Executive branch agencies are just glomming onto a hiring practice this Congressional bureau has been using for years

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Hiring people by their demonstrated capabilities, instead of what they boast on their resumes. It’s catching on at executive branch agencies. It even has a name: c. Turns out, the Government Publishing Office has been hiring people this way for four years, and with what it considers great success. Joining the Federal Drive with Tom Temin with more, the GPO’s chief human capital officer, Dan Mielke.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Mr. Mielke. Good to have you on.

Dan Mielke: Good morning, Tom, thank you for having me back on.

Tom Temin: Tell us how you have been going about hiring people? And where did it all start and tell us how the process works? Do you call it SMEQA? Well, that came from the other branch, right?

Dan Mielke: That’s correct, Tom. So four to five years ago, we started using selective placement factors. And selective placement factors are two to three things that the candidate needs to know, you know, the first day on the job. And that could be for example, with a social media expert, that they have to be able to get up social media analytics to make better business decisions. So in order to use selected placement factors, and just a little background on selected placement factors, the candidate at that point is either in or out. So if they meet the selected placement factors, they’re still in consideration. If they do not meet the selected placement factors, they’re no longer considered. So we had to use subject matter experts to make that determination. So we started using subject matter experts in that way, three to four years ago. And what the USDS (U.S. Digital Service) and OPM (Office of Personnel Management) did was really give us a lot of different options using that SMEQA process that we hadn’t really been able to use.

Tom Temin: Interesting, because let me just ask a devil’s advocate question. What if someone strikes you as a fantastic learner, great personality, someone that could fit in well with the organization? Maybe someone that meets diversity goals that you have, but they don’t have the specific technical knowledge? They’re ruled out?

Dan Mielke: Well, that’s a good question. Yes. If you do use selecting placement factors, they would be ruled out. Yes.

Tom Temin: So therefore, would it be fair to say that you have to be selective in the positions for which you choose to use the selective placement factors?

Dan Mielke: Yes, Tom, for example, selective placement factors are generally used at what you would consider the expert level. In our case, we have a lot of craft trades. So that would be the journey person level. So wouldn’t be used for entry level type positions, or maybe even mid-level type positions, because they’re you are looking for potential. Where at the expert level, you’re expecting the candidate to come in if they’re selected, and start being able to perform working in that job the next day.

Tom Temin: Got it. All right. So tell us how this got started. That is to say, which job function, which area of GPO that it started with?

Dan Mielke: Well, we started with, we had to hire a social media expert, and we only have one. And of course, it has to be a really good hire. So our public relations officer kind of we had a discussion and we determined to use selective placement factors. And it was a fairly easy conversation, I sat down and asked him one simple question, what are two to three things this individual needs to know to come in and start doing this job on the very first day? We wrote those three things down, made those selective factors. The hiring manager then selected a subject matter expert to go over the resumes of the candidates. And you know, we established the criteria to determine who met the selected placement factors. And once he SME made that determination, the hiring manager was able to receive the certificate of eligibles or cert list. And they were able to make a selection off of that. And we were extremely happy with the individuals that made the cert list. As a matter of fact, the hiring manager told me that it was probably the first list they’d got that they would have probably hired anyone off the list, and I believe we had six candidates on that list for that one job. And we made the selection and we’re extremely happy. And we’re happy to also say that the individual was selected is still with our agency.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with the GPOs chief human capital officer Dan Mielke. So in other words, it’s almost like a baseball team hiring a second baseman, you want someone maybe that’s played second base?

Dan Mielke: Yes, sir. That’s a good analogy. And again, this is for those expert positions or positions where you expect the individuals that come in with the experience and knowledge and expertise that they have to start doing the job day one. It took us a while to kind of get there because when you look at OPM’s guidance on using SMEs, they say, well, you can’t train them up within a certain amount of time. Well, we all know when someone comes on board in the federal government, there’s a training curve no matter what. Agencies use different systems, just for example, there’s training that has to be done for folks to enter their time and attendance in the time and attendance system that the agency is using. So there’s a lot of training just to get the new hire kind of up to speed on the agency and the agency culture and the strategic plan. Which you don’t really want to be doing with folks that are supposed to be experts in the field is trying to train them to do the job that you hired them for.

So this is a really good way, like you said, to find out, can they play second base, right? Now, we also use other types of assessments, too. So we really kind of rounded it out to using selective placement factors for those positions where we need those experts to come in using SMEs to determine if in fact those individuals have that expertise. And then we do other assessments as well. And one that we’ve had a lot of success with is a work sample assessment. So work sample assessment is something that the candidates would be expected to do within the first couple of weeks on the job. Now, I mentioned we hired trades a lot. So one of our shops has had great success. Because when we hire machinists for the agency, they really have to be able to do three things, they have to be able to do computer aided machine work, they have to be able to fix electrical, mechanical print equipment, and they also have to be able to weld. You know, that’s three skill sets in one, and that was a extremely hard position to fill. So what we started doing was a work sample assessment. So we’ll bring in those top candidates, and they’ll go through and they’ll conduct a work sample assessment in machining, they’ll conduct a work sample assessment and electrical mechanical repair. And then they’ll also be required to weld. And with that process, what we’ve really been able to do with this entire process really is improve the quality of candidates on the cert list that gets issued to the hiring manager to interview and make selections from and that has resulted in less reposting of positions, because we didn’t get good candidates. And it also has resulted in which the State Department mentioned in your interview with them, is us being able to keep that cert list. And again, this is one thing that USDS and OPM did during their pilot that’s a real game changer. We’re allowed to keep that cert list for longer than 60 days. And that was kind of the norm before they went through this pilot.

Tom Temin: A field like welding, you know, hasn’t changed all that much in six months, or maybe 60 years. So there’s no reason to have to start over from scratch the next time. Well, let me ask you this: suppose you have a position. I don’t know what it might be. But you don’t already have an SME in the agency to hire. Can you go to another agency that does have those people and use them to help you develop those selective placement factors?

Dan Mielke: Yes, sir. As a matter of fact, I served as an SME for another agency when they wanted to hire a workforce development director, because that was my position prior to becoming the CHCO. And I was glad to help them out. The hiring process and the federal government’s become very long and complicated. And there’s a lot of reasons that’s happened. So for us, it’s about finding solutions to work within this, because to change regulation, to change law takes a long time. But you know, you can find solutions to work. And that’s what the SMEQA process is about. And like I mentioned, I’m glad to help other agencies if they don’t have an SME on staff to help them make that selection.

Tom Temin: And in the thousands of pages, I don’t know how many is of guidance that the Office of Personnel Management offers on hiring. Was this in there all the time, and nobody ever bothered to use it? Or is this new cloth here?

Dan Mielke: Well, it was in there. Selective placement factors was in the delegated examining handbook, subject matter experts and assessments. The guidance was in there. But what the SMEQA process was was it went and looked at the guidance. And they said, well, here’s some things that we can do to really enhance that. So prior to that, we weren’t really clear, could the SMEs conduct a telephone interview with the candidates? Now it’s very clear that that can be done. And that’s a game changer for us. Another thing they’ve done, that’s a real game changer in hiring is, I’m sorry, I’m drawing a blank on the name of it, but it’s a progressive hurdle assessment. It’s still fairly complicated, but to kind of summarize it, you have different assessments, all right, so you’ll have the SME assessment. And there can be two parts of the SME assessment. And then you may want to do a work sample assessment. So each time you have an assessment, there’s a hurdle that they have to get over to continue to be considered for the position. And I think that’s a game changer for us because if you go back to the self-assessment, you know, there’s a lot of opportunity for folks to exaggerate their skill set. Or maybe they they actually think their skill sets are at that level. And then if you just go to an interview, it’s really hard to tell. Because if the self assessment and a resume match an individual comes in and does a good interview, how do you really know they can do the job?

So everything that they’ve done here has really given us the ability to kind of go through and see can they do the job. Now, what’s really great about this is also, for example, OPM has USA Hire, which are online assessments that you can build right into the job announcement. So you can actually start there as kind of the first hurdle for folks to get over. And the good thing about that is it takes about an hour to do the online assessment. So a lot of what, I think OPM use this term, casual appliers. In other words, folks that just kind of go in and maybe mark all Es on a self assessment and drop the resume in there, they’re not really interested in applying to those because they would actually have to take an online assessment. And of course, if they don’t pass, they automatically get bumped out at that point. There’s a lot of good things that’s come out of the selected placement factors, subject matter experts and the other assessments that we can use.

Tom Temin: And under the progressive hurdle assessment, then, if you have multiple openings, perhaps someone applying for opening A might only make it to the 12th progressive hurdle or the fourth progressive hurdle. You could still have a job for them at another level, but maybe not the level they applied for and everybody’s happy if they decide to accept.

Dan Mielke: Yes, that is exactly right. Tom, I would say we’re not there yet. But it’s certainly something we’re working on.

Tom Temin: And GPO is a agency with a very specific purpose. And it has an electromechanical, as you mentioned, component to it a production bookbinding you name it facility, plus some policy work and you’re midsized as far as federal agencies go. Does this process work for agencies that are gigantic, tiny and those that may not have that physical electromechanical welding printing binding need also?

Dan Mielke: Well, that’s a very good question, Tom. The actual SMEQA process and I’ve actually had this conversation with the experts over USDS that work with OPM to design and pilot this. For midsize and small sized agency it is somewhat of a time intense and personnel intensive process. So what we’ve been able to do though, as a midsize agency, is kind of use those things out of the process, pull the things out of the process that really work for us, and enhance our ability to produce a better cert list for the hiring managers, which results in better hiring decisions and retention as well.

Tom Temin: Dan Mielke is chief human capital officer at the Government Publishing Office. Thanks so much for joining me.

Dan Mielke: Thank you. Thank you for having me, Tom.

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