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Gov2.0 Ideas for Improving the Federal Hiring Process

Spending a lot of time in the car today on a last minute road trip, I started thinking about the federal hiring process and the problems we seem to have with getting the right people hired for the right jobs in a reasonable amount of time. Additionally, we have a challenge of making it easier for people to apply and be considered for federal jobs.

This year, Sens.George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii introduced the 2009 Federal Hiring Process Improvement Act, which “would eliminate the knowledge, skills and abilities essays on federal job applications and emphasize résumés and cover letters. It also requires agencies to eliminate jargon from job postings, develop workforce plans and measure the success of hiring reforms. In addition, it asks the Office of Personnel Management to create a database of applicants who want to be considered for positions at multiple agencies.” (GovExec article March 31, 2009) Let’s hope this gets us moving in the right direction quickly.

Inspired by Gov2.0 and my own frustrations with hiring, I came up with some ideas that would simplify the process for both federal managers as well as for people who want to work for the government. Note – these are truly simple ideas that don’t get into addressing the complexities and rules associated with federal hiring but even in that context, we should be able to make this work. Simple is better, so much better.

Please add to these ideas and lets see if we can pass them on to the task force working on this problem.

1. Jobs (vacancies) should be tagged with key words to clearly identify key attributes: Examples:
a. field of the job (IT, Program Management, Acquisition, etc)
b. skills or specialized experience desired/required
c. years of experience
d. education
e. geography/location

2. Individuals searching for jobs could search on these keywords/tags and attach their resume directly to positions they are interested in.

3. Individuals would also post their resume with tags.

4. Individuals could post their resume and the system could automatically match through the tags associated with the resume and the job vacancies .

5. Federal hiring managers would have access to the system and could search resumes using the tag keywords they were interested in and also view the resumes that were posted to their specific vacancies (either by the individuals interested in the position or by the system).

6. Eliminate KSAs, multiple choice questions, etc. from the application process. Resumes are enough. If the hiring manager has access to the resumes posted in the system, we could quickly and easily determine candidates for interviews (like the private sector).

6. The system should have a “share” function so agencies can easily share their job openings on Facebook or Twitter.

7. By using tags, a word cloud function could provide an easy way to see the most popular jobs by occupation, location, etc.

8. OPM could also create a community platform (similar to GovLoop) for federal employees to allow us to create profiles and form communities based on occupation, location, agency, personal interests etc. This would give employees across agencies and across the world a way to establish relationships, share information, ask questions of each other to help solve work-related problems, perhaps form mentoring arrangements, etc.

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Heather Coleman

Wonderful ideas. I really like the idea of tagging of resumes for ease of search/matching to jobs. I have gotten confused when completing the entire KSA pieces through USAJobs once I got to the supplemental information section. Some of the items aren’t described and it isn’t always clear what is needed or how to find it to send it in the first place. The idea of having to fax supplemental information after you have spent an hour or more on an application process can be frustrating. It would be nice if a resume and cover letter were the key requirements to match you to a Federal position and identify potential candidates for an interview. I hope this process moves forward.

Peter G. Tuttle

I especially like idea # 6. This will remove most of the application triage from HR’s hands and get into the hands of the hiring manager. The current desire for lengthy written statements (KSA) or multiple choice tests wastes everybody’s time and places the initial evaluation with folks who may have little idea of what type of skilled canidates hiring managers are actually looking for. In fact, with several agency announcements that I have had past experience with (in reality) needed applicants to embellish their experience on multiple choice answers just to pass the HR hurdle. Nobody living today could have had all the experience asked for in those announcements. It was crazy. In my humble opinion, no job is worth compromizing your personal integrity for. The feds are going to perform their own background checks anyway – so make it simple. If you find out someone lied or embellished their materials – fire them.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Nice post, Mary! I love the practical ideas. Do you have a direct line to John Barry? 🙂

Two things:

1) The Graduate School is hosting a series of 3-hour workshops designed to help people to navigate the Federal hiring process. You can learn more at GraduateSchool.edu/jobs

2) Check out this presentation delivered at the Federal HR Workforce Policy Forum – especially slide 26, which is a direct response to the key aspects of the legislation that’s been introduced by Akaka and Voinovich. I should probably blog about those ideas, which would essentially be a Part 2 to your post here. Also, slides 27-39 expand on the recruitment and retention ideas that I shared at the acquisition event this past Wednesday.

If Mr. Barry forms a committee on social media and Federal hiring, we should throw our hands in the air (and wave like ’em we just don’t care!) to see if we can get these ideas to the table.


Love the thread.

Some ideas on my end:

-Have online chats, YouTube videos to help explain how the process works. It seems like a black hole to most so having any sort of presence explaining how it works relieves a lot of stress. Especially critical for programs such as PMF, hired as FBI agent, and other key positions that are a long process and not clear.

– Have a platform for the community of job applicants to provide feedback and describe their experience. Provide a place where the community can talk about how they experience the process to get direct feedback. This also can provides some insight on agencies that aren’t performing. And highlighting great performers.

-Provide a mechanism of internal opportunities such as details, special groups, hiring for individuals already in the system. A collaboration zone so agencies can tap talent that is already in the system but looking for new opportunities.

-Leverage communities especially the special hires. There are a ton of special hiring groups such as PMF, federal scholarship winners, Cyber Corp, Labor MBA Fellows, GAO PDP, etc. OPM should use social media to form or aid these existing communities so that agencies can tap into this talent when needed for special projects and leadership opportunities.

Jaime Gracia

Getting rid of KSAs has always been a target area for streamlining the hiring process, and I know I would like to see them go away. I remember scratching my head for hours trying to fill out KSAs. Streamlining the federal hiring process to create a system that utilizes commercial best practices is needed to help compete for talent, and these steps will go a long way to that end. I like the idea of sharing opportunities using social media. I have an op-ed that is coming out on FCW this week on this very topic

Dennis McDonald

The current Federal hiring system minimizes the possibility that the applicant communicates directly and substantively with the person responsible for the position being filled.

Over time, those responsible for administering the hiring process have developed their own language, processes, and regulations. Often these take on a life of their own and operate independently of the positions being filled. This generates massive costs, uncertainties, misunderstandings, and delays.

Another way to describe this is that the system is designed to create a “customized mini-bureaucracy” for each announced position under the guise of promoting fairness and transparency. The process actually promotes the value of “gaming the systems” and emphasizes jobseeking skills and stamina over qualifications.

My guess is that there will be great resistance to streamlining the system. That would require acknowledgment that there are many hours and dollars currently being devoted to ineffective or counterproductive work.

Diana Louise Morgan

Mary, Could not agree with you more on streamlining the application process and simplfying it just a bit if not more. What about the various forms an individual has to fill out and attach? Maybe this could be flagged or found in a central area along with the resume. Just a thought…

Peter G. Tuttle

Dennis – great comments. I think you are right about experiencing great resistance. It will be tough to achieve real change, other than nibbling around the edges of the hiring process, due to the powerful and intrenched bureaucracy that currently manages the process. Strong, enlightened and non-risk adverse leadership will be needed to achieve true change. There are jobs at stake as well since changing the hiring process will mean new directions for those folks involved in it. This is a great dialog. I hope some HR professionals take notice of these exchanges and provide their perspective.

Scott Horvath

I agree with streamlining the process as well. However, there are currently automated processes (in most organizations that I know) which rely upon the KSA’s and “essay” questions, as well as resume and personal information (Veteran Status, Gov’t status, etc) in order to automatically determine a list of potential applications matches to just a few.

My assumption is that automated systems were put in place b/c at some point in the past there were complaints with people not being hired fairly by Federal managers. So putting the automated system in place removed the ability for the Federal Government to discriminate or weigh one person higher than another based on purely subjective reasons. While I see the logic in creating such a system in order for the hiring process to remain fair and impartial, I believe it has done a disservice to the Government as highly-qualified people are often turned away by an automated process as a result of their lack of job experience, writing/editorial experience, or their personal life status compared to other people. Simply because someone can’t write with excellent grammar or address an essay question directly doesn’t mean they’re not qualified to be an IT professional in the government. Heck, when was the last time you met an IT person with great writing and editorial skills?

But if the government wants to attract top talent then the hiring process needs to a better mixture of automated and selective processes. Additionally, as eluded to by others, the actual job descriptions need to be written in more common terms and less governmentease. How can we expect to attract top talent if the top talent needs a key to decipher the job description? We also need to make job descriptions more appealing. Why can’t we put together well done videos (30 seconds) of someone talking about their experience with that job and show the great work they’ve done? Something compelling can be made.

Although social media can improve the hiring process, I just wonder what will be outcome down the line if an agency directly speaks to a potential applicant through social media? Will people throw the red flag and say that the Government is not being impartial?

Some interesting questions to think about and I’m sure many more blog posts.

Dennis McDonald

One source of my comments was an experience I had recently helping a friend through the Federal application process for a set of related positions. Setting aside for a moment the cumbersome user interface of the online application process, I came away from the situation absolutely convinced that there was a very low probability that whoever designed the application process and the qualification questions actually understood the jobs being described.

At some time during the process, I concluded, the manager of the application process had let his or her perspective on the process take over and, possibly based on a lack of communication with the hiring authority, what ended up being described and asked for actually started to diverge from the actual job.

I can’t say for certain that I know this happened, but having been involved in many hiring decisions myself, I feel justified in concluding that, whatever was being asked for in the application, was a far cry from the real position.

I’m completely in agreement that special consideration needs to be taken when we are dealing with hunbdreds if not thousands of applicants. But I’m also certain that the process I saw firsthand probably generated hundreds, if not thpusands of hours of wasted time both on the Government’s side and on the side of the applicants.