It’s Time to Improve the Federal Hiring Process


The government is fighting a losing battle for the war on talent. Less than half of the federal workforce (42%) expresses confidence in the government’s ability to recruit people with the “right skills.”[1] Worse, less than half of federal HR specialists (47%) are positive about their own HR colleagues’ abilities to recruit people with the right skills for their agencies. [1]

The Competitive Examining Hiring Authority (CEHA) is the primary federal hiring authority through which the government selects the nation’s best and brightest. The use of the CEHA has declined from being used more than all other hiring authorities combined to being used between 25-30% of the time.[2] The issues hiring managers have with the CEHA process is that it takes too long to deliver good candidates or that the quality of the candidates delivered is poor.

However, the lengthy time-to-hire and candidate quality issues are not the CEHA’s fault; they’re due to the absence of any real assessments or examinations of a candidate’s skills. There are critical recruitment stages – such as initial screening questions, résumé evaluation, and skills assessments – that are being skipped or lumped into a candidate’s self-assessment.

As a result, HR specialists find themselves under pressure and taking shortcuts in order to quickly move applicants through the recruitment process. These shortcuts have created a widespread, systemic problem that pollutes and slows down the hiring process. Adding to this problem is the reluctance of HR, agency leadership and line managers to be actively involved in the screening, evaluation, and examination processes required in the selection process in accordance with law and regulations. An even bigger issue is the government’s potential exposure to legal liabilities.

The time to improve the federal hiring process is now, but how?

Adam Davidson, VP & GM, Human Capital & Training Solutions Portfolio Cybermedia Technologies, Inc. (CTEC), proposes some interim actions that federal agencies must collectively pursue in the white paper, Attracting and Hiring the Best and Brightest: Bridging Recruitment Gaps within the Federal Government.

  1. Create a Chief Recruitment Officer position to help lead and drive the necessary changes to achieve excellence in recruitment.
  1. Optimize, reconfigure or replace the old, automated hiring technologies used for CEHA hiring to prevent skipping, and joining the recruitment screening, evaluations, and examining steps in CEHA hiring (which are deliberately separated for legal reasons).
  1. Develop commercial partnerships with two or three recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) firms to fill mission-critical vacancies with contractors and permanent (direct-hire) personnel.
  1. Train all existing HR specialists involved in staffing in the highly scientific area of recruitment.

The white paper also includes Plans of Action checklists for the President, Congress and The Office of Personnel Management (OPM). To succeed in winning the war for the best and brightest talent, agencies need the soldiers that are equipped with the right skills and motivation to win.

[1] Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey 2015

[2] Attracting and Hiring the Best and Brightest: Bridging Recruitment Gaps within the Federal Government

Jim Gill is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Mark Hammer

1) I think governments are absolutely winning the war ON talent, given how rarely we seem to see it rise to the top! (okay, a little snarky for a Monday, I’ll admit)

2) The “war for talent” was a McKinsey and Co idea that applies to the private sector, where employers compete with each other for competitive advantage, and any capable person *I* hire, is one that you *can’t* hire; ergo I “win”. In that context, rapid turnaround time in making offers, and making compelling offers, can make a difference in one’s competitive advantage. Unless something drastic has changed when I wasn’t looking, that’s not how we do things in government. If somehow we are poaching capable people from each other, that’s not a competitive advantage; that’s a sign of dysfunctionality.

3) For several years, my organization surveyed thousands of hiring managers and job candidates about a single staffing process they were involved in. We asked managers how long it took to staff, from making the formal request, to having a bum in the seat. We also asked them how satisfied they were with the quality of hire, and if their “first choice” had accepted or declined the offer. Finally, we asked candidates if they had rejected an offer, and how important various reasons were in rejecting it. This included “I had already accepted another offer”.
– The difference in satisfaction with hire between managers who got, and didn’t get, their “first choice” was a mere 2-3 % points. Well over 90% of all managers were happy with what they got. Given how little government staffing is external recruitment, and how much is simply moving people who have already jumped through hoops from one position to another, it’s not surprising that managers end up being content with their second choice.
– Less than 5% of candidates who received an offer rejected it, and about a third of those said that they rejected it because they had already accepted another offer. When we looked more closely, we did see that that tiny fraction of candidates reported the process took maybe a week longer. So, time played a role, but given that well over 98% of candidates were simply annoyed by delay but did not change their decision to accept the offer, you have to ask whether time *really* matters? And again, since the lion’s share of staffing involves folks who already have a steady job but want a different one, time is not going to make a big difference in their choice because the vast majority are not that desperate.

There are some things that matter every bit as much in the public sector as they do in the private sector, and there are some practices that warrant being transferred from the one to the other. I am of the view that staffing speed has few practical implications in the public sector other than how irritable it makes people. And if I had a nickel for every time I read a survey comment that included some complaint about things being too slow or taking too long, that would be roughly $2,000.00