The hidden barrier to getting a job in Local Government
There are many reasons that talented people from outside local government don’t come into the sector. But before the money, the culture, negative perceptions and career concerns come into play the prospective applicant from outside local government has to face another major barrier: the local government application form.
Having applied for a few private sector jobs, and even got a few, I thought I had a fairly good appreciation of the job application process. It generally went something like this:
1) Answer some open style questions (2-5) or provide a covering letter detailing why you are suitable for the job
2) Send in your CV
Everything should be kept to two pages maximum as you know that the recruitment manager is probably going to spend 30 seconds on each application.
This is a massive generalisation but helps explain why experiencing the local government job application process was a major shock to the system.
Not every council asks applicants to apply in the same way but in general it works something like this:
1) The applicant is asked NOT to provide a CV under any circumstances.
2) They are then asked to illustrate how they are suitable for the job in question by supplying answers for each element of a person specification listed on the job advert. Often there are between 15 and 30 person specification requirements, each requiring an answer.
3) Then, the general information that would be supplied on a CV is required.
As you can probably appreciate this is a slightly more lengthy process.
Whereas the archetypal private sector application favours, and even encourages, brevity the local government process favours those who write, not just a little, but a lot!
This has two impacts:
Firstly, the whole process is very long, both for the applicant and the employer. The applicant probably needs to spend hours going through each and every entry on the person specification and dreaming up an appropriate example to show that they meet it. It can be illuminating but is primarily an exercise in identifying those who can best answer a particular question.
And then the employer has to read these eight page applications and score them on each and every criterion. All this needs to be properly captured and documented and then the individuals with the highest scores are invited to interview; at which point we will ask them a lot of the same questions in more detail.
Despite the above concerns my major concern with the whole process is that it tends to favour those who speak ‘local government’. I recently graded a series of applications for a fairly generic post and found that those who had worked in local government simply knew better how to do a local government application. Some of those who had been universally within the private sector simply sent in covering letters and CVs.
We did our best to assess these applications but they could never cover as much ground as those who had written their application in the prescribed local government format.
Local Government needs to constantly bring in new talent from local government, national government, the third sector and the private sector. We need to make sure that our job application process does not make it more difficult than necessary for outside talent to join us. I fear our application process is the first of many unnecessary cultural hurdles that outsiders have to overcome.
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