surge hiring strategies that agencies can implement without additional authority from Congress: 

  1. Determine which government-wide or agency-specific hiring authorities best meet the needs of the hiring surge. 
  2. Develop a foundation for recruitment by hosting recruiting events, using data to monitor talent pools and the candidate experience, and by hiring recruiters or training current staff on how to attract candidates and guide them through the hiring process.  
  3. Apply a project management approach through which a project manager coordinates the hiring process and collaborates with HR specialists and hiring managers during recruitment. This increases the efficiency of surge hiring by ensuring all steps in the recruitment process are connected.

While a single individual should manage and oversee the surge hiring process, developing and implementing these strategies should not fall on the shoulders of one person. Clear accountability for generating and maintaining the strategy must be made clear at the very beginning. HR professionals and offices, hiring managers, subject matter experts and perhaps affinity groups and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Councils should participate in designing and executing the hiring surge.

Leaders and employees across the organization should feel like they collectively own the strategy and played a role in hiring key personnel as a result. If they do not, agencies will waver in their commitment to recruit the best talent to tackle big challenges. 

Our new tool serves as both a recruitment guide and project management template for developing a strategic recruitment plan for surge hiring.


Kevin Johnson, II

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