Expect more incremental changes to USAJobs.gov next year, OPM says

The next generation of USAJobs.gov won’t come with a major unveiling or much fanfare.

A team at the Office of Personnel Management, in collaboration with the agency’s Innovation Lab, is working in six to eight week agile development “scrums” to make incremental improvements to the job site.

“That will allow us to push out features on the site quickly over time and allow us to work on the site in an iterative way, instead of just unveiling the curtain and saying look what we’ve done,” said Sean Baker, lead designer at OPM’s Innovation Lab, during a Dec. 2 Human Capital Management for Government Training series in Washington.

The next major feature will likely come out in January.

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“[It’s] really starting to build back some trust with our user base, in establishing a home base or some grounding in incorporating visuals to help really guide them through starting their application,” said Michelle Earley, USAJobs program manager.

It will take another 18-24 months to fully launch all planned upgrades to USAJobs, she said.

Improving USAJobs is part of OPM’s 2016 Hiring Excellence campaign, which the agency will officially launch in January.

The next generation of USAJobs began in May, when the team reconfigured the site’s search engine capabilities, Earley said. In October, OPM finished adding responsive design elements to make the site entirely mobile-friendly.

The applicant experience, Earley and Baker said, is their primary focus. The team conducted interviews with college students, applicants, human resources specialists and hiring managers to learn more about their users and the frustrations they had.

OPM is learning, for example, that applicants find job announcements and descriptions on USAJobs too confusing and long. Job requirements are often written in the legalese a more seasoned federal employee might be familiar with — not the plain language that new applicants or college students would understand.

“You absolutely will see a shift in how we communicate on the web,” Earley said.

USAJobs will also include more information on promotion trends and common career paths in government, so someone new to the federal space will know what to expect and how to progress within an agency.

Baker said the Innovation Lab invites federal employees from other agencies to test out new features on USAJobs, provide feedback and learn about what the Lab is doing.

OPM also wants to find a better use for the data it collects on its job applicants.

“We collect a lot of information on eligibility and then we hand it off to the HR specialist,” Earley said. “Why don’t we use that up front in the experience to let the job seeker, the applicant, know  if they are eligible or not, so we can stop them in their tracks and not waste their time, or let them proceed.”

Another future tool, which Earley described as a “skills aggregator,” will specifically serve current federal employees and or/anyone with government experience.

“We capture your resume, your skills [and] your qualifications at the time of applying, but when you continue on and you’re hired in the federal government, how can we continue to aggregate that information and have it at the hands of the user,” she said.  “Right now we collect a lot of that data in ancillary … learning management systems and things of that nature, and if someone leaves their organization, it doesn’t necessarily go with them.”

Though the USAJobs team is not yet sure exactly what shape the skills aggregator tool will take, Earley said it would keep track of a person’s previous federal job experience and certifications. That information could be used to help the applicant find the next job within a different agency or suggest possible career paths.

But some complaints around USAJobs stem from frustrations with the federal hiring and onboarding process — problems the team can’t necessarily solve. Earley said her team will work closely with agencies to identify the shortcomings.

“I can’t change it all, but we have a lot of influence,” she said. “With the experimentation and leveraging data, as we make these changes we can say we’re moving in the right direction or there’s still this pain point and we can really get to the crux of what’s causing it. And maybe it is a policy, or there’s still something that USAJobs can take on.”

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