Wanted: Better job ads

The federal government has had a difficult time attracting talented information technology programmers and managers as well as candidates for other jobs. Some agencies have found that online recruiting pays off. But simply posting job vacancies online without other improvements threatens the goal to make the government an employer of choice.

With an increasing number of young workers turning to online job sites and with most large companies relying on the Web to collect candidates' applications, it only makes sense that the government follow suit.

The Army is probably the best example of how this strategy works. The number of qualified leads the Army receives from its recruiting Web site, GoArmy.com, has increased 76 percent in two years. CIO Council and Office of Personnel Management officials hope to have similar results when they launch their virtual job fair this month.

But if the online recruiters want success, they also must look at content. Too often, agencies, rather than describing jobs in plain English, compile impenetrable job descriptions. Often, the value of the job, which can include working on fascinating projects that have global consequences, is lost in bureaucratic language.

Furthermore, few agencies accept online applications, and even fewer conduct online testing to help weed out unqualified candidates, which helps reduce the time agencies take to hire workers — a main reason why many avoid applying for government jobs.

If the government truly wants to be an employer of choice, it must start with the job applicant's first encounter with the government: the online want ad. Agencies must ensure that a want ad is an enticement, not an obstacle, to qualified workers.

Agencies must begin to write job descriptions that are easier to read and that relate the significance of the job, which can be quite compelling. Ads should fairly represent job tasks, and agencies should improve job sites' features, including screening applicants to reduce the time it takes to hire people. Other civil service improvements are needed, but this would be a good start.

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