Still much to do to improve hiring


About one year ago, President Obama ordered improvements to federal recruitment and hiring processes. So how much progress have agencies made?

First, some good news:

• Many agencies have eliminated those odious KSA (knowledge, skills and abilities) essay questions from job applications.

• Agencies now hire 42 percent of new employees within the 80-day time limit imposed by Obama.

• Many agencies are posting shorter and clearer job applications.

• A program for increasing the hiring of veterans was created.

Now, some bad news: Much room for improvement remains, say many current job-seekers.

Obama’s May 11, 2010, memo directed hiring managers to become more involved in hiring processes. It would benefit hiring managers, other senior managers and the Office of Personnel Management to address these deficiencies.

What’s more, a bad hire may ultimately cost the hiring agency hundreds of thousands of dollars — in addition to intangibles, like resulting damage to office morale. The better screening processes are, the more likely they are to produce successful hires.

A sample of remaining problems in hiring practices:

Pre-selection. This practice perpetuates the perception that it is useless to apply for federal jobs because hiring decisions are rigged.

Pre-selection could be addressed by:

• Building more promotion potential into jobs. This improvement would enable a manager to promote a worthy employee above his current promotion potential without falsely advertising his current job — as is commonly done solely to satisfy advertising requirements.

• Requiring hiring decisions to be reviewed by independent panels that have no stake in the outcomes of such decisions.

* Requiring OPM to review openings that are pulled before they are filled and then re-advertised, or that specify unnecessary requirements that could only be fulfilled by one or two people.

Inaccurate job descriptions: Many vacancy announcements contain job descriptions that don’t match job responsibilities. Hiring managers should be required to take the time to realistically define the requirements for openings instead of recycling used job descriptions.

Technical glitches: These include the corruption or disappearance of attachments required of applicants after these documents are electronically sent to hiring agencies.

A current job-seeker described to me another common glitch: “After spending three days meticulously rewriting my résumé for USAJobs and then submitting it for an opening, USAJobs threw hot grease in my face. No matter what I did, the system still did not show that I had submitted my résumé — even though I correctly attempted to submit it almost 200 times.”

What’s more, many applications contain contradictory directions about required attachments. For example, a single application may state, in one place, that applicants must submit documents, such as college transcripts, and then elsewhere state that no attachments are required.

Electronic moats that block access to substantive application questions: In many cases, simply to view application questions about credentials demanded by an opening — so that applicants can determine whether it is worthwhile for them to apply for the opening — applicants must answer pages and pages of irrelevant questions, such as their contact information, veterans preference and employment histories.

This could be addressed by requiring hiring managers to fill out applications themselves to eliminate unnecessary obstacles that may discourage qualified professionals from applying.

Unreasonable character limits: Many vacancy announcements require applicants to address dozens of qualifications. But they impose character limits on résumés that are too restrictive to possibly accommodate descriptions of all required credentials.

Faulty contact information: Many announcements exclude reference to a contact person who can answer questions, provide contact information for unreachable people, or provide information phone numbers that are connected to anonymous voice mail systems that are never answered by people and never lead to return calls.


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  1. Another issue that needs to be addressed is that term appointments are treated as though they never had any federal service when it comes to hiring. Status candidates are given special consideration; however, term employees can any apply to federal jobs for all US citizens. Here you have experienced, knowledgeable people wanting to continue federal service but are–for the most part–pushed off hiring certs because of vets. I do not begrudge vets their special consideration at all. I do, however, believe term appointed federal employees should have the same job opportunities as permanent employees. And yes, I am losing my job due to end of a term appointment of 4 years.

  2. Richard Burnett on

    The last item, those unreachable or unhelpful contacts are the largest problem–we were told by the VA to upgrade our system so that a certain form could be accessed-a form specific only to that location, with the usual features, such as too little space for the applicant to address the qualifications–indeed, especially with Schedule A appointments. It seems that each agency, even each department, has differing ideas as to what is needed on the resume, statement of disability and job readiness letters. There is also the problem of the agencies using very different methods to collect the resumes and other info–many agencies will tell the applicant to not use the OPM’s system. One item that surely vexes everyone is the password/user ID battle–even after you have entered a “correct” password/user ID, your next use of that password/ID is usually invalid.

  3. Interesting article. It seems that there is a lot of red tape involved with the process of hiring federal employees. I certainly agree with the idea of training hiring managers to be more proficient at hiring and involving them more during the process. This is after all their job. Also teaching them about great leadership principles should have a positive trickle down effect to the personnel they hire

  4. the primary problem that I have repeatedly seen is military supervisors being allowed to screen and hire applicants with little or no managerial/hiring experience. They have not been trained; they’ve simply been put into the supervisor position so they can reach their next rank and the civilian workforce suffers for it.


  6. How do you eliminate nepotism? I know someone who’s gotten 3 federal jobs without so much as an interview because he knew somebody at each location!!

  7. I have personally applied for numerous positions for which my experience, education and professional certifications either met or exceed the requirements of job announcment’s only to either be notified that I did not meet the “specialized requirements” or that someone else was selected and I was not even afforded an opportunity to interview even though I was both within the area of consideration and highly qualified. To me this indicates that the hiring official had most likely preselected someone who they already wanted to hire and advertised the position to check the block.

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