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5 Ways to Improve Federal Hiring Process

I had the opportunity to attend The Brookings Institute Reforming the Federal Hiring Process and Promoting Public Service to America’s Youth Event on September 28th. The event was developed to address many issues regarding the federal hiring process. As many of you know, within the next few years, the federal government will need to hire over 200,000 employees. With the government needing to hire a new crop of workers to lead the federal workforce, numerous changes need to be made how the Federal government is attracting talent, retaining talent. The panel I attended was titled: Forward Looking Ideas and included the following speakers:


The opening panel provided a background of challenges to reforming the federal hiring process, how to improve the current system and concluded by offering some potential solutions. The key challenges that were identified were barriers to entry, public perception and the current fiscal climate. In terms of barriers to entry, we heard of many stories of the challenges people have had applying to federal jobs. Simplifying the process is an absolute necessity to attract more talent to the federal workforce, and not lose talent to competitors in the private sector and not-for-profit sectors. Throughout the panel discussion, I jotted down some notes about potential solutions to reforming the federal hiring process.

1. Collect Quality Information on Hires.

The process to apply for a federal job is slow, difficult, and applications often fall into a black box. Panelist argued that sometimes there is little information to know if agencies are actually hiring the best canidates for the position. Panelist talked about the importance of using management and employee satisfaction surveys. More surveys from employees would help agencies improve their management strategies and help to hire the best candidates for job openings. These insights would for sure lead to an improved hiring process.

2. Convert More Interns to Full Time Employees

An internship is a great trial period to see if an intern is good fit for the agency and a way for agencies to retain talent. By using this trial period, agencies will know if the intern will be a good fit for full time employee. Many of the panelist argued that an internship is the best fit to see if full time employment will work out, much better than any other process currently used.

3. Capitalize On Public Service Energy

People are energetic to serve, many people do not realize that job functions they do in the non-profit sector can be replicated in the Federal government. Federal government needs to improve the public perception of what it means to be a federal employee and work towards telling the stories of all the great work feds do

4. Compensation Reform

To retain talent and attract new talent to the federal workforce, compensation needs to be more market oriented, the current system is antiquated and in desperate need of reform. Technology is changing quickly, the type of federal worker and the skills required are much different than they have been in the past. Agencies need to be more selective on the skills they are looking for and make sure they fit the organizations needs. One panelist argued that we need a more agile workforce. It is also to important how well educated the federal workforce is and the myriad of positions a person can obtain. Scientist, lawyers, physcist, all are needed to perform government functions. In order to compete with other sectors, federal government needs to improve how workers are compensated.

5. Remove Barriers to Entry

The goal here was to attract talent by making the application process easier and faster. Thankfully, much of this is on the way with the re-launch of USAJOBs this fall. Once hired, the Federal government needs to keep talent people – develop trainings, mentorship programs and help advanced talented employees career to keep them in the federal workforce.

Any comments these 5 solutions? What are some other ideas you have to improve the federal hiring process?

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18 Comments

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Profile Photo Carol Davison

I would change job qualificaitons to include integrity, collaboration and drive for results. I belive that we invest too much time in seeking out technical competencies, which are relatively easy to develop, when its character that really impacts performance in an organizaiton. Thanks for asking!

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Profile Photo Carol Davison

I also believe that we pay too much attention to grade point averages in hiring, particularly of interns. I would prefer to see documentation of those ethics, collaboration skills and drive for results. The Federal government already employees to many people working for themselves and not the taxpayer already.

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Profile Photo Marilyn

We definitely need to do away with the self rating process. Way too many people are willing to exagerrate on those and say they are experts. Then the people who are better qualified but don’t exagerrate don’t even get a chance.

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Profile Photo Anna Abbey

@Marilyn- I totally agree!

Here are some additional ideas:

They should also make the hiring process less of a “black box.” I think dedicated individuals are willing to put up with 6+ months of an application process if they feel like they are being kept in the loop and have an idea as to whether or not they are even in the running for any given job.

I know it isn’t a popular topic- but I think we should also evaluate the preferences given to vetrans. If our goal is to get the most qualified individuals for the job, a blanket bump to anyone with military service- regardless of the agency, the applicability of their service experience to that agency, or general merit- may hinder that.

To that end, programs like the PMF that are only open to very recent graduates (while great for those recent graduates) does nothing to encourage qualified candidates with one or two years of experience from entering the federal workforce. We may be missing out on a lot of excellent candidates.

Once a part of the federal family, I think one of the biggest barriers for young employees is not compensation, but rather organizational culture. As long as seniority outways merit, high achievers with few years under their belts will suffer. Top down organizational cultures, that do not encourage collaboration, are also likely to find it hard to hang on to their younger employees.

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Profile Photo Julie Chase

1. Totally agree about the black box. Most younger folks are going to “wait by the email for an answer”.

2. What interns? STEP, SCEP, SCIP are gone? Do you know something we don’t? Pathways….has a way….to go. (see last sentence in #1 above) There are student loans to pay back. Keep in mind vet groups have not given up on trampling Pathways before it gets started.

3. Meh, may be pie in sky thinking.

4. Technology is changing quickly, however, the fed government is not keeping up with that technology, for “security reasons”. Actually, WG’s will now have to have a little more than basic computer skills, such as keyboarding.

5. Love the idea of mentorship programs. We have that at my installation, and it was so sweet one of the WG8’s asked “me” to be his mentor and I had to turn him down because I am a GS5 (below his paygrade). He wanted to improve his writing and computer skills. I guess the only worthwhile learning is top down. Sad really.

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Profile Photo Lorie Obal

Can there be an enforced penalty – like being banned from applying for govt jobs – for those caught blatantly lying on the screening questionnaires? All this does is penalize those who have viable skills + honesty. A PhD can’t begin to compete for a fed job against the “self-assessed” experts on every single category of the self-assessment.

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Profile Photo Marilyn

I know people who got jobs that I applied for who said they were told by the hiring manager to mark expert for everything 😐 I considered raising the issue, but wasn’t sure who to raise it to 😐

Whose idea was it to allow self-assessments? Did they really believe that everyone is capable of that?

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Profile Photo Randy Steer

I don’t WANT to be snarky (not all the time…), but how can I resist such a set-up? The Federal government needs to hire people who can count (“The four key challenges that were identified were barriers to entry, public perception and the current fiscal climate.”) and spell (“lose”, not “loose”).

OK, seriously:

@ the opening premise (Fed gov’t will need to hire 200,000 people) — That could be totally wrong. To balance the budget, total Federal spending needs to be reduced by something like 43%. Even if there are some tax increases to help the deficit, shrinkage of the government is pretty much inevitable. The first approach every agency uses is attrition — don’t replace the people who leave or retire.

@1 — The black-box problem is not unique to government — it can also be true of large private-sector companies. None the less, it might be helpful to revise the rules about talking to applicants to allow people in the hiring chain (both HR and the manager posting the position) to provide information about “milestones” to the applicants. I.e. permit them to tell applicants which stage(s) of the review and selection process have been completed, and what the remaining steps are. (That may have already changed somewhat in the years since I entered the Federal government.) Also relating to point 1 — the government gets at least as much information about applicants as most private-sector hiring organizations.

@2 & 3 — Summer interns have proven to be a very valuable avenue of introduction where I’ve worked, and help potential full-time applicants see how they could contribute (motivation). But they need to be given substantive work to do.

@4 — The comment about needing an “agile” workforce actually relates to my little snark above: as agencies (very likely) shrink and roles change, every good Fed is going to need to be able to think critically and flexibly, have a reasonable level of quantitative analytic skill, and be able to communicate clearly and persuasively their program’s purpose, value, and plans to management, Congress, and the public.

@Marilyn — The self-assessment problem is a new one to me — I entered the gov’t a long time ago. But it will be a tricky issue, much like trying to identify resume padding. Maybe some on-line skills testing could be used. Or, just promulgate the advice to mark everything “expert” and if everyone does, the check-boxes will de facto no longer be a selection criterion.

@Anna — Your mention of PMFs triggers a thought — there’s a sort of experience/education no-man’s-land where there are no special programs to bring in exceptional candidates. There are PMFs for people freshly out of master’s-degree programs, and there are mid-career fellowships for scientists and engineers (AAAS Fellows, Jefferson Fellows at the State Dept, etc.), but nothing for people with a few years of business or law experience. That’s a potential opportunity for a new type of fellowship program.

@Julie — Mentoring is usually about more holistic career advice than specific skills development, which is why it’s usually done by someone senior to the “mentee”. -There’s no reason you can’t provide some computer-skills training to someone graded higher than you though, if you’re willing to take the time. (I have no idea what a “WG” is, though. And BTW, your writing skills seem way above GS-5!)

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Susan Thomas

@Marilyn, My view is that a hiring manager who encourages an applicant to embellish qualifications on a job application is just as culpable as the applicant who lies.

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Profile Photo Julie Chase

@Randy. Thank you. A WG stands for “wage grade”. These are the guys and gals who take apart military aircraft, ships and subs then put them back together again. They are also the guys and gals who maintain government and/or military installation facilities. You call them if your a/c isn’t working, or one of the flourescent lights are out, etc. The WG’s I work with keep gov vehicles and material handling equipment in motion. WG’s are often forgotten when it comes to training, professional development and inclusiveness in the gov business world. Recruiting for the trades is very difficult these days. Most people don’t realize that WG’s have moved into technology with their trade, it’s a shame that gov agencies don’t see that. Planes don’t fly, ships don’t sail, subs don’t dive unless someone is there to maintain and repair them. The average age of a WG worker in government is over 40. Something to think about.

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Profile Photo Mark Hammer

Not a major criticism, but the 5 bullet points are really more about the overall hiring strategy than about the process itself. There is also a distinction to be made between the hiring strategy for government overall, and the recruitment strategy. Recruitment is VERY important, but accounts for the smaller share of all government staffing.

In my job I read survey comments from successful and unsuccessful candidates. Unfortunately, because of our methodology (the e-mail survey invitation requires one to have a valid government address), I only hear from successful recruits, and not those who applied and missed out. But I imagine the comments would be the same: why does it take so long? I wish they would have told me more about what’s going on and where it’s at in the sequence, I’m not sure I get what’s up with this testing, why the heck did they post that job if they were just going to hire someone in the work unit anyway?

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Profile Photo Paul

As a Staffing specialist I create over a inch of paper in the process and need to keep everyone of them becuase of the old fashioned ideas and mentality in federal service. I spent 15 plus years in the civilian sector before coming to the federal service and I at time second guess why I did the move other than I had been downsized year before. OPM is not open to improving the process. Too many layers before the idea could ever get to them. We need to creat tiger/focus groups of employees who have been witht the government less than 4 years but more than 1 year, and be no more than a GS-12. This group or groups would have the authority to go directly to OPM and request the idea be tested. The other is to force Staffing at OPM to spend one month at a outside company and work with their staffing personnel to see how the other side does it. OPM should be the leader in innovation and it is not from what I see at my level. Quick hire and Monster make too much money for the product they provide to the federal service. enough said.

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Profile Photo Randy Steer

@Mark (“why the heck did they post that job if they were just going to hire someone in the work unit anyway?“) — Because the competition rules in Federal hiring require that every promotion to a position that’s graded higher than a person currently is (even if it’s just a promotion at the same desk from whatever to Senior whatever) has to be a competitive “hire”. Hadn’t thought about that before, but that’s probably a great drain on HR resources — because Fed managers can’t always just give their staff promotions when they deserve it, a great deal of work is created that goes through the hiring channels but doesn’t generate actual new hiring. If those HR resources could be devoted just to NEW hires by making promotions easier, perhaps the whole external hiring process could be speeded up.
In some agencies and in some roles, the phony postings can be avoided by giving a position a wide grade range, dependent on experience and education. For instance, in my first Federal position as an OMB budget examiner, the examiner slots are graded GS-9/15, meaning that someone can be hired right out of grad school and, if they stay, over 10-15 years can be promoted all the way to GS-15 without requiring a “hiring” action — just normal promotion paperwork. Perhaps that flexibility and lack of artificial hoops to jump through partially accounts for OMB’s traditionally relatively high employee satisfaction ratings.

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Profile Photo Mark Hammer

Randy,

There was a terrific report from the Merit Systems Protection Board in 2002, entitled “

The Federal Merit Promotion Program: Process vs. Outcome

That is well worth reading. You can find it here: http://www.mspb.gov/netsearch/viewdocs.aspx?docnumber=253639&ve

They used the results of a manager survey to estimate the cost to the federal system of what they termed “sham competitions”. They come up with a figure of $240M/yr. I hasten to add that is JUST the hiring managers’ time, and says nothing about HR’s time, and the naive applicant’s time.

We get the same thing here in Canada. We ask managers “Where’d you advertise and who was eligible to apply?” and “What sort of applicant did you end up hiring?”. In enough instances to merit concern, they tell us they’ve advertised nationally, the competition was open to the public….and they ended up hiring someone in the work unit who was acting in the position for the last 18 months. In the survey comments I read, I hear frustration from *both* managers and candidates about these sorts of things. The competition itself may have been run for the purposes of “transparency”, but for some folks the only thing that ends up being transparent from their perspective is that it was a complete waste of their time. We gotta fix that.

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Profile Photo Melissa

I know this is an old discussion, but the federal hiring process is so very, very broken. I submit to you the following response I received from Customs and Boarder Patrol to a job I applied for (pasted as sent, line breaks and all). The results are at the very bottom of the email. I applied for the position through USAJobs, selecting one of 3 resumes I keep on file on the site. The reason I was rated in-eligible: no resume attached to the application. Sometimes, you just have to laugh….

N O T I C E O F R E S U L T S

CBP INDIANAPOLIS HIRING CENTER

6650 TELECOM DRIVE

SUITE 100

INDIANAPOLIS IN 46278

MELISSA JOHNSON,

Date Issued: October 24, 2011

Social Security Number: XXX-XX-XXXX

Eligibility Expires: 10/11/2011

Phone: XXXXXXXXX

Dear U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Applicant,

Thank you for your application for employment with CBP. Your application has been reviewed and, unfortunately, you have been

found ineligible for this position because you did not meet the minimum qualification requirements as outlined on the job opportunity

announcement.

The reason for your ineligibility for this position is provided below. This letter will serve as your final notification.

We encourage you to apply for future job openings with CBP that interest you. To learn more about these opportunities, please visit our

website at http://www.cbp.gov and click on 1C20careers1D20 at the top right of the page. These job opportunity announcements are also frequently

updated on the Office of Personnel Management1920s USAJOBS website at: http://jobsearch.usajobs.opm.gov/agency-search.asp.

We appreciate your interest in employment opportunities with CBP. If you have questions regarding this message, you may contact our

Customer Response Interactive Services (CRIS) at 317-715-3000 or 877-290-1810. Our e-mail address is

[email protected].

Series – PositionTitle: 0340 – Supervisory Program Managaer

Vacancy ID: 541968

Announcement Number: IHC-541968-DDC-MP

Date of Availability:

Full-time Employment: No

Part-time Employment:

Temporary Employment:

Travel Availability:

Geographic Availability:

Orlando, FL

Veteran Preference: 0 Points – NV (not adjudicated)

Spec Code: Spec Title: Grade: Rating:

002 Supervisory Program Manager 14 IRM

Rating Code: Rating Message:

IRM Ineligible Resume Missing (You did not submit the required resume as specified in the announcement.

PLEASE DO NOT RESPOND TO THIS EMAIL MESSAGE. IT IS AUTOMATICALLY GENERATED.

For additional information, please refer to the vacancy announcement for this position

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Susan Thomas

@Melissa, Unbelievable. The system must have had a huge hiccup the day you applied.

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