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Tales from the federal hiring labyrinth: Readers tell their stories

In light of recent reports that the federal government will need to hire thousands of information technology professionals in the coming years, one frustrated job applicant wondered where they might come from.

He told GCN, in a story you can read here, that he was a certified IT security professional working for a major defense contractor with 20 years experience and security clearances from the Defense and Homeland Security departments. But after applying for nine jobs at three agencies, he got one interview, and no word about it after six weeks.

To judge from comments posted to the story, he has a lot of company. Many readers recounted their own struggles try to find a job with – or even getting a call back from – a government agency. And they had several ideas about why the process is, as several called it, broken.

Government Employment Coordinator East Coast wrote: “Your statement regarding a ‘disconnect between frontline managers and HR personnel’ couldn't be more accurate. The problem is not with management it's with the lack of HR personnel who are capable of identifying qualified candidates. OPM's oversight of local practices, which are fragmented and driven by individual HR employees’ whims, does not exist. Nepotism is the rule of the day, i.e VA's recent debacle in it's Office of Information Technology, which required an IOG investigation. There is no uniform method of applying or communicating during the hiring process.”

Other readers had similar tales:

* I am a Vet and an IT Professional with over 20 years experience as a contractor. I have submitted applications for various agencies with no word back. The hiring process is a murky process at best and differs from agency to agency. It is a nightmare trying to get a government job.

* I've been applying for government jobs for nearly twenty years since I got out of the navy. I've applied for hundreds of jobs and gotten ONE interview, and it wasn't even for an IT job. 99% of the time when a government job is listed the manager already has identified the person they want to hire and they tailor the job listing to that candidate's resume. Sometimes they will list a job for just one day so no one will see the listing. I've seen this at the directorate where I work for years. Our gov't lead tried to shoehorn a contractor with no experience into a senior gov't slot and when the person couldn't make the finalist list they just didn't hire anybody and the slot was lost.

Several readers said that the hiring process works against anyone who is not a veteran.

* As a government employee I know that most applicants for current jobs can not even be considered by the hiring official unless they are veterans. Highly qualified people who would do an excellent job if hired are not even given a chance. The government is missing out on many people who would be an asset to the government. I understand that if makes sense to help our vets, who have made sacrifices to protect our freedom, but it also makes sense to give others, in this down economy a chance.

* I have applied to over a dozen Fed IT slots in the past 6 months. Of the few for which ANY reply has been received, two said I was (highly) qualified but since not a veteran I was not to be considered further. The number of hoops an applicant has to jump through just to be considered varies by agency but is absurd overall. Most despised are the openings written such that only an insider in a previous level position could ever qualify but they are still listed as "open to any US citizen". If this is the best that our government can do to hire folks that are capable, indeed we are doomed.

* IT specialist or janitor, if you are not a veteran you will not have a chance no matter how qualified.

* This article softballs a major problem. Government hiring is ricebowled and archaic. Who hires you very often has little concept of what the job really entails. Very often, a command will need to know who they want to hire in advance before submitting the job request in order to write a job requirement specific enough and of a short enough duration to avoid getting someone unqualified. I’ve worked 12 years as a contractor in the IT field for the DoD. I enjoy my job. I would do it in an instant as civilian, even at lower pay. But, because I’m not a vet, I’d be unqualified to my same job if it were to be posted. The system doesn’t work.

Others advised anyone seeking a job to know the buzzwords that will register with computer systems screening applications.

* Applicants need to understand what the "buzz words" are in the job description and make sure to use them in their application and/or resume. It is my understanding that those will get you past the person in charge of reviewing incoming applications. This person is not the hiring manager and often not even in the office that is looking to hire. It doesn't seem to matter if you are well qualified, the exact words in the application are important. As a federal employee, I've applied for jobs within my own agency and have not received the courtesy of a status letter. I had an interview for a job that I didn't get. Again, no letter. I found I was not selected when I received a call from a friend letting me know they updated the employee list and I was not on it.

* As a federal employee who used to manage HR for her office, one of the biggest problems facing people who aren't feds who want to become feds is the system itself. When an office selects candidates for interviews, there's 2 different lists to pull them from -- the current feds list and the "public" (or people who aren't feds yet) list. The feds list has an unlimited number of people on it. The public list only has the top 3 highest-scoring applications. The scores are computer generated, based on how many "buzz words" you use. So you can be a fantastic candidate, yet have no shot because your application was never seen by a human being.

Some readers focused on the bureaucratic maze and internal preferences.

* The process can be very convoluted indeed. It's very frustrating when it takes days to complete those KSAs and then … you receive a letter after nine months telling you they selected someone else for the position.

* I can totally understand this problem. Most of the federal bureaucracy is ossified and skilled staff are both overburdened and rendered inefficient by this bureaucracy. Any applicant with the patience and temerity to seek and achieve federal employment is dubious, by definition.

* I feel many IT managers are afraid to open their announcements to the general public in fear they may get candidates more knowledgeable then themselves. Therefore, they only open to internal existing gov employees and pick from the limited source. All this does is spread the existing limitations around. From experience within the last year we've hired about a dozen new people. All but one have had severely limited skills. If you look at the education requirements for a GS-9, it's a Master’s or higher. That would be great if this was actually followed, but any GS-9 I've met is lucky to have 2 yrs of college and no certifications. This includes the IT manager mentioned above.

* I was approached by a civil servant (whom I supported as a contractor) to apply for an IT position within the VA OIT. After eight months, and after actually being selected for the position by the hiring manager, VA HR informed me that my hire was delayed due to "budget issues." When the money was finally allocated, I was told that my certification had expired and that the hiring process would have to begin all over again!! I turned down several other offers during this time period, waiting for the hiring process to run its course. Today, I no longer work in support of the VA...

* My experience with the Federal hiring system is similar, although I am trying to move from one Federal position to one more aligned with my engineering experience. As a manager in private industry, we set a minimum bar, evaluated candidates, and offered to the best person(s) who met the requirements. The process in government adds so many other criteria that move the process from "best technical fit" to "highest points veteran". While I applaud efforts to hire veterans, that system reduces (or eliminates) diversity because few members of the civilian population are even eligible for consideration. In addition, the myriad arcane submissions and deadlines, any of which disqualify anyone who fails to adhere to the (often poorly written) announcement regardless of common sense regarding their relative ability to perform the task changes Federal hiring into an exercise in compliance over talent.

“Joe” wrote that it’s a governmentwide problem.

* This is not unique to IT. I am a "gold plated attorney applicant." I have 20 years of direct experience within the agency, a JD with honors, an MBA with a 4.0, 10 years of private practice, awards and recognition. Yet the agency does not even provide an interview because they state I do not meet minimum qualifications. It’s not in the government's interest to hire and then the individual moves on in a year or two. Seems there is too much cronyism or something. I've all but given up, guess I'll continue my Federal employment in the non-attorney series since not a single interview can be had for the attorney positions.

* There are two issues with IT hiring: Some agencies have direct hire authority and abuse it to hire friends from other agencies who are not remotely qualified for "analyst", "team leader" and "IT liaison" positions in the GS 13-14 range. Huge amounts of time and training are invested on people trying to teach the basics about the IT field. It does not help morale when the staff realize that senior IT hires know nothing about IT. The other problem is Central Personnel offices picking 10 out of 50 qualified applicants to forward for interviews according to some mysterious criteria. Resume writing skills seems to be the main job skill they possess.

Others suggested that the final decision on hiring certain employees rests with the wrong person.

* Agree with the applicants experience in obtaining a government job, even though I have federal career status, veterans and other direct government related experience in the Information Technology arena, supporting agencies globally, it appears that the hiring process is broken. Not only does the hiring manager not have the final decision, but the justification process for selecting an indivdual is extremely cumbersome and non-conducive to the goals of the organization.

* In the domain of IT, HR professionals are not informed enough about the technology to be in position to make the right decision. The front-line manager should always be involved when the selection has to be made from the best qualified list.

One reader, at least, came to the defense of the current system.

* As a government employee (VA) in IT, I see funding come and go from one day to the next. Also, the government is very careful to be fair to every group, i.e women, disabled vets, etc. That frequently takes extra justification to hire one person over another and involves more paperwork. Not intended to be excuses, just reality.

Posted by Kevin McCaney on Sep 09, 2009 at 9:39 AM


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