(USAJOBS.gov)

Yes, the federal government knows what people who apply to work there think about their experience.

Yes, it knows they get frustrated by the process and by the feeling that their applications drop into a black hole, and that many of those rejected conclude that the skids were greased for someone else all along. Yes, it knows that much of the ire focuses on the Office of Personnel Management, and specifically its online USAJobs portal, which serves as the front door into the federal hiring process.

And yes, it is trying to do something about it.

OPM has launched a revised USAJobs, reflecting feedback it has received from users, personnel officials of federal agencies and focus groups. It’s the latest in a series of overhauls for a site where 1 billion searches are made and 22 million job applications are started per year, and where there are an average of 14,000 jobs open each day.

“A few of the key findings from our user research were that users didn’t understand the entire federal hiring process and needed guidance to submit an application. We also learned that the government jargon included on the site and in job opportunity announcements was confusing and users didn’t understand whether they were eligible or qualified for jobs,” said Dan Thibodeau, USAJobs deputy program manager.

The updated site has a different look — emphasizing the public service aspect of federal employment and using a standard format for government sites — but the main emphasis was to better match job-seekers with available positions, he and other OPM officials said.

One goal was to reduce wasted effort by people applying for jobs they don’t qualify for, as well as the burden on agencies to sort through them: From those 22 million job applications, about 200,000 people are hired per year on average — about half of them into full-time career jobs, the rest into temporary, part-time or seasonal positions.

“We are trying to find more qualified applicants,” Thibodeau said. “It’s been easy for everybody to apply for everything. We want to get you to the jobs that you are qualified for and eligible for.”

While the old iteration effectively invited visitors to jump right into a search, the home page now prominently invites them to first create a profile, which makes the later application process simpler. It also explains how the federal hiring process works — including that individual agencies with vacancies, not OPM, decide who gets hired — and emphasizes occupations such as cybersecurity where the government has the greatest hiring needs.

Other points of emphasis of the new version — launched on the 20th anniversary of the government’s move from a paper-based hiring process to a digital one — include:

  • Explanations of policies that may put applicants at an advantage or disadvantage for a particular job depending on their status, such as veterans, current or former federal employees, those with disabilities, those under internship-type programs, spouses of active-duty military personnel, Peace Corps alumni and others.
  • An updated help center including frequently asked questions and instructions on how to navigate the application process and the site itself.
  • A section describing myths and misconceptions about federal hiring and employment, such as the view that most federal jobs are in the Washington area (only about 15 percent are) or that if a vacancy stays open for only a short time someone already has a lock on the job (hiring agencies use such limits to keep applications to a manageable number, officials said).
  • Features designed to assure that applications are complete before they are submitted, reducing the potential for back-and-forth that creates delays.

The USAJobs revamp follows the launch in the spring of OPM’s Hiring Excellence Campaign, which among other things seeks to help agencies better describe the skills and background they are seeking in their job vacancy announcements, and to better use the many hiring routes available.

A recent Government Accountability Office report said, for example, that the traditional “competitive examination” route into federal jobs is now used to fill less than a quarter of vacancies, and that over 2014, agencies used more than 100 others. It also pointed out that the Hiring Excellence Campaign is only one of “numerous hiring reform initiatives” launched within the last eight years.

The latest USAJobs revisions also follow several other site changes over the past year, including making it available on all devices and operating systems, rewriting content to put it in plain language and adding a “my account” feature where visitors can track what they’ve done and check the status of any pending applications.

Lack of feedback once an application is filed remains a major frustration for applicants, OPM officials said, adding that they are working to have agencies post updates more frequently but that remains a work in progress.