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Merit-Based Hiring

What is Merit-Based Hiring?

The State of California hiring process, like for most government jobs, is merit-based. A merit-based system means that all hires and promotions are based on an individual’s qualifications for a position.

A hiring system based on merit ensures that vacancies are filled by applicants with the knowledge, skills and ability that are most likely to lead to success in the position. A hiring system based on merit takes nepotism and discrimination out of the process and prevents hiring managers from making appointments based on arbitrary factors not related to a person’s ability.

The State of California uses several tools to ascertain a candidate’s merit. The most important of these tools is a competitive examination, specific to the classification. The examination can take many forms (written, oral, etc.) but its sole purpose is to measure a test-taker’s knowledge, skills and ability as it relates to a specific job.

For a lot of jobseekers, it's the exam phase of the hiring process that causes the most frustration and confusion. A solid understanding of the State's exam process will be very beneficial when searching for a government job in California.

Most exams score candidates on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the more qualified a jobseeker is considered to be for a position. Each classification in the State’s civil service requires a separate examination, because each classification has its own requirements, duties and levels of responsibility. Although many classifications are similar, none are identical.

A merit-based hiring system means that any non-job-related factors cannot be used in appointment decisions. These include things like race, religion, ancestry, age, sexual orientation, disability or political or religious group. It also works to prevent hiring based on personal relationships. Anything that is not directly related to the functions of the job or a candidate’s ability to perform those functions cannot be used to make a hiring determination.

Who Enforces Merit-Based Hiring?

A merit-based hiring system is written into the California constitution. The California State Personnel Board (SPB) oversees ensuring the merit principles and civil service laws are upheld by all State hiring departments. SPB writes and enforces the rules necessary to ensure that all appointments made in the State are based on these principles and laws. An appoint to California civil service that is not merit based is unlawful and a serious and punishable violation. SPB routinely conducts audits on hiring departments and investigates their practices for compliance.

Each department or agency in the State of California is an appointing authority. This means they are free to conduct hiring and promotions independently. However, their authority to conduct hiring is granted by SPB and all hiring authorities must adhere to the merit hiring rules they set forth. Failure to follow merit principles in hiring can result in punitive action. The most serious punishment a hiring department can face is a revocation of their power to conduct their own hiring.

How Does This Relate to the Overall Hiring Process?

State of California hiring departments conduct exams for classifications to determine who the most qualified candidates for a position are. After an exam, candidates receive a score for their exam which determines their rank. There could be one person in a rank, or, for more common classifications, there could be hundreds.

Hiring departments aren’t obligated to hire the top person on a list of eligible candidates. Generally, though, they must hire someone that is in one of the top 3 ranks. In State of California hiring, this is called the Rule of 3 Ranks.

Employers can consider other factors when making a hiring decision, such as a candidate’s resume, interview, statement of qualifications or references. This is the selection phase of the process If a candidate is determined to be the most qualified based on these factors, they can be hired if they’re in ranks 1,2 or 3. This, according to the State’s hiring rules is in line with merit hiring principles.

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