Six top tips for public sector recruitment

It started in early 2020 before spreading worldwide: millions of people taking to their balconies, rooftops and gardens to cheer and applaud public-sector workers fighting on the frontline of the Coronavirus.

That outpouring of love and respect has changed, over a few short months, the image of essential workers such as nurses, firefighters, teachers and transport staff.

No longer seen by taxpayers as a burden and an expense, public servants have re-emerged as trusted and indispensable professionals saving lives and keeping communities running.

No longer perceived as bureaucratic and unworthy, the coronavirus pandemic has revealed public-sector jobs to be possibly the most rewarding way to both earn a living and contribute to society.

The challenge for public-sector recruitment is now one of quality over quantity: public services are only as good as the public servants who work in them. So how can we recruit and retain the very best?

From our work worldwide with governments and public bodies recruiting into healthcare, police, defence, education and other sectors, here are our six top tips for attracting the best candidates and building workforces that accurately reflect the diverse societies they serve.

Take an evidence-led approach to recruitment marketing

Our econometric modelling for the British Army demonstrated the impact of recruiting targets from factors as diverse as terrorist attacks, recruitment events, medias spend, competitor activity, and even the weather. Faced with such challenges, the need for innovation, adaptability and agility is critical.

Make best use of social media

The Covid-19 crisis led to people more actively seeking out sources they can trust. We’ve learned that paid and organic social media mutually play a pivotal role and reinforce each other throughout the recruitment journey for both the target audience (usually, but not always, young people) and secondary audiences (gatekeepers such as parents, family, friends and teachers).

Focus on specialist roles

For major employers such as the police, fire services and the military, certain expert roles can be harder to recruit for. Sometimes we have to be clever – really clever – to attract the right interest. For the UK security services, for example, we hid code in the recruitment website for hackers to discover and find out more about cyber security roles.

Create exciting events – social distancing permitting!

A face-to-face encounter with serving personnel can be more inspiring and motivating than an advert will ever be. We upskill and support frontline service delivery personnel so they understand the behaviours, preferences and motivations of recruitment targets.  We incorporate event data into econometric models to better understand the impact they have on interest and applications.

Inspire influencers

One of the key drivers for many young people is to work in a job that makes them and their family proud. We use influencers across different age groups, genders and backgrounds to help shape positive perceptions and decisions: making a career choice is complex and our work reflects that.  We create content that act as ‘collective moments’, bringing a wide range of audiences together at the same time.

Support diversity and inclusion

Having workforces that reflect the communities they serve is more important now than ever before. If not calibrated carefully, BAME-specific marketing can at best be ineffective and at worst counter productive.  While studies show that most young people consume media in the same way, regardless of ethnicity, that’s not always true of their gatekeepers.  While the recruitment marketing we produce is as inclusive as possible in its messaging and media targeting, where appropriate we create different content specifically targeted at influencers.

Turning the outpouring of love and respect for essential workers into an end-to-end experience for the best future public-sector candidates will not be easy.  But our experience across countries and cultures gives us a clear-sighted perspective on the scale and complexity of the challenge – and a range of tools and techniques to make it happen.


The Government and Public Sector Practice advises policymakers and public sector communication leaders on strategy, innovation, capability development and global best practice. Our team of senior consultants connects clients with the best ideas and expertise in WPP’s global network. And, we invest continuously to advance our thinking and evidence on effective communication. WPP agencies partner with governments in over 70 countries on the policy challenges where communication can have the greatest impact, including:

Behaviour change;
Citizen engagement and participation;
Digital government;
Place marketing;
Public sector recruitment.

If you would like to discuss any of these offers with us further, or find the right team for a specific brief, please get in touch at govtpractice@wpp.com.