“We’re coming at it from an emotional and behavior standpoint,” said Earley, who came to OPM two years ago from Northrop Grumman. “That’s what’s informing our roadmap: How to take some of the mystery out of federal hiring.”
Among the problems that were underscored in four months of focus groups OPM conducted with job candidates in and outside government are a disconnect between job seekers and the vacancy announcements they’re finding on the site, Earley said. For example, the job is often described in government-speak. It doesn’t clearly state the qualifications applicants need to apply. Even the application deadlines are not clearly stated up front.
“There’s not a common language between a hiring manager and a job seeker,” she said. “Things get lost in translation in the announcement. The most relevant pieces are lost.”
The makeover comes as hiring managers are increasingly focused on recruiting fresh talent to government, particularly in hard-to-fill science, engineering and math positions and to backfill thousands of jobs vacated by retiring civil servants.
“We want to put in the technology that will help match jobs with candidates a lot better,” Earley said.
This focus, finally, on the user experience is sure to be welcome news to candidates trying to navigate the arduous road to federal employment. It remains to be seen whether the process will take less time, or applicants will hear from a real person in weeks, rather than the months it often takes to receive a form letter telling them they didn’t get the job.
But Earley says she and her staff have high hopes that the changes will improve the process. For example, when candidates upload their resumes to the site, the system will be able to scan the job announcements and make a match.
“So when you might be looking for a software development position but the government calls it an IT specialist, the computer will be able to tell that this is what you’re really looking for,” she said.
Another feature under study is a help function that users can click without having to leave the page they’re on.
OPM spent millions of dollars to bring the USAJobs site in-house from Monster.com in 2011, in part to make it easier for federal agencies to post jobs and receive applications. But the rollout was plagued by software glitches and other problems.