Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Ways for managers to get involved in hiring process

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President Obama’s recent executive order on federal hiring instructs managers to “become more involved in the hiring process.”

Some suggestions on how managers might do so:

End preselection. In competitive service agencies, a manager can’t simply promote a prized employee who has reached the General Schedule ceiling of his job. Instead, he must create a new, higher-level job and then — in the name of fairness — advertise and fill the new job by an open competition designed to select the most qualified applicant, whether or not he turns out to be the favored insider.

But sometimes, managers only consider their favored insiders for advertised openings. Obviously, such banned, but common, preselection squanders the efforts of applicants and human resources personnel alike.

How can managers end pre-selection and still hire qualified, favored insiders? By building sufficient promotion potential into jobs when they are created.

Another strategy: The Office of Personnel Management could create innovative mechanisms for promoting qualified, “topped out” staffers.

Certainly, ending pre-selection would be more efficient and fairer than the current system, which tacitly approves this unfair practice.

Give applicants a clue. Agencies and USAJobs have traditionally refrained from revealing how applications are screened and from providing examples of winning applications. Although I’ve tried to break the silence on screening procedures in my columns and in my book, the official silence prevents many qualified applicants from targeting their applications to their target openings in particular, and to the federal hiring system in general. After all, it’s hard to successfully work the system if you don’t know how the system works.

Managers could end the silence by posting on each announcement an explanation of how applications are screened, whether by managers or computers, and by posting annotated examples of winning applications on their websites.

Walk a mile in job-seekers’ shoes. Announcements for many federal jobs are dominated by recycled, outdated, inaccurate job descriptions and repetitive application questions.

How to fix these important documents? Require managers to personally write or edit original, accurate announcements and applications for their openings, instead of delegating this work to others who have no personal stakes in the outcome of selections.

Also, managers should be required to occasionally complete applications for openings on their staffs themselves — if only with quick, dummy answers.

This would help identify practical ways to simplify online applications that, in many ways, ironically serve as electronic moats around federal openings, rather than as the efficiency-boosting tools they are supposed to be.

For example, in most cases, applicants can’t even access the questions on federal applications to evaluate them without first registering on the online system — a time-consuming process that requires submission of pages of personal information, sometimes literally down to the maiden name of the applicant’s mother. Managers could remove such annoying, archaic obstacles by posting all application questions on job announcements, where they can be viewed without registration.

How can harried, time-pressed managers be encouraged to carry out these additional responsibilities? By giving them time to do so, and by evaluating their progress via performance standards covering hiring improvements.