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Hiring Reform: Do You Want Fast or Competent?

Twenty months after its implementation, Hiring Reform is showing up on “Watchdog Radar” by those looking to applaud its success or to point a finger at its failure. I’m just trying to figure out if Hiring Reform is another political initiative or if it truly will improve the performance of the Feds recruitment and hiring process.

Prefaced on the belief that “the Federal Government must recruit and hire highly qualified employees, and public service should be a career of choice for the most talented Americans”, Hiring Reform was supposed to increase the Federal manager’s involvement in the hiring process and, presumably, this was supposed to deliver “the most talented Americans” to the Federal workforce.

How are we doing? The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) adopted a 4-Point Metric System to evaluate Agency performance: I) Time to Hire, 2) Job Opportunity Announcements, 3) Applicant Satisfaction, and 4) Manager Involvement. Sounds good, right? But how do these criteria measure the Feds’ hiring performance in delivering “the most talented Americans” to the Federal workforce?

Wisely noting the Feds’ widespread hiring freezes and budget-downsizings, Tim McManus at the Partnership for Public Service raises the same point. “How are we engaging in actually trying to reach the best … If you need specific types of skills, you have to fish where the fish are.” Hiring restrictions mean that Feds “need to make sure they are hiring the best candidates.”

I continue to wonder why the speed at which the Feds fill jobs yields “the most talented Americans” to the Federal workforce. True, this measure drives HR Specialists to meet or exceed expected timeframes but how does this metric move the Hiring Manager to do the same?

I think we’re working with a faulty assumption here! Are Hiring Managers really anxious to put forth more of their own effort to fill vacancies when there are no consequences in place for their failure to engage? I further propose that even though applicants prefer the True/False & Multiple Choice Q&A process now used in the first stage of the recruitment process, most applicants are probably being hurt by this new system. Why? Because, applicants don’t know how to present themselves in resumes; they don’t know how to create resumes that adequately describe their experiences. Job seekers (especially Federal employees) are not universally skilled at choosing clear, unadulterated, and appropriate verbiage to describe themselves in a resume. Instead, applicants have learned from the changes that came about with Hiring Reform, to craft resumes using “key words” that will “ping” the Feds’ electronic screening tool.

FYI: Hiring Reform aside, HR Specialists still READ applicant resumes! Now, however, absent those ill-begotten KSA’s, resumes are the only thing available for the HR Specialist to use to verify the accuracy of that new-fangled electronic screen tool!

I’ve seen great applicants go by the wayside because someone else got in all the right words to trigger the electronic screening agent to find them “qualified” while truly qualified candidates have been over-shadowed or worse yet, eliminated from consideration, even though the techno-saavy applicants don’t have a lick of specialized experience to work in the field of the advertised vacancy. Ah yes, “specialized experience”! THAT has not gone by the wayside! And HR Specialists (not those computerized screening agents) are still obligated by legislative statute to insure that only QUALIFIED applicants are referred to the Hiring Manager.

So, if you want fast hiring, Hiring Reform is the way to go. If you want competent Federal employees, perhaps OPM should work on developing performance metrics that actually measure that piece of data! Perhaps as well, Hiring Reform should be reformed to insure that Federal employment decisions are based on more than just hiring speed and ease in applying.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Fascinating and important question, Doris…

I’ve got to believe you can have both…but you have to help candidates understand how to tweak their resume so that is makes it through the electronic filter. We’re trying to do so with our “Rock Your Resume” project.

Carol Davison

We want competency. No one wants substandard employees in a hurry. I said this from day one. Recruiting receives 300 applications for each job. To me, ksas prove that you produced results in a way that resumes can’t. But people whined about all that cutting and pasting they had to do (applications must have taken 30 minutes!) so ksas were eliminated. Now we only can use resumes to screen people. When we do hire, we keep people for three years so we are stuck with low performers if we do a poor job. It seems like we are shooting ourselves in the foot by eliminating ksas.

Kathy Sciannella

You always want competent. Hiring unqualified employees helps no one — HR, Hiring Authority, Agency. It is a very expensive mistake.

Applicants need to learn how to write effective resumes. There are plenty of resources out there — both paid and non paid on how to write a resume. As a HR Specialist who reads thousands of resumes, I am amazed and appalled on the low quality of many resumes. They don’t reflect the Job Opportunity Announcement, key items are left out — they don’t give me a true picture of the applicant.

I have been preaching this years — take the time to write your resume to reflect the job you want. Don’t put in extraneous information. Highlight accomplishments and use appropriate language for your profession.

I’d also like to address the keyword myth. Yes, some organizations pre-screen using keywords (the private sector does this) but the talent software which my agency uses, USA Staffing, does not have that component. We look at anything and everything you submit and read each and every line.

Lastly, finding a job is a job. It takes time, especially in our current enviornment of on-line application. You won’t have an opportunity to dazzle anyone if you don’t get an interview so please take the time to write an effective resume.

Natasha Stark

As a state government employee, this is interesting to me because I have seen so many instances of hiring managers and directors mouthing all the right words about hiring the most competent, the best talent, etc., etc. only to go behind the scenes and rubber stamp whomever the leadership wants to put into positions. Usually at hefty salaries and pay increases. Well written resumes, tailored to the job, reflecting all your best skills and accomplishments, that sell you to the hiring manager who has to screen them literally means ZERO if the commissioner wants to make a former Winn-Dixie stockboy with a high school diploma a $75,000/year director.

As a potential job candidate how do I get around that aspect? What can I do with my resume, my presentation, my job performance, my skill set, my education, my experience that will overcome the Tammany Hall effect? I’m clearly competent. Everyone will tell you I am the most competent employee in the Department. I’m so competent I can’t take Christmas vacation because I am the only one capable of dealing with issues that may arise during the holidays while everyone else is out enjoying their families.

What else must I do to convince a hiring manager I’m competent enough for one of those 6 figure no work patronage jobs (short of breaking the law cause really don’t look good in orange)?

Serious question.

David Kuehn

As a hiring manager, I agree that many of the changes hurt rather than help with bringing the best to federal government. Many programs require mid-career people with highly specialized expertise. It can take time to recruit and screen such candidates. People from academia, for example, are not used to having a one or two week window to prepare a submission for employment.

On the other hand, I see the value in streamlining the process for more entry level and routine positions, though they are few. Perhaps the most frustrating issue for people seeking employment with the federal government is the limited number of entry level, general positions. Compared to a generation ago, it is highly improbable to join the federal government straight from school at an entry level grade and rise to become an executive. Todays federal employees are more likely to gain experience elsewhere, spend time in federal government, and perhaps move in and out several more times in their career.