Workforce

Can better data improve federal hiring?

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Ninety percent of competitive, public-facing federal job postings rely on a self-assessment of qualifications followed by a human resources review of applicants' detailed resume, according to a data dashboard released by the General Services Administration last week.

That approach isn't working – only 53% of these self-assessments result in a job offer. When you add in one other type of assessment, like a multiple choice exam, the percentage ending in a job offer being made still sits at 53%.

"We want to improve those numbers," said Amy Paris, a product manager and digital service expert at United States Digital Service (USDS) who helped collect the data for the new interactive report. "How do we do that? There's data that can help us figure out."

Last year, then President Donald Trump issued an executive order that instructed agencies to reform hiring standards for competitive positions. A section of the order called on agencies not to rely solely on self-evaluations. So far, the order is still in place.

Self-assessments are exactly what they sound like: asking applicants if they think they're qualified for the job they're applying for. The use of these self-evaluations and long resumes can sometimes result in qualified job-seekers being eliminated from the process and a less diverse final pool of new hires, Paris said.

After applicants make it to the "certificate" stage where they're deemed eligible for a certain type of competitive job, though, other factors can also lower the number of people that actually move into a job in the federal government, Paris said. Federal hiring often has lengthy "time-to-hire," which can result in applicants taking other job offers before they get to the end of the process.

There are practices that could help more qualified applicants be selected for jobs, though.

Hiring managers could open up the qualified people at the certificate stage to be hired at other agencies, Paris said, by asking applicants if they'd like to be available for positions in other agencies when they apply. That could increase the number that get job placements.

There are other kinds of hiring assessments that can improve the yield of new hires.

One is the use of subject matter expert qualification assessments, known as SME-QA. USDS has been piloting the program with Office of Personnel Management. SME-QA involves subject matter experts in the hiring process, where they help human resources personnel identify what proficiencies and competencies a given job listing involves. The SMEs also help review resumes, and help conduct written tests or interviews.

On the data dashboard, job postings that used SME-QA assessments resulted in a 100% selection rate, or job offer being made to an applicant. There have been several SME-QA pilots. Now, work is being done to scale the program, said Paris.

The other is USA Hire, a competency-based assessment. It's automated, so it doesn't have the same burden of effort as the SME-QA process. When combined with a self-assessment and additional assessment, it also had a 100% selection rate on the data dashboard.

For now, the plan is to update the data dashboard on a monthly basis, beginning in March. The dashboard allows users to parse the data by categories like agency and job type. The hope is that the transparency will help agencies find the best paths forward to improving hiring practices, Paris said.

"We can see there are some things that are really successful," Paris said. "We need to look at … which are the assessment paths that are providing us with the most success."

About the Author

Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.

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