New online assessment for government job applicants

The Office of Personnel Management has a new assessment tool to replace the complex knowledge, skills and abilities statements traditionally completed by government job applicants.

The online platform, called Assess, is in a pilot phase and will be used to streamline the federal hiring process, Angela Bailey, OPM's deputy associate director for recruitment and diversity, said in an interview on Tuesday.

Assess provides testing tools for applicants to 12 types of jobs frequently found across government, including security administrators, human resource managers, administrative assistants, accountants, budget analysts, contracting officers and information technology workers. The program can be used for applicants to jobs at all grade levels.

"It's not just a focus on timeliness and the elimination of KSAs, but also a focus on quality," Bailey said. "We took our time because, quite frankly, you've got to get it right."

The Agriculture Department's Farm Service Agency in Kansas City, Mo., the first agency to get Assess up and running, used the tool to evaluate 400 applicants for accountant and budget analyst positions and this week will issue its first selection certificate. Other agencies, including the Defense, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Veterans Affairs departments, also are participating in the pilot and will use the assessments when job announcements matching the 12 occupational categories are posted.

Assess tests applicants on job-specific competencies, such as problem solving, math reasoning, reading comprehension and decision-making skills. The scores for each section are consolidated and weighted based on the occupation for which the candidate is applying. OPM has thousands of questions and scenarios already available and will continue to develop more, Bailey said, noting that no two versions of the online, unproctored exams are identical.

According to Bailey, the program will be in a pilot phase for another year as OPM collects feedback from applicants and hiring managers and evaluates the assessments to ensure scoring is done correctly. Going forward, the goal is to bring more agencies on board and increase the number of job announcements that use Assess, she said.

OPM also plans to work with agencies to develop more specialized assessment tools for occupations such as nursing and engineering, but those tools could be several years away.

"We knew that if we delivered something the agencies really found value in, then they'll come to the table and ask us to do more and partner with us both financially and from a resource standpoint," said Bailey. "And when that happens, we'll have nirvana and we'll be able to roll out all the rest."

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