Behind the Scenes: The Federal Hiring Process

Dr. Myriam Seay is a Ph.D. in Management alumna, Walden Summer 2022 Commencement Speaker, and Chief of Information Technology for the Headquarters Air Force, Pentagon. In this article, Dr. Seay provides an insider view into the federal hiring process to help applicants understand the steps involved in selecting government employees.

Ever wondered what happens after you submit your application to USAJobs? Why does it take so long to hear back? Only to receive a message stating that you do not qualify for the job. In 2010, reform was introduced to improve the Federal Recruitment and Hiring Process, including the End-to-End (E2E) Hiring Initiative, which focuses on transforming federal hiring by reengineering five components: 1) workforce planning, 2) recruitment, 3) the hiring process, 4) security, and 5) suitability and orientation. Applicants enter the E2E roadmap during the hiring process, which has 14 functions and could last up to 80 calendar days, or sometimes even longer.

The 80-day standard is a suggested timeframe and may be adjusted depending on the agency’s practices and procedures. So again, why does it take so long to hire someone? Let’s review the 14 hiring process functions, as described in U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s End to End Hiring Initiative, to understand the timeline better.

  • (1) Validate the Need against the Workforce, Staffing, and Recruiting Plans. The position manager reviews the workforce, succession, and staff acquisition plans. The Recruitment Plan is examined to identify the resources and sources for recruitment and identify the skills needed. Although this function should take one day, managers may take up to 1-5 days. Managers may coordinate their hiring needs with their chain of command during this review. Generally, this is not an individual process.

  • (2) A Request Personnel Action (RPA) is created to fill the job. The manager or supervisor completes internal forms and coordinates with the agency’s Human Resources (HR) department. The hiring action may take 5-10 days or longer, depending on the time the supervisor takes to complete all forms, the HR staff’s availability, staff workload, and vacancy priorities.

  • Once the RPA is submitted, the HR department will (3) Review/Update the Position Description and (4) Confirm the Job Analysis and Assessment Strategy to identify the grade level to be filled; roles and responsibilities; Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs); changes to the position; and clearance eligibility, to name a few. The hiring action may take 5-15 days, depending on the HR staff workload and vacancy priorities.

  • The HR department (5) Creates and Posts a Job Opportunity Announcement, Including Identifying Career Patterns. During this function, HR staff identify required items for a job announcement, i.e., agency name, position title, series, grade(s), entrance pay, job announcement opening, closing dates, duty location, qualification requirements, how to apply, benefits, incentives, and security requirements. Depending on the HR staffing availability and workload, this function may take between 3-15 days.

  • The HR department (6) Receives and Notifies Applicants of receipt of their applications, (7) Closes the Job Opportunity Announcement, and (8) Evaluates Applications. Several automated staffing systems are used during this process. HR reviews applications for legal requirements such as priority placement, veterans’ preference, citizenship, age, etc. Depending on the HR staffing availability and workload, this function may take between 10-30 days.

  • After evaluating all applications, the HR staff creates a list of eligible candidates, known as a certificate. (9) The Certificate is Issued to the agency’s hiring official, typically the supervisor or manager. (10) A Notification is Sent to the Applicants who were not referred in the certificate, and an eligibility notification is sent to those applicants who were referred. Depending on the HR staffing availability and workload, this function may take between 1-5 days.

  • (11) The Selecting Official Reviews Applications, Conducts Interviews, Checks References, Selects an Applicant, and Returns the Certificate to the HR department. This function may take up to 15 days.

  • The HR department receives and reviews the certificate, extends a (12) Tentative Job Offer, and Processes the Acceptance. During this process, the HR department will contact the applicant and solicit additional documents, such as a DD-214 for the military and a declaration for federal employment (OF-306). A notification is made to other applicants, informing them that a selection was made. This function may take approximately 5-7 days.

  • If the position requires a (13) Security Clearance, an investigation at the appropriate level for the position is initiated; this function is called security suitability. Suitability includes six functions and can take anywhere from 35-77+ days.

  • (13) An Official Offer is extended once the applicant meets all suitability requirements. This function also allows the selected to accept or decline the job offer and make necessary arrangements with their current employer. An Entry of Duty (EOD) day is established. This function may take 1-5 days.

  •  (14) Entry on Duty may take up to 14-28 days; this period allows the selectee to return necessary forms for Entry on Duty, such as information required for onboarding. During this phase, selectees prepare and work closely with the organization.

While the 80-day roadmap is a suggested timeline, depending on the hiring agency, the timeline may be shorter or longer than the estimates provided here. As an applicant, it is beneficial to understand the possible reasons for the delay during the hiring process. If the hiring process moves too quickly or slowly, the best-qualified candidate may be overlooked, or the best candidate may lose interest. Understanding the 14 functions and the importance of each function can help clarify misconceptions about the hiring process.

Would you like to learn more? Refer to the resources below for additional information about the federal hiring process and how to apply for federal jobs:

Federal Hiring Process:

Federal Job Search:

Written by Dr. Myriam Seay, ‘21 Walden Alumna

Edited by Dina Bergren, Manager, Career Planning and Development