Federal hiring changes bring hope, skepticism for application process

By Ed O'Keefe Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 12:46 AM

People looking for work with the federal government often call Kathryn Troutman and her company, The Resume Place, for tips on writing the perfect federal job application. But business is down right now because, she suspects, potential federal job seekers are waiting until this week to take advantage of promised changes to the tedious federal job application process.

"We're very concerned and not very happy that our business is really down," Troutman said. "We're really shocked about it actually."

President Obama in May gave federal agencies until this week to radically overhaul the federal hiring process, mandating simply worded job descriptions and the end of the lengthy "KSAs," or essays that describe an applicant's knowledge, skills and abilities. Applicants for federal employment should be able to apply and be rejected or hired in about 80 days once changes are fully implemented.

Officials have backed off the president's deadline, however, cautioning that only some agencies are ready. The departments of Commerce, Defense and Veterans Affairs and NASA are in good shape, but others are working through reforms that could take years to complete, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

"The prior process is already faster," said OPM Associate Director Nancy Kichak. "From the time the president issued his memo telling us to get going, we've been going. A lot of agencies have already eliminated [KSAs]. They have already simplified the job announcements, have done them in plain English and have done them in a way applicants can understand them."

The hiring process is now averaging about 110 days, down from 180 - 100 more days than Obama asked for, Kichak said last week.

Jonathan Sykes, 29, is already seeing changes as he applies for jobs at Defense and Homeland Security. He's been trying since February to find a position in security or office management.

"Before they made changes and before I got used to it, it would take me from one day to four days to fill out an application," Sykes said. "Recently there are some government jobs where I can fill out an application in an hour or two because they've gotten rid of the KSAs. They've definitely improved since they got rid of the KSAs."

Best of all, he's receiving e-mail updates about the progress of his applications, a big change from the past, when people never received feedback after submitting the paperwork.

"It is working," Sykes said. "At least now I know what's going on."

Troutman cautioned, however, that all the reforms won't necessarily make the hiring process easier. And although KSAs have been eliminated in the initial application, agencies may use them later in the process, after the initial screening.

Troutman said that some job postings still require KSA statements. "And people are very confused on how to put them in and where to put them and what to do with them," she said. If an application requests a traditional resume instead of KSAs, she recommends including short versions of accomplishments within the resume that explicitly demonstrate the applicant's knowledge, skills and abilities.

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