OPM to modify senior executive selection process

The Office of Personnel Management is adjusting the process federal agencies use to select members for the Senior Executive Service, following a pilot project that won high praise from applicants.

In a Jan. 12 memorandum to agency human resources heads, acting Director Michael Hager said OPM is developing an improved version of a new selection process tried out at eight agencies from June 1, 2008, to Nov. 15, 2008.

During the test run, agencies advertised 61 vacancies by asking applicants to submit a record of accomplishments or a résumé in lieu of narratives focused around five broad executive core qualifications. Applicants had characterized the narratives as too cumbersome and some had hired experts to help write them.

Agencies advertised 34 of the SES vacancies using the accomplishment record approach, in which job-seekers were asked to submit a more streamlined application that targets selected competencies of the five core qualifications. The remaining 27 vacancies were announced using the résumé-based approach, in which applicants were asked to submit only a standard résumé. Both methods drew heavily on structured interviews of well-qualified candidates.

"These interviews to a large degree took the place of the lengthy [executive core qualifications] narrative statements typically required of candidates under the traditional SES selection process," Hager said. "In this way, the pilot attempted to make the hiring process more inviting to applicants by shifting some of the burden from them to agency staff."

The project also tested the use of virtual qualification review boards, OPM-administered independent panels of senior executives that assess the qualifications of Senior Executive Service candidates. Using an automated system, board members were able to review candidates without actually convening at OPM. "This method seems to hold considerable promise as a way to streamline this critical OPM function without diminishing the quality of the decisions rendered," Hager said.

Results from the pilot project indicate that it was successful in shifting the burden from the applicant to human resources staff, he said. The pilot produced a 50 percent increase in applicants compared to the traditional method, with the résumé-based approach attracting more than twice as many non-federal applicants.

Still, HR staffers said they found the new approaches somewhat unwieldly, noting that the streamlined applications and structured interviews required extra work. But for agencies with the most hires under the pilot project, there were fewer objections as staff became more practiced in the processes. Those agencies included the Homeland Security Department.

Hager said OPM will improve the pilot methods, taking into account some of the concerns of staff and applicants, and will provide training within the next few months to agencies that want to use the new approaches. After completing the training, he said, agencies will be able to choose between the new processes and the traditional method.

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