I reported in May 2002 the OMB CTO had human capital on his agenda. He's making good on his Recruiting Portal promise.
Let's deconstruct it. [links are mine]
The Bush administration is overhauling the government's online recruiting and hiring process, promising federal managers they will get more job candidates to choose from and faster service in filling job vacancies beginning next year.
More, faster, cheaper. No mention of better. I guess when you're starving...
The plan is to create by Jan. 1 a central online marketplace for federal jobs and job candidates. Candidates will be able to easily search through all federal vacancies while federal hiring managers will be able to search a vast database of job candidates' resumes.
Monster, eat my dust. Job ad density will be the biggest in the world. A huge vortex sucking in precious job seeker time and attention.
To make this happen, however, agencies no longer will be able to post their own job announcements and accept resumes on their Web sites. After Jan. 1, that will be done only on the government's central jobs site, USAJOBS, managed by the Office of Personnel Management.
Absolute centralization? Has its problems:
- A single point of failure. Hope they commit to high levels of uptime, availability, security, backup, etc.
- Treats all job seekers and recruiters the same, although they're not.
- Chokes off innovation, starving agency HR budgets.
- Restricts competition for talent among agencies to what they can squeeze into OPM formats.
Federation (central and decentralized services working together) overcomes these limits.
OPM is overseeing the project, called Recruitment One-Stop, which is driven largely by the need to hire hundreds of thousands of employees to replace those retiring in the next 10 years. The recent economic slump has delayed many of those retirements temporarily and made the private sector a less attractive place to work, so agencies have a window of opportunity to improve how they attract and hire employees and recruit the next generation of workers.
They sure understand the problem. They appreciate it too, better than the private sector.
Under the new system, online job announcements will be posted only on the USAJOBS site, located at www.usajobs.opm.gov. Further, all the resumes applicants submit will be stored in the USAJOBS central database.
Centralization may cut costs and increase consistency of background checks, security clearances, and the like.
Agencies already post their vacancies on USAJOBS. But visitors to that site soon discover that they often have to link to a separate Web site maintained by the hiring agency to complete their applications, or print out applications to be mailed or faxed to the hiring agency.
Job candidates will be able to create and submit resumes for federal jobs only on the USAJOBS site and agencies will no longer be able to require candidates to create separate resumes on their own job sites.
Why not let job seekers apply where they want? You can always move the data.
Simpler Job Announcements
Another change concerns the job postings themselves. Currently, agencies do not follow common guidelines when writing job postings, so they vary widely.
Do agency needs vary too?
For instance, a comparison of recent openings for biologists at two agencies found one four-page announcement and one 10-page announcement posted on USAJOBS. The 10-page announcement, for a job at the National Institutes of Health, was filled with detailed legal notices and requirements for applying under various special hiring authorities. The four-page announcement, for a job at the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, appeared to meet all the legal requirements while providing more useful information than the NIH document on data that must be included in the application, and where the candidate could go for help.
Hmmm. Smells like competition: the ones with less bureaucracy reduce candidate transaction costs, and get more of the great candidates.
Under OPM's new procedures, agencies will follow standard, concise formats for advertising jobs. Legal requirements and other detailed information will be available through hyperlinks in the standard announcement, and the announcements will be written in plain language.
That would actually be refreshing. OK, so you level the playing field among Federal employers. Everyone has legal-boilerplate-free posts.
Shortening and simplifying announcements for vacant federal jobs is long overdue, many experts say.
"If you have these lengthy, boring, bureaucratic ads that no one responds to — only federal employees — then the longer it's going to take you to close the [skills] gap," said Marta Perez, associate director of OPM for human-capital leadership and merit system accountability.
True. Kinda like a "Job Form Simplification Act". Maybe. Are they really going to ask fewer questions up front? Defer details until a job seeker is more committed to a given job or department?
Federal chief human capital officers, who advise agency heads on personnel management issues, should make clear job announcements one of their priorities, said David Chu, undersecretary of personnel and readiness and chief human capital officer at the Defense Department.
"If we can't describe what we're asking the young person to do and we put the hurdles in his or her way . . . we should not be surprised that we don't do very well," Chu said. "The first step is how can we get past the legal barriers . . . so that these job announcements are something that excites a young person, rather than something that he or she has to plod through."
Oooh! That sounds like "Candidate As Customer"! Bravo, Mr. Chu!
According to an April report by the Merit Systems Protection Board, "Help Wanted: A Review of Federal Vacancy Announcements," agencies do a poor job of selling themselves to potential employees.
At least half of the announcements MSPB reviewed in a random sample were poorly written and made little or no attempt to sell the applicant on the job. Announcements too often were difficult to understand or use threatening or insulting language, which is likely to drive away applicants, MSPB found.
Not limited to government postings, unfortunately.
One advertisement for a General Schedule-2 laborer position threatened the applicant with jail time and fines if any false statements were made.
This is true. Scary, but true. Sensible people think twice before applying.
The best response may be to remove those risks, don't make it a crime to misstate your qualifications. Would this require new laws? Or can this be accomplished by executive order?
The second best strategy: be upfront about the rules, risks, and consequences. Explain them in terms applicants can appreciate before they ever contribute information to the system. Bring it up on occasion as they continue to share their biodata and experience.
But it reads like they're taking the low road, burying the disclaimer in standard boilerplate that nobody will read. Not citizen centered thinking.
"The attitude for a long time has been, ‘Well, we've got enough applicants. Why do we have to be nice to them?'" said Steve Nelson, director of the Merit Systems Protection Board's Office of Policy and Evaluation.
Although OPM will post job announcements online after Jan. 1, it will not be in the role of approving or vetting job announcements.
Maybe they can provide constructive criticism?
"The technology will make it easier to write an attractive announcement, but we will not be able to stop it if someone sneaks in bureaucratic language," said Norm Enger, e-government program director at the Office of Personnel Management.
That's good. You should own your own words.
OPM will also use education and training to persuade agencies to write job announcements that are easy to understand, Enger said.
Faster Resume Screening
A new resume database will also speed the recruitment process for agencies by screening out applicants who do not meet the basic qualifications for a position. For instance, a person applying for a position as a General Schedule-7 Border Patrol agent would be automatically disqualified if he or she answered no to any of the following questions: Are you a U.S. citizen? Are you younger than 37 years of age? Have you carried firearms in the course of duty?
Agencies will never see applicants who are automatically disqualified. Those applicants will instead be notified automatically through the USAJOBS Web site that they do not meet the basic criteria.
Wow. Hard knock-out criteria. Hope they're used well. Wouldn't it be rough if you had the perfect candidate except she is 36 now, but was going to be 37 by the time the position opened? And you never saw their paperwork?
Even though OPM is streamlining and consolidating the basic vacancy announcement, agencies still will be able to require applicants to submit additional information or forms specific to their individual requirements.
We have ways of making you talk.
More Choice for Managers
One of the revamped system's biggest benefits for hiring managers will be greater choice of job candidates. All job applicants will build and maintain resumes on a single Web site. This allows hiring managers to search the USAJOBS database for candidates who may be qualified for a particular opening — even if they did not apply for the job. The search engine will allow hiring managers to search by various categories, such as job title and place of residence, or they can do full-text searches of resumes, Enger said.
So if I work for one agency, and apply to others, my boss can see my inquiries. It also means that you are showing my paperwork to people I never authorized.
Not clear if job seekers can have more than one profile in the system, the better to market themselves.
Also not suggested is the ability to inquire or apply pseudonymously for part of the process.
"I see us using that database quite a bit when we are looking for people with sophisticated medical training," said Edward Sanchez, chief of human resource management services at the Veterans Affairs' Eastern Colorado health care system.
"We compete with more than 15 hospitals to hire medical specialists in the Denver area, so having a way to find specialists that have already shown an interest in working for the federal government would give us an advantage."
Convenient for employers, and for people who are used to having their CVs on public display.
Overwhelmed by Resumes
But streamlining the job-application process could have a downside. Some federal hiring experts say the shortened online application form will make it easier for people to apply for positions they are not qualified for.
Blame the candidate for improper guidance?
The Interior Department's National Wildlife Refuge System often receives hundreds of applications for entry-level positions even now, said Bill Hartwig, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System. "Because entry-level positions don't have that many qualifications, it is hard to narrow down who you should interview," Hartwig said. "We are going to need some kind of help from OPM on figuring out how to select from so many qualified candidates."
Will OPM really be able to convey the sense of purpose, the commitment to preservation, shared by the cadre at the NWRS?
On the other hand, increasing the number of applicants coming through the door likely will improve the overall quality of candidates from which the agency can choose.
Numbers may rise, if the OPM site is attractive, but not average quality. Average quality will stay the same (assuming you're just getting more) or average quality will fall with volume (as the most competitive opt-out of a cattle call).
"If you make it easier to apply, the fact that you get more candidates generally will drive up the caliber of the candidate," said MSPB's Nelson. "If you get to pick from 50 or 500 people, you would think the people at the top of the list of 500 will be better than [those at the top of] the list of 50."
In this example, if you're hiring 5 people, you just slashed the chances of an applicant getting a job from 10% to 1%. Will this drive the quality of informed applicants up? Or down? Will this encourage careful choice of where to post? Or application spam?
In addition to overhauling how agencies recruit candidates, the administration has given managers a number of new hiring flexibilities that should help them bring qualified applicants on board faster than ever. These flexibilities include direct hiring authority and streamlined evaluation procedures.
Sounds good. Are the civil service protections in place to avoid things like corruption, discrimination, nepotism, etc.?
Also, along with rapid hiring, rapid firing (a 30-day bozo filter) may help correct mistakes.
Taken together, the recruitment and hiring reforms should improve an employment process criticized by many as unnecessarily bureaucratic, painfully slow and discouraging to individuals looking for their first government jobs.
"Oftentimes, what keeps people from applying for government jobs is our bureaucratic expectations and our bureaucratic processes that we've built" in front of job applicants, said Al Ressler, director of the National Academy of Public Administration's Center for Human Resources Management in Washington.
Bravo to OPM for paying attention to candidate experience. Can't you feel the goodwill and great intentions? Will OPM get a serious budget for user experience analysis? For R&D?
Privacy, Please. Since any manager can mine the resume bank, reasonable people will have some concerns. You don't want to be perceived as an intrusive Total Career Information Awareness (see TIA) carnivore more than a We're Competing With HotJobs system. OPM can put candidate "ownership" and control back into the system. Anonymize profiles until candidates approve the viewer. Enable block lists, so your boss and ex-boyfriend don't know about your career interests. Turn on features for expiration (if you haven't touched or updated your profile in 24 months, we're going to delete it) and withdrawal (as requested, we've deleted your profile completely). Notify job seekers who is looking at their profile. You're making it easier to apply. Make sure if feels safe, secure, and private too.
Commodity Workplaces? The Army, for one, is a very sophisticated
recruiting machine. They studied, refined, experimented, and honed their tools
and methods. But the OPM-only rule bars other organizations from
inventing and exploiting best online practices. Wouldn't the government be
better served with a compelling medical research career site sponsored by the
National Institute of Health? Isn't there more to working in forestry than can
be fit into application forms? Don't you want relationships with potential
workers through their whole careers, not just when they actively shop for work?
I urge each human capital chief to reaffirm their investment in local career sites. Leave the formal plumbing to OPM but take charge of the career conversation. Brand yourselves through your career sites, weblogs, chat rooms and mailing lists. Tell stories and share ideas that demonstrate your institutional values. OPM can give you a shallow mechanical filter. Your career site can change attitudes and behavior so the right people beat a path to your door.
Arrghh, Pirates of the Private Sector. It's nearly a zero sum labor market. With the Recruitment One-Stop initiative, government is set to shanghai talent from the private sector. While this isn't new, it will put more pressure than ever on business and other government agencies to fill vital positions. This may have political effects: congressmen asking why plants in their district are moving offshore and labor unions reinvigorated, for example.
Open up the jobs database. Follow the leads of Amazon, eBay, and Google. Open your engine to the public. Let programmers invent new ways of using your jobs database. You'll be delighted with the creative and useful things the Internet will produce.