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Federal Hiring Reform

By Diane Hudson Burns

The federal hiring process appears to be broken, thus the reason for the President's Hiring Reform Initiative. Professional Engineers are receiving résumés from 'Financial Engineers' (accountants and budgets analysts); HR and hiring managers are receiving hundreds of résumés, (too many to properly review); and the federal résumé, in many cases, is a text file résumé that is hard on the eyes (the system produces a report type résumé that is in 10 point, courier font, with no breaks - each résumé could be several pages when printed from the system). The average federal résumé written in a Word document is three to five pages (up to 20,000 characters for the résumé builders), and is void of enhancements (bold, underline, italics, bullets).

One federal hiring manager told me to inform federal applicants to highlight in CAPITAL LETTERS important information like required certifications or licenses. "Do not embed that information into a job description on the résumé. Rather, highlight it, by separating it out, to make sure I see it."

Reform in Hiring
A Presidential Memorandum to improve the federal recruitment and hiring process was issued. It states: "To deliver the quality services and results the American people expect and deserve, the Federal Government must recruit and hire highly qualified employees, and public service should be a career of choice for the most talented Americans. Yet the complexity and inefficiency of today's Federal hiring process deters many highly qualified individuals from seeking and obtaining jobs in the Federal Government."

The purpose of the overhaul of recruitment and hiring for civil servants is to create a "commonsense hiring process." The directive calls for adopting hiring procedures that: (1) eliminate any requirement that applicants respond to essay-style questions when submitting their initial application materials for any Federal job; and (2) allow individuals to apply for Federal employment by submitting résumés and cover letters or completing simple, plain language applications, and assess applicants using valid, reliable tools.

These requirements sound reasonable, as the average American employment candidate searches for employment with a two-page résumé.

Knowledge, Skills, Abilities (KSAs) and Self Assessment Questions
KSAs have been a way of life for most federal applications since the days of the original application (SF-171 / government Standard Form-171). This document is now obsolete and it was replaced by the Optional Form-612 in the early 1990s. The information required on a federal application is the same, whether a candidate prepares a federally formatted résumé or posts a résumé on USAJOBS.GOV or another federal résumé builder. KSAs are essays addressing specific questions oriented to the job. For example, a management analyst might be required to write an essay responding to: Describe your ability to manage very large projects ($5 million and 100 personnel and up); provide one or two specific examples.

These essays will be eliminated in the initial application materials (which leaves the reader to wonder if essays will be required subsequently in the application process).

We are already seeing vacancy announcement that state: "Separate KSA narratives will not be accepted for this position. However, please address the KSAs in the content of the résumé." Therefore, it is suggested to write tight, mini-CCAR (Context, Challenge, Actions, and Results) stories in the accomplishments section of the résumés.

We are also seeing some agencies, which are stating: "KSA essays are highly encouraged;" we are writing the essays for these announcements.

Résumé and Cover Letter
The federal résumé format is already pretty simple. It is just longer than industry; requires many profile questions (military service, eligibilities, and so forth - it can be quite lengthy); and it needs to fully describe the candidate's minimum qualifications based on OPM's (Office of Personnel Management / requirements. As one hiring manager told me, "We do not assume your duties or accomplishments. You need to tell us what you did."

Currently, a federal job seeker can submit a résumé into USAJOBS.GOV, or one of the other agency-specific online résumé builders (per the vacancy announcement). If their résumé is in usajobs, it can be made searchable; or it can be uploaded from a Word document (that version is not searchable - and it is not always the desired format, per the vacancy announcement requirements).

Content is Key
Despite the changes to help make the hiring process easier in the federal government, the content created is the key to any résumé - federal or industry. The KSA essays developed for federal are the talking points and leadership initiatives used for industry. Employment candidates need to develop strong value statements, organize a list of major accomplishments with results, and leverage that information on résumés and in interviews.