Federal hiring is a lot easier than most us want to or actually do believe it to be. The existing law, and the regulations – which have been cited and quoted throughout this discussion, are just fine.
The root problem, as I see it, begin with our respective understandings of it and the terms used to describe it, and in how to apply them all properly through the federal ATS’ we use to recruit and manage the two-step process.
The two-step process in the federal competitive service is not dissimilar to the process of recruiting in the private sector.
Under the federal recruitment laws and regs, agencies are first required to identify the pool of eligible candidates from all the applicants. And then secondly, via the examination process, rate the candidates who are the better qualified for the role, and of those, rank them for selection.
Whether agencies use the “Rule of Three” or “Category Ranking” methods, it’s important to understand that the rating of eligible candidates may only take place during the examination process. It is the examination process that determines who is “qualified” for the role. It’s also important to understand that the examination process includes any proctored test scores and/or all the ratings giving to eligible candidates during any interviews. And once all results are in and the scores equitably calibrated, that pool of eligible candidates can be short-listed to a list of those who then become qualified for the role. It is then and only then, after all rating scores are in, that preferences (if a qualified candidate is eligible to receive preferences) are allocated and the candidates are then ranked for selection. This is all pretty easy to do, and agencies’ federal ATS systems need to track the process for any required audit.
In the Rule of Three method, anyone who meets the basic eligibility for the role gets a score of 70. Even if scoring zero is a “pass” in any subsequent proctored tests and interviews during the examination process, the most these “less qualified” or “unqualified” people may score is an 80 – and only if they are eligible for a 10 points preference under the code an regs for preferencing. Respectfully, federal recruiters need to manage how to ensure that the best qualified within the list of eligibles are identified and rated (via examination) and ranked for selection. Here recruiters need to find no more than three “qualified” for the role. It’s really not hard at all. But if they don’t, they should start over until they find three qualified applicants. (Practice makes perfect?)
And it’s even easier to do this within the Category Rating method. In it, agencies may set their own basic levels for eligibility, and set their own levels that earn an applicant a “qualified” status – following the examination process. So long as you can find three candidates who at least fall into one of the top two quality categories, agencies can set the level of acceptance of qualified as high as say, greater than 98%, and greater than 99% for the top two categories. And again, only then can the candidates who have a “preference eligible” status, and who are within these categories of qualified applicants, get the appropriate preferencing status, and ranked for selection.
Both the above federal recruitment methods of merit selection, if done properly, produce very qualified candidates for selection.
In my humble opinion, if an unqualified “preference-eligible” lands on the final cert, it is not due to any fault of the law or the regs. When this happens, the fault is with the recruiter and his or her understanding of the federal recruitment laws and regs. But at the same time, when a qualified “preference-eligible” does land on a cert while observing the laws and regs appropriately, they should be hired – and immediately.
I find federal recruiters to be “spooked” by who they think these “preference-eligibles” are, and what they think they might do if they don’t list them on a cert. But while putting aside the damage recruiters do to their agency by listing unqualified preference-eligibles onto a cert for hire, remember this:… giving preferences to candidates prior to being qualified via the examination process is equally challengeable in court by a qualified non-preference-eligible as it is for a preference eligible to challenge in court not being awarded the preferences that he or she may be eligible for when they have been qualified. And I submit, of the above two offences, the former occurs far more frequently which puts the agency at a greater legal risk.
Mike: thanks for initiating this discussion. When pursued seriously, the areas you identify warranting federal agency attention and improvement for the applicant experience in will undoubtedly help bring it in-line with the private sector. And I hope my comments above can help drive clarity in one of these big areas warranting attention.