Podcast: Digital Hiring Best Practices with Lauren Duncan, Mallory Verez & Sam Cathcart

Posted on May 28, 2021

LD MV sc
Lauren Duncan
MPA Candidate
University of North Carolina
Mallory Verez
MPA Candidate
University of North Carolina
Sam Cathcart
MPA Candidate
University of North Carolina

From recruitment to onboarding. Three guests joined the podcast to talk about their research into effective ways that local governments have hired staff in a remote or virtual environment. Lauren Duncan, Mallory Verez, and Sam Cathcart, MPA Candidates at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, highlighted their research methods and the various aspects of the hiring process. They shared their key findings, best practices, and recommendations for local governments who need to attract, recruit, and hire staff virtually.

Host: Kirsten Wyatt

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Learn More

Digital Hiring Practices Tip Sheets

Digital Hiring Practices Report – Cathcart, Duncan, and Verez

How to Recruit for Local Government in the Digital Age

Government Slow to Adopt Digital Recruiting

How Will Remote Work Tools Help with Government Recruitment?

The Future of Work in Local Governments Post Pandemic

Episode Transcript

Ben Kittelson  00:00

Before we get into today’s episode, Gov Love is brought to you by Granicus. With upticks in post vaccine travel right around the corner, it’s time to address short term rentals in your community. If you don’t have a short term rental regulation, or enforcement program in place, you could be missing out on tourism related tax revenue and risking damage to your community’s character. Granicus hosts compliance helps you with everything from address identification to ordinance reviews and compliance monitoring. If you’d like to learn more about short term rental regulation, and Granicus host compliance, go to granicus.com to schedule a free consultation. That’s granicus.com for more information.

Kirsten Wyatt  00:53

Coming to you from Portland, Oregon, this is Gov Love, a podcast about local government. Gov Love is produced by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. We engage the brightest minds in local government. I’m Kirsten Wyatt, the ELGL co founder and executive director and today I’m joined by three UNC MPA students, Lauren Duncan, Sam Cathcart and Mal Verez. Welcome to Gov Love! 

Mallory Verez  01:21

Great to be here. 

Lauren Duncan  01:22

Thank you 

Sam Cathcart  01:23

Happy to be here. 

Kirsten Wyatt  01:25

Today, we’re talking about some new research that Lauren, Sam, and Mal conducted on local government digital HR practices. But first, let’s get to know them with a lightning round. So Sam, you’re up first, what is your most controversial non political opinion?

Sam Cathcart  01:42

So I thought about this a lot. And I’ve decided, because I’ve just been watching them recently, that the Fast and the Furious movie franchise are just superhero films, and they’re, they’re nothing more than that. They’re just superhero films.

Kirsten Wyatt  01:56

Have you seen the latest one? Are you like a big john cena fan?

Sam Cathcart  02:00

No, I’m not. I just decided that I wanted to watch things that were you know, actiony, and I didn’t need to pay attention a lot. And I started watching these and was like, wow, these have really gotten a little bit out of hand.

Kirsten Wyatt  02:14

Alright, and Mal, what is your most controversial non political opinion? 

Mallory Verez  02:20

It’s so simple. I hate birds. I think they’re all terrible. People don’t usually like it when I say that. 

Kirsten Wyatt  02:29

Any particular bird or just all birds? 

Mallory Verez  02:32

All of them, I don’t like when they fly around. I don’t like when they make noise. I’m against birds. 

Kirsten Wyatt  02:39

Alright, Lauren, and what about you? What is your most controversial non political opinion?

Lauren Duncan  02:45

For me? It would be that key lime pie is the best pie on Earth.

Kirsten Wyatt  02:51

Oh, wow. That’s bold, because there are a lot of people that take like the key lime versus lemon meruinge really seriously.

Lauren Duncan  02:59

Yeah. And all the pies around Thanksgiving. key lime pie is the best all year round.

Kirsten Wyatt  03:07

All right. Next question. Mal, you’re up, what is your hometown? And what is it most famous for?

Mallory Verez  03:14

So I am from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And I would say it’s probably most famous for its sports teams, because we have the Steelers and the pirates in the pens. But we also have over 400 and I think 40 bridges. So that’s probably one of the big things. 

Kirsten Wyatt  03:30

Oh, and you know, this infrastructure minded audience on Gov Love is going to appreciate that. So All right, thank you. Yes. All right, Lauren, what is your hometown and what is it most famous for?

Lauren Duncan  03:42

I am originally from Yarmouth, Maine. And we are known for Eartha which is the largest rotating globe on Earth. Go visit it. We also have the clam Festival, which is one of the largest festivals in Maine.

Kirsten Wyatt  04:01

Wow. All right. And then Sam, what about you, your hometown and what its most famous for?

Sam Cathcart  04:09

I am from St. Augustine, Florida, which is most famous for being the oldest city or town in the United States.

Kirsten Wyatt  04:18

And St. Augustine also they bring their A game on City Hall selfie day, that entire city government, so another claim to fame that you should know about. 

Sam Cathcart  04:30

They’re really they’re good. They’re on it. 

Kirsten Wyatt  04:33

Alright, and last lightning round question. Lauren, what is a food that most people like but you cannot stand? 

Lauren Duncan  04:41


Kirsten Wyatt  04:42

Oh, wow. bold choice. Alright, Sam, you’re up. What’s the food that most people like but you cannot stand?

Sam Cathcart  04:51

Anything that’s like white cheddar snacks, like white cheddar popcorn or white cheddar cheese it’s or anything that’s like fake white cheddar.

Kirsten Wyatt  05:01

What is real cheddar? Or what if it’s like trying to be closer to cheddar, like Cheetos?

Sam Cathcart  05:07

I’m totally down with like actual cheddar, like you put out like a cheese board, and crackers and stuff. I will eat any type of cheddar, but if it’s any kind of like, processed, white cheddar snack, I am not a fan.

Kirsten Wyatt  05:23

All right. And Mal, last lightning round question, what’s a food that most people like that you cannot stand?

Mallory Verez  05:30

I have two because I’m actually a very picky eater. I cannot stand mayonnaise or olives both make me feel terrible. 

Kirsten Wyatt  05:39

Wow. I mean, like a true allergic reaction, or just don’t like them?

Mallory Verez  05:44

No, I don’t like them. I just hate them. I don’t like the smell of them. I don’t want them anywhere near my food.

Kirsten Wyatt  05:51

Alright, well, let’s jump into today’s interview. But to get started, talk to us about your life and career path that led you to the UNC program. And just for our listeners information, all three students just finished their first year on the program. And so I would love to hear what you what you’ve been up to, to get you to this point. And Sam, why don’t you get started?

Sam Cathcart  06:18

Yeah, absolutely. I received my undergraduate degree in anthropology from the University of South Florida, in Tampa. And originally planned on getting a master’s in anthropology and leveraging that into doing work in the government in some form or fashion, but didn’t really know what that was going to look like. And then joined the Peace Corps after graduation, and decided in the Peace Corps that it made a lot more sense when I came back to the states to get a master’s degree in something that was government work related. And I wasn’t sure if that was going to be public policy, or public administration or public affairs, something like that. So after doing a lot of research, I made the decision that public administration made the most sense for what I want to do in the future. And the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill was the best option after I, you know, submitted all my applications and got the responses from the different universities I was looking at. And that’s sort of what led me here in the short, I guess.

Kirsten Wyatt  07:20

That’s great. And, Lauren, what about you, about your life and career paths that lead you to UNC MPA?

Lauren Duncan  07:26

Yeah, absolutely. I started my career in nonprofit programming, mostly in programs within the education realm. And then I started directing a lot of those programs. And in that, I did a lot of managing grants and applying for grants. And I love leading programs, motivating teams, empowering people. And so I came to the UNC MPA in order to improve my skills in leading, directing, and and managing public service organizations and supporting those organizations through grant writing.

Kirsten Wyatt  08:16

Wonderful, and Mal, how about you?

Mallory Verez  08:20

So I got my Bachelors of Science in psychology from high point University here in North Carolina. And then I actually did a service here, kind of like Sam, but I did it with the Public Allies, AmeriCorps. And I knew that I wanted to go into law eventually, but I wanted it to be with a nonprofit or some kind of government entity. So I decided the best plan of action for me was to do a dual degree with the law school and an MPA program and UNC has some of the best. So that’s how I’m here.

Kirsten Wyatt  08:53

And what are your career aspirations after graduation? And Mal, I’m guessing, you know, you you’re doing dual degree, it will involve being an attorney. But tell us more about what that kind of bigger picture aspiration is. 

Mallory Verez  09:06

Yeah, at some point, I would love to be a managing attorney of sorts for either a state government, local government or for a nonprofit organization. I worked for a nonprofit civil legal aid from for a while and one of the things that I realized was that a lot of people in management positions don’t have the experience of, you know, public administration and service learning that you get in a master’s program. So I kind of wanted to take that step to make myself a better public service leader.

Kirsten Wyatt  09:36

Sam, what is your dream career after graduation from UNC MPA?

Sam Cathcart  09:42

I’m really hoping to do something with the state government with hopefully, program management and potentially some policy evaluation things. I haven’t narrowed down exactly what I want that to look like yet, but I’m doing an internship right now with a consulting group out of Raleigh called fountain works. And they do a lot of strategic planning and some policy development, and then some program evaluation. really diverse portfolio of projects they have going on right now. So I’m really getting a lot of experience. And it’s only been a week. So I’m really excited about the rest of this summer.

Kirsten Wyatt  10:18

That’s great. And Lauren, how about you? What are your career aspirations?

Lauren Duncan  10:23

I would like to do with, do more. Sorry, I would like to do more with nonprofit management and grant making. I focused a lot on the grant making, I’m not sure if I would like to be with an organization seeking funding, or as a funder, distributing grants. But I’m really interested in the mechanisms of being able to support impactful programs in public service organizations.

Kirsten Wyatt  10:53

Let’s talk about the class that you took in which you conducted this research. Can you share with us information about that course, and and how that course was structured to get you to the point of doing practical research in the public sector?

Sam Cathcart  11:11

Yeah, I can go ahead and jump in here. So the course that we took is called Human Resource Management. And it’s taught by Dr. Leisha DeHart-Davis. And it’s really framed around looking at human resource theory and practices and the history of those, and then applying those into to the public sector. So looking at how human resource theories and practices have evolved over time at the state, federal, and local levels, and looking at what practices are being used currently, and trying to, you know, train us to be folks in the future that can work either in the nonprofit or public sector in human resource management.

Kirsten Wyatt  11:57

And I’ll put in a shameless plug here. Each year, Dr. DeHart-Davis issues a call for projects. And I have found it to be a tremendously helpful way for public sector institutions or nonprofits like ELGL, to really dig in and explore some topics with some very exceptional students and help. And so over the years, we’ve had a chance to, I think, with ELGL and the in the program work on seven different projects. And it’s been a phenomenal way to ask some research questions, and then have some students do pretty incredible work. And so you know, for anyone listening, in spring of 2022, I encourage you to contact the university and find out how you can submit your research ideas, because it really is a nice way to learn a little bit more about more complex topics that maybe in your day job you don’t have time to, to research. So that being said, ELGL submitted a topic around digital HR practices during the, during the pandemic, what drew the three of you to this project? You know, why was this something that of the list of projects that Dr. DeHart-Davis had, drew you to it, and what made you want to research it?

Mallory Verez  13:18

Sam and I were actually talking about this yesterday. And mainly, it’s general relevancy to everything that’s been going on in the world. Digital hiring is kind of something that people had to face. A lot of the projects that were offered were things that could really be focused on at any time. But at least for me, it was just how important it was in this moment to be looked into and how useful it could be to local governments right now or down the road, or how it could have been helpful when the pandemic started.

Lauren Duncan  13:49

I was also drawn to this project because it included multiple components and multiple topics, thinking about digital hiring, from your interviewing all the way through to onboarding. So we get a broad look at all the components involved.

Kirsten Wyatt  14:11

Let’s start by talking about your research methods. How did you assemble the information for your report? And what was the approach that you used to conduct this research?

Mallory Verez  14:25

So we started with the basics to research which is just gathering background literature and information on the actual subject. And we thought it was best to split the hiring process into the different areas like Lauren was talking about, the different components that actually go into hiring, which I guess aren’t always thought about that way. But we split it into branding and interviewing, hiring, candidate evaluation, preparing new employees, and onboarding, so throughout the entire process. And we focused on both scholarly articles and industry or trade sources because this is still a relatively new topic, there hasn’t been a lot of time to do actual academic research on this subject because it takes a long time to peer review. But so we ended up with data from 23 scholarly sources and 28 industry sources. And we also wanted to hear directly from people in local government about what problems they were having, or what would be helpful for them. So we conducted a survey and interviews with local government practitioners. And we focused on including people who have either been involved in hiring during the pandemic or who have been hired. And all of our questions were based on the most prominent recommendations and themes that we gathered doing that background literature research. And we were lucky enough to have the survey shared with ELGL’s network and got 21 valid responses to our survey 17 of which were people involved in hiring and four who had recently been hired. And then we kind of rounded that out by interviewing nine local government practitioners from states across the country with similar questions to those in the survey, really using both of those tools as confirmation of or denial of the recommendations that we saw in the literature to see what was actually relevant to people in practice, and what could actually be used or was necessary.

Kirsten Wyatt  16:27

I found it impressive that your approach quickly recognized that there wasn’t a lot of academic literature out there. And so you were able to really quickly pivot and recognize that, you know, reading some of the business publications or or management publications were was was a good place to start. I thought that was really helpful, but also very telling, again, about why ELGL wanted to research this topic and have it be highly relevant to kind of this moment in time. Any resources that you that you use during that literature review, that were particularly useful, or that you think, would be good ongoing sources of information for a Gov Love listener interested in up to date management and leadership topics.

Mallory Verez  17:14

Lauren found a lot of great stuff from the Harvard Business Review. We also found a lot of great information from the Society for human resource management, they cover a wide variety of topics. And luckily, this is just one that has been discussed a lot in the last year. So we found a lot of great research on that front.

Kirsten Wyatt  17:33

Great. Heading into this project, did you have any hypotheses about the concept of digital hiring and local government best practices?

Sam Cathcart  17:45

As far as hypotheses, we didn’t really talk about that all that much in the beginning, but I think each of us had our ideas about what we were expecting to find. And so for myself, I thought that there was going to be quite a bit of problems that local governments had as far as adapting to the shift because everything happened so quickly. So in moving over to an almost completely digital or virtual workplace, whereas before everything was, for the most part in person, I thought there would be a pretty large difficulty in that transition for local governments. And that was mostly reflected in our conversations in the survey, people did have some trouble with that shift. But that had, that difficulty ended quickly. People fell into place, they felt that they became very resilient quickly. And that was a really interesting finding that I wasn’t expecting.

Kirsten Wyatt  18:50

Anything to add Mal and Lauren?

Mallory Verez  18:53

yeah, I’ll add, I thought that more people would have the same issues, I guess, either with having to do zoom, and you know, not liking digital interviews when you’re so used to doing in person interviews, or not knowing how to transition to digital onboarding, or something like that. But most people that we spoke to, or got the survey response from actually had a really wide variety of things that they were struggling with, or wanted to focus on with these digital hiring best practices. So that was really surprising to me.

Kirsten Wyatt  19:28

So let’s talk about the first part of how you broke down digital HR practices and this concept of hiring, recruiting and branding. Walk us through your findings related to this first aspect.

Sam Cathcart  19:44

For some of the branding aspects, one of the themes that was pretty prevalent throughout the governments that we spoke with, is that in general, local governments have a difficult time with the branding piece and creating their internal brand, and their internal culture and portraying that externally, especially that second part and the portrayal part. So they understand that that is an important aspect of being a competitive work environment and recruiting folks, but they have a difficult time in actually doing that taking the time to find the funding to have the resources to do that external portrayal of their brand. So that was probably the biggest piece. And then, from the literature, there were a number of things that we found, and discussed with our interviewees. So for example, taking the time to talk and communicate with your team about what you want to portray externally, and what your internal culture looks like, was something that was really well received by the folks, excuse me, by the folks that we spoke with. And then I think Lauren can touch on some of the how that relates into some of the recruiting piece.

Lauren Duncan  21:03

Yeah, one of our findings, big findings, was really that organizations need to update their job descriptions. Because in the job descriptions, organizations and nonprofits, local governments can really show who they are and who they are looking for. So that job description can be one of those first pieces of your organizational brand. Within the pandemic, research has found that when job searching, candidates assess how organizations have responded during this global pandemic, and how they have helped or not helped their employees, and they found that applicants have stopped application processes, when they have found something unattractive about an organization. So it’s really important to think about how you’re portraying who you are, and what you are looking for, in that first piece that a potential candidate will look at. So some of the things to make sure you include in your, in your job descriptions would be whether or not you are, will allow remote work, you know, what percentage, or if there’s all those policies around work from home. But you also really need to focus on the some of the soft skills and personal characteristics that you are looking for.

Kirsten Wyatt  22:46

I love this because it echoes what we’re seeing happening right now, especially with return to work. And what I sense might be a big morale challenge, as employees might be asked to go back to work, and not be allowed to work from home or have that same flexibility. And because it’s not written into a job description, you know, it’s kind of like heading back to normal. And, and so it’s interesting to hear that that applicants even stopped going through recruitment processes if the values of the organization weren’t conveyed in the brand. So I’m, I’m really glad that you were able to dig into that. Any other findings to share on the on the front of hiring and recruitments or best practices to share?

Sam Cathcart  23:37

As far as best practices go, one of the things that we touched on in both the recruitment piece, as well as the branding piece is participating in events like virtual job fairs, for example. So those give you the opportunity to meet with folks that are looking for work in this space, of course, but it also can give you the opportunity to interact with other local governments in your area, if this is, you know, a geographically based virtual job fair. And that helps you sort of understand what these other local governments are doing or these other organizations that work sort of in the public or nonprofit sectors. So you can see and get ideas about how other folks are doing their external branding and their marketing. And that can help you sort of solidify your internal ideas and portray those externally when you’re looking to make a shift in the way that you’re doing that.

Kirsten Wyatt  24:35

And again, such an important way to make a splash for your organization when you’re competing for talent, especially in a competitive job market or if you live in a more densely populated area where there’s multiple communities that are all looking for talent at the same time.

Lauren Duncan  24:53

We also found that the research shows that as organizations need to communicate with potential applicants in multiple methods, multiple forms and fashions to really connect with potential employees. And so some folks were using recruiting technologies, but really focusing on using multiple ways to communicate, whether that’s by phone, email, in person, or other very targeted technologies. And finally, the research shows that digital hiring is here to stay. So nonprofits, and local governments need to include components of digital hiring as they go forward so you can choose which components work best for you. But that is something that applicants will be looking for going forward.

Ben Kittelson  25:58

We’ll be right back to today’s episode. Gov Love is brought to you by Granicus. With upticks in post vaccine travel right around the corner, it’s time to address short term rentals in your community. Short term rentals are often found in sites like Airbnb and VRBO, and if you don’t have a short term rental regulation enforcement program in place, you could be missing out on tourism related tax revenue and risking damage to your community’s character. Granicus host compliance has helped over 350 communities with their short term rental challenges, from address identification, to ordinance reviews and compliance monitoring. If you’d like to learn more about short term rental activity in your area, or best practices for regulation and enforcement, visit granicus.com for a free consultation. That’s granicus.com for more information. Now back to the show.

Kirsten Wyatt  26:48

Let’s talk now about that next stage, the interview process. Talk to us about your findings. And then some of those recommended best practices as it relates to interviewing remotely or while socially distanced during the pandemic, and then looking ahead to what that might look like in the future.

Sam Cathcart  27:08

Absolutely. So for the interviewing piece, we really started out looking at a lot of the literature that we could find. So we looked at some literature that discussed pre pandemic best practices and ideas around virtual hiring, and then started looking at those trade and industry sources. And so we used those ideas as part of our interviews to discuss those with the folks we spoke to in the local governments to ask them, is this something that you are incorporating this way? And do you think this is a good idea? Is this something that you would like to do? So what that looked like at first was discussing with them how the virtual interviewing was going for them and how it went in the beginning. And that hypothesis of having the difficulty in the beginning definitely proved to be true. They a lot of folks talked about having a hard time in those initial stages, especially just figuring out the technology, figuring out the order in which people should speak, who should be in the interview, should this be different than the way that we do an in person interview? And so really figuring out what that was going to look like when they had to do it on the fly, was really difficult. The on the other hand, the good part about this was after that initial stage of that difficulty, people felt really, really comfortable once they got sort of in the groove of doing these virtual interviews. And for the four folks we talked to that were hired, two of them said that they felt more comfortable doing a virtual interview, and two of them said that they didn’t really have a preference. But none of the four said that it was any more uncomfortable, or it was uncomfortable for them to do a virtual interview. And we had a similar sentiment from the folks who did the hiring, once they got used to it, they felt really comfortable doing those virtual interviews. One aspect that we heard from a little bit from folks was that they sometimes have a hard time getting a feel for the candidate when they don’t have them in person, they miss out on some of that some of those nonverbal cues, some of the body language that comes with being in person. However, the benefits of the virtual interview seem to outweigh that a little bit. For example, you don’t have to fly someone to your local government who’s out of state who’s looking to make a move, you can schedule things a lot easier if folks are at home or in different areas, different buildings, in the in the local government, they’re still able to hop on that zoom call, or whatever the platform is that’s being used to have the interview without everyone having to figure out times to be in person if there are going to be multiple people in the interview. So those were some of the things initial findings there, the learning curve was the really big one. So it’s important to take time to figure out what it is that you want to do in your interview. And then creating a really good question set is very important. So figuring out what it is you’re looking for in the candidate both in technical skills as well as that person, organization fit piece, making sure you have someone that is going to fit in with with the organization. And then having the same question set for each candidate is really important because it helps you evaluate the differences between the different candidates that you’re speaking with. And then when you’re doing something like a panel interview, making sure you have a set, schedule or order for who is asking the question. So which person is going to be asking this question is that question first, second, third, and going through that order, so it runs really smoothly, you’re not talking over each other, there are, there isn’t any kind of confusion that goes on in the virtual interview. And the last important piece that I found and seemed people really seemed to receive well, was creating some kind of a document, a breakdown of the interview. So who’s going to be in the interview? What the sort of questions are going to be, if there’s going to be time for questions for the candidate to ask the folks that they’re interviewing with, and giving that to the candidate before the interview, and then also running through that quickly at the start of the interview, just to make sure that everyone’s on the same page.

Kirsten Wyatt  31:39

You know, while you were talking, Sam, I started to wonder if any of the literature you reviewed talked at all about whether, remote or video interviewing, had any effect on implicit bias and whether removing people from, you know, being all in the same room allowed people to maybe more fairly, I guess, assess candidates, or did it result in the potential of more implicit bias, as people were trying to figure out things like fit from far away, or, you know, from not being in the same space, anything like that come up in your research as it relates to, you know, remote or digital interviewing?

Sam Cathcart  32:24

As far as in the literature goes, we didn’t really see anything about that, because it just wasn’t anything we were looking for, specifically, however, sort of to this point, it’s a slightly different answer than to the question you asked. But one of our interviewees discussed how the part of the reason they felt more comfortable in that space was because that power imbalance was reduced. So going into the virtual interview space was felt like they were on a little bit more of equal footing with the other folks in the room rather than, you know, sort of being on their turf, right, you’re still you’re in your in your room, or in a place that you feel very comfortable when you’re doing an interview. So you feel more comfortable having these conversations even though it is a very, still a very professional setting. So it sort of can level the playing field in that way. As far as you know what the comfort comfortability and the power dynamics feel like, but as far as reducing or increasing implicit bias. I didn’t, we didn’t really find anything exactly like that.

Lauren Duncan  33:30

A couple of the local, the local government representatives that we talked with, did reference a couple of new ways of interviewing that they have done through digital platforms that I think can have some implications for implicit bias. There was one local government that has been using, so when they’ve done digital interviews, they have asked people to keep their cameras off, so that they’re not looking at people. And so they’ve tried to use, an effect of that is reducing some of the implicit bias. Another local government is using zoom webinars. And so all of the panelists and the interviewee have their videos on and they can freely talk. But then they invite other people from across the community and other government employees to sit in as webinar attendees so they don’t have their cameras on, but they can hear and see and give comments afterwards. And I thought that those two strategies were interesting and different ways to get to know your potential candidates and potentially remove some of the biases by getting more perspectives through those methods,

Kirsten Wyatt  35:04

Did you get a sense if remote interviewing, or digital interviewing is here to stay? Or was this truly something that was, you know, in full effect during the pandemic, but we’re going to creep back toward the in person interview? Or do you think we’ll see more of a hybrid situation?

Sam Cathcart  35:23

It seems that there is going to be potentially the option for it to stay, especially for candidates who are out of state or in a different part of the state, that would be difficult for them to get to in person, I think that piece seems like it really, it seemed unlikely from the folks we talked with talked with that they are going to go back to flying people out on their limited local government budgets to have interviews when they can just hop on a virtual interview and conduct it that way. There was some indication that people are, do enjoy having the in person interview piece when they can and so that will start coming back and things will go a little bit back to normal is everything else does. But I think there are going to be more virtual interviews in the local government space going forward.

Lauren Duncan  36:22

I think it would be interesting to have surveyed some of these local governments at the beginning of the pandemic, middle, and then now, when we put out our survey, we found that 24% of local governments were doing purely virtual hiring, 71% were doing a hybrid approach, and 5%. Other. So I think that digital hiring, as Sam mentioned, is here to stay in some form or fashion. But I would be interested to know, how has that changed from the middle of the pandemic to now?

Kirsten Wyatt  37:03

I think another area that could be interesting would be also how an applicant’s perception of the agency changes based on their willingness to use digital interviewing, especially, you know, as Sam, as the example he provides, in, you know, does it cut down on travel, especially in those early stages of a process? And when a candidate or an applicant look more favorably at a local government that seems to be open to digital processes? Does that, does it tell a better story about their willingness to kind of be using modern technology and modern processes? So it’d be interesting to also note that as well. So moving on to the very important topic of onboarding, share with us your findings and some of your recommendations and best practices as it relates to, you know, you’ve gone through these different processes, you’re bringing on a new employee, and you’re doing it when nobody’s in the office. So So what did you find? And what do you recommend?

Mallory Verez  38:07

We found that most local governments are still using in person onboarding practices or large group orientations for new employees. And this worked in the past, but a lot of governments had hiring freezes, of course, during the pandemic that made it more difficult to onboard a group of employees at the same time, because there were just so few of them. And we also found that a lot of onboarding wasn’t very extensive or involved only an HR director for general paperwork, and then learning from a direct supervisor, which can make the onboarding process onboarding process itself, inconsistent and varying in its degree of helpfulness. But there were a few local governments who are already transitioning to digital onboarding before the pandemic hit, which really encouraged the continuation of that switch, because they realized they couldn’t bring people into onboard anymore. So they were gonna have to make do with what they already had in this digital sphere. So our general recommendations are to use all of the available technology that a local government has. This is primarily for communication reasons, it’s really easy to just not be able to communicate well when you’re only on the phone or only sending emails, much easier when you can drop in and ask somebody a question or see them face to face. So a lot of different technologies that exists like zoom, or Google meet or teams can be used as that sort of drop in feature so that people can have almost something like office hours that can kind of mimic hallway conversation, or something along those lines. We also recommend considering an onboarding dashboard or portal, a few local governments we spoke to, were using munis and Neo Gov. And they had a lot of good experiences with that it was great for general, candidate handling or employee management, as well as the paperwork and the actual trainings and the videos and whatnot that go along with that as housing it all in one place, which can be really helpful. And that way, you don’t have to worry about making sure everyone has access to the same folders, or can even get into a server that they need to get into. It’s just here in this place, and you can share it with them. And lastly, our recommendations are to check in frequently throughout the onboarding process, we had a few people who were recently hired, talk about how they only spoke to their direct supervisor through that process, or only to the HR director through that process, which wasn’t very helpful because you don’t know if you’re getting all of the information you need, or if all of the information that you’re getting is correct. So using those check ins with multiple people involved in the onboarding process can help set up responsibilities and roles and expectations both for the new employee and for the supervisors they’re working under or any team members to kind of get a feel for what’s going on.

Kirsten Wyatt  41:13

Did anyone talk about the concept of building culture or incorporating new hires into the organization culture? Because again, I think, you know, similar to just getting factual information, it’s that how do you get to know one another? And how do you get to know you know who once you’re back in the office, you might want to have coffee with or you know, you might want to never have coffee with? Did anyone get into those concepts of how you acclimate a new hire into your organizational culture?

Mallory Verez  41:44

A few of the people that we interviewed talked about having regular activities that they normally would like birthday celebrations or lunches together, but doing it over a video and allowing people to just talk one on one if they want breakout into a room, if they want to just have a conversation amongst themselves or be able to chat with each other in that regard. Generally, the big thing was just creating the opportunity for people to meet one another. And that’s kind of how new employees and employers actually got to know each other. So there has to be that space to actually have those welcome lunches or those get togethers or things that you would normally do in person that you can’t do anymore. Things like accidentally running into somebody in the hallway, and having a conversation can’t really happen if you’re all remote. So having those kinds of, well, we’re all going to be here on zoom for lunch, if you want to join, you’re more than welcome, the whole team will be here or here’s a team meet and greet, so you all can meet each other and kind of have an initial discussion, at least you know, who’s doing what job who has, what responsibility and who you might need to go to in the future, if you have questions.

Kirsten Wyatt  42:50

And you had one finding related to videos, tell us more about how some local governments are using videos creatively with onboarding and with getting employees to know others in the organization.

Mallory Verez  43:05

We found a few recommendations in the literature that talked about using video bios for team members so that new employees can kind of get a feel for who they are, that’s really easy to just send out when you hire somebody as opposed to scheduling a meeting, if maybe that’s not something that can be done on a time schedule that you have. We found that a couple of local governments were using interesting things like tours of their office to kind of share the culture or the space or help employees get an idea of who they were working for or with. Those were really interesting. And another piece of the literature was just that you can use consistent videos, as trainings as well. So that makes sure that the experience is the same for every new employee, and that they’re all getting the same information. But generally, it’s just that video can be used in a lot of different ways. And it’s a really important part of remote work, so that people can get a feel for who they’re working with. And it’s not as terrible as having to sit and read through a 600 page document on your first day, you can actually kind of interact with somebody in that manner.

Kirsten Wyatt  44:17

So in addition to creating this wonderful report, which for our listeners will be available in the show notes for this episode. You’ve also created some really handy resources for local governments. Tell us about those resources and how you recommend they be used.

Sam Cathcart  44:35

These little sheets that we put together have a couple different recommendations that we thought were sort of the most important that came from the literature on each of the, came from the literature and from the interviews and surveys from Sorry, I’m gonna start over. These resources that we put together have recommendations that came from the literature, our interviews, and surveys. And we pulled out the most important things that we thought would be useful for local governments. So they’re quick little one sheets that tell you just a few different things that you can do in each of these spaces. And we recommend looking through those and looking through the larger report for more context as well, but using them in a way that is going to work for your organization. So obviously, not all of the recommendations are going to work for every single local government. However, a lot of them will be very helpful. So getting employee buy in, having discussions about what will work, what won’t work, and then spending time and effort and potentially funding in some cases, to figure out where you can fit these in can be really helpful for your organization. So just looking though, looking through those and figuring out which are going to work best, can be a really beneficial thing for local governments in this space.

Kirsten Wyatt  46:01

The other thing that’s so genius about these is they’re written for anybody and not just a listener who works in HR. And so if you have an upcoming recruitment, if you’re getting ready for a round of interviews, having these these resources will be really handy way to think a little bit differently about how perhaps, you’ve done those processes or work with your HR department in the past. So I encourage you, again, to head over to the show notes, you can download the full report, you can download these resource worksheets and have them handy and available on your bulletin board. Whatever you need to just start thinking a little bit differently about hiring, onboarding, and recruiting in a digital age. So Lauren, Sam, Mel, anything else you’d like to share any kind of parting words based on a research that you’ve done, that you’d like the audience to consider?

Mallory Verez  46:55

I think just it’s important to remember that a lot of this takes time to get used to or to actually implement, it’s not going to happen overnight. And it can be challenging. So you have to be aware of the resources that you have the time, the money, the energy to actually put into making these changes. But ultimately, as Lauren and Sam said earlier, digital hiring in some regard is going to stick around. So it’s best to be more proactive about it than reactive. Now that we know anything can happen, like a pandemic out of nowhere. So, although it might be difficult, and it’s going to take time, it really is best to start thinking about things now that you know it can happen so that you can implement things that will make the future easier.

Lauren Duncan  47:43

To add on to Mel’s comments, I mean, take steps, you don’t have to do all of it at once. Pick what you think will work for your local government, your government’s culture, try something and then you can add on to that and and keep moving forward to include these practices and really make sure that your government is able to hire people that fit with your organization and you can have, you can be really successful in that arena.

Kirsten Wyatt  48:20

All right, so our very last question and this is always tricky when we have multiple guests. But I’d like each of you to tell me if you were the Gov Love DJ, which song you would pick as our exit music for this episode. And you’ll have to listen and see which one of your songs is selected by our producers Ben and Mike. So let’s have you go first, Mel.

Mallory Verez  48:49

All right. If I was the Gov Love DJ, I would pick the song Closing Time by Semisonic as our exit music for this episode.

Kirsten Wyatt  48:58

All right. Good choice. Sam, you’re next. 

Sam Cathcart  49:03

I thought about this a lot. I decided on Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five 

Kirsten Wyatt  49:08

Oh, good choice. Good choice. All right, Lauren. Your turn. 

Lauren Duncan  49:16

Oh gosh. So much pressure. I don’t know. I have been thinking about this and felt like I just really didn’t know. Um, so I guess we’re gonna go for a classic. This Land is Your Land.

Kirsten Wyatt  49:35

Wow. So we have quite the assortment of Closing Music here. So we’ll have to see which one is selected by our fearless producers. Most importantly, I want to thank all three of you for coming on this episode today. And most importantly for doing such an amazing job on your research and then also creating resources that will help local governments through this changing time in The future. So thank you so much for being here today.

Mallory Verez  50:04

Thanks for having us. It was really fun. 

Lauren Duncan  50:06

Thank you for having us. 

Sam Cathcart  50:08

Yeah, thank you. This was really great. We really appreciate the opportunity.

Kirsten Wyatt  50:12

This ends our episode for the day. So again, thank you for listening and check out the show notes for all of the great resources created by Sam, Mal, and Lauren during this UNC MPA research project. Gov Love is produced by a rotating cast of ELGL volunteers. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. You can reach us at ELGL.org or on Twitter @GovLovePodcast. Thank you for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.

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