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State Government Hiring: Interview with HR at the State of Maryland

Interview with Scott Jay Regner, Human Resources Analyst Supervisor, Department of Budget and Management, Office Of Personnel Services, Recruitment and Examination Division, Technology Services Unit, State of Maryland.

Many thanks, Scott!

1. I know state governments have been hit hard by the recession. How has hiring been reduced? Have there been layoffs or furloughs?

Yes, hiring has been reduced over the last few years actually, even before the recession.

Maryland is a “balanced budget” state, and its employees are its largest cost, so each request for hire must be approved by budget officials first, which has slowed the rate of hiring for the last 6 years or so.

With the recession, we have had some periodic layoffs (perhaps a thousand or so, all told over the last couple years).

Last fiscal year and this one all state employees were also furloughed a certain number of days related to their salary (for a salary reduction essentially), plus a certain number of standardized furlough days next to holidays that everyone takes.

You can find out the specifics of this here.

2. What positions do you hire for the most?

The top six jobs we hired for in FY2010 were:

1-Correctional Officer

2-Family Investment Specialist I

3-Direct Care Trainee

4-Office Clerk Assistant

5-Correctional Officer Sergeant

6-Registered Nurse

3. When candidates apply for jobs, can they submit a regular resume and cover letter, or do they need to write application essays or fill out questionnaires? Do they need to fill out any special application forms?

Depends on the job being recruited what they are required to send in to apply. It can be everything you’ve mentioned and more.

4. Does your state use a civil service hiring process?

Yes, we have a merit system process encoded in law (basically Titles #6-12 of the State Personnel and Pensions Act), though it’s been decentralized mostly to the agencies and most recruitments are position specific (not class based), so its effect is diluted. EEO monitors every recruitment also.

If so, are there examinations? What kind of exams (written, in-basket exercises, physical exams)?

The vast majority of our ‘exams’ are either simply ratings of applicant’s resume/application; or training and experience evaluations, some of which require questionnaires.

We do most of the large scale written exams in our overseer department mainly (like the Correctional officer Test, which has several components, from online BioData/Personality testing to watching videos and taking multiple choice questions, etc)

There are some other multiple choice exams for classes where they recruit a lot, like revenue examiners, which are handled by the agency that has that unique job class.

And there’s the very occasional in-basket exam which is used primarily for police type classes–but extensive testing processes have become quite rare in our State, not like it was when I started back in 1980.

There is a physical exam for certain police positions also, like Natural Resources Police.

And we do have a number of “interview and hire” job classes also, where the test is the interview itself.

Are there any tips for candidates to prepare for the tests?

If it’s a written multiple choice or knowledge-based exam process, the general areas to be tested will be listed on the job announcement.

Other than that, none that I’m aware of (however, what the agencies are doing we don’t generally know, we just receive their final eligible list after the process.)

5. Are most staff unionized?

I don’t know how many belong to a union, I don’t have access to those figures. We have several unions that represent the state workforce and we have some bargaining agreements with them, but I’m not aware of what they are.

6. Are there any hiring preferences, i.e. for veterans?

Yes, definitely.

Brief explanation of our ‘scoring’ system—every applicant will receive a final score (if they minimally qualify) between 70-100 points–regardless of what type of ‘test’ they take, which can be everything from just giving them 100 points if they minimally qualify (our ‘streamline certification’ lists, where everyone gets a top score), to elaborate 5 part exams where the tested points have weights, need to be tallied, etc.

But everyone will wind up with 70-100 points after they’re ‘tested’…

Then for preference, we give veterans 10-12 extra points above their ‘test score’ (depending on whether they are disabled or not) when they provide a copy of their DD214.

(However, once they’re a state employee, this preference goes away.)

Currently there is also an outreach effort to recruit veterans from the Gulf, Iraq and Afghan wars. We also are acquiring stats on how many we hire each year to provide data for the Governor on this.

We also give a five point preference for any citizen of the State of Maryland who applies (which winds up giving 97% of everyone five extra points)

We also have a five point preference for Public Safety applicants only, if they live in certain counties where the unemployment rate is above the state average.

We also have a five point preference for the Department of Juvenile Service applicants who live in an election district that has a youth center—or an election district tangential to that district.

(I had the lovely task of attempting to program that for our HRIS system)

We also give each State employee a quarter point for every year of State service up to 20 years or five points (seniority points).

7. What makes an applicant stand out positively?

The main things are the most obvious and simple—Being a very knowledgeable candidate, following the exact directions on how to apply, providing all the detail we ask for and in the proper format (resume, application, etc), responding to interview letters, showing up on time, and appropriately and professionally attired for the interview, etc. Basic stuff.

8. Any other tips for candidates looking for jobs in state government in general?

Aside from what I said in # 7, paying attention to the current recruitments on our website, checking in at least once a week to see if there’s a job for you.

Here’s our job listing link.

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Interesting top 6 jobs – 1-Correctional Officer
2-Family Investment Specialist I
3-Direct Care Trainee
4-Office Clerk Assistant
5-Correctional Officer Sergeant
6-Registered Nurse

Often I forget the bulk of govt employees at certain levels are on the front-lines – border patrol agents, TSA screeners, cops, fire, teachers, nureses. And not the support groups I’m more familiar with – IT, HR, Comm, Acquistion, etc