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An Employee Invention
Test Helps Grant Managers Hire Qualified Staff

By Jilliene Mitchell

Hiring a new employee can be challenging and time-consuming. The supervisor must post an announcement, interview candidates, contact references and finally select the best qualified individual. For specialized work, it is important to maximize the likelihood that the person selected will be able to perform the tasks. Even after going through this extensive process, there's still a possibility that the person hired will not be suitable for the position.

That's the challenge Marcia Cohn, an NIGMS supervisory grants management specialist, faced when hiring new grants management specialists. So she decided to find a way to make sure that future applicants had the specialized skills the job demands. Using a job analysis (a process of examining job duties to determine competencies to measure in the hiring decision) in conjunction with the Office of Personnel Management's Multipurpose Occupational Systems Analysis Inventory Close-Ended (MOSAIC — a method for conducting government-wide occupational studies), Cohn pinpointed quantifiable criteria that could help her rank job candidates. She found that skill in mathematical reasoning was essential but was difficult to assess via interviews, resumés and reference checks. For this reason, Cohn and NIGMS colleagues created a performance exercise or work sample — a tool to help select the most qualified job applicants.

Marcia Cohn, an NIGMS supervisory grants management specialist

"We developed 10 mathematical computation questions that reflect the types of problems an individual would face in a grants management job," Cohn said.

With the support of NIGMS's chief grants management officer, Joe Ellis, Cohn got approval for the exercise from various institute authorities. She tested it on a variety of individuals, including those in grants management positions. She refined the questions based on input from the test group. Since 2000, the NIGMS Grants Management Branch has been using the tool to supplement the standard hiring procedure.

"I found that we're doing a better job of hiring because you wouldn't necessarily know by interviewing someone and reading his or her resumé if the person can analyze a situation and do, for example, the needed calculation of percentages," Cohn explained.

This year, some of Cohn's colleagues in other institutes and centers used the performance exercise for the first time. Her counterparts at NIMH and NICHD pursued a joint vacancy announcement with NIGMS. This required Cohn to get the performance exercise approved by the NIH Office of Human Resources for use by all of NIH.

"I think the performance exercise can be a helpful tool in the selection of candidates for grants management specialist positions throughout the NIH," said Michael Rosenthal, deputy director of the Client Services Division in the NIH Office of Human Resources.

"Marcia and I worked together in order to ensure that the performance exercise met OPM's guidelines for validity and consistency. I'm confident that its use will help produce good selection decisions," he continued.

Cohn believes that the time and effort she put into the project were well spent. She hopes that in the future more grants management offices throughout NIH will use it.

"I'm very proud and pleased because I've been working for years trying to make a difference in how we hire," Cohn said. "It gives us a better chance of getting people who have the skills, knowledge and abilities to do these important jobs."

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