Attracting and recruiting public servants

Governments need to attract and recruit staff with an increasingly diverse range of skills to keep pace with today’s policy and service delivery challenges. Some of these skillsets are in traditional fields like law or accounting; others are in still-emerging fields, such as data science or user experience design. Governments are in competition with the private sector for these skills, so they try to reach a wider range of candidates and improve the diversity and quality of the candidate pool.

The OECD has developed a new composite indicator on the use of proactive practices to recruit candidates with the skills needed (Figure 6.1). The tools included help employers understand what motivates candidates to apply for a public service position, and thus position themselves as an employer of choice through a variety of communication channels. It also considers their ability to match market wages. Canada, Korea and New Zealand make the widest use of these tools. New Zealand, for example, has an employment portal for government jobs emphasising the values of a diverse public service and explaining the variety of opportunities available. Countries like the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Turkey may be more constrained by employment systems that do not permit pay flexibility, or use relatively few communication channels.

Governments also need to be able to assess candidates’ complex cognitive, social and emotional skills. These are increasingly essential in fast-changing organisations. Table 6.2 shows that 19 out of 32 OECD countries (59%) test for analytical/cognitive competences during standardised testing and 20 (62%) do so using interviews. Behavioural competences are tested through interviews in 24 (75%) OECD countries. However, only 13 (41% of total) test cognitive or behavioural competences using more structured assessment centres which may allow for a more detailed examination in practice. Finally, 26 (81%) OECD countries test candidates’ motivation to join the public sector during the interview stage, but only 8 (25%) countries use assessment centres (Table 6.2).

Attraction and recruitment go hand in hand: governments can no longer wait for candidates to come to them. Leading countries actively identify their target candidates and design specific strategies to reach them. This may be harder in closed career-based systems that privilege standardised testing. Increasingly specialised methods for assessing hard-to-assess competences can give public sector recruiters more scope to identify candidates able to perform in complex and uncertain environments. This in turn suggests the need to professionalise recruitment and provide skills development for those involved in selection processes.

Further reading

OECD (2019), Recommendation of the Council on Public Service Leadership and Capability, OECD,

Figure notes

Data for Chile and Iceland are not available.

6.2. Japan is not included as recruitment criteria are evaluated with different tools depending on the type of examination. Denmark is not included because of the lack of common processes in the central administration. Australia is not included because each agency decides on its recruitment procedures.

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