Continued from yesterday’s post.
So I had a term GS-4 position at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. A term position is one year of employment, although the park has the option of extending the term up to four years. The benefits are essentially the same as a permanent position with one big exception – you don’t get “status.” Status is what allows you to apply for positions that are not open to the general public. Of course, you don’t know if you’ll be employed beyond a year either, so you can’t really “settle in.” We found a Mobile Home/RV park to park our trailer in. My wife managed to find a part-time job, and I continued to look at USAJobs daily.
I applied for permanent positions that were open to the public. Usually I would “make the cert.” Here’s what that means as I understand it: When you submit your application it usually goes to the Office of Personnel Management first – OPM. OPM looks at your application, assigns you a score, then sends a certain number of the top applications to the park. If you do not meet the minimum qualifications you get an email saying you don’t qualify. If you do meet the minimum qualifications but there are other applicants with scores higher than yours, your application doesn’t get certified and doesn’t get sent to the park for consideration. I’ve already explained that the scores range up to 100 unless you are a preference eligible veteran.
This is where I believe the real problem lies.
Very few parks are using KSAs anymore like I had to fill out for Lincoln Home. Instead they are using a questionaire which allows the applicant to self evaluate. You answer a series of questions and fill in bubbles from “I’ve never done this and don’t know anything about it” to “I’m an expert and know everything about this.” (I’m paraphasing, but that is essentially correct.) Self-evaluation can be very tricky for many reasons and the questions often seem to have little bearing on the job duties. One questionaire that is frequently used asks, “How many times did you make the honor roll in high school?” Really?? High school, for me, was almost forty years ago. Some of the questions ask if you have experience or expertise in simple tasks like stocking brochures. Even if you haven’t actually stocked brochures it seems silly to say so. Who wouldn’t be able to stock brochures? Anyone who has filled out these questionaires knows what I’m talking about. This leads to the honesty part of the equation.
Most of us want to be honest. But it is clear that if you don’t mark yourself “Expert” on nearly every question, you won’t make the cert. You may as well not even apply. Even with my veterans’ points I was scoring in the 90s and not making the cert (or making it but not very high on the list). At one point I called OPM about an application and the person I talked to there basically told me I needed to be sure I wasn’t selling myself short. In so many words she was saying I had to mark myself higher even if I wasn’t sure I was an expert and let the hiring official decide if I really was or not. Your application, your resume and supporting documents, are supposed to verify the answers you give to the questionaire. However, I don’t believe OPM even looks at the supporting documents. (If someone reading this can tell me different, please do so.) Instead, OPM totals up the points based on the questionaire, and sends the top applications to the park. The park then has to look at the top candidates’ supporting documents, call the references, and decide if the candidate is as much of an “expert” at everything as he or she has claimed.
You can see the problems here. If veterans mark themselves as experts on all the questions and then get preference points also, they go straight to the top of the list. I’m not necessarily saying the vets are being dishonest. As I said, self-evaluation can be very tricky. We all want to at least get an interview. I applied for a position at a major Civil War battlefield. I made the cert, but didn’t get called. I called the park. The Chief of Interp said I was the type of candidate they were looking for, but there were several vets ahead of me on the cert list. Their supporting resume and documents didn’t support their score. The problem for the park was/is that the top candidates must be sent a letter detailing why the park feels they are not qualified. The candidate then has (iirc) 30 days to appeal the park’s decision. It can therefore take months for the park to get down the list to a candidate they actually want. In this case (I was told), the park threw out the entire cert (didn’t hire anyone from the list), and instead hired a student under the SCEP program; a guy who was working on his Phd. I was told that I might never get a permanent position through the competitive process; that I should go back to school somewhere and try to get into the SCEP program. Well, that wasn’t going to happen. I’d already spent a small fortune in time and money chasing this rather late-life career.
As I said, STEP and SCEP have gone away. Some people think it’s because the parks were using those programs to specifically avoid hiring unqualified veterans. But, in all honesty, giving a student a permanent position without having to go through the competitive process didn’t seem quite fair to me either. Of course, if I had been offered a SCEP position I certainly would have taken it! There is a new program for students called “Pathways.” I don’t know the details, but apparently it has a veterans’ preference component. One thing should be noted. The National Park Service is regulated by the President and by Congress. It is they who enact these types of programs and they do not want to be accused of sending young men and women off to war and then abandoning them when they come home.
I also applied for a 5/7/9 position on the Mall in D.C.
I think I will stop here and pick this up again tomorrow.