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Attracting digital talent - do we have your attention?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Defra digital

How can I attract talent towards digital vacancies in Defra? What is a potential candidate’s perception of the Civil Service? Is their perception of a Defra which is a dated, mundane grey organisation, full of suits, and jobs that involve hours of tedious form-filling with processing in a desk-bound office, as so often portrayed in films of a by-gone era?

Or would they be pleased to hear that in reality it’s a vibrant, fun (yes fun) place to work, where the stimulating tasks can see them teamed with like-minded, creative people, who care about the planet, its animals and people, where you wear what you feel comfortable in, and are judged by what you do, not who you are or how you dress.

You may be concerned about gender equality and pay – currently 54% of our workforce is female, 43% of our Senior Civil Servants are female, and there is no difference in the pay bands whether you are male or female.

So how do I get this message across, and how do I improve existing processes? There is no point in me preparing a fabulous advertising campaign full of colour and imagery that portrays the inclusive, diverse values of the organisation, amid displays of post-it noted boards and stand-ups, to grab the attention of a candidate, if I then leave them to click on a link and go down the well-trodden path of completing a questionnaire, matching a specific company-only competency, in the hopes of obtaining a telephone and/or panel interview? Surely this would not satisfy those hungry for creative roles, who want a quick application process? Time is precious to all of us, so how best to use it wisely?

Gaining feedback

This is the crux of my blog. I’ve set the scene in order to gain feedback. I would like an insight into the minds of those who would apply, or have already. I want to find out what excites you about joining my organisation, and how you may prefer to go through the recruitment process.

In the blog that follows, I’ll look at existing trends across the world, (as reported recently on LinkedIn), and consider possible improvements to current internal working practices to make the transition from applicant to employee as simple and effective as can be, whilst still being fair to all.

Competitive trends

Looking at the content of LinkedIn Global Recruiting Trends 2018, it is apparent that many companies and organisations are breaking away from, or supplementing traditional methods of recruitment, and using increasingly more technological means to gain advantage over their competitors. In an ever-shrinking marketplace, with limited skills in specialist areas, the need to attract the best candidates is paramount.

This article resonated with me, and made me wonder what if anything could be done to assist me in my role as a Digital Resource Manager. What new technologies could be employed, what new ideas could I glean, what lessons could be learned? Of course, some of the technologies are not new, but perhaps the ways in which they are now being used within recruitment are.


Would any aspiring technologist think to look at GOV.UK, or Civil Service jobs to check whether there was a vacancy that matched their skill set? Or would they instead use any of a raft of search engines, or landing platforms to find that golden ticket?

Would they consider Defra as a Digital employer, or do they automatically think of cows and green fields, and very little to do with technology? Even if they did use our sites, do our adverts leap out at them, draw them in with eye-catching colours and visuals, reflect diversity, inclusion and belonging, and attract them to us? What imagery and branding can we use that would ‘wow’ the populous?

Our existing recruitment tools and routes to market have been good, but there is always scope for improvement. Would, for example, the use of social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc. be acceptable for posting vacancies?

Where would candidates like to find vacancies, if not these sites? What are the best sites to use to appeal to those from an EDI background? What wording on the advert would excite candidates, and entice them into applying? In short, how do we sell ourselves effectively and encourage the best talent?

Application and assessment

If the advert peaks the interest, what is the next step for the candidate? Form filling, CV submission? Apparently not, this discourages the very type of person I need to attract. It would appear that to get to the next stage, candidates these days are responding to soft-skills assessments, job auditions, meeting in casual settings, completing virtual reality assessments or responding to video interviews. So my question would be, what is the preferred approach as a candidate and which method would you prefer to use as part of your application?

Certain roles have a need for an assessment at the point of interview. Normally we would employ some ‘as close to reality in the workplace’ type assessments to check the candidate’s skills and knowledge. I’d like to know whether these are loved or loathed. If we must subject candidates to tests, what type is best received? For example, should psychometric testing be prioritised over practical testing, (accepting that these would be testing different abilities of a candidate)? Should we use both or only one? Would you as a candidate rather demonstrate skills, or complete a test to prove your ability?


Of course in recent years there is also the use of Data Analytics to gather intelligence. Coupled together with Artificial Intelligence (AI), this can help predict the outcome of a recruitment campaign based on the data gathered from a multitude of sources held within the organisation. More and more these days we use Data Analytics, and in digital agile projects we build into every new service.

With regards to recruitment, Data Analytics can be used to increase retention, evaluate skills gaps, help with workforce planning, understand candidates’ wants, and compare talent metrics to competitors.

Many companies are beginning to use AI to help source and sift candidates, and to schedule and engage the selected candidates.

What is your feeling towards the use of analytics and AI? Would you be pleased to obtain appointment booking or feedback from an automated bot for example, or be thrilled that your future department is using analytics to source the correct candidate to fill a vacancy?.


Within my department, previous digital recruitment campaigns, fixed term appointments and externally advertised vacancies have provided some good candidates, but not always brought the quantity that has been needed. What I’d like to do is to ensure a better success rate for all concerned, while promoting Defra as a top place to work, particularly within the Digital functions.

We have a glorious opportunity for change, to try something new, so I would love to hear your feedback, please email me ( or comment below.

Through your feedback, like-minded thinking, and constructive ideas, I’d like to think that Defra can make our future digital vacancies much more attractive when advertised, simple and swift to apply for, and a pleasant experience for all concerned.

Find out more about working for Defra digital.

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  1. Comment by Jim Smith posted on

    I have just received an email from a recruiter regarding jobs at defra, so thought i would Google defra jobs to get an idea what's on offer . I may be relocating to the north west next year ( I assume you have a hub there).

    This blog came high up in the Google search results. A link to current vacancies would have been useful. Maybe civil service jobs is where I need to look.....

  2. Comment by Keith posted on

    From the ad it sounds like the jobs involve time spent across the four hubs, which is a bit off-putting? (Living out of a suitcase lifestyle - done that!). Thanks.