Once you send your job application to a government agency you have kicked off a process that is largely out of your control and almost always invisible to you as an outsider. Government organizations have strict processes in handling job applications so that if questioned the organization can prove it gave all applicants a fair opportunity at getting the job.
Some job application systems, such as the US government’s USAJobs, have functionality built into the system allowing applicants to see how their applications are progressing through the organization’s hiring processes. This reduces the number of phone calls and e-mails the human resources department receives because applicants can look up critical information for themselves within a minute or two.
Outlined below are the basic processes that human resources staff follow in hiring for a government job. These processes can take a long time to complete, and government organizations are often more concerned with executing the processes according to protocol than they are with getting a person in the vacant position.
Once you submit your application, you must wait for the job posting to close. When government agencies post jobs they almost always have an application deadline. They do this so they can manage how many applications they receive and so they can move forward with the hiring process without adding additional applicants throughout the process.
In the interest of fairness, human resources departments stick to closing dates and do not allow managers to consider late applications unless all late applications are accepted. There is no fair reason to accept one late application and not another if both applicants turn in applications that meet the minimum requirements listed on the job posting.
Applications are Screened
Once the human resources department knows they have all the applications the organization will consider, they read each application to make sure that each candidate meets the minimum requirements specified in the job posting. For instance, if the posting said that the new hire must have a bachelor’s degree, a human resources specialist will remove from consideration all applications where the applicant does not show completion of a bachelor’s degree. Therefore, it is important for applicants to ensure that they clearly outline how they meet the knowledge, skills and abilities required for the job.
List of Finalist is Compiled
Once all the applications have been screened for the minimum requirements, the human resources department and the hiring manager work together to make a short list of finalists they would like to interview. For the sake of equity, the decisions are based on the information included in the applications.
Interviews are Scheduled
The human resources department or the hiring manager calls applicants who earned an interview. If an applicant chooses to withdraw from the process, the organization may decide to either interview the next most qualified candidate who did not earn an interview at first or continue the process with one less finalist. The decision largely depends on how close the next most qualified applicant was to being chosen for the original group of finalists.
Necessary Background and Reference Checks are Conducted
At this point in the process many organizations conduct background and reference checks. It does not make sense to perform these checks on all the applicants from both cost and staff time perspectives. Once the finalists are selected, the checks can be performed on the small group. The benefit of running the checks at this time is so that there is no added delay if the chosen finalist turns down the job offer. Some organizations wait until they are ready to make a job offer until they run the checks so they do not incur the cost of running checks on individuals they will not hire.
Interviews are Conducted
Groups of finalists are usually composed of three to five people. The number of finalists to be interviewed and how many people will be conducting the interviews largely determines how long the interview process will take. If a handful of finalists will be interviewed and there is only one interviewer, it may only take a week to conduct all the interviews. The more finalists and interviewers, the more difficult it is to accommodate the schedules of all involved.
New Hire is Selected
After the interviews have been conducted the interviewer or the interview panel decides which finalist will receive the job offer as well as the rank order of the other finalists in case the chosen finalist declines the job offer.
Job Offer is Extended
A job offer is extended to the chosen finalist. This is usually done verbally so that salary and start date negotiations can happen quickly. A letter documenting what the hiring manager and chosen finalist agreed to is sent to the chosen finalist to formally accept.
Job Offer is Accepted
A chosen finalist formally acknowledges the job offer verbally or in writing. The organization begins paperwork necessary to hire the chosen finalist on the agreed upon start date.
All Other Candidates Are Notified
Once the organization and chosen finalist have agreed upon the terms of employment, the organization notifies all the other applicants that the position is filled. Not receiving any feedback from an organization discourages unselected applicants from applying for future jobs. Organizations weigh this cost against the time it takes to notify every applicant of the results of the hiring process. Some organizations choose to leave applicants waiting for a response that won’t come, but most choose to circle back to all candidates and let them know the process is over.
Some organizations choose to notify only candidates who are interviewed. Most organizations that make this choice say so on all job postings or on a web page that contains human resources information for job seekers.