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Fair and Open Competition: Competent Staff Required
Mr. Neal notes—and we agree—that it is a serious mistake to rely solely on technology to screen applicants for complex and demanding jobs (in Federal Government, the rule rather than the exception). Although technology can certainly assist in identifying potential job candidates, effective hiring continues to require that well qualified people make good decisions about the hiring approach and conduct appropriate applicant screening.
MSPB encourages a continued role for competent staff in the hiring process, most notably in HR specialist and managerial positions. First, a fair and open competition (one of the merit system principles), is the result of conscious choices made by people. As discussed in “The First Merit Principle: Fair and Open Competition” in our January 2014 Issues of Merit newsletter, those choices include: (1) appointment authority; (2) application period; and (3) assessment methods. Those choices require knowledgeable staff.
Second, a fair and open competition requires rules—and meaningful enforcement of those rules. Such enforcement is unlikely to be aptly implemented by machines. Just as every professional sport uses a referee, umpire, or judge to ensure (reasonably) fair play, there is a need for a human arbiter to make sure that the rules of Federal hiring are upheld. It would be poor judgment to assume that hiring technology could (or should) fulfill this role, and such an assumption could have serious consequences.
For example, our 2004 report Identifying Talent through Technology: Automated Hiring Systems in Federal Agencies documents the risk that an unrefereed competition may become a less-than-fair competition.
|“Automated systems rely heavily on self-reported information. Agencies have found that undue reliance on self-reported information can compromise the quality of referrals and the integrity of the hiring process.” — U.S. MSPB, Identifying Talent through Technology: Automated|
1 Jeffrey Neal’s Blog can be accessed at: www.chiefhro.com.
Hiring Systems in Federal Agencies, p. 47
That report also states why an active role for HR staff and subject matter experts is not only compatible with a fair and open competition, but essential to it.
“[Agencies] found that quality control—a procedure for verifying and documenting applicant’s self-ratings, and modifying ratings, referrals, or both when appropriate—is critical to consistent referral quality and the integrity of the hiring process.” — U.S. MSPB, , p. 47
As Mr. Neal also states, quality control is essential when using technology in the hiring process. For example, MSPB’s recent report, Evaluating Job Applicants: The Role of Training and Experience in Hiring, underscores the importance of verifying applicant’s claims on self-report questionnaires, or requiring applicants to supply information that supports their claims. Examples of such strategies appear below, most of which are best performed or evaluated by a person with good judgment.
|Sample agency-driven strategies:
This report also discusses the value of using multiple hurdles in the hiring process, in particular using subsequent assessments in addition to applicant self-ratings of training and experience. In addition to augmenting an agency’s overall hiring and assessment approach, such multiple hurdles can also function as a verification tool. Some applicants may intentionally or unintentionally misrepresent their qualifications on “first hurdle” questionnaires resulting in some false positives in the candidate pool; one or two subsequent assessments could greatly assist agencies in determining the extent to which applicants truly do have the knowledge, skills, training, and experience that they claim. There are a range of options for these subsequent hurdle assessments. The following MSPB reports provide valuable information on several such assessments.
- Job Simulations: Trying Out for a Federal Job—an overview of assessments that incorporate a realistic presentation of one or more aspects of the job;
- The Federal Selection Interview: Unrealized Potential—an overview of the benefits of structured interviews and the elements of structure;
- Reference Checking in Federal Hiring: Making the Call—a review of the use of reference checking in public and private sectors and a summary of practices that can increase the contribution of reference checking to hiring decisions; and
- The Probationary Period: A Critical Assessment Opportunity—a discussion of how the probationary period should be used to assess candidates after the initial appointment.