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SES Selection Authority Employee Advancement

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I'm a non veteran civilian employee at the VA within Contracting.  I've worked at the same office for an extensive amount of time and I've been very successful in my work assignments, education, certificates, appraisals, etc. from the start.  It is very clear to my peers, direct management and management beyond that I grasp everything quickly and with a clear understanding.  When it came time to be eligible to apply for an advancement opportunity within my office years ago I was referred and interviewed.  The advancement is what i would consider to be low level for my area of NJ so it should be very attainable.  However, many positions were filled and I was not selected the first time around.  The unofficial feedback I received as to why was because a hiring freeze was on the horizon and many veterans applied.  I was surprised and disappointed but as time went on and I interviewed multiple times over the years there were always an unofficial excuse and it became daunting.  Often times the hired individuals possess less experience and knowledge after they are hired and it is evident.  I've had to train selections that come in possessing less knowledge then myself, some aren't veterans but affiliates of someone in the hiring division of our office.  The hiring division of our office reports directly to the selection authority and doesn't possess HR roles or titles.  The HR office that instructs us is external but still VA.  However, after much research it seems as though the HR office really can't enforce anything or have much authority involving our hiring office following the rules other then instructing us to put in a FOIA request.  At this point it is my understanding that I have been eligible and a preferred candidate for the advanced position from the beginning but the selection authority doesn't want me to progress but since ultimately she possesses the authority to select whomever she wants I must apply elsewhere.  I know they don't follow policy in the process in many ways but I'm also unsure of my rights and what exactly a FOIA request would grant me.  My assumption is that a FOIA request would just upset them so much that they would retaliate.  Looking for suggestions or advice as this is very new to me.  

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The real question you should ask yourself is what kind of actionable intelligence a FOIA response would provide. Unless you're certain a FOIA response would reveal overwhelming evidence of a violation of law, and not simply a violation of policy, I would question the usefulness of pursuing that route. If the official who does not want to see you promoted is in a position of enough influence and power, policy essentially becomes how they and their peers interpret an issue on any given day, and there are limited avenues for appeal. Even if you believe there's a violation of law, and not just policy, do you have the money and time to pursue a legal dispute with an agency with unlimited legal resources? Most people don't. 

The bitter pill to swallow is that life isn't fair, people aren't always assessed objectively and fairly, and sometimes people don't like you for irrational reasons. You can't control the VA, or the selection authority, but you can control what you do from this point forward to get out of a bad situation and into a better one, where you can use your skills productively and be rewarded for them. 

It's also worth saying that it doesn't hurt to really try to understand deeply why the selection authority is blocking your opportunities. It very well may be that there is no good reason, but you may also find some silver lining of useful feedback. Don't let yourself get mired in an unwinnable dispute. Take the positives, where you can find them, and move on from the negatives. 

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leave this VA office unless you want to become or remain a whiny employee suffering from arrested development

if you're really that good, why do you want to beg your inferiors for scraps? take your superior skills, knowledge, personality, etc. elsewhere, where it will be appreciate

FOIA is a very, very bad idea in this situation...yes, they will retaliate!

don't fight your way into getting this job...that would be like suing someone to go on a date with you

 

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There are two options I see.  One is having candid talks with your supervisor and managers in the organization about your performance and advancement.  Get their perspectives.  Often we as individuals don’t see our work the same as they do.  For example we may think our job is make the best possible and complete contract we can.  However your supervisor may want more customer focus, speed, and responsiveness from you.  If that disconnect exists, it’s difficult to advance.  You’ll need to consider their feedback and change.  The second option is find another place to work where your talents are better suited. 

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While it is good idea to look for another office to work for, you really need to discuss it with the panel and/or your supervisor. There is probably some constructive feedback you need to hear and if doesn’t work out between you and your employer, at least you would gain perspective to avoid  those pitfalls or be mindful of them with your new employee. I think FOIA wouldn’t get you much, you could go the EEO route if you feel it is necessary but I echo what the others have said. The true litmus may be interviewing somewhere else and seeing how your current employer speaks about you.

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There’s a lot more to successfully doing a job that being proficient in the subject matter.  If your criteria differs from management, there’s a disconnect.  That usually means no advancement or recognition.  The example I mentioned earlier holds true.  

I also wanted to elaborate on this hiring issue because I feel it’s important to express another viewpoint.  Many people, including myself, that make hiring decisions don’t jump at a candidate that is highly proficient from a technical subject matter.  Other important attributes are communications both written and oral, ability to listen and understand others needs, ability to analyze and devise sound solutions, collaboration and cooperation, teamwork, flexibility, and paying attention to details and quality.  

Some of the best hires are people along way from being experts in regulations and policies.  But where they excel in this field is listening and understand the needs of others.  They are skilled in facilitating discussions to get at the real things that matter to program offices.  Then come come back and gets others in the office to brainstorm and come up with alternative solutions.  Together as a team they develop strategies with the program offices.  

Often those characteristics are what selection officials look for. Unsuccessful applicants complain because they know the FAR better, have attended more classes, have better appraisals, and possess more years of experience.  But if management doesn’t consider those a priority, those people are left with nothing but gripes.  That’s why I and others say conversations with supervisors and managers are important.  Don’t be afraid to ask frank questions and receive candid and honest feedback.  It’s rare for an agency to rig every selection.  If someone is constantly passed over, they need to find out why and how they can make changes.  Ever see the old Dilbert comic where he’s saying “I’m in procurement and my job is to say No.”  if someone has a history of telling program offices why something can’t be done and  not how to get at where they need to be, they are doomed.

 

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3 hours ago, formerfed said:

Other important attributes are communications both written and oral, ability to listen and understand others needs, ability to analyze and devise sound solutions, collaboration and cooperation, teamwork, flexibility, and paying attention to details and quality.  

How do you measure these attributes before you hire the person?

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Good question Don.  It’s easy in a place where the applicant is in the same place as you.  Otherwise references are invaluable.  That’s why networking is important.  It’s pretty easy to ask around and find out what others think.  As far as the attributes, ask for examples during interviews and include lots of questions about details and specifics while the applicant is responding.  

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I completely agree with you, FormerFed, and this could be an accurate description of what's occurring. However, things aren't always that clean. We really don't know, and can't pre-judge without being there. 

We have no real evidence at this point that who we are communicating with is a stickler for technical accuracy and lacks flexibility or communication skills. The OP seems confused. Nobody has pointed out these deficits, at least according to the post. Why assume they are there, and feedback is just being withheld in his or her performance reviews? The very first thing a person would do in this situation is ask what they're doing wrong, because if they know that, they can fix it. Assuming that happened, (big assumption, but very possible) does it make sense to not tell a person working for you where you want to see improvement? If you withhold that information, the very information they need to advance, and benefit you, and the organization, what's your real motivation?

This is the red flag for me in the post. Why doesn't he or she know what's wrong, if there is really something wrong? Even if the problem is valid, not having the will to constructively disclose the problem to the employee, knowing full well they wish to advance, indicates an organizational problem. When something is really a problem, a manager motivated by the business interests of the organization tries to solve it, and can easily communicate the specifics of the problem to the employee. Why is this person at such a loss to understand what's happening? 

It's really important for the OP to honestly sort out whether he or she is dealing with the consequences of their own deficits, and has the power to amend the situation, or whether he or she is dealing with something outside of their power to resolve. I do agree that trying to have very candid conversations with management is good advice, but it also may not solve anything. 

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fizzy,

Thats what I implied in my first post - talk with the supervisor and manager to get candid feedback.  I went off with more general comments as other posts were made getting away from the OP.

You’re exactly right in that nobody here knows about the OP and their situation.  And we both agree that the supervisor and the employee need to have a discussion.  You did bring up a point which I’m not sure if my interpretation is what you intended, but open and frank discussions is difficult.  Difficult for the employee and supervisor.  If one doesn’t want to be open and honest, not much comes out of it.

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You're right, FormerFed. Sometimes it's just human nature to have difficulty with hard conversations, and maybe there's a hard conversation looming in the background of this post. It would greatly benefit the OP to have clear feedback.

On the other hand, every once in a while situations arise where there's no rational reason for what's occurring. A person simply becomes a "target" of hostile behavior. Not everyone has witnessed or experienced it, but it's common in bureaucracies. The person is somehow different from the group, though not objectively lacking in skill, and that difference triggers defensive, exclusive behaviors from people around them. The first time I witnessed something like this happening more than 15 years ago, I was very naive about it. I just believed what I was told by my manager about person X being a problem. Years later, my perspective changed. Sometimes, people are targeted because of their competence.

It's not easy to question the people you work for, and instinctively want to please, but I believe we need to try to have the courage to think independently and be ethical in everything. At the end of the day, we really work for our country, and we have an obligation to question our leadership if we think there might be a problem. They are just civil servants, too. There is academic research on this phenomenon, if anyone is interested. It's called "mobbing" and is related to workplace bullying. I have no idea if that's what's really happening with the OP, but not understanding the reason for constant denials of promotions is a red flag. 

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11 hours ago, fizzy said:

people are targeted because of their competence

this is a huge problem in organizations that cannot fire people, and organizations that have incompetent people (there's a strong correlation there)

"Never outshine the master"

poor leaders and poor managers are always concerned that a subordinate's objective success will reveal the inadequacies of those at the top

20 hours ago, formerfed said:

Some of the best hires are people along way from being experts in regulations and policies.  But where they excel in this field is listening and understand the needs of others.  They are skilled in facilitating discussions to get at the real things that matter to program offices.  Then come come back and gets others in the office to brainstorm and come up with alternative solutions.  Together as a team they develop strategies with the program offices.  

Often those characteristics are what selection officials look for. Unsuccessful applicants complain because they know the FAR better, have attended more classes, have better appraisals, and possess more years of experience.

PepeTheFrog strongly agrees

the other side of PepeTheFrog's post is that the rude or socially awkward frog who can run rings around you with the FAR is not a helpful or productive employee unless they can be autonomous

agreeableness (the psychological quality, not the common meaning) and conscientiousness go a long way in team-oriented organizations

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On 6/4/2019 at 12:59 PM, PepeTheFrog said:

leave this VA office unless you want to become or remain a whiny employee suffering from arrested development

if you're really that good, why do you want to beg your inferiors for scraps? take your superior skills, knowledge, personality, etc. elsewhere, where it will be appreciate

FOIA is a very, very bad idea in this situation...yes, they will retaliate!

don't fight your way into getting this job...that would be like suing someone to go on a date with you

 

Follow this advice.

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