Technology designed to speed hiring often hinders the process, survey shows

HR specialists say incompatible systems and limited online tools make it difficult to match qualified candidates with jobs.

Flawed technology systems at federal agencies are hindering assessment and hiring of job candidates, according to a survey of government officials and observers.

Based on discussions with focus groups and interviews with hiring officials, the Aug. 26 report from the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and PDRI, a human resources consulting firm, said IT systems often add to the workload of HR staffs and make their job harder.

Technology can be a great solution, but it often masks other problems, said Josh Joseph, program manager for research at the Partnership. One is that human resources and hiring managers are not making technology work to their advantage, the report noted.

Applicant tracking systems automate much of the hiring process from developing the job announcement to assessing candidates, but the report found they often are incompatible across government. Agencies use about 10 different systems for applicant tracking, and compatibility erodes even more when vendors upgrade their products, according to the study.

The report said applicants complain they can't transfer information they entered into one system to others. Those most qualified would be "least likely to tolerate this disjointed process when they can apply for jobs in the private and nonprofit sectors (and even in state and local government) far more efficiently," the report said.

In addition, key word searches for government jobs do not effectively match applicants, according to the authors. USAJOBS lists about 5,000 openings that can be searched by agency name, location or occupation. But those interviewed said after doing those searches, candidates are unsure which jobs match their qualifications.

"If you don't know the terms they are using for certain jobs, you're just of luck," Joseph said.

As a result, candidates might apply for more jobs than they normally would, inflating the size of the applicant pool, diluting the quality of candidates, and causing a "lengthier and often less effective job application and review process for all," the report said.

The report's authors recommended the Office of Personnel Management establish a common standard for the various IT hiring systems to allow agencies to share information. "It's not that every system has to be the same," Joseph said, adding what's needed is interoperability.

The report also said OPM should improve job matching capabilities on USAJOBS, noting the federal government already has expertise in this area. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has developed a pilot program that matches applicants' qualifications with job postings on USAJOBS.