It’s not that often that you see the Public Services Commission doing something innovative, but a new pilot project that starts today may qualify. And with all things HR-related, the impact may turn out to be either good or bad for employees on a referral list, depending on how the theory translates into practice.
So here’s the quick background you need to know first. When someone is declared surplus for whatever reason (relocation, program was cut, etc.), they can be put on a priority list for future jobs. Then, when any jobs come up in their region that match their skill sets, they’ll get referred to the hiring manager as a highly-possible hire. Unlike a regular applicant though where a hiring manager decides if a candidate meets the essential experience requirements and then invites them into a selection process (i.e. “screens” them in), a priority referral really IS a priority — if they meet the requirements, then the hiring manager MUST hire them. Good for the employee, they get a new job; good for the hiring manager, finding someone qualified really fast. Of course, there are lots of little tricks and tips on how a hiring manager may deem that the person does NOT meet the requirements if they want to screen them out, but in theory, if a priority candidate meets the requirements, screening them “in” basically means offering them the job.
How did this work? In the past, the PSC would look at a job description, run a search on their database, and forward several resumes and cover letters to the hiring manager to consider. Alternatively, if a candidate saw a posting, they could tell the PSC they wished to be referred — sometimes they were, sometimes they weren’t (if the PSC didn’t think it was close enough, they might not forward, but usually they did). After referral, though, those generic resumes and letters pre-saved on file often didn’t cover all the possible experiences the hiring manager asked for, so the hiring manager would screen out the priority person and continue with their normal selection process. In the last two years though, the PSC has put pressure on the departments to ensure that the hiring managers at least spoke to the candidate to see if possibly they DO have the experience, it just wasn’t in the resume or letter. Part of this was in response to priority referrals feeling like they were out of the loop, and weren’t engaged enough. More bluntly, it just means that priority referrals were getting screened out too often and too easily.
The new six-month pilot project (Jan-July 2012) puts a bit more power in the hands of the person on the priority list. Instead of simply having their generic letter and resume being forwarded, there will be three steps in the initial communication process:
- The PSC will refer the name of the priority candidate to the hiring manager (before it was name and resume);
- The PSC will notify the priority candidate of the referral and send them the job description, Statement of Merit Criteria (SOMC), etc. (no major change, just more automated); and,
- The candidate will have 5 days to send the hiring manager a detailed cover letter and resume tied to the SoMC (the major change).
This means that the priority candidate will essentially be treated like every other candidate in the process — it will be incumbent upon the candidate to PROVE they meet the requirements of the position, not up to the hiring manager to play forensic detective on their resumes and guess. This is in line with the rest of the processes for regular candidates that has hardened over recent years to ensure that people have to prove merit in their application before being screened in, and if the evidence isn’t in the cover letter, they get screened out. Now, just to be nice, the PSC has said too that if the priority candidate can’t apply within five days, they can RESPOND within five days and state a date by which they can apply properly. On the other hand, the PSC is not all fun and games — they also say if the candidates do not qualify, they can send a letter saying which elements they don’t meet.
What will this mean for hiring managers? Their job just got both easier and harder — easier in the sense that the application will be tailored to THEIR job so easier to see if they fit as well as the fact that some people won’t apply in the five days for jobs that aren’t very close so smaller pool to worry about, but harder in the sense that some candidates who might not have everything will still apply and stretch their experience to try to get chosen, and so the hiring manager will have to spend more time verifying if they really DO have the experience they say they do (bearing in mind that in a typical selection process, if the hiring manager screens in a “soft” candidate on experience, the candidate still has to prove they can pass the written exam and interview questions; in this process, there is no exam or detailed interview to test the priorities!).
What will this mean for employees? Before they were often referred to more jobs than perhaps they were qualified for, anything somewhat close; now they’ll get the referral but have to do more work to actually apply for each and every job with a tailored resume, not just a generic. So more work. Plus, the hiring manager will be able to look at your detailed application and probably make the decision without talking to you — after all, if it isn’t in your application, they can screen you out more easily. Fewer interviews than in the last two years, more back to paper screening. And guess what? HR may do the screening for the hiring manager, not the hiring manager themself. Meaning possible fewer managers actually seeing your application.
Bottom-line — if you’re on a priority list and you’re good, then writing a tailored cover letter and resume to apply for jobs can only help you get selected better. If you’re on a priority list, and you’re not the greatest employee or you have really narrow skill sets, the application process will make it harder for you to get pulled or even looked at by hiring managers. It depends on how it ends up working in practice.
But I have to give some credit to the PSC — it’s definitely an innovation in managing priority referrals.