Interview with Karen Kurt, Human Resources Manager, City of Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Eden Prairie was just ranked number 1 on MONEY magazine’s 2010 list of the 100 “Best Places to Live” in America.
1. I know local governments have been hit hard by the recession. How has hiring been reduced? Have there been layoffs or furloughs?
The City of Eden Prairie has definitely seen an impact from the recession. For the first time, we had layoffs last year, in 2009; and some vacant positions were frozen or eliminated. We also have a pay freeze for 2010. There is much less turnover in positions, too. We would normally turnover 20-25 career positions a year, but last year we filled only 1-2 positions. Most of the turnover is from retirement.
We have about 270 career positions (regular full and part time employees), and then there are what we call PTS employees – part-time, temporary or seasonal employees – who work at the city’s liquor stores or in parks and recreation. The PTS positions don’t qualify for benefits, and are temporary or work 20 hours or less per week. We might have 350 PTS employees during our busiest months in the summer.
2. What positions do you hire for the most?
We do a lot of hiring for PTS positions. In terms of career positions, in a normal economy, the largest group is in the police department. In a hot economy, we saw a lot of turnover in positions that could cross over to the private sector like HR, IT, and communications and so did more hiring for these positions. Positions that don’t easily transfer to the private sector, like urban planning, assessing, or parks/recreation, don’t have as much turnover, since our city is one of the premier employers in our metro area for these occupations.
We are very open to people coming from the private sector. For instance, in the HR department, we have hired employees from Target and Best Buy without public sector experience; people in IT, facilities, and communications come with mostly private sector experience. Volunteer experience in the public sector can be a good way to make the transition. Most of our Fire Department is staffed by volunteer firefighters who have day jobs in the private sector. The employees who hold the handful of full time fire positions were former volunteers who used that experience to land a full time job.
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?
Under Minnesota law, we have to formally “score” applications to give preference points to veterans. HR scores the applications based on the qualifications of the job. In this economy, we may have 300-400 applications in front of us for one job. To be a good candidate, make it as clear as possible how you fit the requirements of the job, rather than relying on the HR person to connect the dots. For instance, put in the cover letter a box with two columns; one column that lists each requirement and another that explains how you meet it.
Typically, we don’t use special application forms, but we do use an online application. Candidates have to complete the online application and can attach their cover letter and resume. There may be some questions in the application to help with initial scoring but they are usually brief. The scoring varies by position and includes points to make sure we meet the veteran’s preference law. For certain jobs with fewer applicants, it could be that 70+ points gets you an interview; for jobs with many applicants, you would most likely need more points. We review all applicants with the required minimum number of points with the hiring manager. Generally well qualified veterans and other underrepresented groups are slated for an interview right away. The hiring manager has a lot of discretion in determining who gets the remainder of the interview slots from the candidates who were determined to be well qualified as a result of the scoring process. If you have a lot of points but have a red flag – like being fired from a prior job – you might not get the interview, especially if we have a lot of well qualified candidates to choose from.
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 do not have a civil service hiring process. Typically, the next step after your application is an interview. There are some exceptions. We give tests for firefighter and dispatcher positions. Our interviews are behavior based —questions include things like “tell us about a time when you successfully resolved a conflict”; or “tell us about a time when you managed a project from start to finish.” There usually are some technical parts of the job interview; but we also place a great deal of emphasis on our City’s shared expectations of teamwork, customer service, flexibility, initiative, public stewardship and results orientation. We look for those attributes in all hires.
5. Are most staff unionized?
Less than most Minneapolis area cities. About 25% of the staff is unionized, representing the maintenance employees, i.e. parks and street maintenance, water utilities.
6. 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.
7. Any other tips for candidates looking for jobs in local government in general?
What’s different in public sector vs. private sector: we tend to use panel interviews. Virtually always. Typically in the private sector, you go through a series of one-person interviews, but at our City you are likely to have 3 panel interviews, with at least 3 people per panel. Be prepared for the interview, because it is more intimidating to be panel interviewed. Really reflect on the organization, visit their website and learn about their values, and think about how your experiences demonstrate those values. Also look at the job ad, reflect on how your past experience demonstrates how you fill the requirements. Think of examples in advance. Practice if you have the opportunity.
8. Can networking help?
It can’t hurt! If you fall in well-qualified category and were referred by a current employee, it can help to set you apart to reach the interview stage. But a referral doesn’t guarantee anything; if you are not well qualified it won’t get you an interview.