Federal Hiring Process Overhaul: Stressing Skills vs Traditional Academic Achievement

By Amanda Jones

On June 26, 2020, President Donald J. Trump issued the Executive Order on Modernizing and Reforming the Assessment and Hiring of Federal Job Candidates, in an effort to bring government agencies up to speed with newer hiring standards in the private sector. This comes in the wake of immense economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many businesses across America have restructured, conducted mass lay-offs, or shut down altogether. For those who are unemployed due to these developments, or for recent graduates looking to make their professional start, finding a job is vital. The question is: who gets hired and whose resume is tossed?

For decades, it seemed a college education was a “golden ticket” of sorts to a promising career, creating highly lucrative opportunities for graduates. In today’s “Age of Information,” a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree is often a pre-requisite for several entry-level positions. The problem? Employers can attest that a college degree is not always indicative of a good employee.

As a student pursuing a B.S. in Computer Science with a cognate in cyber security, I must confess that, despite the quality of the curriculum and of my professors, my coursework alone is insufficient to fully prepare me for a longstanding career in my desired specialty. Take the field of penetration testing as an example, where technical chops take years to develop. Since I benefit from an honors scholarship, grades are my top priority, which means I devote as much time to courses in mathematics as those in programming or networking. The result is a broad yet shallow expanse of knowledge—a good baseline for a variety of career paths. Without supplementary practice, training, and internship experience, however, I am ill-equipped to join a contracting red team.

At the same time, somewhere else in the world, a young pentester-in-the-making is unable to attend college, but has spent many sleepless nights learning the ins and outs of various Linux distros and knocking her head on the table trying to find the bug(s) in her Python script. In both cases, the apprentice is taught to persevere. After four years, one becomes a jack of many trades and earns a diploma, and one becomes rather advanced in their specialty, perhaps picking up a few certifications along the way.

Which is the better hire? There are many factors which set a candidate apart for hire in technical fields. If the sole difference is an advanced skillset vs. a Bachelor’s degree, the specialist in the relevant skillset will always be preferable. Hence why job postings in technology stress the importance of certifications, technical proficiencies, side projects, and experience during the hiring process. Federal agencies, many of which are tasked with matters of national security, are now obliged to follow these newer standards in order to hire the best and brightest.

The end-goal is to remove the barrier to entry in federal agencies by rectifying an “overreliance on college degrees” when choosing a new hire, focusing more on competencies and experience. Being a young and green professional in infosec, I cannot predict what exact organizational changes will be incited among federal agencies as a result. I can only recommend that my fellow students continue developing relationships, practical job experience, and skills in order to bolster the standard of expertise among graduates in the American workforce.

The Executive Order can be read in full at https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-modernizing-reforming-assessment-hiring-federal-job-candidates/.

Editor’s note; Amanda is a rising junior at Liberty University and a Business Development intern at BAI. She is also President of LU’s Cyber Defense Club, and a member of the LU Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition team.

 


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