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Bringing iterative development to our Talent Team

Over the past year, the Talent Team has worked hard to improve the 18F job application process. We’ve worked hard, but also differently. We shifted our view of talent acquisition from a support function to a product that we deliver, and one that demands the lean and agile philosophies that are the 18F way of life. As a result of this work, our new applicants can expect:

  1. A current list of open roles available at 18F
  2. A simpler application form made possible through the launch of our new applicant tracking system
  3. Clear, documented job descriptions that highlight role expectations rather than a list of static requirements
  4. An interview team that is better equipped with tools and guides to better evaluate our candidates
  5. The Joining 18F page, which includes comprehensive documentation of the 18F recruitment and interview steps, the GSA hiring process, and the benefits of working here. Big thanks to our Engineering Team for their development work on this project.

How did we get here?

About a year ago, we told the world “we are hiring.” It was a big moment. Before that, 18F had never mentioned the word “hiring” publicly. Demand had grown exponentially for 18F’s services, and we needed a wider pool of applicants to fill all of our open positions. We also realized that sticking to your referral networks doesn’t drive diversity no matter how hard you try.

We moved to a more open and publicized application process, and, admittedly, we weren’t prepared for what was coming. The Talent Team, three people at the time, was inundated with passionate, enthusiastic applicants ready to serve. Hundreds emailed us at join18f@gsa.gov with applications to the following very broad categories: software development, infrastructure, experience design and research, visual and interaction design, writing and content, strategy, and product management.

This put a lot of pressure on a small team. We had a system. It was working from the standpoint that we were making great hires, but not so much from an efficiency or effectiveness metric, especially when the number of applications quadrupled. In December 2014, before we posted open positions on our website, we processed 27 applications. This past December, we processed 107. We were using Google Drive — mostly spreadsheets, and there were trackers upon trackers upon trackers. We were even tracking our trackers. We were also using criteria that was somewhat vague, which was OK when we were smaller because it’s easier to talk through assessments; but subjectivity kept creeping in, which required a lot of facilitation from our team to come to hire or no hire decisions.

We often say we’re building the plane while flying it. In this case, we desperately needed a new system that was scalable, consistent, and compliant with federal hiring regulations all while still maintaining an ongoing positive candidate experience.

The Talent Team (now nine strong) knew we had to make a change to how we worked, and resolved to take some techniques from how 18F works with our partner agencies. Our organization is filled with designers, product managers, and engineers building great products to solve the problems of real users. 18F’s Talent Team should be no different. By working with other teams at 18F, we began to use lean and agile methodologies to challenge the status quo of how the Talent Team worked. You can watch the Director of Talent, Jen Tress, talk about the new way our team works at the Lean Startup Conference this past November.

Nowadays, anything we build has a hypothesis, problem statements via user stories, documentation behind our assumptions, and minimum viable products to validate those assumptions. We do this with user research, collaborative and highly-visible work systems, issue prioritization, and regular team retrospectives.

The results have been powerful.

  • Early adoption: The entire Talent Team has been inspired to add agile training to their professional development plan.
  • Openness: We’ve made our work system and progress public to the entire 18F Team, generating feedback and support that drives collaboration and focus.
  • Clarity: Questions from candidates and our very own employees have dropped significantly.

What’s next?

Our application and evaluation system is still new. We don’t yet have the data for complete processing time or new candidate experience, and we’re still waiting to see if we’ve reduced the time it takes from application to a new employee’s first day on the job.

Meanwhile, we’re still trying to build a team that looks like the United States, and we don’t discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy and gender identity), national origin, political affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, genetic information, age, membership in an employee organization, retaliation, parental status, military service, or other non-merit factor. If you have the skills we need, that’s all that matters.

Read our Joining 18F page. Check out our current openings. We’d love to hear from you.

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback for our Talent Team please email us at join18f@gsa.gov.

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