History really does repeat itself.

Particularly at the Office of Personnel Management.

“With the changes made to USAJOBS, and with our commitment to creating a simpler and more transparent Federal hiring process, we are giving applicants the information and tools they need to find the best Federal job for them.”

Then-OPM Director John Berry said that six years ago.

“These enhancements are the first in a comprehensive redesign that over the coming months will transform USAJOBS.gov into a more user-friendly website.”

Michelle Earley, USAJOBS program manager, said that last week.

Given some high-profile failures, it’s easy — and tempting — to be snarky about OPM again trying to get its technology right. But let’s take the high road.

Just like cars need their oil changed more than once, all systems need updating from time to time. OPM realizes that its once-promising jobs site has grown creaky and needs an overhaul to deal with 2 million new applications every month. Unfortunately, the agency did not act quickly enough to save some citizens from terminal aggravation.

OPM officials surveyed their clientele and were candid about the feedback.

They found that USAJOBS “could be confusing, difficult, and frustrating for applicants, driving some to abandon their applications.”

Earley provided more detail on Friday. She said USAJOBS users “were confused if they qualified for the position… did not understand the duties of the position… thought it would take too long to complete the application… realized after clicking apply, they did not meet the requirements for the position.”

That seems to place the onus on the users instead of the system. Nonetheless, OPM moved to improve its product. The agency worked with job seekers, human resource specialists and design experts. The result is an updated USAJOBS that promises to be more user-friendly. OPM says the new version, which launched Wednesday and will be rolled out over months, will allow users to:

  • Track progress of their applications.
  • Check on required documents without leaving the application process.
  • Build, edit or delete a résumé.
  • Save progress on pending applications.
  • Review the final application before submitting it.

Derrick T. Dortch, president of the Diversa Group, a strategic communications and career consulting firm, praised OPM for the improvements but said “user features are not the real crux of the problem.”

Bigger issues he listed include applicants not hearing back about their applications and job postings that appear targeted to previously selected candidates. That perception is fed by job announcements closing so quickly that many don’t have time to apply.

The changes come too late for those who have given up on USAJOBS. How many is that? Nobody knows.

“We do not have an exact number of abandoners on a given day, because abandonment can happen in many places along the way, including the agency hiring system,” Earley said.

Altough she doesn’t have the number of applicants who said goodbye, OPM analysts did look for reasons behind the departures. “Our research included qualitative analysis through one-on-one interviews and focus groups,” she said.  “We also analyzed our help desk tickets and applicant survey data. All of this research described the ‘why’ for abandonment.”

Folks such as Austin, who sought scores of jobs in government intelligence, didn’t need a qualitative analysis to know what was wrong with the system. Austin didn’t want his full name used because he fears his criticisms could hurt his chances to gain federal work, even though he has given up, at least for now, on USAJOBS.

Austin sounds pretty jaded after applying for 73 positions over a two-year period, being referred for six gigs, but getting no call backs.

“I’ve stopped using it altogether,” he said. “It’s probably one of worst hiring processes I’ve ever seen.”

Using USAJOBS wasn’t difficult for him, but he did find it confusing and frustrating.

He complained about getting emails saying that his application for a position went through, only to get a notice saying his application was incomplete. “You’ll get a not complete,” he said, “even though you’ve completed the form.”

Others put their full names with their complaints, which were posted on the USAJOBS Facebook page before the changes took full effect.

Allen Wellborn, identified as an environmental engineer from Oakland, Ore., wonders whether “any of the website developers and resume reviewers actually tested the system and submitted a resume and seen how big of pain in the rear and frustrating that web site is?”

Stacey Mauro, a waitress and bartender in Sturbridge, Mass, said it is “very frustrating since I haven’t been able to send in one application to not 1, not 2 but 3 jobs now in the past 2 days” because of error messages.

Donna-Terry Trogdon, who said she studied homeland security at Tiffin University, asked OPM to “please fix the many glitches on the system!” She complained about continually having to “re-enter our search criteria rather than being able to use the ‘back’ button and the criteria previously entered remain. It is frustrating having to re-do this over and over.”

She closed with a one-word review of USAJOBS that OPM hopes to never see again.