SPB’s approach to thwart proposal for simplified state hiring of college graduates

The State Personnel Board is expected to approve the creation of a new general classification over the next few months, provided agreement is reached with the unions and the Department of Personnel Administration. The classification will be named Governmental Program Analyst.

The new classification will be a super-graded Staff Services Analyst. Currently, the pay range for a Staff Services Analyst Range C is $42,456-51,600/year. Analysts at the SPB have indicated that the classification will be instituted with a “provision to hire above the minimum salary step for exceptional candidates.”

Ann Sheehen, a member of the SPB, has been pushing for a methodology by which the state can hire any college graduate. The minimum requirement for the new classification will be a bachelor’s degree. The SPB will administer an Internet based “life experience questionnaire.” The test will focus on the needed core skills and identify the training, education, experiences and background of the person taking the test. In essence, it will be self-assertion of one’s experience.

Why The State Should Re-Think the New Classification. Sheehen’s simple proposal–to allow any college graduate to directly apply for a state job–will be twisted to death under the weight of the state bureaucracy under the current proposal. It is a good concept. However, there may be a better way to implement the concept and use the existing classification structure.

Name Change. Part of the effort involves getting college students to know that the state of California has great jobs. No one outside of the California civil service system can figure out what a “staff services analyst” is or does. Just changing the name to “Governmental Program Analyst” or “Assistant Governmental Program Analyst” would be help in marketing the opportunities to college graduates.

Salary Levels. The SPB staff is correct when it indicates “salaries of clerical classes have overtaken the SSA salary which may no longer be competitive to attract college graduates.” The current minimum pay level for SSAs is $32,688/year. That’s too low for current college graduates.

In addition, the lower salary encourages, under current rules, clerical employees to transfer into the SSA classification without meeting the education and experience requirements. The SPB should work with the Department of Personnel Administration and the unions to raise the pay of the SSA classification.

Prohibit Transfers. The new classification of Governmental Program Analyst, as proposed by the SPB, would not be open to “transferring” employees. Once in state service, employees can transfer to any position within 10% of their current salary range without meeting education and experience requirements.

This loophole is not enshrined in any union contract yet. Therefore, the SPB should eliminate the loophole which allows employees to circumvent “education and experience” requirements from the inside. The SPB should do this immediately for all classifications as it would ensure every employee employed in any classification has met the “minimum requirements.” The minimum requirement for the Staff Services Analyst classification includes a bachelor’s degree. If any current state employee holds the position without a bachelor’s degree, they have utilized a loophole that was opened and can be closed by the SPB.

Test Availability. The method by which the SPB allocates testing slots for the current SSA classification is faulty and is biased in favor of current state employees based in Sacramento. The SPB tests for this classification only 3-4 times per month in Sacramento. Only 55 people can test at a time. Therefore, only about 2,000 people can test annually.

The SPB utilizes a “Canadian health care” model for rationing the 2,000 slots among the ten million Californians with college degrees. This is how it works. Periodically during the month, the SPB Web site opens the testing slots without notice–and within 10 minutes all 55 slots are filled. Most are filled by current state employees with advance notice of when the slots will be released (this is a legal form of utilizing “insider” information which should be eliminated forthwith).

The SPB should implement a process by which thousands of California college graduates are encouraged to take the test every year. The current method does not encourage anyone except existing state employees.

Test Validity. The SSA test, as currently administered by the SPB, has no validity. Validity of testing is established by coefficients and even the SPB staff will indicate that the coefficient of the SSA test is in the 10-20 percent range. The failure of the SPB to post on its website any information as to the validity of its testing processes, allowing peer and other review, indicates the board’s own insecurity with its testing regime.

The California constitution requires that appointments be made under a “general regime of competitive examinations.” A better way may be to simplify the SSA process and meet the state’s need to follow constitutional requirements along with Ann Sheehen’s desire to allow college graduates to apply for state jobs more effectively.

Instead of using a test of questionable validity, the SPB can simply establish two ranks for the SSA classification. Rank 1 would include those with both a master’s and a bachelor’s degrees and Rank 2 would include those with a bachelor’s degrees only. State managers can easily hire anyone in the top three ranks and therefore anyone with a college degree would be eligible for immediate appointment.

A Great Idea About to be Killed by the Bureaucracy. Sheehan’s proposal for a “direct hire” approach for college gradates into state service is a great idea. The SPB staff has proposed a convoluted response to Sheehen that will not result in significant changes in the system.

In addition, the SPB staff has proposed a “life experience” testing process for the new classification. In the late 1990s, the SPB utilized a similar testing process for the SSA classification. The SPB has significant data on this testing process from its previous experience. Sheehen, before accepting this testing process, should ask the SPB staff for its analysis of the successes and failures of the previous experience. We believe a fair analysis of the previous testing experience would require rejection of the proposed new testing process.

On paper, the SPB appears to have met Sheehen’s goal of being able to hire college graduates on an expedited basis. However, like many plans, this one looks good on paper, but will not work in the real world of state hiring. The SPB staff should be instructed to present a more viable plan before the board itself signs on.

Ken Mandler teaches a monthly workshop on How to Land a State Job. The workshop focuses on a variety of tactics and strategies designed to make the state job process an effective one for you. The workshops are three and one-half hours and include over 400 pages of information for your review. The cost is $84. The next workshops are scheduled for Saturday, June 2, 9am-12:30pm; or Tuesday, July 24, 6:30-10pm. You can sign up at or by calling Ken Mandler at (916) 443-6788 today. You can e-mail Ken Mandler at

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: