US federal hiring guidance: ‘Focus on what candidates know how to do, not where they learned it’

By on 24/05/2022 | Updated on 24/05/2022
A graphic showing a recruitment process
Picture: Pixabay

The Office of Personnel Management has set out more details of wide-ranging US federal government recruitment reforms that will introduce a new skills-based hiring system.

In a memo to all agency and department heads, OPM director Kiran Ahuja said that the move to skills-based recruitment would put the US federal government in a position to compete with other sectors for top talent.

Plans to change how the US federal government recruits staff were first announced under former president Donald Trump, but the changes have been continued under president Biden. The reforms require agencies to hire candidates based on skills and expertise in fields relevant to a position, rather than their educational qualifications or job experience.

Ahuja said that the “important, merit-based reforms” will better capture the ability of candidates to perform the job. “Skills-based hiring helps hiring managers focus on what candidates know how to do, not where they learned it,” she said. “It values all relevant skills for the role at hand, whether they are learned in the classroom, on the job, or on one’s own.”

Find out how to make the reforms work: Aiming hire: how to use skills-based hiring assessments to improve recruitment

Ahuja said that the reforms would help the government recruit in a tough jobs market by making it easier for those who do not have a four-year degree to demonstrate that they have the skills to compete for federal jobs, thereby expanding pools of potential applicants and removing any barriers for underrepresented communities.

A skills-based approach will also help managers more accurately assess a candidate’s knowledge, skills, and abilities by relying more on professionally-developed competency-based assessments and less on occupational questionnaires. This will increase the chance of the right employee being hired the first time through a recruitment process, Ahuja said, and avoid the wasteful need to re-post positions when the initial pool lacked candidates with sufficient skills.

Going through a skills-based recruitment process also helps agencies and departments understand and articulate the skills they need for a role, in turn helping them to identify where skills have changed over time.

The guidance, issued on 19 May, is a step towards the introduction of skills-based recruitment across the US federal government by the end of 2022, after the reforms were delayed last year. Published alongside the documents was an updated operating manual on improving the hiring of talent through applying minimum qualification requirements, and a new guide on producing better occupational questionnaires to ensure they meet professional standards. OPM is also preparing to publish further policy guidance and tools on competency-based qualifications and assessments as a part of the Federal Assessment Strategy Initiative, Ahuja said.

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About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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