There’s one word that keeps popping up in American government job postings that raises an eyebrow: required.

Just about every government job posting we saw, particularly higher-paid ones, had very specific requirements to apply. A specific amount of experience. A certain degree. Certifications that needed to be acquired.

The message sent was clear: the quickest way to move up at a government job – or get hired at all – is to ascertain higher degrees and earn certain certifications. Clearly, America’s governments have a very structured, very requirement-based hiring model, which when analyzed feels patently un-American, and certainly is not the most effective way to build an organization.

Specific Example

As an example, we looked at government library jobs in the state of Connecticut. Unsurprisingly, the more a job paid, the higher degree that was required. Realistically, the only way to make a good salary working as a librarian in Connecticut is to possess a master’s degree in library science (MLS degree).

For example, you can get some entry-level work as a “library specialist” in Connecticut without having an MLS degree (although an associate’s degree in library science is preferred). Specifically, Avon, CT, a town with a population of around 15,000, is looking for three part-time library specialists and will pay them $22.66 an hour, albeit with no benefits.

However, to move beyond that, workers really need to earn an MLS degree. One example we saw was an advertised job as an assistant librarian at the Westbrook, CT library (a town with a population of around 7,000 people) that requires an MLS degree and pays $26.50 an hour with benefits. Other assistant librarian positions in larger towns pay more, and just about all require an MLS degree.

Needless to say, nearly all library director positions in Connecticut require an MLS degree. For example, the Connecticut town of Woodbridge (population 10,000) is looking for a library director, a job that pays at least $63,000 a year, and is requiring all applicants have an MLS degree.

Meanwhile, a MLS degree would cost someone who went to the University of Connecticut at least $100,000. Let me ask you: is this really the fairest and best way to do it?

Another Option

Contrast that with the way Chipotle hires. Chipotle’s whole hiring strategy revolves around hiring entry-level workers making $9-an-hour, training them along the way and hoping they eventually rise to the $87,000-a-year job of restaurateur.

Now why couldn’t libraries in Connecticut, as an example, adopt part of that model?

We saw even minimum wage jobs advertised at Canterbury Public Library as library aide. What if someone started that job as a teenager in high school and loved it, loved working at the library and was excellent at it.

At most, they could rise to the position of library assistant, which pays around $20-an-hour. To move beyond that, they would either have to spend years going to school at night or take five years away from working at the library to gain an MLS degree to become even an assistant director.

That doesn’t make sense. Granted, all things being equal, someone with an MLS degree should be hired over someone who doesn’t have one. But if there is a person who have worked hard and moved their way up, don’t they deserve an opportunity? Do you believe only someone with an MLS degree would be a successful librarian?

Effects Problem

Unfortunately, this problem isn’t confined to libraries in Connecticut. Instead, this requirement-based approach to hiring seems to be central to nearly all government jobs across America.

Along with excluding otherwise great candidates, this philosophy is hurting morale as well. The Washington Post reports that only 34 percent of federal employees said they are satisfied with opportunities for career advancement and only 36 percent said creativity and innovation are rewarded at their jobs – both well below what private sector employees reported.

That frustration is understandable, largely because of the burdensome requirements surrounding most government jobs. After all, how would you feel if you were working at a library but didn’t have the time or the money to go to school, and you knew the most you can make is $20 an hour? How would you feel about your chances for career advancement?


The most ironic part of this hiring approach taken by America’s governments is it seems so fundamentally un-American. After all, aren’t we allegedly the country of rugged individualism, a meritocracy where talented people who work hard are rewarded with prestigious titles and giant globs of money?

And yet, our government is seemingly obsessed with a check-all-the-box hiring approach that feels unfair to specific types of people (i.e. the poor, people who have children at a young age, etc.). And, from a practical standpoint, this model leads to disengagement in employees who face a very real ceiling.

Perhaps the most interesting part of all of this is the government disagrees with this approach, at least when it comes to its most important positions regarding national security. The CIA, for example, is notorious for recruiting high-potential candidates out of high school, years before they could acquire any of the requirements needed for other government jobs (the military does the same).

American politicians campaign on the promise of the American dream, that if someone works hard they can move up quickly and become successful. Perhaps the governments they run should adopt that philosophy, and that starts with a different approach to hiring.

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