Behind the redesigned USAJobs.gov

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The Office of Personnel Management delivered perhaps the most sweeping update to its USAJobs.gov federal employment website in August since first moving the hiring process online about 20 years ago.

While the website in the last two decades has seen scattered progress as the digitized hub for government hiring — one which many have bemoaned as largely ineffective and too complicated — OPM now has its sights set on transforming USAJobs “from a job board to a career portal,” Michelle Earley, the site’s program manager, told FedScoop.

“Ultimately we’d like USAJobs to be seen as a strategic recruitment tool for the agencies to disseminate their jobs but also be able to find and recruit that talent,” Earley said.

In its prior instances, the website existed mostly as a tool for the former — a place for agencies to post vacancies and let interested applicants carry the responsibility of matching themselves with jobs for which they’re qualified.

“More than anything, it is connecting the right talent to the right jobs,” Earley said of the driving need to transform the website. “And there’s so many possibilities of how that can happen. I want to move beyond somebody telling me their keywords and their location to actually saying ‘I know something about you, here are the jobs that would be the right fit’” using machine learning and algorithm technologies.

In many ways, that requires better communication from the federal government and agency partners on why people should consider a career as a public servant, especially when the private sector has no trouble luring young talent with big salaries, cool office spaces and seemingly endless perks.

Ask any classroom of high school students in the country if they aspire for a career as a public servant, and very few would likely respond in the affirmative, Earley explained. “So we really want to become a tool that will generate excitement about working for the federal government. What are the cool jobs we have? Where are those jobs located? Who’s hiring for those jobs? And bring some really good awareness.”

Along with the unique missions federal agencies strive to accomplish, she said it’s imperative to highlight “all of these eligibilities — if you’re veteran or a current or former fed or persons with disabilities” and bring “awareness to people that they have the eligibility and the jobs they can apply for.”

So the new USAJobs.gov, which launched Aug. 20, gives potential applicants more visual and user-friendly paths to explore federal hiring eligibilities. It also sets out to dispel myths about federal employment in a revamped help center page — to give applicants a more realistic idea of what it’s like to work in the federal government — and promotes the most critically needed hires in the federal government, which included IT specialists, encouraging visitors to apply for them.

Attracting talented individuals to USAJobs.gov, however, is only a piece of the puzzle. OPM has lower-hanging fruit it needs to address on the website, like making the application process more intuitive for all users, before it can reach that point as an all-encompassing career portal. And in the redesign, Earley said her team has begun to address that.

“It was very much a disjointed experience trying to shepherd you through, and we really needed to rethink that whole experience,” she said of the prior website design.

People were getting lost along the way because the hiring process and the website were too complicated. And for many users, particularly first-time visitors to the site, there’s “that one failed experience, and ‘I’m never coming back to this,’” Earley said. “We’ve probably lost out on high quality talent because of that.”

OPM began listening to those users who’d gotten lost in the past and redesigned the website to make sure applicants have the information to understand the federal hiring process and where they are within it at a given time.

What did Earley’s team hear in those listening sessions? “It’s really setting expectations, understanding what’s going on, ‘what do you need from me,’ what does this journey look like? And they really were craving somebody who could guide them along,” she said.

Going forward the team will move in a more agile and user-centered manner, introducing new features every six weeks with three-week development sprints. Earley said the next iteration should go live around Oct. 22 with user feedback at the heart of it.

Since the initial August launch, OPM has been pouring through the results of surveys and usability testing on the site, and looking to web analytics for how users are responding to the changes.

“It’s really, really important to us that we’re constantly engaged with our users, as much in person, but also looking at the after-effects after we put things into production,” she said.

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