The local government job search: Virginia Beach, VA

Many thanks to Miriam K. Bryant, Human Resources Coordinator, City of Virginia Beach, for writing this blog post!

1. I know local governments have been hit hard by the recession. How has hiring been reduced? Have there been layoffs or furloughs?

This was certainly a very difficult budget year. To balance our budget, we had to look at eliminating positions. Fortunately, revenue projections improved before the budget was finalized and the cuts were not as deep as originally anticipated. Even so, approximately 60 employees were placed in a situation where their positions would not be funded for the next fiscal year. However, we have a “no layoff” policy and staff worked to place these 60 employees in other positions within the city organization. At this time, all but a few employees have been absorbed in other city positions and we hope to have the remaining few placed by September 30th. The idea of furloughs was discussed, but, to date, we have not had to take that action. We have not had pay raises in the past two years, however, and some of our benefits have been reduced. We could not fund the tuition reimbursement program this year and employees hired after July 1, 2010, will have to pay for their retirement benefit (5% of salary).
2. What positions do you hire for the most?
Police officer. Our Police Department includes 807 sworn members and with regular attrition rates, we need to hire 45-60 per year. My focus is on HR within the PD so I can’t speak City-wide. Judging from our postings though, I think the next highest area would be mental health professionals for the Department of Human Services and administrative support positions throughout the city.
3. When candidates apply for jobs, can they submit a regular resume and cover letter, or do they need to write application essays or fill out questionnaires? Do they need to fill out any special application forms?
We use an on-line application system. Resumes and cover letters can be attached. We also develop supplemental questions specific to the job posting. For example, when recruiting for an animal control officer position, we would ask the applicant to specifically describe their animal handling experiences. Or for a forensic services technician (crime scene) position, we might ask about experience testifying in court or working in a variety of physical environments.
4. Does your city use a civil service hiring process? If so, are there examinations? What kind of exams (written, in-basket exercises, physical exams)? Are there any tips for candidates to prepare for the tests?
We are not civil service. We do use testing processes for some positions, however, and often include a practical exercise in conjunction with the oral interview.
5. Are most staff unionized?
No.
6. Are there any hiring preferences, i.e. for veterans?
We do not give preferential consideration for veterans, but we do appreciate veterans for the qualifications that they bring to the table and recruit heavily from that segment of the market. We have numerous military installations in our region and are regular participants in the transition program for individuals separating from the military. We also have a high percentage of employees who serve as active reservists.
7. Do candidates have to be residents of your city in order to apply, and/or need to live there in order to be employees?
No residency requirement. Some of our employees even live over the state line in North Carolina. Some specialty assignments within the Police Department (and other City departments) require compliance to a specific response time, but city residency is never required.
8. What makes an applicant stand out positively?
Applicants need to approach every document that they provide (and every interaction) as a “sample of their work.” In terms of the application, that means that the information should be conveyed without spelling/grammatical errors and it should be complete. We consider the application to be a legal document because we ask the applicant to sign as certification that the information is correct. Providing a resume does not substitute for completing the application fully. Providing a cover letter is often a good way to highlight specific accomplishments (tailored to the job), explain career moves and/or personalize the application package. When appropriate, writing samples are helpful. In the interview, it can be very effective to share samples of work, evaluations from past employment, letters of recommendation and an up-to-date reference list. We also require original college transcripts for professional positions.

In the interview, we often use a “panel” approach which may involve 4-5 interviewers in the room. We use a structured set of questions and ask the applicant to provide examples from their past work to give us an indication of the quality and complexity of that work — to “paint a picture,” so to speak. It is important to prepare by cataloging past achievements, conflicts that have been resolved, challenges overcome or difficult problems solved and being ready to discuss specific instances. We are looking for people with a strong service orientation who are resourceful, collaborative, ethical and who are willing to contribute in an “above and beyond” manner.

Here’s a quick snapshot of some of my horror stories from interviews. . . applicant providing an example of behavior that was not a positive example, cell phone ringing, applicant responding to text message during the interview, exposed tattoo with a written message at applicant’s neckline (distracting), inappropriate attire (lowcut neckline), tears during interview, shaking hands with the men in the room, but not the women, etc.

9. Any other tips for candidates looking for jobs in local government in general?
Service is our product in local government. It is important to communicate an understanding of this. Also, there is so much information on the web pertaining to our city. Take advantage of these resources before you participate in an interview. There are also a lot of volunteer opportunities within city government. Sometimes this is a helpful way to develop specific skills and experiences, when practical.

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