Margaret Weichert, deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, wants agency HR offices to seek more input from outside experts when hiring.

Margaret Weichert, deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, wants agency HR offices to seek more input from outside experts when hiring. OPM

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Weichert: Agencies Should Include Experts in Hiring Process

Guidance from the Office of Personnel Management encourages a renewed focus on competencies, rather than “minimum qualifications.”

The Office of Personnel Management on Friday urged agencies to rethink how they hire federal workers, with an emphasis on “competencies” and allowing more employees outside of HR into the process.

In a memo to agency heads, outgoing acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert outlined a number of ways agencies could tweak how they evaluate job candidates immediately, without a change in law.

“In accordance with the priorities established in the [President’s Management Agenda], this memorandum provides guidance to enable simple and strategic hiring by analyzing and improving methods of assessing applicant quality; involving subject matter experts in the assessment process; and applying more rigor in determining who may be considered for the position,” Weichert wrote. “Together, these processes should refocus our efforts to emphasize quality first.”

OPM called on agencies to ensure that the minimum qualifications for an advertised position more accurately line up to the competencies needed to be successful in the job, using supplemental assessments of applicants like USA Hire.

“At present, most agencies use the occupational questionnaire to screen applicants for minimum qualifications,” Weichert wrote. “Screening minimum qualifications using an occupational questionnaire is fine, but a ‘deeper dive’ needs to be taken in order to address the actual competencies needed to perform the work successfully.”

Additionally, Weichert argued that the hiring process should no longer be siloed solely within an agency’s human resources department. Instead, those with experience within a position’s field should have a hand in choosing the right candidate.

“A common myth about assessments is that determining minimum qualifications and rating and ranking applicants can only be done by HR staff,” she wrote. “In fact, OPM guidance indicates it is entirely appropriate—and encouraged—to use subject matter experts outside of HR, with diverse backgrounds and relevant experiences, to work with HR to perform determinations of whether applicants are qualified.”

Although non-HR employees are not allowed to make hiring decisions, they can play a pivotal role in narrowing down the pool of applicants, Weichert wrote.

“SMEs can conduct structured interviews and determine the most highly qualified candidates, as long as these SMEs are not the selecting officials,” the guidance states. “SMEs may also work with HR to identify and document the competencies and proficiency levels required to perform the essential functions of the job—a process commonly known as job analysis.”

Weichert, who is the deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, called on agencies to complete job analyses to better identify each position’s “essential duties and competencies,” develop new methods to assess applicants’ qualifications aside from “self-rated occupational questionnaires,” and to bring more subject matter experts into the hiring process. She indicated that OPM would issue a variety of new guidance memos to assist agencies as they move forward.

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