What Happened to USAJobs.OPM.gov?

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The US Federal government employs more than 2 million civilian workers in more than 350 different occupations ranging from janitors to JavaScript programmers (Source). How do all those people get jobs with the government? Those who joined the government before 1996, probably had to get the newspaper or walk into a Federal building and try to find job openings posted in bulletin boards or what was then known as “reading rooms” (Source). 

The process became simpler after 1996. The US Federal government, through the Office of Personnel (OPM), launched a website, USAJobs.OPM.gov that made it easier for American job seekers to place online applications for federal jobs. However, the site went down in 2011 after the government took over its management from a private company.

We took some time to follow the history of the site and find out what happened to it. We look at the challenges faced by OPM when it took back control of USAJOBS and how it tried to solve them.  


The History of USAJobs

For job seekers, USAJobs.OPM.gov, called USAJOBS, made it possible to create a profile and store their resume. Government agencies could post job openings.

To make the search process easier for job seekers, in its early days, the website had several sections. These sections included Professional Career, Clerical and Technician, Entry-Level, Trades and Labor, Senior Executives, Series, and Summer Jobs. It also had a section explaining each job category

Over the years, USAJobs.OPM.gov would grow one of the most useful resources for job seekers. A 2016 article produced by Michelle Earley, the Program Manager at USAJOBS, reports that there were 14,000 job opportunities available on the site every day. The same article says that one billion searches were conducted on the site per year, resulting in around 22 million job applications. 


Taking Back Control

When USAJobs launched in 1996, OPM initially contracted the private company Monster.com to run it. Monster.com described itself as “one of the first recruitment websites… [and] a pioneer of online recruitment.”  However, in 2011, OPM announced that it was bringing the site in-house.

An article published then on a career-related website quotes Matthew Perry, the Chief Information Officer at OPM, saying that security concerns prompted the decision to manage the site in-house. For instance, OPM was apprehensive about the fact that federal employee resumes were held in servers that also contained those of the private sector. The agency felt that this left government workers exposed to identity theft (Source). 

The Challenges

Taking USAJobs in-house may have addressed the potential privacy challenges, but it created problems of its own.

OPM acknowledged the challenges raised by users. In an article published on the agency’s website, Program Manager Earley writes: “Research conducted by OPM found that for some applicants, applying for a job can be difficult and frustrating, which drives some to abandon their applications or submit incomplete applications.” (Source)

OPM’s Chief Information Officer, also acknowledged that the agency was responsible for some of the challenges: “We made some mistakes.” He adds: “There are no questions that we got overwhelmed” (Source).

The numbers also supported the view that OPM was overwhelmed. Once OPM launched the new site on October 11, 2011, it received 45 million page views by the second day and almost 40,000 help desk complaints. On November 1, 2011, the system could no longer cope, and OPM was forced to shut it down for five hours (Source).


Common Complaints  

One of the most common complaints was that the site never gave job seekers feedback on their applications. Writing for the website FederalNewsNetwork.com, a newsletter which provides news about Federal events, Jeff Neal says that placing an application through USAJobs was, for most jobseekers, akin to “tossing it into a black hole, never to be seen or heard from again” (Source).

User complaints also showed that the search process was laborious. For instance, Neal reports that after trying to search for a job on the site, he noticed that “one problem with USAJobs is that it does not have a particularly effective search process.” 

Other customers raised general concerns about the user-friendliness of the website. They complained about being automatically signed out when they were in the middle of editing their profiles or resumes.

The challenges at USAJOBS may have represented “one of the more visible tests of the ability of a federal IT department to take over work previously farmed out to a contractor with a promise of doing it as well or better and at less cost.” This is the view of Patrick Thibodeau, a Senior Editor at the company that provides advice to IT managers (Source).  


Addressing the Challenges

If OPM eventually addressed the challenges, it was almost five years after it took back control of the job site. In an article published on its blog in September 2016, OPM announced that, as part of its 20th-anniversary commemorations, it had introduced improved features. These would transform the site into a more user-friendly resource. One of the leading issues addressed by the new features was the lack of feedback.

The same blog article reports that OPM engaged extensively with job seekers in the US, top human capital experts, and leading design and usability experts. The result was a new capability added to allow users to track the progress of applications from start to end, in the process eliminating the CV “black hole.”

Apart from the website redesign, USAJOBS also announced that it was participating in the Hiring Excellence Campaign. This campaign is an initiative that seeks to connect Federal agencies with a diverse pool of talent (Source).  


What Then Happened To USAJobs.OPM.gov?

USAJobs.OPM.gov ran until October of 2011. At that point, the office apparently decided to transition the functionality over to the simpler USAJobs.gov.  (In fact, it isn’t entirely clear why the OPM decided to run a separate job search site for as long as it did since USAJobs.gov dates back to 2005). 


Author: Peter Sergeant

Peter Sergeant started CareersJS; he's been programming for 30 years, which feels like a long time when it's written like that. While he used to write articles for O'Reilly for pocket-money in high-school, these days he's focused on helpingdevelopers find great jobs and helping companies build world-class JavaScript teams.

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