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OPM Unveils Overhaul of Federal Hiring Site USAJOBS

Agency says changes over the next year will make assailed job application website more user friendly.

The website candidates use to apply for nearly every job in federal government is undergoing a major overhaul, with the Office of Personnel Management announcing on Wednesday a series of changes to make the much-maligned platform more accessible.

OPM said the new features on USAJOBS -- which in 2014 served 187 million people conducting 1 billion job searches -- would simplify the process of applying for a federal job and make the website more user-friendly. The changes come after a year-long effort spearheaded by former OPM Director Katherine Archuleta to identify the site’s shortfalls and how to create a “human-centered design.”

The features -- which include allowing applicants to track the progress of an application on the site and save progress on a pending application, among others -- will be rolled out throughout the rest of the year, OPM acting Director Beth Cobert said. The first changes went live Feb. 20, helping job seekers complete the process by seamlessly transitioning them to the relevant agency's website.

“Throughout the rest of the year, new features will be added to increase the usability of the USAJOBS website by enhancing the job application process for those interested in careers in the federal government,” Cobert said. “By streamlining the USAJOBS process, we will also improve our ability to attract the best and brightest to apply for jobs in the federal workforce.”

The USAJOBS updates are part of an ongoing process, according to the website's program manager Michelle Early, and will continue beyond 2016. 

"We work in an agile environment," she told Government Executive. "We have rapid testing." She added if OPM updated USAJOBS feature by feature, it would have taken five to 10 years to complete. Instead, the agency will roll out updates every six to 12 weeks. 

Previous efforts to improve USAJOBS ran into serious technical glitches and complications with contractors. The site still faces significant usability complaints. The changes this time around were designed and implemented entirely in house, with OPM’s Innovation Lab taking the lead in conceptualizing the new features. The new site will conform to the new U.S. Web Design Standards jointly released by the U.S. Digital Service and the General Services Administration's 18F technology team. OPM said it will “apply the new design standards across the remainder of the USAJOBS website” in the coming months.

Part of the overhaul effort involved identifying where in the application process job seekers abandoned their efforts or ran into trouble. Other new elements of the site will include the ability of applicants to attach, view or delete resumes and other documents; determine which documents are required for the position; and review the application before final submission. OPM is also working to make the process clearer, Early said, by collaborating with agencies to use more plain language and make each posting's closing date or applicant cap more clearly labeled.

Archuleta announced the USAJOBS review in May 2015 as part of her “REDI” (recruitment, engagement, diversity and inclusion) initiative, saying changes to the site were “a long time coming.”

“People have wanted to see some changes to USAJOBS for some time,” Tracy Orrison, OPM’s deputy program manager for the website, said last year. “Technology and user needs have changed over time. The site really hasn’t kept up with that.”

OPM has been tweaking the site, primarily on the back end, since mid-2015. The agency has, for example, streamlined the search function, created a map search feature and made the site completely responsive to mobile users. Its plan all along was to roll out the application process changes in early 2016. Ultimately, OPM said, the goal is to create an application experience that “closely mirrors the experience job seekers have with many non-government job sites.”

The agency created an instructional video to help users understand the changes coming to the site.

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