Experience With Government Hiring Bureaucracy

By: Michael Dennis

Profile of Carolyn Dennis

Utah Department of Professional Licensing Analyst Carolyn Dennis has had a non-typical rise through the ranks of government to her current position. She sits on the hiring committee which interviews and recommends prospective senior level applicants to the department. She also advises the department on efficiency issues within and effecting the department. Efficiency issues are in essence employee or red tape issues bottle necking government processes. Her input has led to writing legislative bills with lawmakers to streamline government process, implementing advanced technology to eliminate old and outdated processes, and staffing changes to groups within the department.

Carolyn’s rise to this level of government is interesting because of her experience and background. Shortly after graduating high school, she joined Continental Airlines as a customer service agent at one of their call centers. Within two years of working as a customer service agent for Continental, they recruited her to join a group within the airline whose sole job was to contact customers when the customers were impacted by service delivery failures. Carolyn says, “This job taught me how to interact with people and provide the best solution available when conditions were at their worst”. Within two years of joining the group, Carolyn had risen to a management position where she was overseeing the team of people performing this service.

In 2001, after the September 11th terrorist event the airline industry accelerated on a major shift in how airlines do business, and the level of service they give to customers. Because of major changes to benefits and airline consolidations Carolyn decided to pursue a position in government. She says, “My decision to go work for government was primarily for the health insurance and retirement benefits. I had gotten married and had two kids. I was looking for a stable job that had great benefits”. She was able to find a position with the Utah Department of Professional Licensing as an office specialist.

Carolyn has always had an ability to rise within the organizations she serves to some kind of management role. I am sure this has a lot to do with her insatiable reading habit. She studies world history in her spare time and has a mastery of speaking with proper English. While she is not a religious person, she is able to talk intelligently about theology. I have had several chances to watch her talk intellectual circles around “experts”. She has an uncanny ability to analyze just about any situation, and implement a course of action that is appropriate.

I had an opportunity to sit down with Carolyn and talk about some of her experiences in sitting on the departments hiring committee and advising on employee issues:

What is your experience with pay equality of government vs private sector?

“In every job I have hired applicants for the states wage offered and wage calculation is less than the market rate. The state calculates a “benefit” value comprised of retirement contributions, insurance contributions and some other miscellaneous contributions to make up the difference. Typically, the offered wage and benefits calculation come close to market rates for the positon”.

You mention the state using benefits to bring the pay rate up to market rate. You have also been with the state for more than 10 years. What were the impacts of the benefits offered to you in deciding to go to work for the state? Have the benefits changed since you were hired?

“One of the primary reasons I left the private sector was the benefits package offered. When I first started working for the state, I had taken an entry-level position and a large pay cut, but my monthly health insurance dropped from over $600 a month to less than $100. The state also offers a pension in addition to 401k benefits”.

“Our insurance has been slowly creeping up in cost. The coverage is still much better than most private sector positions offer at a much lower cost. The creeping costs are concerning, especially if they continue because at some point that benefit will not be worth near what it is now if the creep continues. I also have concerns that the pension may not be there in the future. It has been tweaked at least once while I have been with the state. I watched my pension with the airline dissolve and ultimately I got a check for approximately $1000 for all my years of service there”.

Shifting gears here, what are the effects of education on hiring and promotion within the state?

“For entry level positions, we generally do not weight degrees into the selection process; however, for anything other than the lowest hiring level, it’s the first screening tool used. Several people in my office disregard all experience in lieu of education. In a recent hiring process, if the individual attended a Top 50 nationally ranked school, they received 10 points toward their interview “score”. The remaining resume review and interview accounted for a max of ten”.

In your typical hiring cycle, are you able to hire qualified applicants? Do they typically stay with the organization?

“It depends on the job market. I’ve been in a position that does a lot of hiring for over 10 years. As the economy fluctuates, so does our applicant quality. The method the state uses to recruit is difficult. You only see the individuals HR selects for you, so out of a recruitment that received 100 applicants; you usually start with 10 resumes. If you do not find someone that fits, you can request more. It is common for us to ask for more names once or twice in order to find the right fit. As far as staying, because we are a good-sized department, we are usually able to find a job that keeps the best with us. Unfortunately, one of the reasons we end up losing the great employees is they get tired of working with the not so great ones… and getting the wrong people off the bus is hard”.

You mention problem employees, if you have problem employees, are you able to address the issues with them and terminate easily if you cannot reach a solution with the employee?

Terminations for performance issues take a lot of work, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be a long drawn out process. The State requires a lot of documentation before you can fire someone for a performance issue. There have been a few “for cause” firings that I’ve been a part of where someone did something egregious, but general performance is a lot harder and can take 6–12 months”.

Last question, what are some things that you see that can be done better to recruit, hire, and retain employees in government positions.

“Unfortunately, in an attempt to take all possible human error out of the process, the government has taken all human intuition out of the process. Because of that, everything takes three times longer than it should because every step must be documented. Managers are far removed from most of the “final” decisions. There needs to be more trust in managers. Allowing hiring managers to be more involved in the selection process, allowing managers to act quickly when there are employee issues (for example, not making us wait 3 weeks while all the lawyers review a written letter of discipline), etc.”

Carolyn meeting with former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr.

Michael Mark Dennis. “Experience With Government Hiring Bureaucracy.” Interview. 25 Sept. 2016.

Stuart Adams “The Utah Compromise.” Library of law and Liberty Website http:// ww.libertylawsite.org/2015/04/14/the-utah-compromise/org. Web/Picture. 25 Sept. 2016.

Carolyn Dennis. “Experience With Government Hiring Bureaucracy.” Picture. 9 Oct. 2016.

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