Defining Proficiency Levels and Required Experience
Define proficiency levels for each competency, determining what is needed to qualify in this hiring action.
Setting the required proficiency level
Core competencies are the professional skills an applicant must possess from their first day in the position you’re hiring for, while proficiencies gauge how skilled an applicant is with the given competency. The proficiency definitions should be consistent, involving these types of differences:
- Complexity: The applicant can manage straightforward workflows -vs- can manage highly complex workflows.
- Level of detail: The applicant can explain a general concept -vs- can discuss the concept in detail.
- Scale of activity: The applicant did something at a small organization -vs- did something at a large organization.
- Seniority/independence: The applicant did something as part of a group -vs- led the group that did something.
When defining proficiency levels, you have two options.
Use two levels if your announcement is only for one GS grade and you want to save time during job analysis by defining the minimum required levels: the minimum required level (“meets”) and one level above that (“exceeds”) to establish categories as required by category rating rules. If the hiring action was for a GS-13 position, the “meets” level would mean the applicant needs 52 weeks experience at that level in order to qualify for GS-13. If your hiring action is for two GS grades, you will need at least three proficiency levels.
Example (for an analytical competency)
- GS-13 Meets: Breaks problems down into component parts. Displays repeated experience in qualitative and quantitative analysis. Defines product or project metrics beyond the basics and ties these metrics to decisions.
- GS-13 Exceeds: Brings analytical thinking to everything they do, and has a range and depth of experience doing so. Anticipates the need for metrics and analysis early in the product and project discovery and design process, and carries metrics through iterations.
Use four levels when you may want to leverage this work for other grades in the future; the same set of competencies and proficiencies can be used for different grade levels because roles that require more seniority set the required proficiencies higher than junior roles. It may also help to define four levels before deciding which level is appropriate for the grade in question. If you use four levels, we recommend these titles for each level:
Once proficiency levels are defined, HR and the SMEs will decide at which level you would require applicants to have one year of experience in order to qualify for the grade in question. For example, they made decide that to qualify for a GS-13, applicants must have one year of experience at the “Advanced” level. See this example for that scenario:
Example (for an analytical competency)
- Novice: Unable to break down problems or only talks through problems at a high level. Does not make data-driven decisions. May have classroom education in analysis.
- Competent: Displays some critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. May start to break a problem down in component parts, but cannot do so completely without help in some situations. Able to identify basic product or project metrics but does not fully connect these to business or user value.
- Advanced (minimum required for GS-13): Breaks problems down into component parts. Displays repeated experience in qualitative and quantitative analysis. Defines product or project metrics beyond the basics and ties these metrics to decisions.
- Expert: Brings analytical thinking to everything they do, and has a range and depth of experience doing so. Anticipates the need for metrics and analysis early in the product and project discovery and design process, and carries metrics through iterations.
Generic proficiency levels
Novice: Applies the competency in simple situations, requiring close and extensive guidance. Has the level of experience gained in a classroom and/or experimental scenarios or as a trainee on-the-job. Aware of terminology, concepts, principles, and issues related to this competency.
Novices have had little experience of the situation in which they are expected to perform. Their initial learning about the situation is in terms of objective attributes–those that are measurable. These are features of the task world that can be recognized without situational experiences. Novices are limited in their understanding to context-free rules that guide action–this means their behavior is limited and inflexible.
Competent: Applies the competency in difficult situations, requiring occasional guidance. Able to successfully complete tasks in this competency as requested. Demonstrates understanding of terminology, concepts, principles, and issues related to this competency.
Competent performers can see their actions in terms of long-range goals or plans. They are consciously aware of formulating, evaluating, and modifying goals or plans. The competent performer is able to generate plans in terms of current and contemplated future aspects that are most important, and those that are not. The competent performer lacks the speed and flexibility that emerges at higher levels of expertise but has a sense of mastery and the ability to cope with and manage a variety of situations.
Advanced: Applies the competency in considerably difficult situations, generally requiring little or no guidance. Recognized within immediate organization as “a person to ask” when difficult questions arise regarding this skill. Demonstrates broad understanding of terminology, concepts, principles, and issues related to this competency.
Advanced performers perceive situations as wholes, rather than in terms of situational components. Their performance is guided by “maxims.” Perception is key. Perspectives on common problems do not require significant time spent thinking things through, rather the solution “presents itself” based upon accumulated experience. The proficient performer has learned what typical events to expect in a given situation and how plans need to be modified in accord with these events. This also means that they can recognize when the expected typical picture does not materialize and can modify plans and goals accordingly. Situational aspects stand out as more or less important in this situation.
Expert: Applies the competency in exceptionally difficult situations, serving as a key resource and advising others. Demonstrates comprehensive, expert understanding of terminology, concepts, principles, and issues related to this competency.
Expert performers no longer rely on analytic principles (rules, guidelines, maxims) to connect their understanding of the situation to an appropriate action. The expert, with an enormous background of experience, has an intuitive grasp of each situation and zeros in on the accurate region of the problem without wasteful consideration of a large range of unfruitful, alternative diagnoses and solutions. The performer is no longer aware of features and rules, and their performance becomes fluid and flexible and highly proficient.
Resume review decisions
At this point, you have two more decisions to make about how your competancies will apply during resume review.
Number of reviewed resume work experience pages
Longer, government style resumes take longer for SMEs to review and can increase bias against shorter, private sector resumes. During the job analysis workshop when SMEs are practicing resume review, ask them to agree on how many pages of work experience they will review on each resume submitted. We recommend limiting reviewed pages to two or three at most. If an applicant submits a longer resume, they will not be penalized but the SMEs will not review past the documented limit.
Tech recency requirements
Technology changes quickly, and depending on the needs of your agency, SMEs may determine that applicants should demonstrate knowledge of modern technical methods, platforms, and languages within a certain number of the most recent years. We recommend that this type of technical recency be documented at between three and five years.