Government Claims It's Getting Easier to Apply for Federal Jobs

job interview The director of the federal government's Office of Personnel Management reported new figures today indicating that agencies are making it easier to hire talented workers.

John Berry, speaking at that National Press Club, said that the average number of days it takes for an agency manager to post and fill a federal job has dropped 15 percent to 105 days, from 122 days in 2009. More importantly, he said, the amount of work job applicants have to endure simply to apply for a federal job has been reduced even more dramatically.

"Ninety-six percent of job opportunity announcements no longer requiring KSA essays," Berry said, referring to the often-maddening requirement for applicants to submit lengthy essays, describing knowledge, skills and abilities just to be considered for a position. That compares to 39 percent of announcements requiring KSAs in 2009, he said.

"Essays have their place" with certain jobs, he said, but they should be used when agencies are selecting "among the final ten candidates, not the initial 10,000."

The OPM director said that the latest figures from agencies now show that "hiring is based on resumes and cover letters 91 percent of the time now." That compares to just 31 percent of the time in 2009.

Federal job applicants are also seeing shorter, easier-to-read job announcements, he said. Some federal job announcements have exceeded 35 pages in length, with highly technical requirements. Now, he said, 86 percent of job descriptions are now written in plain language, and 66 percent run five pages or fewer in length.

Past efforts to streamline job hiring practices in the federal government have had limited if any success, according to many prospective employees and recruiters alike.

Berry pointed to an "aggressive, innovative approach to implementation" since the launch of a major hiring reform initiative begun in May 2010 at the direction of the Obama Administration. Berry said OPM conducted 351 training sessions in 66 cities for 17,300 people involved in the hiring process, as part of its effort to reduce hiring bottlenecks.

That includes background checks. Berry said that OPM conducts 90 percent of the background checks on prospective employees, including for the Department of Defense, or about 2 million annually.
John Palguta, vice president for policy, Partnership for Public Service, said the OPM figures represent "a lot of good news," but added, "It's a work in progress."

"The ultimate goal is to not just to improve the process," he said in an interview with Federal News Radio the day before Berry's remarks, "It's to bring in people who are some of the best in the country to do the jobs for which they're being hired.

"And it's a good thing we're making process in hiring reform, because the goal of hiring those folks is not going to come any easier especially in the environment we're in right now," referring to public discontent about the seemingly generous benefits many associate with federal jobs.

Berry responded to that concern, saying that in his experience, the individuals who come to work for government "are big hearted" and come for three reasons: "to make a difference, to make an impact and do it on a big scale."

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