OPM Has Big Plans to Overhaul Federal Hiring


Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer May 4, 2018

​Here's what the Trump administration wants to do to modernize federal hiring practices and processes:

  • Make hiring simpler and faster.
  • Provide more candidate feedback.
  • Ease internal transfers.
  • Adopt automation tools.   

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the federal government's human resources agency, laid out these workforce management plans in an update published on Performance.gov.

In addition to overhauling performance and engagement systems for federal workers, OPM is devoting attention to improving the federal hiring process and reskilling employees for emerging mission-critical roles.

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Keeping Candidates Informed

One of the simplest changes the government intends to make is to tell applicants where they are in the hiring process. Giving feedback to candidates, starting from when they apply for a role all the way through to when they receive a job offer or rejection letter, is a fundamental best practice in the private sector. The majority of applicants using the USAJOBS.gov portal indicate that after they are notified that their application has been received, they don't get any more updates, which is a major frustration, according to an applicant survey.

"Maintaining communication with applicants about where they stand in the hiring process helps provide transparency about the process and can contribute to a positive impression and reputation of the hiring organization," said Mark Reinhold, associate director of employee services at OPM. "Regular communication and notification to applicants are also key to maintaining the engagement and interest of applicants, particularly in cases where the hiring process involves multiple steps or when there is a risk of losing the applicant to a competing employment offer."

OPM operates the USAJOBS site, but individual agencies are primarily responsible for the hiring process once an application has been sent through the portal. OPM has directed hiring agencies to notify applicants:

  • When an application is received.
  • When qualifications have been assessed and candidates are referred for interviews.
  • When an offer has been made.

"Candidate dignity is one of the most tangible things that we can deliver in the interviewing process," said Jeanne Bliss, a Bellevue, Wash.-based consultant and thought leader dedicated to improving customer experience. "While we can't promise that they will be the right candidate for the job, we should promise that we will keep them apprised of what is happening and let them move on swiftly if the role is not right for them."

Filling Positions Faster

In 2010, OPM issued guidance meant to achieve an 80-day time-to-fill average, but average hiring duration has increased each year since 2012, to 106 days.

By the third quarter of this year, OPM plans to introduce automation to the hiring process by initiating "automated hiring advisers for managers."

Automated tools can help differentiate between applicants' qualifications, competencies and experience. A majority of agencies—17 out of 24 major departments—reported a drop in satisfaction with their ability to hire people with the right skills in 2017 compared to the previous year, according to the most-recent Federal Employee Viewpoint survey. Satisfaction among employees at the Department of Education, for example, fell 9 percent year-over-year.

New Tech Will Enable Reskilling and Redeployment

By the second quarter of 2019, OPM intends to identify ways to help workers whose jobs may have been eliminated or changed by automation to learn new critical skills and ease their movement to new roles.

New digital records would allow federal workers to "seamlessly" transfer among agencies, OPM said. By Sept. 2019, it expects to implement employee digital-record standards that will simplify the processing of transfers and onboarding of new hires. Currently, agencies "find it difficult to manage the end-to-end human capital data lifecycle due to duplicative, siloed human resources information technology systems that are unable to interface and exchange data," according to OPM.

Professionalizing Federal Talent Acquisition

OPM will also spend much of the next two years strengthening the competencies of its HR department, including those responsible for recruiting and hiring, so that they are "knowledgeable about all aspects of talent acquisition, from recruiting, to job posting, to developing effective assessment tools, and use of special hiring and compensation flexibilities."

Talent acquisition professionals must consistently improve and optimize their skills in order to stay competitive, said Jeremy Eskenazi, SHRM-SCP, managing principal at Riviera Advisors, a Long Beach, Calif.-based talent acquisition consulting and training company. "Most HR professionals who handle talent acquisition are great at the process of recruiting, such as posting jobs and making offers, but need to improve and optimize skills around being consultative, setting and managing expectations with multiple stakeholders, linking technology tools to relationships, and of course, project management."

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