When you look at an overview of the typical Federal hiring process1, it is easy to understand why some view the process to be overly complex and lengthy. However, each of the steps is in place to achieve three goals:
- to support the merit system principles, such as selecting on the basis of merit after fair and open competition;
- to avoid the commission of prohibited personnel practices; and
- to give selecting officials flexibilities and options.
In order to help ensure these goals are met—and that managers are satisfied with the hiring process (and outcomes)—hiring managers and HR should collaborate throughout each step of the hiring process.
The competitive examining process provides numerous opportunities for customization to fill a vacancy. These decisions must be made before issuing the vacancy announcement to avoid perceptions of “gaming the system” to provide an advantage to certain candidates. While HR has the responsibility for educating managers regarding their options and the implications of each choice, managers must understand that hiring a well-qualified employee requires an investment of their time and energy. Although working through the entire process may strike some hiring managers as “doing HR’s work for them,” managers should realize that this collaboration enables them to exercise their discretion throughout the hiring process, rather than have important decisions made for them.
Step 1: The selecting official should identify the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies that are needed to perform the work. These job requirements can be determined by reviewing current job analyses, classification standards, and past vacancy announcements, as well as by consulting with current job incumbents. Any new responsibilities of the position should also be considered. This information should be discussed with HR, who can assist in determining minimum qualifications and any selective placement factors as well as the number and criteria for the rating levels when category rating is used.
Step 2: The hiring manager should work with HR to develop an assessment strategy for the position2. This will be evaluated as well as methods for best assessing candidates on these criteria. One factor to consider in determining which competencies to evaluate is whether proficiency in such competencies is required to start the job or can be developed while on the job strategy should include determining which competencies The rigor, costs, time, and sequencing of the potential assessment methods also should be considered. A multiple hurdle assessment process is frequently used. Here, low-resource assessments (e.g., self-report questionnaires on an applicant’s training and experience3) typically come first and eliminate less-qualified applicants. Then, more labor-intensive procedures, such as the structured interview4, are applied only to the top candidates5.
Step 3: HR should advise the manager regarding the range of recruitment and hiring flexibilities that may be used. These may be widely accessible (e.g., veterans hiring authorities) or used only when meeting certain criteria (e.g., direct hire and recruitment incentives). HR and managers also should discuss administrative issues, such as how long to leave the vacancy announcement open. Many of these decisions will rely on past experience and success in attracting a highly qualified pool of applicants.
Designing the actual vacancy announcement with HR then can serve as a reality check to ensure that all of the essential decision points have been discussed since the vacancy announcement should include information such as a description of the duties, required qualifications, and the assessment process. Although this article focuses on a few of the most critical steps in the hiring process, there are many more decision points. Thus, we encourage managers to take advantage of the expertise of their HR and program support staff, to guide them through this journey to select the best prospective employees within the Federal merit systems.
1 U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Delegated Examining Unit Handbook, May 2007, p. 9, available at: http://www.opm. gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-authorities/competitive-hiring/ deo_handbook.pdf.
2 U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, Job Simulations: Trying out for a Federal Job, pp. 25-38, September 2009.
3 U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, Making the Right Connections: Targeting the Best Competencies for Training, February 2011.
4 U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, Evaluating Job Applicants: The Role of Training and Experience in Hiring, January 2014.
5 U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, The Federal Selection Interview: Unrealized Potential, February 2003.
Reprinted from Issues of Merit, a publication of the Office of Policy and Evaluation, U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board