They’re Tossing Out the Baby!

Employers use many methods to evaluate job applicants against job requirements! It’s not unusual for prospective employers to ask job applicants to give examples of work experiences that demonstrate their knowledge, skills & abilities for a new job! And, for the most part, all of them know it’s important to tie their questions to the job!

Truth be told, the questions asked during an interview in the private sector are no different than the KSA questions asked of applicants for Federal employment! (see The Importance of KSAs). Asking Federal job applicants to respond to KSAs is the Fed version of the “1st interview” with one exception; Fed applicants are asked to respond on paper during the application process.

Private sector employers screen out and significantly reduce their applicant pools before they decide to meet a few, very select applicants. The Feds don’t screen applicants that way. If an applicant is basically qualified according to OPM guidelines, they are qualified! Period! Applicants don’t have to travel to a first interview to prove that; and that’s a bonus since most 1st interviews don’t come with paid travel expenses.

Simply put, Fed job applicants have a better chance of receiving serious consideration because of KSAs! So if the goal is to make Fed jobs more available to John Q. Citizen, why would politicos want to get rid of KSAs? This decision could very well penalize job seekers by confining them to search for Fed jobs solely within their local commuting area. After all, how many of us can afford to travel (and how far are we willing to travel) for a 1st interview that lasts only 30 minutes when there’s less chance we’ll be given serious consideration for the job?

Good job analysis derives good KSAs; good KSAs help Fed employers sift through the hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of qualified job applicants and narrow down the applicant pool to those that have best shown the potential for job success. This process is the same in both the public and private sectors.

  • Is it fair to throw out KSAs just because there are Fed employees who don’t know how to conduct good job analyses? Or is it more appropriate to have OPM do their job better by providing better training, oversight, and recertification requirements to job analysts and staffing specialists?
  • Just because KSAs seem to be a burden to Fed applicants who have been asked merely to describe their experience in writing (which also allows applicants to demonstrate their writing skills), does it make sense to trade the use of KSAs for the more watered down, less useful multiple-choice response (which by the way is what everyone preferred in school because they had a better chance of getting the “right” answer)?

Tossing out KSAs is like tossing out the 1st face-to-face interview used by the private sector! Should those also be abandoned because private sector interviewers may be poorly skilled or untrained?

KSAs are an extremely useful evaluative tool! Just because the Law of Averages has allowed the Federal government to employ and enable unskilled people to conduct job analyses shouldn’t mean that politicos need to toss them out! Tossing out KSAs will only perpetuate the less-capable Fed workforce to continue for years more to come!

If Fed job applicants don’t want to participate in 1st interviews for Fed jobs vis-à-vis by responding to KSA questions, they just don’t have to. It’s as simple as that! Not responding to KSA questions, simply makes qualified Fed applicants less competitive with other qualified Fed applicants who do respond to KSA questions. But if it’s laziness, lack of writing skill, or an inability to hide one’s real experience that pushes Fed applicants into claiming that KSAs are cumbersome, I have to wonder why the Feds would want to employ these people in the first place!

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Henry Brown

A somewhat contrarian view:

let the Fed job applicant(s) have the 1st level interview with people who understand the job requirements, not interviewing with some software program that evaluates applicants word-smithing skills. That can be done probably adequate, at least to some degree, by using a software program to evaluate the resume.

If the 1st level interviewer, wants to inform those applicants whom they feel are qualified what the second level interview questions would be so be it. However suspect that most 2nd level interviewers would NOT think that is a terribly good idea.

A case could be made for either the 2nd level interview be the final one or in special cases a 3rd level interview could be conducted…

IMO this process is fairly close to the way that the private sector generally conducts hiring, and with certain exceptions works rather well

Doris Tirone

The private sectorleaves a LOT to be desired when it comes to delivering an unfettered process of recruitment & employment. KSAs offer everyone the opportunity to go beyond their resumes and put their best feet forward! The Feds 1st face-to-face meeting with a job applicant is actually the 2nd level interview used by the private sector. The major difference lies in the fact that Fed applicants come basically qualified to their 1st face-to-face with Fed employers while private sector applicants are “weeded out” at their 1st face-to-face with corporate America. The Feds get so many job applications and have so little time to turn around their job announcements (remember the 45-Day Hiring Initiative!) it would take a least 14 of those days doing nothing else but reviewing resumes and, even then, finding those who are basically qualified might be impossible. KSAs give the Fed employer the chance to locate every basically qualified applicant without tossing away the potentially good candidates!

Joe Flood

Lots of exclamation points here. Why should the feds use a cumbersome, time-consuming system that no other employers use? There’s a real push for doing away with antiquated solutions like this one. For example, I can renew my driver’s license online without having to go to a DMV office, wait in line and fill out paperwork. Government agencies are streamlining processes to make them easier for citizens and more efficient for government. Doing away with KSAs is part of this wonderful initiative to make government easier to use.

Citizens expect dealing with government to be as easy as dealing with Google or Amazon. We want things to be simple and to conduct all of our transactions online. The same holds true for finding a job in government. We want to submit resumes online without having to craft lengthy responses to poorly written KSAs to be sent to some bizarre, secretive process where our responses are judged by clueless bureaucrats in a distant city, using a complicated and ill-considered scoring system that is designed to shut out new talent.

Doris Tirone

Citizens expect and are entitled to deal easily with government agencies. Employment, however, is not a citizen-service! It’s the way in which government finds and employs competent people who are able to deliver services easily to the public. That requires a high level of skill, knowledge, and ability (if “competence” is what we’re using as our measuring stick). Submitting one’s resume online is already part of the Feds employment process… that’s easy, right? KSAs aren’t part of the application process. They’re part of the evaluation process used by the Feds. If one doesn’t want to respond to the KSA questions, they don’t have to. But at best, the qualified applicant will be at the bottom of the pile of those who do apply for the same job. New and refreshed talent are exactly what we’re looking to employ! It’s the has-beens, and the lazy applicants who are looking to fill up government’s employment slots again and we can’t keep perpetuating a looser group of government workers. Applilcants who respond to KSAs and do so well, have already shown that they are far better at communicating than those who argue against, and don’t like to respond to KSAs. The lame excuse that KSAs are cumbersome only serves to prove that there will always be people who think working for the government is a right and not a privelege that must be earned.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Joe – Amen, brother! 🙂

@Doris – Doesn’t this contradict your advice on “bikini resumes?” And I think what Henry proposes is quite sensible. Submit a resume for the first level and if the person is picked for the second level, then have them do KSAs. Joe is also right in that the entire KSA process should be more transparent and relevant to the job rather than trying to guess the right keyword combination to pass by the reviewer.

Doris Tirone

No Bill. There are no contradictions here. Resumes should be short, succinct, and cover the most important parts of one’s employment experience. But only submitting resumes at the initial stage of the process, and not responding to KSA questions with resume submission will only hinder Fed applicants in the long run because KSAs help reviewers to clarify the poorly crafted and all-too-misleading information most Fed applicants provide in their resumes.

Working for the Feds has allowed me to save so many applicants from the “not basically qualified” pile just because their KSAs filled in the gaps that I found in their resumes. I didn’t have the luxury of KSAs when I did this same review in the private sector. In fact, it’s fair to say that KSAs have improved the Fed job seeker’s chances of get to the level of “basically qualified”.

Did you know that KSAs are not evaluated until a later stage in the process, and usually by subject matter experts who only see the KSAs written by those found “basically qualified”? If there are not KSAs at the basic review stage, it is a certain fact that many job applicants will less frequently learn that they’ve been found “basically qualified”.

And for clarification sake, please understand that KSAs don’t involve using or looking for “key words”. KSAs are evaluated by human beings, not electronic readers. So, if you truly believe that you have “to guess the right keyword combination to pass by the reviewer”, then we agree on one point … the public does need to understand the Fed application process better because therein exists the problem!

It isn’t that KSAs are cumbersome. It’s the fact that John Q. Citizen thinks that Fed jobs and private sector employers are bound by the same set of rules. They aren’t. In the private sector, a reviewer can toss out any resume for just about any reason and not worry about overlooking veterans’ or people with disabilities, for example. In the private sector, the employee need only show that their pool of applicants and their workforce are representative of the local labor market. That isn’t the case in with the Feds. Ever heard of the Luevano Consent Decree or merit principles? These are two fundamental guiding principles that cannot be ignored by the Federal employer.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Well, from my experience, my chances at gaining a Federal job improved greatly after I followed Kathryn Troutman’s advice on how to analyze a job posting and used the keywords from it to structure my KSA answers. It seems to me that you could have two candidates who have equally outstanding resumes but one has a KSA that has more buzzwords than the other and thus they will have the advantage even though the experiences are the same. I don’t think there is the opposite case of someone having a poor resume but an outstanding KSA (unless they plagiarized the KSA). But for the sake of the argument, I will stipulate you are right about everything you say.

Then, if the KSAs are not evaluated until the second step, why not just request the KSAs from the folks who made it to the second step? This would seem an easier method in several ways:
1) Another contact event for the applicant that helps them know they have passed the first stage and thus encourages them to put some real effort into the KSAs.
2) You may have some folks who are no longer interested in the job and this saves their time and yours.

And not to be too nitpicky but the second paragraph seems to contradict the third paragraph. Then again it could be my ignorance of the Federal hiring process which should be more open and transparent.

Doris Tirone

More often than not, the person who reviews Fed applications is not the subject matter expert who evaluates the KSAs. The reviewer is usually someone in HR while the subject matter experts are senior graded specialists working in the field wherin the vacancy exists.

It looks like KSAs are going to take a back seat to first submitting resumes and that’s a shame … for two reasons:
1. The HR people will have access to those KSAs once they are no longer required by applicants at the first stage in the process. That means it’s likely that fewer applicants will be found “basically qualified” since their resumes will not portray their work experience in meaningful ways; and
2. It takes my Agency 30-45 days to make job offers right now. That number may not be a “norm” in DC (but then, what works the way it’s supposed to in DC) but for us out here in frontier America, it will certainly take us longer to make a job offer once additional levels of information provision are injected into the process.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Then, instead of a “bikini” resume, create a “one-piece” resume that fully covers the work experience in a meaningful way. I understand the 9-10 second rule of resume scanning but you can design a well-organized and attractive resume that will gain the second, longer look.

Doris Tirone

Good idea, Bill! But remember… the Feds have a lot of legislated rules about what must be and what cannot be in a resume submitted for Fed employment. It will be up to Congress and OPM to decide what the basic resume must look like. That isn’t left up to the individual Fed employer. We work with what we are given by law. If legislators don’t “get it” in terms of how important KSAs are to the application process, job seekers are the one’s who lose the most, not Fed employers.