OPM issues guide to overhauling federal hiring process

Plan aims to streamline hiring and improve candidates' application experience.

The Office of Personnel Management on Friday launched an initiative designed to streamline the recruitment and hiring processes at federal agencies.

The hiring guide, which was developed by OPM and the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, aims to simplify the federal hiring process and improve the applicant's experience with it, according to a memorandum from OPM acting Director Michael Hager.

"There is broad agreement that the current competitive hiring process could be improved," the guide stated. "These combined frustrations make it more difficult for the federal government to hire qualified employees in the stiff competition for the top talent."

OPM announced plans for the initiative at a congressional hearing in May. The plan focuses on the applicant's hiring experience by ensuring they understand the process, receive timely and clear communications and, once hired, are quickly acculturated to federal agencies.

The roadmap encourages agencies to engage first in workforce planning, determining the exact skills and staff they need to accomplish their missions. The guide also advises agencies to make recruitment an ongoing process that requires attention even when they are not actively seeking to fill jobs, and urges them to use all the available tools to attract a sufficient pool of qualified and diverse applicants.

The guide also encourages agencies to reduce the length of the complete hiring process -- from when a manager recognizes the need to fill a position to the time a new hire starts -- to 80 days or less. OPM also emphasized the importance of managing applicants' expectations by facilitating communication at various points during the process.

"At some point, it really is in the best interest of the agency to spend some time communicating with the people they're most interested in," said John Crum, director of the Office of Policy and Evaluation at the Merit Systems Protection Board, in a recent interview. "A lot of people will wait longer if they perceive they have a good chance."

The initiative also seeks to simplify the security clearance process for applicants and ensure a positive orientation experience for new hires. "As with any new relationship, how the agency treats a new employee during the first interactions leaves a lasting impression," the guide states.

Hager requested that agencies establish baselines against the roadmap's governmentwide measures and set aggressive targets to establish an implementation approach. Agencies will report their baselines and one-year improvement targets in the 2008 human capital management report, due to OPM by Dec. 15, Hager said.

OPM noted in the guide that previous attempts to reform the federal hiring process have involved individual stovepiped approaches, which have not fully addressed the hiring needs of agencies. As a result, OPM launched the end-to-end plan as part of a package of initiatives introduced earlier this year to improve federal hiring.

In early April, OPM created a streamlined job announcement for specific positions in the areas of accounting, acquisition, information technology, patent and trademark, law enforcement and secretarial work. OPM also brokered an agreement across major agencies to create a repository of qualified applicants for future entry-level acquisition positions.

The federal personnel office also launched a pilot project to ease the application process for Senior Executive Service candidates to attract seasoned employees whose résumés clearly demonstrate the extent of their experience and accomplishments.

"One of the critical parts of this initiative will require agencies to track and measure all associated actions," Hager said. "We strongly encourage agencies to utilize the CHCO Council network to share any best practices, including automated tools that might be useful for implementing and tracking progress."

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