15 tips for improving correctional officer recruitment in 2020

Recruiting best practices correctional leaders should implement this year

By Sergeant Matt Cobb

Like many law enforcement agencies, the Topeka (Kansas) Police Department has been fighting an uphill recruiting and retention battle.

After failing to meet a 2017 goal of hiring 36 police officers, the agency implemented several outside-the-box recruitment initiatives detailed in this article. We are happy to report that two years later, those initiatives have proved successful: 86 applicants completed for 15 spots in the January 2020 Academy and our summer 2020 Academy is almost full.

We have learned many lessons on our journey that we would like to share here:

  1. There are only two barriers to recruiting and hiring: your imagination and the budget.
  2. Policies are not recruiting barriers. If strict residency, facial hair and tattoo policies were barriers, how has the Kansas Highway Patrol hired 125 since 2017?
  3. The 10% vacancy most agencies are experiencing may be the new normal. Fully staffed should be everyone’s goal, however, don’t let it break your heart if it remains out of reach. The only way to be fully staffed is to hire more than your authorized strength.
  4. Your agency needs a consistent recruiting and hiring message that employees know by heart. This should include a two-minute elevator pitch, an hour-long presentation and everything in between.
  5. Don’t give presentations on your agency’s disqualifiers. Tell stories, discuss benefits and working conditions, talk about the family they’ll be joining, the community they’ll be serving and what makes your agency great. Potential applicants should be captivated and inspired. The vision and hearing requirements won’t give anyone goosebumps.
  6. If your agency’s recruiting and hiring flyer looks like an IRS audit letter, it’s time for an update. Research the recruiting flyers from the most successful companies in the world. You won’t find one with 800 words in a bulleted format with intermittent bold, underlined and highlighted content.
  7. Obscurity is the enemy of successful recruiting and hiring. You have to generate buzz. Find ways to tell your story and engage potential applicants.
  8. Implement results-driven recruiting. Start tracking the success of your recruiting and hiring initiatives. Allocate more resources to what’s working; have the courage to cancel initiatives that aren’t.
  9. Diversify your applicant pool by traveling with your physical and written entrance tests. Choose applicant-rich environments such as colleges and military bases.
  10. Recognize that it costs money to recruit talent and diversity and set your budget accordingly.
  11. Stop blaming millennials for your recruiting and hiring problems. Millennials are now chiefs,  administrators and supervisors. If no one is applying to your agency and everyone is leaving, it’s not a generational thing.
  12. Is your recruiting and hiring website user-friendly? Mobile friendly? Does it look like a Fortune 500 company jobs page or a neuroscience research paper? Your home or landing page should be easy to navigate with “Apply Now” and “Get in Touch” action buttons. No one should have to scroll nine times to register for your test.
  13. How to engage a potential applicant: gather intelligence by asking questions about her situation, family life and interests. Use this opportunity to also build rapport. Now tailor your recruiting and hiring message to her wants and needs. “After talking with you, our agency is going to be a great fit because…”
  14. How to recruit at a military base:
    • Develop relationships with the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) personnel as this is the program members must attend before separating.
    • Most members joined out of high school, meaning most get out May-August.
    • Set up recruiting and hiring presentations during the spring TAP classes.  
    • Return in a couple of weeks with your written and physical entrance tests.
    • Congratulations, you have qualified applicants in your hiring process.
  15. Do your homework before giving a recruiting presentation. Tailor your message to the audience. At a military base, discuss how overtime works, the extra pay incentives and that they don’t have to get permission to go out of town. Don’t focus on how much they’ll pay for medical, dental and vision care.

What recruitment best practices are working for your agency? Share in the comments box below. 

About the author

Sergeant Matt Cobb has served with the Topeka Police Department for 13 years. He currently administers the Topeka Police Academy. Sergeant Cobb is a Marine Corps and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Baker University, maintains numerous law enforcement instructor certifications and owns two businesses.

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