Five ways to attract top talent to public sector roles

7 min read | Matt Lewis, Director of Hays Public Services | Article | | Recruiting

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Discover how to attract the best talent for your public sector roles. Our Director of Public Services, Matt Lewis, offers his expert take on the unique approach that could tempt professionals away from private business. 


Attracting talent to the public sector: Key Insights

Historically, the public sector has struggled to compete with private business in enticing high-quality professionals. This article uses our research into workers’ expectations to demonstrate ways that public sector employers can even the odds.

  • Professionals are not motivated by salary alone. There are many other aspects of working life that can motivate talent to join the public sector.
  • Clarity around your organisation’s values, culture, and purpose is key to attracting candidates seeking more meaningful roles.
  • It is crucial to embed your organisational story within every element of your attraction campaign.
  • Public sector application processes are too long-winded. Streamline these processes to attract private sector candidates.
  • Many professionals are reevaluating their work life balance post-pandemic. The opportunity for flexibility can be a real draw to the public sector.


Attracting talent to the public sector: Our background

It’s easy to imagine that the private sector has the edge when it comes to recruitment. After all, private businesses can often respond with more agility, offering better salaries and material benefits, tailored to individual circumstances. However, our research indicates that if public sector organisations play to their strengths, they can compete well in the recruitment marketplace.

Our annual salary guide and the Hays What Workers Want 2022 Report strongly suggest that professionals are not drawn by salary alone. Rather, candidates consider a wide range of factors, including: benefits, workplace culture, diversity, and clear opportunities for career progression.

Here are five approaches that a public sector employer can take to tempt the best talent away from the private realm.


The public sector offers an unique alternative to the culture of work

1. Make your employee value proposition (EVP) very clear

Your EVP communicates your organisational values and culture. This proposition should include expectations of rewards, opportunities, and the experience of working for your organisation.

Your EVP should be central to every aspect of your recruitment strategy. From job adverts and the information on your career site, through to induction and employee literature, your culture and EVP should be clear to see. It should convey a clear idea of who you are as an organisation, and allow potential team members to develop a sense of identification with you.

2. Articulate your purpose and culture

Public sector organisations so often have an amazing story to tell, but typically struggle to communicate it to their target audiences. Getting this storytelling right can be a powerful draw for candidates looking beyond their wage-slip for something a little more intangible.

Workers are often attracted to the public sector because of the meaningful nature of the work. If your organisation’s story is articulated well enough, it can create a whole other sense of reward. A powerful story can attract workers who want to feel that they are making a real, substantial difference.

In particular, the culture and purpose of the public sector will appeal to professionals who are jaded by profit-driven enterprise. Taking advantage of the public sector’s sense of purpose, of course, requires you to articulate your story  – like your EVP – effectively and emotionally in every element of your recruitment strategy.

3. Finesse your application process

When comparing public versus private sector, public sector application processes are frequently far too long. Red tape deters many private sector candidates, who are used to submitting a CV or going through recruiters. 

Many of the professionals we surveyed are clear that a process of longer than 15 minutes would put them off continuing with their application. Wherever possible, you should refine the process to create a positive and streamlined user-experience. 

You can find out more about the applicant’s journey and how to improve it in our What Workers Want Report.

4. Highlight opportunities for progression

There are numerous aspects of an attraction campaign that don’t revolve around salary. Another strength of the public sector is its use of structured career progression pathways. Professional development pathways allow for a clear and unambiguous understanding of how a candidate can aim to develop and advance within your organisation. Describing these pathways in your job adverts can boost interest from more ambitious professionals.

5. Demonstrate flexibility

Following the pandemic, lots of professionals are re-evaluating their lifestyle. Many are realising that there is more to life than work. Public sector organisations can use this to their advantage, as workers envisage that the public sector offers a better work-life balance. 

For parents and those with dependents, work-life balance is vital. It’s also a major appeal to those who want greater control over their working hours. By embedding flexibility within your available roles, you’ll grab the attention of the 43% of private sector professionals who are currently unsatisfied with their work life balance.


Next steps for attracting talent to the public sector

The public sector has a lot going for it but, in order to find talented professionals, employers need to play to their strengths and openly promote the sector’s unique benefits. By infusing meaningful purpose and alternative culture into every element of your attraction campaign, you may well tempt the best talent to switch sides. 

If you would like assistance promoting your current vacancies, contact your local Hays consultant at


About this author

Matt Lewis

Matt Lewis is the Director of Hays Public Services. He has worked in specialist recruitment since 1994, working specifically with the public sector for the last ten years. Matt’s role has developed into leading MSP and RPO recruitment solutions to help position organisations to effectively attract and retain high quality talent.

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