Overcoming the challenges of federal hiring using merit promotion

The federal government is a huge employer, hiring 200,000 people every year with the goal generally to hire people based on their ability to perform a job – not based on political connections or favoritism. For many positions, this is accomplished through the merit promotion system, which lets a current or former federal employee apply for a job without having to compete with the general public or people with Veterans’ Preference. Instead, candidates compete with other competitive service employees.

Challenges and potential problems with Merit Promotion

Over the years, there have been numerous reported cases of problems with merit promotion within the federal government. For example, the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) typically finds a majority of employees don’t believe jobs are given to the most qualified.

At issue, almost always, is the system of merit promotions versus promotions via accretion of duties. There are often employees that believe strongly that their performance deserves a promotion, based on strong results they believe are valid. But if a promotion is not received, resentment often ensues, hurting morale and raising calls of favoritism.

These employees believe strongly they are carrying out their duties admirably. There are times that differences in opinion between employees and agency leadership develop over the definition of duties, such as what level of supervising an employee is responsible for.

Other areas of contention include overlap or similarities of duties between grades (e.g. between a GS-12 and a GS-13), discrepancy of responsibilities between agencies and differences between field and headquarter offices. For example, an employee of one agency may have similar duties to an employee of another agency, but they may be assigned different grades due to agency classifications. There are instances where jobs can be reclassified, but there is no clear path for that to happen – it can be done at the request of the individual employee to an HR specialist, or by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

The cumbersome, time-consuming nature of merit promotion

An agency should be transparent about merit promotion opportunities so all employees are aware of them and can apply, if qualified. With job skill requirements visibly identified and communicated, the federal recruitment system can automate and speed the process of reviewing candidates’ skills, and apply any candidate assessments, if desired. But there may be numerous other steps in an agency’s merit promotion hiring process.

After a short list of candidates is created, candidates may then be placed in broader quality categories such as “Best Qualified” and “Qualified.” Names of all candidates in the highest quality category are referred on the Certificate of Eligibles to the selecting official for consideration.

At this point, many activities might still need to occur before the hire is made. Activities such as:

  • a merit promotion exam
  • determining time in grade eligibility
  • grading and ranking of applicants
  • collecting supervisor recommendations
  • presenting candidates to the Career Board for review
  • selecting candidates for merit promotion
  • extending the job offer
  • updating the Change of Station
  • updating HR with new hire details.

Making these steps and processes even more difficult is the harsh reality, for many agencies, that there is typically no easy way to record and store all the data associated with the various steps. Often, much of this information is stored in Excel spreadsheets, SharePoint or other file systems, making data entry laborious, time-consuming and error-prone, in addition to making general viewing and sharing difficult.

Numerous verifications, background checks and exams not only take time, but require additional time to process and record results. This information is either cumbersome or cannot be handled at all in traditional recruitment and hiring solutions. This results in extra time, more expense and a delay in hiring and onboarding qualified candidates.

How a modern federal recruitment system can help

Clearly, ambiguity can be a hindrance to federal merit promotion, for a variety of reasons. A crucial step to help eliminate the ambiguity is through the implementation of an automated federal hiring system designed, in part, to tackle specific merit promotion challenges.

A secure, modern, cloud-based system designed to address unique federal hiring challenges will help your agency address merit promotion through clearly defined steps, according to your agency’s needs, and automating those steps as well as all your merit promotion processes.

The numerous steps and processes that are required as part of merit promotion, including extra ranking, tests, background checks and more can all be incorporated into the cloud-based system to ensure completion and proper recording. Through automation, a federal agency can be assured all the I’s are dotted and T’s crossed in its merit promotion activities. Even better, manual processing and cumbersome, inefficient data storage is eliminated.

Ready to automate your agency’s merit promotion hiring? Contact us.