Competitive Service Hiring
This section provides resources for people who want to learn more about personnel assessment, assessment methods, steps to designing effective assessment strategies, and the importance of effective personnel assessment.
Learn more about Assessment
- What is personnel assessment? (READ MORE)
Personnel assessment refers to any method of collecting information on individuals for the purpose of making a selection decision. Selection decisions include, but are not limited to, hiring, placement, promotion, referral, retention, and entry into programs leading to advancement (e.g., apprenticeship, training, career development). Selecting qualified applicants is a critical step in building a talented and committed workforce, supporting an effective organizational culture, and enhancing the overall performance of the agency.
While many applicants may apply for any particular position, quantity does not guarantee quality. Assessment procedures can be a cost-effective tool in narrowing down large applicant pools. Assessment tools can also make the selection decision process more efficient because less time and fewer resources are expended dealing with applicants whose qualifications do not match what is needed by the agency.
Effective personnel assessment involves a systematic approach towards gathering information about applicants' job qualifications. Factors contributing to successful job performance (e.g., oral communication, problem solving) are identified using a process called job analysis
. Job analysis identifies the duties performed on the job and the competencies needed for effective job performance. Basing personnel assessment closely on job analysis results makes the connection between job requirements and personnel assessment tools more transparent, thereby improving the perceived fairness of the assessment process.
- What are personnel assessment tools? (READ MORE)
Generally speaking, an assessment tool is any test or procedure administered to individuals to evaluate their job-related
competencies, interests, or fitness for employment. The accuracy with which applicant assessment scores can be used to forecast performance on the job is the tool's most important characteristic, referred to as predictive validity
(Schmidt & Hunter, 1998). 
Not all assessment tools are appropriate for every job and organizational setting. Agencies must consider a number of factors in determining the most appropriate assessment strategy for a particular situation. These considerations include timetables for filling positions, available staff and financial resources, number of positions to be filled, and the nature and complexity of the work performed in the positions to be filled.
 Schmidt, F. L., & Hunter, J. E. (1998). The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: Practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 262-274
- What are the steps to effective personnel assessment? (READ MORE)
Briefly, the first step to creating an effective personnel assessment is conducting (or having) a valid, current job analysis
. The second step is to use the information gathered from the job analysis to create an assessment used to screen or assess applicants (a popular option being the occupational questionnaire
). After an initial screening has been completed, you can employ other types of assessment methods
that may be more resource-intensive, such as structured interviews
Other sections of this website will further discuss these options and provide additional information and resources.
- Why is effective personnel assessment important? (READ MORE)
It is very simple — using effective assessment tools will reduce the degree of error in making hiring decisions. Well-developed assessment tools allow agencies to specifically target the competencies and skills they seek. This helps to ensure the time spent by both applicants and agency personnel adds value to the decision-making process. Selection errors have financial and practical impacts on organizations. The consequences of even a single selection error can create problems for an entire work unit. For example, managers may have to devote substantial time training and counseling the marginal employee and coworkers must often handle increased workloads as they correct or perform the employee's work. Some selection errors can have agency-wide consequences such as customer service complaints, increases in work-related accidents and injuries, high absenteeism, poor work quality, increased turnover, or damage to the reputation of the agency.
Good assessment will also benefit employees who experience greater organizational commitment and job satisfaction because they are matched to jobs for which they are well suited. In addition, using job-related assessment tools often results in more favorable applicant reactions to the selection process. Such perceptions have lasting consequences for the agency including: promoting a positive image of the organization, increasing the likelihood of the applicant accepting a job offer, increasing the number of job referrals, and reducing the risk of selection system challenges and complaints.
- What is a competency and what is competency-based assessment? (READ MORE)
OPM defines a competency as "A measurable pattern of knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviors, and other characteristics that an individual needs to perform work roles or occupational functions successfully." Competencies specify the "how" of performing job tasks, or what the person needs to do the job successfully (Shippmann et al., 2000).  Competencies represent a whole-person approach to assessing individuals.
Competencies tend to be either general or technical. General competencies reflect the cognitive and social capabilities (e.g., problem solving, interpersonal skills) required for job performance in a variety of occupations. On the other hand, technical competencies are more specific as they are tailored to the particular knowledge and skill requirements necessary for a specific job. OPM has conducted a number of occupational studies to identify competencies for many Federal occupations. These competencies are available in the Delegated Examining Operations Handbook
 Shippman, J. S., Ash, R. A., Carr, L., Hesketh, B., Pearlman, K., Battista, M., Eyde, L. D., Kehoe., J., Prien, E. P., & Sanchez, J. I. (2000). The practice of competency modeling. Personnel Psychology, 53, 703-740.
- How do I determine which competencies are needed for the position? (READ MORE)
A job analysis identifies the job tasks, roles, and responsibilities of the incumbent performing the job, as well as the competencies required for performance, the resources used during performance, and the context (or environment) in which performance occurs. As such, a job analysis demonstrates the clear connection between job tasks and the competencies necessary to perform those tasks.
Conducting a job analysis
involves collecting information from job experts. The term subject matter expert (SME) is properly applied to anyone who has direct, up-to-date experience of a job and is familiar with all of its tasks. The person might currently hold the job or supervise the job. SMEs must provide accurate information and effectively communicate their ideas. SMEs should rate the job tasks and competencies for importance to successful job performance. Critical incidents (i.e., examples of particularly effective or ineffective work behaviors) are also developed in some cases to describe essential job functions. Documentation of the job analysis process and the linkages between job tasks, competencies, and selection tool content are essential to ensure an assessment strategy meets legal and professional guidelines. Please refer to the section on conducting a job analysis in OPM's Delegated Examining Operations Handbook
for more information.
Job analysis is the foundation for all assessment and selection decisions. To identify the best person for the job, it is crucial to fully understand the nature of that job. Job analysis provides a way to develop this understanding by examining the tasks performed in a job, the competencies required to perform those tasks, and the connection between the tasks and competencies.
Job analysis data is used to:
- establish and document competencies required for a job;
- identify the job-relatedness of the tasks and competencies needed to successfully perform the job; and
- provide a source of legal defensibility of assessment and selection procedures.
Information from a job analysis can also be used to determine job requirements, training needs, position classification and grade levels, and inform other personnel actions, such as promotions and performance appraisals.
For in-depth, step-by-step instructions for conducting a job analysis, please refer to Appendix G in the Delegated Examining Operations Handbook (PDF file)
Occupational Questionnaires (READ MORE)
With the need to hire the best candidates – and at a faster rate – than ever before, the Occupational Questionnaire has become a very popular assessment tool.
An Occupational Questionnaire typically consists of multiple choice, yes/no, or similar types of questions that cover a variety of competencies related to the position.
Occupational questionnaires are a fairly quick and inexpensive way to screen for minimum qualifications, as well as assess applicants to identify the best qualified. Other benefits of occupational questionnaires include:
- Low burden and high face validity for applicants
- Wide variety of KSAs/competencies can be assessed
- Easy to automate
- Test security is not an issue
- Measures of training and experience are familiar to agencies
A structured interview is an assessment method designed to measure job-related competencies of candidates by systematically inquiring about their behavior in past experiences and/or their proposed behavior in hypothetical situations.
Generally speaking, structured interviews ensure candidates have equal opportunities to provide information and are assessed accurately and consistently.
Structured interviews are popular because they are more personal than other assessment methods. Other benefits of structured interviews are:
- They can evaluate competencies that are difficult to measure using other assessment methods (e.g., Interpersonal Skills)
- All candidates are asked the same predetermined questions in the same order
- All responses are evaluated using the same rating scale and standards for acceptable answers
For information about how to develop and conduct a structured interview, please view the Structured Interview Guide (PDF file)
Summary Sheet and Training Presentations
A competency is a measurable pattern of knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviors, and other characteristics that an individual needs to perform work roles or occupational functions successfully. Competencies specify the "how" of performing job tasks, or what the person needs to do the job successfully.
Competencies are used for:
OPM’s MOSAIC Studies and Competencies
- assessing and selecting candidates for a job;
- assessing and managing employee performance;
- workforce planning; and
- employee training and development.
OPM has been conducting Governmentwide occupational studies using its Multipurpose Occupational Systems Analysis Inventory - Close-Ended
(MOSAIC) methodology for more than two decades. MOSAIC, a multipurpose, survey-based occupational analysis approach, is used to collect information from incumbents and supervisors on many occupations for a wide range of human resource management functions.
Through these studies, OPM has identified the critical competencies and tasks employees need to perform successfully in nearly 200 Federal occupations, as well as for leadership positions.
The foundation of the MOSAIC approach is the common language (that is, common tasks and competencies) used to describe all occupations included in the study. Furthermore, it provides agencies with a basis for building integrated human resource management systems that use a common set of tasks and competencies to structure job design, recruitment, selection, performance management, training, and career development so that employees receive a consistent message about the factors on which they are selected, trained, and evaluated.
For more information regarding MOSAIC, please refer to Appendix F of the Delegated Examining Operations Handbook (PDF file)
Many of these MOSAIC studies are available for your use:
The following tools have been created to make it easier for you to view, explore, and use MOSAIC competencies:
For more information on competencies click here
- This document, MOSAIC Competencies (PDF file) [1.23 MB], contains a comprehensive listing of all the MOSAIC competencies OPM has used. The table of contents is linked to an alphabetical listing of the competencies for ease of use.
- Would you prefer to search and/or sort all of the MOSAIC competencies? Use this MOSAIC Competencies Workbook (Excel file) [45.34 KB] to locate, search, and sort the MOSAIC competencies as needed.
Other Assessment Methods (READ MORE)
The links below present other competency-based assessment methods you may want to consider when creating your assessment plan.
As each method may play an important part in the recruitment and selection process, summary information is provided for each assessment method as well as various considerations to take into account when reviewing each assessment.
Most of the assessment methods in this section require considerable test development and measurement expertise to develop in-house. Measurement specialists can assist in selecting or developing valid, fair, and effective assessment tools to meet specific hiring needs. Many vendors offer professionally-developed assessments. Each agency is responsible for ensuring assessments meet all regulatory and legal criteria. Agencies should develop and maintain the necessary documentation to support their selection processes.
Designing an Assessment Strategy
Reliability (READ MORE)
Validity (READ MORE)
The term reliability
refers to consistency. Assessment reliability is demonstrated by the consistency of scores obtained when the same applicants are reexamined with the same or equivalent form of an assessment (e.g., a test of keyboarding skills). No assessment procedure is perfectly consistent. If an applicant's keyboarding skills are measured on two separate occasions, the two scores (e.g., net words per minute) are likely to differ.
reflects the extent to which these individual score differences are due to "true" differences in the competency being assessed and the extent to which they are due to chance, or random, errors. Common sources of such error include variations in:
- Applicant's mental or physical state (e.g., the applicant's level of motivation, alertness, or anxiety at the time of testing)
- Assessment administration (e.g., instructions to applicants, time limits, use of calculators or other resources)
- Measurement conditions (e.g., lighting, temperature, noise level, visual distractions)
- Scoring procedures (e.g., raters who evaluate applicant performance in interviews, assessment center exercises, writing tests)
A goal of good assessment is to minimize random sources of error. As a general rule, the smaller the amount of error, the higher the reliability.
is expressed as a positive decimal number ranging from 0 to 1.00, where 0 means the scores consist entirely of error. A reliability of 1.00 would mean the scores are free of any random error. In practice, scores always contain some amount of error and their reliabilities are less than 1.00. For most assessment applications, reliabilities above .70 are likely to be regarded as acceptable.
The practical importance of consistency in assessment scores is they are used to make important decisions about people. As an example, assume two agencies use similar versions of a writing skills test to hire entry-level technical writers. Imagine the consequences if the test scores were so inconsistent (unreliable) applicants who applied at both agencies received low scores on one test but much higher scores on the other. The decision to hire an applicant might depend more on the reliability of the assessments than his or her actual writing skills.
is also important when deciding which assessment to use for a given purpose. The test manual or other documentation supporting the use of an assessment should report details of reliability and how it was computed. The potential user should review the reliability information available for each prospective assessment before deciding which to implement. Reliability is also a key factor in evaluating the validity
of an assessment. An assessment that fails to produce consistent scores for the same individuals examined under near-identical conditions cannot be expected to make useful predictions of other measures (e.g., job performance). Reliability is critically important because it places a limit on validity.
Technology (READ MORE)
refers to the relationship between performance on an assessment and performance on the job. Validity is the most important issue to consider when deciding whether to use a particular assessment tool because an assessment that does not provide useful information about how an individual will perform on the job is of no value to the organization.
There are different types of validity evidence. Which type is most appropriate will depend on how the assessment method is used in making an employment decision. For example, if a work sample test is designed to mimic the actual tasks performed on the job, then a content validity
approach may be needed to establish the content of the test matches in a convincing way the content of the job, as identified by a job analysis
. If a personality test is intended to forecast the job success of applicants for a customer service position, then evidence of predictive validity
may be needed to show scores on the personality test are related to subsequent performance on the job.
The most commonly used measure of predictive validity is a correlation (or validity) coefficient. Correlation coefficients range in absolute value from 0 to 1.00. A correlation of 1.00 (or -1.00) indicates two measures (e.g., test scores and job performance ratings) are perfectly related. In such a case, you could perfectly predict the actual job performance of each applicant based on a single assessment score. A correlation of 0 indicates two measures are unrelated. In practice, validity coefficients for a single assessment rarely exceed .50. A validity coefficient of .30 or higher is generally considered useful for most circumstances (Biddle, 2005). 1
When multiple selection tools are used, you can consider the combined
validity of the tools. To the extent the assessment tools measure different job-related factors (e.g., reasoning ability and honesty) each tool will provide unique information about the applicant's ability to perform the job. Used together, the tools can more accurately predict the applicant's job performance than either tool used alone. The amount of predictive validity one tool adds relative to another is often referred to as the incremental validity
of the tool. The incremental validity of an assessment is important to know because even if an assessment has low validity by itself, it has the potential to add significantly to the prediction of job performance when joined with another measure.
Just as assessment tools differ with respect to reliability, they also differ with respect to validity. The following table provides the estimated validities of various assessment methods for predicting job performance (represented by the validity coefficient), as well as the incremental validity gained from combining each with a test of general cognitive ability
. Cognitive ability tests are used as the baseline because they are among the least expensive measures to administer and the most valid for the greatest variety of jobs. The second column is the correlation of the combined tools with job performance, or how well they collectively relate to job performance. The last column shows the percent increase in validity
from combining the tool with a measure of general cognitive ability. For example, cognitive ability tests have an estimated validity of .51 and work sample tests have an estimated validity of .54. When combined, the two methods have an estimated validity of .63, an increase of 24% above and beyond what a cognitive ability test used alone could provide.
Table 1: Validity of Various Assessment Tools Alone and in Combination
||Validity of method used alone
||Incremental (combined) validity
||% increase in validity from combining tool with cognitive ability
|Tests of general cognitive ability
|Work sample tests
|Job knowledge tests
|Years of job experience
|Training & experience point method
|Years of education
Table adapted from Schmidt & Hunter (1998). Copyright © 1998 by the American Psychological Association. Adapted with permission. 2
* Referred to as the training & experience behavioral consistency method in Schmidt & Hunter (1998).
Legal Context of Assessment (READ MORE)
The technology available is another factor in determining the appropriate assessment tool. Agencies that receive a large volume of applicants for position announcements may benefit from using technology to narrow down the applicant pool, such as online screening of resumes or online biographical data (biodata) tests
. Technology can also overcome distance challenges and enable agencies to reach and interview a larger population of applicants.
However, because technology removes the human element from the assessment process, it may be perceived as "cold" by applicants, and is probably best used in situations that do not rely heavily on human intervention, such as collecting applications or conducting applicant screening. Technology should not be used for final selection decisions, as these traditionally require a more individualized and in-depth evaluation of the candidate (Chapman and Webster, 2003). 3
Face Validity/Applicant Reactions (READ MORE)
Any assessment procedure used to make an employment decision (e.g., selection, promotion, pay increase) can be open to claims of adverse impact
based on subgroup differences. Adverse impact is a legal concept used to determine whether there is a "substantially different" passing rate (or selection rate) between two groups on an assessment procedure (see www.uniformguidelines.com
(external link) for a more detailed discussion). Groups are typically defined on the basis of race (e.g., Blacks compared to Whites), gender (i.e., males compared to females), or ethnicity (e.g., Hispanics compared to Non-Hispanics). Assessment procedures having an adverse impact on any group must be shown to be job-related (i.e., valid).
What is a "substantially different" passing rate? The Uniform Guidelines provide a variety of statistical approaches for evaluating adverse impact. The most widely used method is referred to as the 80% (or four-fifths) rule-of-thumb. The following is an example where the passing rate for females is 40% and the passing rate for males is 50%. The Uniform Guidelines lay out the following steps for computing adverse impact:
- Divide the group with the lowest rate (females at 40%) by the group with the highest rate (males at 50%)
- In this case, divide 40% by 50% (which equals 80%)
- Note whether the result is 80% or higher
According to the 80% rule, adverse impact is not indicated as long as the ratio is 80% or higher. In this case, the ratio of the two passing rates is 80%, so evidence of adverse impact is not found and the passing rate of females is not considered substantially different from males.
Agencies are encouraged to consider assessment strategies to minimize adverse impact. When adverse impact is discovered, the assessment procedure must be shown to be job-related and valid for its intended purpose.
Designing a Selection Process (READ MORE)
When applicants participate in an assessment process, they are not the only ones being evaluated; the agency is being evaluated as well. Applicants who complete an assessment process leave with impressions about the face validity
and overall fairness of the assessment procedure. Their impressions can also be impacted by whether they believe they had a sufficient opportunity to display their job-related competencies. The quality of the interactions between the applicant and agency representatives can also affect applicant reactions. Agencies using grueling assessment procedures may end up alienating applicants. It is important to recognize applicants use the assessment process as one means to gather information about the agency. Failure to act on this fact can be very costly to agencies, particularly if top candidates are driven to look elsewhere for employment opportunities.
Ensuring an Effective Assessment Process (READ MORE)
The design of an assessment strategy should begin with a review of the critical competencies identified from the job analysis
results. Once you decide what to assess, you must then determine how to structure the personnel assessment process. In designing a selection process, a number of practical questions must be addressed, such as:
- How much money is available?
- What assessment tool(s) will be selected?
- If using multiple tools, in what order should they be introduced?
- Are trained raters needed, and if so, how many (e.g., for conducting interviews)?
- How many individuals are expected to apply?
- What is the timeframe for filling vacancies?
For example, if your budget is tight, you will need to rule out some of the more expensive methods such as assessment centers
or work simulation tests
. If you are expecting to receive thousands of applications (based on projections from similar postings), you will need to develop an effective screening mechanism ahead of time. If you need to fill a vacancy and only have a few weeks to do so, then a multi-stage process will probably not be feasible. In working out answers to these questions, it is usually helpful to think in terms of the entire selection process, from beginning to end.
One key consideration is the number of assessment tools to include in the process. Using a variety of assessments tends to improve the validity
of the process and will provide information on different aspects of an applicant's likely job performance. Using a single measure will tend to identify applicants who have strengths in a specific area but may overlook applicants who have high potential in other areas. Assessing applicants using multiple methods will reduce errors because people may respond differently to different methods of assessment. For example, some applicants who excel at written tests may be too nervous to do well in interviews, while others who suffer from test anxiety may give impressive interviews. Another advantage of using a variety of assessment methods is a multiple hurdle approach can be taken. The least expensive assessments can be used first to pare down the applicant pool. More labor-intensive and time-consuming procedures can be introduced at a later stage when there are fewer candidates to evaluate.
Considering which assessment methods best measure which competencies at which stage in the process should help you develop a process well suited to your agency's hiring needs.
Agencies are encouraged to standardize and document the assessment process through the following steps:
- Treat all individuals consistently. This is most easily accomplished by adopting a standardized assessment and decision-making process. "Standardizing" means making a process uniform to ensure the same information is collected on each individual and is used in a consistent manner in employment decisions.
- Ensure the selection tool is based on an up-to-date job analysis and is supported by strong validity evidence. A validation study can verify applicants who score well on the selection device are more likely to do well on the job and contribute to organizational success. Agencies not familiar with validation research methodology are encouraged to consult a measurement expert.
- To ensure applicants perceive the process as fair, agencies are encouraged to:
- Offer applicants a realistic job preview before the assessment process
- Discuss with applicants the rationale for using the selection device, as well as what it assesses and why these competencies are important to the job
- Provide applicants the opportunity to ask questions about the job and the selection process
- Treat individuals with respect, sensitivity, and impartiality during the process
- Provide feedback about all hiring decisions in a timely and courteous manner
- Elicit feedback from applicants (those selected and those not selected) on the selection process
- Ensure all persons involved in the selection process (e.g., administrators, interviewers, assessors) understand their roles and responsibilities
Assessment Decision Tool (READ MORE)
The Assessment Decision Tool (ADT) is designed to help human resources professionals and hiring supervisors/managers develop assessment strategies for their specific hiring situation (e.g., volume of applicants, level of available resources).
The basic steps are:
- Indicate whether you are looking for general assessment information or developing an assessment strategy.
- Provide additional information, such as the specific type of assessment method you're interested in, the type of position you are filling, the competencies required for the job, and your hiring situation.
- Review and print your summary report.
That's all there is to it! Get started
The ADT is located on a different section of OPM's website and will open in a new window.
What Can You Do When Having Questions or Problems?
If you experience any problems while using the ADT or have questions about what to do, please submit a query at the technical support page
. If you have questions or comments on the content of the ADT, please send an e-mail to Assessment_Information@opm.gov
- Purchasing an “off-the-shelf” assessment or looking to have someone create an assessment for you? Appendix B of the DEO Handbook (PDF file) [2.01 MB] outlines criteria you will want to keep in mind when selecting assessment tools.
- This summary sheet highlights four steps to designing a tailored assessment process. (PDF file) [216.39 KB]
- These slides provide additional information for designing your own assessment strategy. (PDF file) [1.05 MB]
- The Leveraging Assessments: How to Effectively Measure Competencies for Selection webinar transcript (PDF file) [2.73 MB] covers why to use assessments, what assessments are available to you, and how to get the most bang for your buck when choosing assessments.
- Wonder what other agencies are doing in regards to assessment strategies? The Working Together: Sharing Assessment Practices in the HR Community webinar transcript (PDF file) [3.04 MB] highlights various ideas and best practices from other HR professionals across the country regarding person/job fit, recruitment strategies, gathering job analysis data, and many other helpful tips.
- The Assessing Students and Recent Graduates presentation (PDF file) [861.63 KB] provides an overview of Pathways Programs, the importance of assessment, and a review of assessment methods that are well-suited for students and recent graduates.
- This video presentation provides an overview of assessment tools and strategy, as well as job analysis.
- OPM’s website provides resources for people who want to learn more about personnel assessment, assessment methods, steps to designing effective assessment strategies, and the importance of effective personnel assessment.
Sources of Additional Information
For a more in-depth introduction to personnel assessment practices, including measurement techniques and related considerations (e.g., reliability, validity, job analysis, and legal requirements), refer to Essentials of Personnel Assessment and Selection by Guion and Highhouse (2006). 5
For a non-technical summary of the research literature on the value of commonly used assessment methods, see Selection Methods: A Guide to Implementing Formal Assessments to Build a High Quality Workforce (Pulakos, 2005). 6
More information about designing and implementing a selection process can be found in Competency-based Recruitment and Selection: A Practical Guide by Wood and Payne (1998). 7
1 Biddle, D. (2005). Adverse Impact and Test Validation: A Practitioner's Guide to Valid and Defensible Employment Testing. Burlington, VT: Gower Publishing.
2 Schmidt, F. L., & Hunter, J. E. (1998). The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: Practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 262-274.
3 Chapman, D. S., & Webster, J. (2003). The use of technologies in the recruiting, screening, and selection processes for job candidates. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 11, 113-120.
4 Gilliland, S. W., & Cherry, B. (2000). Managing customers of selection. In J. K. Kehoe (Ed.), Managing Selection in Changing Organizations (pp. 158-196). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
5 Guion, R. M., & Highhouse, S. (2006). Essentials of Personnel Assessment and Selection. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
6 Pulakos, E. D. (2005). Selection Methods: A Guide to Implementing Formal Assessments to Build a High Quality Workforce. Alexandria, VA: SHRM Foundation.
7 Wood, R., & Payne, T. (1998). Competency-based Recruitment and Selection: A Practical Guide. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.