Agencies often look within the government, and especially within themselves, when filling mid-level positions but they don’t always properly prepare employees to take internal promotions, MSPB has said.

An MSPB publication examined more closely an issue — how agencies recruit and hire new HR staff members — that arose in its recent study finding that long-running efforts still have not achieved their goal of shifting shift HR offices from being compliance-oriented to a strategic planning role.


MSPB said that it found that over 2014-2018, 74 percent new HR specialists were hired from within the government and that among those, 86 were current employees of the agency and the most common previously-held occupation was HR assistant. “Although promoting HR assistants serves to provide a needed career path, it is not clear whether agencies are properly preparing assistants for these new responsibilities,” it said.

It said that in focus groups it conducted, concerns arose about a practice of effectively “automatic” promotions “with no consideration of how well the HR employee was performing or understood assigned HR functions; supervisors who “did not have the time to document why someone should not be promoted”; and “staffing pressures to promote ambitious, competent employees simply to keep them. Many participants believed that retention challenges undermined a rigorous approach to staff evaluation and promotion.”

Said MSPB: “Promotion from within has advantages, such as providing employees with incentives for high performance, affording employees opportunities for advancement, and making better use of talented employees who have the ability to perform in more demanding roles and who know the organization. However, it is only effective when organizations ensure that the promoted employees have the necessary fundamental skills.”

“This is accomplished through using high-quality assessments to evaluate their abilities, followed by providing the training, development, and feedback needed to succeed as a technical expert and advisor. Unfortunately, it appears this may not always be the case,” it said.

MSPB noted that while agencies said they tend to rely on occupational questionnaires in assessing candidates, its prior studies have shown that they are not highly valid assessment tools.” Further, most agencies told MSPB that they lack a comprehensive HR training plan or program, typically because of resource constraints.

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2022 Federal Employees Handbook