USAJobs makeover is OPM's summer job this year

OPM plans to address problems with the federal job portal with an agile, continuous delivery approach this summer.

Wikimedia image: USAJobs' logo

The old adage “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” comes to mind – though many would call USAJobs neither perfect nor good.

“Horrible,” reads one of the one-star reviews on the USAJobs Facebook page. “[H]ard to contact ... won't respond to emails ... another horrible government agency.”

The federal employment portal has long vexed applicants, but the Office of Personnel Management plans to tackle the problems in an agile, iterative fashion this summer.

Continuous delivery, human-centered design

“There’s a giant civil service hiring mess,” Stephanie Wade, director of OPM’s Innovation Lab, said at ACT-IAC’s “Management of Change” conference earlier this month. “USAJobs is just laid on top of it.”

Wade has been on the conference circuit touting the “human-centered design” process OPM is using to create and roll out improvements to USAJobs – improvements that will be pushed out every 12 weeks this summer, she says, instead of in one massive update like 2011’s ill-received USAJobs 3.0.

“We don’t wait ‘til everything’s perfect,” Wade said at the May 21 DigitalGov Summit. “We just try to keep making things better, incrementally.”

Rapid prototyping, big data analytics and old-school visualization – arranging Post-It notes on a bulletin board to get a clear view of things – underpin the team’s agile approach.

As part of their process, the OPM team conducted focus groups and one-on-one interviews with thousands of people who have used USAJobs.

“Our approach is different in the sense that we actually start with understanding the applicants, the people who are using this tool the most, and understanding what their perspective is like, their emotional needs, and their challenges with the system are,” Wade said of her “ethnographic” approach. “Before they even get to the federal government, we want to understand who they are as people.”

Is anyone there?

Some of the most-often heard complaints are having to complete duplicate forms across different websites – an issue with individual agencies’ integration with USAJobs – as well as long wait times and technical problems.

But one of the biggest complaints, relayed often across various forms of media, is a lack of communication.

“I created my [USAJobs] account in 2009 but never received communication on whether I was even being considered [for particular jobs I applied for] and never received notice on whether I'd been passed over,” said Carolyn Bolton, a Millennial operations director at a non-profit who once hoped for a federal career.

Not hearing from a human being, she said, was disheartening.

“It discouraged me from applying for federal jobs through USAJobs and for any other federal jobs for that matter, as I couldn't afford to wait on an offer or the possibility of an offer that likely would never come,” she said.

Besides submission confirmation emails, Bolton said it was radio silence from the federal government for years.

“I did get an email in the last year saying my subscription was about to expire,” she said. “And I let it.”

Fixing the ‘mess’

Mark Reinhold, associate director of employment services and chief human capital officer at OPM, noted that federal hiring is restrained by regulations and the sheer number of people applying.

In just the past year, more than 187 million people conducted roughly 1 billion searches on USAJobs and submitted approximately 21 million applications, he said.

“Admittedly, the federal hiring process can be perceived as slow and complex,” Reinhold said, adding that OPM is working with individual agencies to improve the entire system. “This includes working with agencies to make sure they have the necessary tools— including information, resources, and support—to develop more effective applicant assessments and job opportunity announcements; coordinating with agencies to help them untie the knots that may be impeding their ability to recruit and hire the right talent; and providing HR professionals and hiring managers the tools and resources to support effective recruiting and hiring.”

And while Wade and her team work on human-centered improvement to the website, USAJobs’ Facebook page seeks to bridge the communication gap of which so many complain.

The page brings in plenty of complaints, “likes,” good reviews and poor reviews alike, with OPM responding to many of the comments and questions posted.

The mixed success of the page might best be encapsulated in a May 11 post from USAJobs that celebrated the page’s popularity – and served as yet another platform for complaints.

“As we cross the 150,000 ‘likes’ mark, we thank YOU for your participation in our growing social media community!” the post read. “Thank you for liking our page, posts, and comments, sharing our content, participating in our user research efforts, reaching out with your stories and advice to one another, bringing forth your suggestions, and allowing us to answer your questions.”

The top comment on that post, from one Cheryl Janca: “Now, if only I could find a job -- 2 months is too long for a veteran.”

NEXT STORY: HHS picks Fox for CTO

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