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Love KSA's? Hate KSA's? Either way, they are about to change

I had heard rumors that this was about to happen, but I finally found an article that confirmed it. KSA's -- or otherwise know as the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities section of any federal job application -- are about to be phased out. See below for an article that explains the pending change.

You can also read a formal statement from the government here.

Hiring reform: KSAs to be phased out within a year
June 29, 2009

They’re known by many as the point where dreams of finding a federal job die: The dreaded knowledge, skills and abilities questionnaires.
Now the oft-despised KSAs could be headed for the trash bin. The Office of Personnel Management plans to ask agencies in September to stop requiring job seekers to fill out the time-consuming questionnaires.

Agencies instead should rely on applicant résumés to decide if someone is qualified and warrants a second look, OPM Director John Berry said last week.

“Our society operates on a résumé-based approach, and for years, the government has had its own approach separate from that,” Berry said. “What I’m hoping we can accomplish is a culture shift to have the federal government rely upon what the societal norm is.”

Berry said scrapping KSAs would be part of a broader government attempt to overhaul its hiring process. The effort started June 11, when Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag told agencies to start mapping each step of the hiring process, involve managers more, keep applicants notified of their status throughout the hiring process, and to write position descriptions in plain English.

“We’re going to dog this and resolve it and try to produce fruit in one year,” Berry said.

But it remains to be seen what kind of evaluation system will
replace KSAs and allow agencies to sift through dozens, hundreds or sometimes thousands of applications for a single job.

OPM hiring experts and the Chief Human Capital Officers Council are developing strategies and advice on how the hiring process can be fixed, Berry said. Those strategies will be released later this summer, he said.

The government started using KSAs to weed out unqualified applicants as it moved away from civil service exams in the 1980s, said John Palguta of the Partnership for Public Service.

KSA questionnaires sometime contain dozens of questions requiring applicants to write essays describing their work experience or qualifications. HR specialists and subject matter experts then read through those responses — or use software to search for key words — and assign point values to KSA responses that help determine which applications will be reviewed further.

But KSA questions are sometimes repetitive and require lengthy responses, and critics say they discourage some people from applying for federal jobs.

“It’s like we’re putting out job announcements that should read, ‘We don’t want you, and the following will prove it,’ ” said Joe Maas, a former personnel director at the Small Business Administration and member of the Council of Former Federal Executives, who has helped walk several job applicants through the KSA process.

The Army earlier this decade stopped using KSAs and now relies only on applicants’ résumés, said Robert Schanke, an engineer at the Army Corps of Engineers in Pueblo, Colo. He said it’s much easier to apply for other jobs within the Army Corps of Engineers — where he only has to click his mouse to submit a résumé — than answer dozens of KSA questions for jobs at other agencies, such as the Energy Department. Schanke said he keeps dozens of pages of his old KSA essays on his computer so he doesn’t have to rewrite them if he applies for a job outside of the Army.

“I [think] these guys [human resources specialists] don’t read them,” Schanke said. “I’m kind of torn as to how much effort to put into them.”

The Army isn’t the only agency that stopped using KSAs years ago. A 2004 report from the Partnership for Public Service said that the former U.S. Customs Service in 1988 began requiring applicants to take reasoning and integrity tests. Another screening method Customs adopted required applicants to watch a video showing a situation they might encounter on the job, and then act out how they might respond. Internal Customs surveys found that managers felt the new evaluation method resulted in higher-quality candidates, the Partnership said.

Palguta said agencies will have to think up new ways to evaluate employees after getting rid of KSAs.

“Some HR offices and reviewers who have been relying on KSAs, they’ll have to step up their game and be more creative in terms of how they evaluate people,” he said.

But some HR specialists argue that KSAs play an important role that résumés can’t always fill.

“I don’t love them, but it really shows you what a person is about,” said Stephanie Hamilton, an HR specialist at the Veterans Affairs Department medical center in Syracuse, N.Y. “You’ve got to write today, and sometimes in high school, kids are coming out and they can’t even spell. They say they’re an expert in communicating, and then they have run-on sentences [in their KSA answers] or have improper grammar. I think it’s a very good mechanism for screening out people.”

Some HR officials feel that if someone can’t be bothered to put time and effort into answering KSA questions, they may not be that interested in the job after all.

“If you can’t address these KSAs, how thorough are you going to be on the job?” asked one HR director at a small agency, who asked not to be identified. “If we do away with KSAs, we’ll be moving away from information we need to properly evaluate people. I’m not sure this is going to work.”

Linda Rix of Avue Technologies said switching to a pure résumé system isn’t the right idea. Without KSAs, she said HR offices will have to ask job seekers more follow-up questions, which will just end up slowing the hiring process further.

“Let’s not create the illusion that because the process will be easier on the front end, it will also be easier on the back end,” Brooks said. “If this bogs down the hiring process, then we won’t achieve the result we’re looking for.”

Federal Managers Association President Darryl Perkinson said he thinks it’s important to have job applicants fill out questionnaires, but they should come later in the hiring process after clearly unqualified candidates are rooted out.
“It’s very cumbersome for anybody to qualify” now, Perkinson said.
OPM’s Berry said agencies are expected to map out their hiring processes by Dec. 15. Once that’s done, he said, they can start weeding out unnecessary and slow steps.

Berry would not say how fast the hiring process should be. Some agencies have unique challenges and hard-to-fill jobs, and forcing all agencies into one model would not work, he said.

“I don’t think you ever want to put an artificial timeline,” Berry said. “If you say you must find someone in 60 or 40 days, that would be silly because it would force you to hire someone who’s not qualified. That is not the objective we want to accomplish.”

Posted by kkowatch at July 24, 2009 12:45 PM


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