Help Wanted: Boring Jobs

Human resources offices need to spice up their vacancy postings.

For years, some of the worst writing in government has been found in job vacancy announcements. The first impression for potential hires usually begins with the words "The incumbent serves as. . . " and goes on to describe the dull duties of a cog in the bureaucratic machine.

To most of us, the word "incumbent" means the person currently holding an office. Yet announcements targeted at future employees are riddled with the word: "The incumbent of this position serves on a psychiatric treatment team with an assignment of mentally ill patients" or "Incumbent prepares, wraps and displays sandwiches."

This has always seemed odd. If you were trying to attract applicants to a position, wouldn't you tell them what they would do after they got the job? Some federal recruiters have thought of that. The job summary for a position at the Health and Human Services Department, for example, begins: "Become a part of the department that touches the lives of every American! At the Department of Health and Human Services, you can give back to your community, state and country by making a difference in the lives of Americans everywhere."

But a read through vacancy announcements shows there's still a lot of work to do. There are several reasons for the high snooze factor. Various laws and court cases have led to required language in some postings. Human resources offices rely on boilerplate language to make their jobs easier. And there's a natural tendency in government to write bureaucratically.

Some federal jobs truly are boring. Even those with the potential to be interesting often end up being dull, sometimes because managers envision them that way.

People join government for the job security and flexible schedules, but also because they want to make a difference. If employees don't feel their work matters, then the job should be restructured. No pretty description can make a boring job interesting. But assuming a position is interesting, there's no reason not to convey that. Look at this announcement for a job at the Office of Personnel Management: "Our work has far-reaching impact, and your ideas and recommendations will influence and improve the way the federal government recruits, hires and retains its people." If that's true, what human resources type wouldn't want to work there?

Reformers have been calling on agencies to spruce up their vacancy announcements for years. The Merit Systems Protection Board put out a report urging improvements three years ago. The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service has been pushing better job descriptions since it was launched in 2001.

More and more human resources offices have gotten the message. But many postings are still a big bore. Here's a first step managers can demand the next time they have a job opening to announce: Throw the incumbent out.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.