MSPB to OPM and HR Community: Your Vacancy Announcements Stink

Federal job vacancies have a lot of potential but currently a wasted potential. The MSPB has recommendations to OPM and HR directors on how to improve them.

The Merit Systems Protection Board has a message for human resources personnel and the director of OPM: Federal vacancy announcements are too bureaucratic, a waste of time and useless to most potential applicants. The wording of the report is not this direct, of course, but the message is clear. (You can download the report and read it yourself from the link on the left hand side of this page.)

Vacancy announcements are largely a wasted resource that could be used to sell the government and attract quality applicants to government service.

Getting a Federal job is a challenge. Applicants who are not experts on the Federal human resources system find the process confusing, challenging, bureaucratic and daunting. A number of applicants never get past the process of reading an announcement before giving up.

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) explains the problem. In a new report, entitled “Help Wanted: A Review of Federal Vacancy Announcements,” the Board outlines its concerns and findings.

The Board says announcements are “legalistic, stilted, and hard to follow.” Moreover, the announcements are not encouraging people to apply for jobs. Often vacancy announcements actually discourage people from applying. This isn’t news to staffing specialists. More than half of the HR specialists responding to the MSPB survey indicated they don’t think that announcements are effective in telling potential applicants more about the mission of the agency.

Strangely enough, vacancy announcements are the core part of many agencies’ recruiting strategies even though the HR people know the announcements are poorly written for recruiting purposes.

One result of this, concludes the MSPB, is that agencies are setting themselves up to make poor recruiting decisions. They do not consider potential or competence but, instead, rely on prior work experience.

The Board offers advice to human resources experts and the director of OPM on creating more effective announcements. To human resources directors, the MSPB says:

–Develop a comprehensive recruiting strategy with vacancy announcements as a core part of the strategy. As part of this strategy, write vacancy announcements that are meaningful and directed to potential applicants.

— Develop a program for assessing candidates on all factors in addition to work experience.

–Examine the competence of human resources personnel in an agency and make sure they are qualified to perform their duties in this area.

The Board also has advice for the director of OPM:

–Revise the existing regulation on vacancy announcements to get rid of some of the requirements that are complex, confusing and misleading to potential applicants.

–Make USAJOBS more attractive and easy to use. The site currently contains a lot of jargon that is not meaningful to potential applicants and navigation is difficult.

— Continue helping agencies write better vacancy announcements.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47