Changes to the Federal Hiring Process Update – May 2010

JohnOConnorBlogging, Individual Services, Military Transition

The changes to the federal hiring process and the overhaul of the federal hiring process will be significant. This reform effort started approximately a year ago and it will culminate in critical changes for anyone who is a federal employee now, a person who is looking at federal employment and those people who want to look at federal employment and are transitioning from military service. The good news and the big deal is that the federal hiring process will look a lot more like the private sector hiring process. There will still core cover letters, resumes and questions to answer but it will not require the kinds of cumbersome essays and complications across the federal system. 

It will be easier to apply for a federal job. That’s the good news. But that also means that it will be easier for more people to sloppily apply too. So for federal jobseekers your writing skills and carefully articulating your value proposition will still be at a premium. There will be no short cuts for a quality application. I would not call this a dumbing down of the federal hiring process but a speeding up and a bureaucracy reduction. That’s good and it’s a big deal. But jobseekers don’t forget – you still have to clearly communicate and market yourself. 

Let’s get right to the heart of the matter. For so many years federal applicants needed to develop, write and deliver essays called KSAs which stands for Knowledge, Skills and Abilities. These essays drove a lot of the federal hiring process which also could include questions and federal resumes. For those of us who have done this professionally it takes many laborious hours to conceive, write and coach people through the process. Next, applicants would apply normally through USA Jobs and wait many days and even months to hear back from positions. The federal hiring process overall has been very slow and the applications just added to the red tape and bureaucratic feel of it all. To the current administration’s credit, they enlisted the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to drive clear changes. They did. 

Just last week in the latest major announcement since the hiring directive by President Obama, OPM Director John Berry and U.S. Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients unveiled the major overhaul alongside Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. The announcement was made in front of high-ranking officials from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs, as well as federal employees and private sector human resource experts. 

In the announcement, OPM Director John Berry said: 

Federal workers fill crucial roles that defend Americans from terrorism, infectious diseases, food-borne pathogens, forest fires and countless other threats. We can’t afford delays in filling these jobs, nor can we rely on a system that causes qualified candidates to give up in frustration. President Obama and I believe that we must cut the red tape clogging the Federal hiring process in order to bring aboard outstanding applicants quickly. President Obama has undertaken a series of reforms today that aren’t so much steps, as leaps forward. I understand the frustration of every applicant who previously has had to wade through the arcane federal hiring process.”

He went on to talk about the fact that those who want to serve our country through federal service need a better method and methodology to apply and that was the nature of the directive and changes. To reassure current federal employees, he suggested that the changes would still honor the core merit system principles. He was referring to and primarily reiterating that all veteran’s preferences would still give those serving our country an advantage. Overall, he said these reforms would save the American taxpayer money and free up scarce resources that will allow federal agencies to  better serve our nation.

Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients added: The best talent doesn’t wait around for 140 days  they find another job. We need to streamline our hiring process to make it more competitive and candidate-friendly. Across twenty years in the private sector, I’ve seen that the best performing organizations focus on people as their most important tool for improving performance. It is time for the federal government to start doing the same.

So the bottom line to the federal hiring and recruitment process reform is that it will:

– Dramatically reduce the time between when a job is announced and is filled.

– Eliminate essays as an initial application requirement. Essays may still be used later in the process. Under the previous system, if an individual applied for five separate federal jobs, he or she often needed to complete five separate sets of lengthy essays.

– Use shorter, plain-language job announcements.

– Accept resumes from applicants, instead of requiring them to submit complex applications through outdated systems.

– Allow hiring managers to choose from among a group of best qualified candidates, rather than limiting their choice to just three names, through expanded use of category ratings.

– Notify applicants in a timely manner (and at four points in the process) through eliminating the black hole that applicants often feel they enter when they get no response to their application.

Federal authorities are now working on:

– Submitting a hiring and recruitment plan for top talent to OPM by the end of this year.

– Having all Cabinet-level and Senior Administration Officials visiting universities or colleges on official business incorporate time to discuss career opportunities in the federal service with students.

The President also directed OPM to:

– Design a government-wide plan for recruiting and hiring qualified, diverse talent.

– Review the Federal Career Intern Program and, within 90 days, offer a recommendation to the President on its future and on providing effective pathways into the federal service for college students and graduates.

– Work with agencies to ensure that best practices are being developed and used throughout Government.

OPM is also launching a web site intended to guide federal agencies and hiring managers through this change


For complete details on hiring reform, including additional measures taken by President Obama and OPM, a Video News Release, and webcast of the entire press conference, visit the OPM web site.