Hiring reform requires team effort, observers say

Federal hiring managers can take practical steps to boost communication with human resources staff and improve the pace and quality of hiring, according to observers.

In a guide for hiring managers released Friday, the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service outlined concrete actions federal agencies can take to implement the improvements outlined in President Obama's May memorandum on reforming the government's hiring process. Agencies must eliminate knowledge, skills and abilities essays and give hiring managers more responsibility by Nov. 1, according to the memo. The president also has directed agencies to fill jobs more quickly and to update candidates on the status of their application. In addition, managers must be more involved in workforce planning, recruiting and interviewing.

"First and foremost, hiring has to be a primary leadership responsibility," said Tim McManus, vice president for education and outreach at the Partnership. "You can't simply look at it as an HR function. These are some questions you ought to be asking of yourself as a hiring manager, and HR should be asking them as well."

Hiring managers need to determine where and how they can and should be involved in the job process, McManus said, noting the guide details five steps to improving collaboration between managers and HR personnel.

First, agencies must develop a workforce plan to understand hiring needs, mission priorities, and retirement and funding trends, the guide recommended. To improve communication, agencies should form a committee of managers and HR staff to design and roll out a hiring strategy. Using position descriptions and workforce plans, agencies should develop brief job announcements for posting on USAJobs and publicize via social media, college campus programs and former interns. Managers and HR personnel should work together to review and evaluate applications, communicate with candidates and complete the paperwork required once an offer is accepted. Finally, agencies need to focus on long-term retention through the onboarding process by communicating important information, developing performance standards and providing meaningful work, the guide stated.

Though all agencies are positioned to improve their hiring procedures, some are putting these steps into practice more effectively than others, according to McManus.

"It's across the board," he said. "In some cases, hiring managers and supervisors are intimately involved. In other agencies or offices, there's really a disconnect between HR staff and hiring managers."

"This isn't simply an exercise about speed," he added. "It's really about quality and speed -- if hiring reform is only focused on speed, the likelihood of always getting the best candidate in the door is still unlikely."

Patricia Niehaus, national president of the Federal Managers Association, said managers must get deeply involved in the hiring process from Day 1.

"Many managers are already facing the challenges of operating in understaffed departments with limited resources, and though this is a reason to become more involved in bringing the right talent onboard, taking on the additional responsibilities included in the president's reform will be demanding," said Niehaus. Maintaining communication between those involved in the hiring process will increase the likelihood agencies recruit the best candidates for jobs, she added.

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