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:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


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