Kitchen reno from heck: Dining room area


Before we started the reno, we had a dining room of sorts. Essentially, when you came into the front of the house, there was a small foyer, and then you went up two steps to a big room that was one-half living room and one-half dining room. It was configured as such, but we never used the dining room, for a couple of reasons.

First, we like having our table in the big kitchen. All together, easy to move from one to the other. It’s also how I grew up, one big kitchen, and while I’m not against a dining room, I don’t mind the kitchen and eating area being one.

Second, we didn’t like the location of the dining room. If you were eating, you would feel a lot like you were almost at the front door, particularly if anyone came by and knocked. Sure, lots of people say, “Oh, eat in the kitchen when it is just you, but use the dining room when you have guests.” But, then I’m just using the dining room on the rare occasions when we have guests? Plus, hello, would you eat dinner on your front porch? There was no separation from the living room or the foyer, so it just felt too close to the front of the house, too exposed.

So the dining room was dead space. We had an idea to make it into a gaming area, i.e. with a table for board games and some shelving, but we hadn’t ever gotten that far in our plans yet. We had a coffee table sitting there that Jacob used for Lego, and a big china cabinet that we really liked but was pretty big for our needs. Early on in the planning, I was worried with the initial redesign that we wouldn’t have enough cupboard space, and I was wondering if we could blow out the wall in between the kitchen and the dining room and just enlarge the kitchen another couple of feet. Seemed doable, and got us thinking along those lines.

However, that wall has a LOT of ducts running through it, some pipes, etc. All movable to some extent but it’s also load-bearing. We could have worked around it, but that would have necessitated a lot more cost and some changes in the basement config we had already done (one option was to MOVE THE FURNACE!!!), so we eventually took that off the list. They finally agreed that they could open up the wall somewhat, enough for a door. Which eventually got us thinking about a walk-in pantry.

This was a pretty attractive idea, and while we debated if we actually needed it or not, we never doubted that it was highly desirable. In the end, the cost differential with and without was minimal in the grand scheme of things, so we started factoring it in. Then we had a small brainwave — what if we moved our upright freezer from the basement and put it in the pantry. The idea blew our minds. The convenience would be AWESOME. I had almost convinced Andrea that we could afford a big honking new fridge (one of my main complaints in the old kitchen was not so much flow as the limitations within the fridge and lack of adequate prep area for making lunches each night). The new fridge had more interior space, ice and water, a separate deli tray with separate temperature control (to change it from cooling snacks for a party to being same as your fridge or even keeping fish fresh), and a decently-sized bottom freezer. More space than we had in the old fridge’s freezer, but moving the full freezer to the pantry? Genius.

So we blew out part of the wall to make a door, had them put in some cupboards, left room for the fridge, and added a broom closet. That doesn’t sound that exciting, a broom closet, but when you have no place on the first floor to even keep a broom, a broom closet can be VERY exciting. Trust me, I saw the excitement, even if I didn’t feel it. Of course, adding a pantry ate into the dining room space, and we got rid of the china cabinet (replacing it in part with a new built in one). It also gave us a small nook to put the aquarium in, and add some open shelving to put some candles on, etc. All good options. Shortens the big room, or alternatively, enlarges the living room. Much more functional use of the space.

Only one problem. The idiots designing the pantry didn’t take into account the size of the freezer, swing space for the door, depth of the cupboards and swing space of those doors. Seriously, I’m not kidding. They built it, and even before they put the cupboards in, it seemed a little small. Plenty wide, but depth seemed low. They knew the exact dimensions of the freezer, including even which way it opened (it isn’t a reversible one). They get it all built (I had to warn them repeatedly about the width of the door to get the freezer even into the room), put the freezer in it, and it doesn’t fit. I mean, I came home that night and it was ridiculous, not even CLOSE to fitting.

If you pushed the freezer right into the corner, and turned 90 degrees, the door would open and hit the wall before it cleared enough to get into it. If you pulled it out from the wall far enough, it crowded the cupboards. If you turned it to face the cupboards (which is the solution they had gone with, and left it with us to see if we could “live with it”), there was about 8-10 inches to open the door. Which would mean the basket wouldn’t come out either. Plus, even the doors on the cupboards didn’t really open properly if the freezer was there. There was no excuse for this error, they had the full dimensions of the freezer, and the cupboards, and we even asked if the room needed to be bigger — another foot or two into the dining room would have made very little difference to us, but no, they assured us everything would fit.

So, with a messed up pantry, we had a few options:

  1. Move the freezer back downstairs;
  2. Squeeze the freezer into the corner of the unit and deal with the incredible tightness, lowering the functionality and convenience considerably, plus upping the regular annoyance factor, and requiring the doors come off one section of the cupboards too so the shelves would be accessible;
  3. Ripping out part of the cupboards (losing close to 40% of our cupboard space) to force-fit the freezer into one of the corners; or,
  4. Ripping it all out and moving the wall back another two feet or so.

None of the options were palatable. If they hadn’t taken six weeks to get to that stage, and they weren’t even done yet, I might have said, “Sorry, your error, you move the wall so it fits”, but that would have added at least another week to the project as well as spread dust everywhere, etc. We weren’t willing to do anything that would be setting us back that far in the process, and we didn’t want to lose the cupboard space. We can always do that at some point if we want to, or put in a small chest freezer, but in the end, the simplest solution was just to move the freezer back downstairs. They ended up having to take the freezer back downstairs again, the third time they had to empty the freezer to move everything (they tried once, early on, got it emptied but then couldn’t get the door off…it has special locking bolts built in, so they put everything back in until they got the right tool).

And it has been okay…we ended up with a fairly roomy walk-in pantry. Andrea tells me there’s a door there, and I saw it when it was put in, but normally we just leave it open (she shut it for a party recently). We haven’t organized it yet, at least not to my satisfaction (I want more space for extra food more than just all our extra food equipment), but it’s completely workable for now. I’m waiting until the new year when Andrea will be done her schoolwork, and we will have some time to decompress a bit with it.

Old dining room space

China cabinet, sold off before reno

The level of complication in that kitchen wall – ducts everywhere!

And the wall is load-bearing too, particularly for the post

Framing the pantry…it looked small, and it turned out it was!

More framing before they started on the ductwork on the other side

More framing

Framing complete, and drywall added, with nook for aquarium

Kitchen side coming together, with pocket door going to right

Adjustable doorway at the beginning

Jacob peeking out the door of the finished pantry

No, I don’t know why it won’t show right side up!

Maybe the pantry is lazy and only wants to lay on its side

Jacob next to the infamous broom closet


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Kitchen reno from heck: Island area


The other big element of our design was to fix our lousy island. It had a bend in it, which you can see better in the third photo below, and the sink wasn’t to our liking either. Mostly though, it was just part and parcel of bad flow in the kitchen.

It took 4 weeks to get a working countertop and our sink back in action. Andrea spent a lot of time doing dishes in the laundry room by hand in a little plastic tub we have for dishes when camping, and then dumping it out in the basement, so she was pretty happy to have the sink back in the rotation. The new working counter helped me for prep for food too, for lunches, but her inconvenience was way above mine.

Our angled island, on its way out

Full-on view of the old island with poor prep space and small sink

Other side of island showing space under sink conflicting with space where dishwasher opens

Gutted, drywall up, electrical in…nearing the end of WEEK THREE!

Cupboards finally going in

Partial cupboards — no counters, no sink, no doors, no sides

Jacob relieved there is some progress at the middle of week 4

Temporary countertops at end of week 4, with working utility sink, finally!

Andrea much relieved to have working sink again

Working model

The new countertops are in, the new countertops are in!

The long prep counter, hopefully suitable for drying racks for baking

Jacob enjoying the finished product

Final version after 7 weeks, including large sink, large prep area, and extra serving space if we have a party



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Kitchen reno from heck: Kitchen table area


We were pretty adamant that we wanted a table in the kitchen (one of our two design elements), and by the time the reno started, we had already bought a new one. This created a few design challenges as we wanted a table large enough for the three of us but also able to hold six people comfortably, and without crowding the rest of the kitchen. Often if we have guests, there are only 2 more to take it to 5, and we rarely go above 8 (us plus Andrea’s parents, and her sister’s family). The table we chose is perfect for that, but it presented some space limitations for the cupboards and the island.

One option was to put the fridge all the way to the left of that first picture, where a bunch of cupboards are showing now. However, the fridge would need a lot more swing space than the cupboards do, and that would have pushed the table too far out into the family room. I would have loved to blow out part of the wall to the left and extend the kitchen out even a few feet onto the deck, but that was a major cost option ($50K+ just for the wall extension, not including the actual kitchen work!). Not a viable option.

However, the main challenge was to the island space to the right of the picture…the end of the island was a bit close, and at one point we cut it back about 6 or 7 inches to make sure it didn’t crowd too much. I was kind of ticked that the builders, and their “designer with experience” didn’t catch these problems. Well, actually, perhaps they did — their solution was to get rid of the table completely. Not something we were willing to consider, so we had to compromise a bit elsewhere, still ending up with a great solution and fully functional.

The other design element they messed up was the cupboards all the way to the left. These are special “Ikea” cupboards in that they would have outer doors but the interiors would be drawers. Except they put the cupboard right to the wall, trying to give me more space at the other end where the fridge went (a whole other challenge), and thus the handles on the cupboard hit the side wall when the doors were open and then the drawers wouldn’t come out all the way. Ended up having to put just drawers there rather than the external cupboards, but wasn’t our preference. Not huge, just mildly annoying, yet not as annoying as their first solution of just living with it.

The kitchen table space and surrounding cupboards

Gutted, some electrical going in

Patched, dry wall is up

Preliminary cupboards going in at the end of week 3

Jacob likes the finished space

No, I mean he *really* likes it :)


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Kitchen reno from heck: Early disruption


Andrea did almost all of the prep for the kitchen reno, including packing up most of the kitchen and moving boxes to the guest bedroom upstairs. Some of my absence was pure laziness, some of it was avoiding fighting about what went where and keeping my stress levels down, some of it was I wanted one of us to know where everything was so we wouldn’t be doing the dance of “where did she or he put that?”, and some of it was ownership…the basement reno was mostly about me, whereas the kitchen design and renovation was more driven by her frustrations than mine. I had a couple of issues, and I certainly had views during the design, but I wanted her to feel like the renovation was her baby. Plus she would be home for some of it, which would help with “ownership”. Other preparations though required getting the non-kitchen area ready.

I confess that going into the kitchen reno, I didn’t understand the full scope of the disruption. I thought our disruption would be mostly limited to just the kitchen and part of the family room. But having had the experience of drywall dust everywhere in the basement, and even with the dust barrier that was going to go around the kitchen during the reno, we moved everything into corners on the first floor and covered them with drop cloths.

For Jacob’s playroom, aka the family room, that meant taking all the toys and shelves, putting them at the far end of the room, and covering them with tarps. We also moved the kitchen table + fridge + microwave into the area, before the dust barrier went up — this made the room our interim kitchen for the duration of the reno. If you remember, we were only going to be 2-3 weeks for the reno, so Jacob could do without his setup for that time, and we’d mostly be limited to disruption for breakfast and making lunches as we would eat out some of the time and BBQ the rest. Fourteen to seventeen days, no problem.

Jacob’s play room

Interim kitchen

Our dust barrier wall

As an example of my cluelessness about the level of disruption, I had never thought about our front room being particularly disrupted. I still thought, to the extent I thought of it as all, as being a bit crowded but mostly functional. As you can see from the cover-ups and even just the placement of everything, it would not have been even remotely usable during the renovation.

Living room all covered up


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Kitchen reno from heck: Design phase


Have you ever read Dilbert? Scott Adams created a couple of characters like Mordac, the denier of information services, as well as a god of heck (not as evil as hell). We did a kitchen reno this summer, and while I could describe it as the kitchen reno from hell, all in all, that would be a gross exaggeration in comparison with those that have really been renos from hell. Our contractor did do the work. They never abandoned the project. There was no flooding of the basement because someone nicked a water line. There were no lawsuits, lawyers, or ombudsman offices involved.

What we did have was frustration out the wazoo, and mostly avoidable by the contractor. Let’s get this tale started.

In the beginning

When we moved into our house 4 years ago, we were pretty happy with most of it. The upstairs was great, the first floor had a good living room and family room, and there were no major problems that had to be fixed quickly. Equally, the location was awesome, the house was large, and we basically chose it as our likely-forever house. However, there were a couple of things that were going to need to be done to upgrade it from “likely” (partly to avoid ever moving again) to “definitely”:

  • a new backyard deck (replacing the simple builder’s stoop-deck);
  • finishing the basement (it was already semi-finished for walls, but not floors or ceiling); and,
  • improving the function, flow, and look of the kitchen.

We did have one “urgent” thing to fix early on … after the house had settled, it looked like there had been leaks in the west wall of the basement at some point, one in the centre and one in the corner. For the centre, we had someone come in and rip out the drywall, get down to the wall, patch along the line, and put the drywall back up. In the corner, we noticed a leak later on after we moved in (well, actually, we noticed again that there had been a small leak at some point after we moved, just enough to move the dust around the bottom of a bookshelf and leave some discoloration on the floor), so we had contractors do some work to regrade the backyard at that corner, although the most likely problem was that the downspout had come disconnected from the part that empties away from the house so everything coming down was being dropped right at the corner, about four inches from the base (in our defense, it’s blocked by a shed, you can’t really see it to know the outward drain extension had come loose), but we had the yard regraded anyway.

Experience with renovations

Up front, I should probably note, if it isn’t clear already, that I’m not a handyman kind of guy in any sense of the phrase. I can change a shower head, I can build some bookshelves if they are more utilitarian than quality design, etc. Beyond that, I can write cheques to people who can do it properly. Some of it is simply the fact that not only do I not have any real skill in the area, I also have no patience when things go wrong. Electronics and computers? Sure. But if I do some basic work, and it doesn’t come out right, or it doesn’t work when I’m done, I feel completely useless, I get really frustrated fast, and then I’m not much fun to be around either. So a reno is waaaaay beyond my comfort level, and I’d prefer to stay married than attempt it myself.

When we moved out of the old house, we hired a friend of our sister’s to do a bunch of basic handyman work around the house. Little things, fix this loose board, replace this, scrape down this and repaint it. A lot of it I could have done myself, if I had a year to space it out. We didn’t — we’d already bought our forever home, not expecting to find it and move so we hadn’t got our place fully ready yet. When it was over, and the light reno/repair work was done, we thought, “Wow, we should have done those things a year or two ago just to have it all done.” It was relatively painless, and the results were highly functional and decent, if not “perfect” looking.

We had a deck built at our new house. We had a referral from our chiropractor of a small team that he and his brother were using to renovate houses/backyards as investment flips, and the project went awesome. A deck was something for which I considered doing some of the work myself…a stupid idea of the highest magnitude. I could have built a platform, not anything like the deck they did. It’s fantastic. I checked in on the guy one day where he was using the laser level to tweak the setup for about an hour. Sure, you want to get it right, but long past the point where I would have given up and said “good enough”, and even past the point where I was ready to tell him, “Dude, that’s good enough”, he was still fussing to make it perfect. He just couldn’t figure out how he was getting a different height at the one spot of the deck…finally realized that the other guys had pulled a board from the wrong side of the pile, and gave him one that he hadn’t checked to his exact standards for warping/plumness. Replaced the board, moved on. Awesome deck, delivered on time, on budget, good guys to deal with, all good.

Last summer, we also decided to have our basement renovated. We got names from friends of three companies they had used and been happy with, had them give us quotes, and we were pretty sure who the likely winner was going to be even before we saw the quotes. One of them had done a basic look-through and gave us a quote without much work put into it, and seemed more interested in whether we were going to have them get a permit or not. That turned me right off them pretty quick, but to be fair, it was a honest question — there was no structural work, we were mostly finishing stuff that was already there, it’s a grey area for permits. I preferred to be safer than sorry, so permits were the way to go. Later, as the project grew, a permit was obviously required because of the plumbing work for the bathroom, but upfront, we weren’t decided on that yet. However, the middle quote was from the company that our friends P&ME had used and been really happy with, and honestly, anyone who can meet ME’s standards for home repair would have to be in the top 5% for quality. That isn’t a criticism, she just has really high standards and is fairly knowledgeable about this stuff, a fact that will be relevant later. P is no slouch either. So if the two of them were happy, and the company was the middle quote, a pretty good option to choose. So we did.

They estimated 3 weeks to finish all the work in the basement, including the expansion of the project to include a full bathroom. We debated it early on, my wife and I, mostly about whether we wanted a shower or not. We did, but we figured it was overkill. The contractors, A&R, came up with a good solution, it was hard to picture some of it as it was our first big interior reno, but it all seemed good. A couple of things were not “perfect”, as no reno is, but they were minor:

  • they gave us some basic drop cloths to cover some of the stuff in the basement, but didn’t do a dust shield / vapour barrier — so when it was over, the rest of the basement was covered in drywall dust, including lots of things that had been covered, it just goes everywhere … lesson learned for future;
  • I wanted them to put some removable drop panels in a few places to allow for easy future access to certain things, but it would mess up the look of the ceiling, so they found a workaround and installed them without asking first…minor issue, and the result looks better than my option;
  • the basement layout is a bit more angled for part of it than I would have liked, but not a great option to avoid it; and,
  • the toilet in the bathroom is a bit close to the wall/door, seemed like something that should have been avoided better and I did flag it for them earlier (a theme that will become relevant later too)…still functional, just mildly annoying.

The real big issue though was timing. If you’ve read the rest of my blog, you know that I’m a huge fan of serialized storytelling on TV, and I watch a lot of shows. I wanted the project done before the TV season started for premieres so I could be all set up in the basement, ready to go. The three-week timeline would have easily made that possible…instead, they took six weeks. It was a bit frustrating that they were still there, but not that disruptive, and some of the furniture being delivered was delayed too, so I was okay with it in the end.

End result was quality work, as P&ME had experienced too. It just took longer than we expected, and while we had them do a few extra small jobs while there, we didn’t have them do 3 weeks extra of work, which was their delay, more like 3 or 4 days tops.

I was a bit puzzled about one thing. I wanted some wiring done at the same time, and maybe it was because they could do basic wiring but the stuff I wanted “added” was more for an sub-contractor electrician to do, but they were resistant. Basically, I wanted our fusebox/e-panel re-done to separate out some of the circuits that seemed badly grouped, but the sticking point was I wanted ethernet cables run from the second floor to the basement and living room. I would have also liked one in the family room on the first floor but that was a bridge too far apparently. I wanted seven cables run, they reluctantly told me I could have three, and even that ran about $750 to have done with the other work (admittedly, putting wires through the walls and ducts to get them to the basement was not fun for anyone, sure, but isn’t that the kind of work these people do anyway????). I am incredibly glad I did that as I’m now using two of the cables full-time, with a spare for a game system at some point. We did have a bit of sticker shock, as the final bill included a lot of tweaks and enhancements that we asked for that put us above the cost considerably, and while I thought a few of them should have been choices-within-the-contract perhaps, I wasn’t in the mind to quibble a lot. It looked awesome when they finished, and a year out, any residual issues were gone.

Preparing for the kitchen reno

We knew we wanted to renovate our kitchen, put in new cupboards and fix our island.

The “before” look

The island was functional but had turned out to be highly irritating in its layout. It was slightly angled at the middle, which looked cute, but meant when you were standing at the sink, you were a bit in the way for opening the fridge or the dishwasher. With two of us in the kitchen anywhere near the sink, we got in each other’s way. Similarly, the sink wasn’t a great size, the bowls were smaller than we wanted. The rest of the kitchen wasn’t arranged very well for workspace either, some of it for flow and some of it for bad lighting. We considered a bunch of simple things to improve things (like under the counter lighting, etc.) but the island was going to raise us from simple tweak to likely full reno, and we opted for the full reno, partly with my wife being an Epicure consultant and having parties at the house occasionally. We needed a better kitchen, my wife feeling the frustration more than I, but even I found it limiting.

So, with A&R at our house doing the basement reno, we talked to them about some basic config issues for a kitchen reno later. As an aside, I should note that A&R are a small team, two brothers plus 3-4 ancillary workers. They have a website with their contact info on it, but they don’t advertise and they don’t try to drum up business. Just by word of mouth, they are booked 4-8 months in advance. Not the most expensive, they finish their jobs, and it is quality work, what’s not to love? So we didn’t shop around for other contractors, we pretty much went with them again, partly because of the HGTV effect where you can see what really bad contractors have done to other people’s homes. A&R had been a mostly positive experience, and 1000% better than any of the horror stories out there.

We knew however that they were booked well in advance, so we started pushing them in January to commit to the last two weeks of July (note that I said JULY) for the kitchen reno. We expected to be away about that time, so we would avoid the bulk of the disruption and summer was better for disruption anyway as we could easily barbecue a lot, eat on the deck, etc. So we pushed early. We also told them that we would need help figuring out the design as we had never done anything like this before. By happy circumstance, R’s wife was a former kitchen designer at Home Depot, so we thought that was perfect. We met with her (after some prodding for it to happen), and we told her we had three core elements that we had come down to:

  1. the kitchen had to include a table, as we use our kitchen as our main eating space and don’t use the dining room at all;
  2. we needed a larger sink setup in the island; and,
  3. we needed the project done before the end of August, preferably in July.

Sure, we had ideas about lighting, type of island, basic setup options, new fridge but rest of appliances stayed, but they were all flexible components. We wanted drastically improved flow and a good prep space, but other than that, we were open as long as the three core elements were met.

The best laid plans

There ended up being a structural question about one of the walls and a pillar, so it delayed part of the design process. Things that looked good to us, and her, turned out to be incredibly complicated and would have required changing the basement layout too to accommodate the load bearing part. I was interested in blowing out part of the back wall too, but that was too expensive. So we had a couple of contraints, but not huge ones, just mostly things we considered to find out where the boundaries of our design space would lie. We pushed, they checked, we pushed, they checked, and then finally, on June 15th (SIX MONTHS???) we received a bunch of designs.

Nine of them in fact. We thought that was overkill, as did A apparently since R charges the company for all the design work, but fine, we had designs! Except we didn’t. Of the eight designs, four of them had no table in the kitchen. Remember core element #1 above? Great designs, really awesome kitchens, but no place to eat and instead they had us putting the table in the dining room (which is too close to the front door) or the family room (which is one of the biggest purchase points for the house, a room for Jacob to play next to the kitchen, and one he spends all his time in). We had ruled those out early, they were not open for consideration. I don’t mean we didn’t think about them, we did, or rather we had, quite extensively. But they were things we knew we didn’t want, so the kitchen had to have a table. Four more of the designs were almost non-functional, and so we were left with version 9.

It had some compromises in it that we weren’t quite sure of, but it was our main starting point. Over the next 45 days (i.e. to the end of July), we asked questions about certain things, checked some measurements, asked more questions. Remember when I said above that P&ME used these people and were highly satisfied, but that P&ME were both well-experienced in this area? Well, my wife and I are not. So we had to go through a learning process in part to ask some fundamental questions that turned out to negate some of their plan. Things that they should have asked us or thought of on their own, but didn’t, and which my wife and I more or less stumbled upon as questions because we’re both very analytical. We didn’t know it yet, but this would be a recurring theme, just as it had been with the basement toilet being too close to the wall.

Finalizing our plans

Remember I said we got the plans on June 15th? And that it was another 45 days of asking questions and waiting, waiting, waiting on answers? Do the math and you realize this put us at August 1st. Already past our original desire dates to have it all done in July. And I didn’t tell you the other great part of those 45 days.

We went from version 9 to version 15 of the plans. Now, some of those were significant changes. For example, we had debated adding a pantry to our design that would extend into the dining room area. The short version of that debate was if we needed the extra shelving space (we thought “maybe”, was hard to tell) vs. using up the dining room space we weren’t using anyway and just having a large living room. We did add the pantry (some pieces of which will come back to bite me later), but the big issue was the sink. In 7 months of our planning, we never wavered from our core elements — keep table, larger sink, and finish in the summer.

Somewhere around version 15, the measurements started becoming much more fine-tuned and we added a cupboard behind the sink i.e. we expanded the width of the island to allow for a serving area and with enclosed cupboard/shelves underneath. As we figured out what size cupboards went there, I noticed something odd. The standard image of the sink that they were using in the designs wasn’t to scale. Or more accurately, the standard image they used to indicate a sink didn’t match the size we wanted. Up until then, I never thought about it, just assumed it was the default sink picture. We had discussed how big the bowls had to be, and the combined size of two bowls was larger than the pic on the blueprint. I figured we were reading it wrong, my wife didn’t understand it either and hadn’t noticed, so we went back to them and said, “Oh, btw, I don’t think you’re showing the sink right, because it’s too small.” We thought it was just a diagram error. Nope. SEVEN MONTHS AND NONE OF THE DESIGNS GAVE US THE SINK SIZE WE WANTED!!!

I was a little ticked. First they ignored us for the table. Then they were already past our timelines to even start. And now we realized they hadn’t given us the sink we asked for. P&ME would likely have noticed this on day 1, we didn’t notice until the penultimate version of the blueprints. Fine, they fixed it, but note this isn’t simply an issue of putting in a different picture. This changed how much space of the island was eaten up with sink. What had been lots of space to the left of the sink was now considerably shrunk, so we had to play with the dimensions of the island to leave us enough room to work, etc.

We agreed on the blueprints, A (of A&R) was a bit miffed that it had taken 45 days to finalize plans, which I didn’t rip his head off for saying but wanted to do so … really, you’re giving me grief for 45 days to correct your bad design after you wasted six months to give them to us? We would have been happy to do all the design back in January. But we had two other issues to deal with.

First and foremost, we had to discuss cupboard choice. We had chosen a really nice cupboard design at Home Depot. Except it was one of their middle-to-higher end choices and was relatively expensive. Plus it would take 6-10 weeks to get them, we wouldn’t know for sure until we placed the order. By contrast, Ikea had just updated their kitchen options, the quality was good and they had way better interior configuration options, were available immediately, and at 40% of the Home Depot cost vs. the exterior face choices weren’t quite as nice.

Second, we had to discuss timing. We had solved our first two elements (table and sink), but the timing was going to be off. So we had a fairly frank discussion. Our issue for timing had crystallized quite clearly…my wife was taking the fall off to finish her masters, and Jacob would be back in school, so the disruption of a kitchen reno could not extend beyond mid-September. We told them all this, and gave them a choice — if they could finish before September 15th, we would go ahead now; if not, they could do it next summer.

They said, “No problem to do it now”, we signed a contract for a three week reno that would run from August 24th to September 11th, but they noted that they would likely be done on the 4th, with only the final counters to follow once they were cut. Seemed ambitious, but doable, and my wife really wanted it done this year, as did I. Her more than me, but still, I wanted it done too, as well as just being over. We compromised on Ikea for speed, and we were happy about the huge cost savings too, but we’d already come to terms with it being a lot more expensive than we initially hoped, so we could have swung a larger equity loan to cover the Home Depot cost and waited until the following summer.

However, contract signed, on to the renovation.


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TV shows that have been dropped or are in freefall


I was reading TVByTheNumbers, but switched over to reading the Grim Reaper (who has bounced around a bit and now does his own thing on his own site). A little more snark, but the analysis is a bit better.


  • Wicked City is cancelled — This “1982 serial killer” show wasn’t exactly a huge draw, but surprised it didn’t get a couple more shows in before a decision was made;
  • Castle and the Muppets are toss-ups to be cancelled by end of year, but I think the Muppets will leave before then and Castle is a definite lock to be the last season;
  • Quantico is on the list for “likely renewal”, but I think it is way too early to decide that, unless someone has a REALLY compelling storyline for Season 2 already in the works; and,
  • SHIELD is on the list for definite renewal, must be something I don’t see, as it’s a watch or not toss up for me.


  • Elementary is a toss-up, but again, I think way too early to decide;
  • NCIS: LA and Blue Bloods are likely to be renewed, but I’d put them in the same category as Elementary;
  • Newbies Limitless and Supergirl are also listed as likely to be renewed, but I would downgrade Limitless to a toss-up and upgrade Supergirl to “definite” as a Berlanti-diamond-that-needs-polishing; and,
  • NCIS, NCIS: New Orleans, Scorpion and Big Bang Theory are all expecting renewals, but I’m not sure why for any of them.


  • The Player has been cancelled, which saddens me…there is a plot line here for a weekly action show, one man with some skills against the world, and nobody has cracked it in the last five seasons, wonder who will try next year;
  • Undateable is likely to be cancelled, and I gave up on it some time ago;
  • Heroes: Reborn is rated as a toss-up, but I think they have too much chaff and not enough wheat in their lineup, so might upgrade that one, depends on what happens with the plot going forward, if it will hook people or lose them;
  • Grimm is down as likely to be renewed, and there may be some syndication money at play there (they’ve reached their 100th episode), but I would list that one down a bit unless they can pump up the storyline a bit; and,
  • The Blacklist is predicted as guaranteed to be renewed and Blindspot is already renewed, and I’d be interested to see what the writers for Blindspot have pitched for mythology creep in Season 2, as at least one of the major pieces has to drop this year or people will cry foul.

At Fox:

  • Minority Report is already cancelled, which is a shame, I think it had potential just needed a bit more spark outside of the police department;
  • Sleepy Hollow is predicted as likely to be cancelled, and can’t disagree with that, the storylines have been pretty flat this year;
  • Gotham is predicted as guaranteed to be renewed, which I don’t disagree with; and,
  • Rosewood is listed as guaranteed to be renewed, which seems like a giant odd-man-out, and worries me for recent retooling to make both Rosewood and Villa single and available for each other, leaving little tension, they’re almost happy together.

At CW (the hybrid of CBS and WB), TV Grim Reaper suggests treating them like two “sources” of shows since they seemed to be almost managed as two pools (often the top CBS shows get renewed, even though they’re worse than some of the bottom WB ones):

  • Crazy Ex-GF for CBS is on life support, and TV Grim Reaper thinks they already pulled the plug without telling anyone;
  • Arrow is guaranteed to be renewed, and like The Flash, I think it’s a no brainer, partly as I think Berlanti is achieving some economies of scale between multiple productions and makes up for it volume (Arrow, Flash, SuperGirl, DC Legends of Tomorrow, etc.).

That’s it for now, will probably recap in about a month when the first “season” ends (the networks now treat it as the “fall season” for 10-13 episodes and the “winter season” for 10-13 more, plus replacements).


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I confess


I confess that I did something I feel guilty about, or perhaps half silly / half guilty. I didn’t wear a poppy this year.

It wasn’t because I forgot, it would be pretty hard to miss that big day, not to mention that I get it off from work.

It wasn’t because I was doing some sort of protest, like wearing a white poppy (if that’s your thing, keep it to yourself — unless you’ve worn the uniform, shut the hell up would be my likely response).

It wasn’t because I don’t think it’s important or I was just too lazy. I think it is incredibly important, perhaps more than some, which is where the problem lay this year.

For me, the poppy doesn’t represent an abstract concept. Nor my brother who served, or a close friend who still serves. Or a number of other people I know who serve or served.

It represents my mom and dad.

For my dad, he was in the service. He enlisted underage, made it to Halifax, and was discharged early when his mother’s objection letter caught up to the paperwork of processing him in. At least that was the story we were told. He wasn’t a “soldier” in the normal sense. Mostly he learned to cut hair. But he enlisted, was discharged, and was a member of the Legion; when he died, they did the poppy service for him. For those who haven’t seen it, basically the serving members of the Legion have an honour guard that goes to the wake and spreads poppies all around the outside of the edge of the open casket. It’s quite pretty, actually. And when it was over, I snagged two poppies. My mom took one. I don’t know if others did. That was 19 years ago last month.

For my mom, she always wore a poppy for Remembrance Day. It was on her lapel, or her breast, proudly displayed. I never spoke to her about it…did it remind her of her brother who was killed at Ortona? Did she have friends or beaus that left and never came back? Was she around when friend’s parents received telegrams saying that their sons or husbands weren’t returning? I don’t know, it wasn’t something we ever discussed. But it always looked really sharp on her coat. Often, in my memory, she’s wearing it when she went to church. Not dressed fancy or anything, just a little spiffed up. When she died, three years ago Monday, I put one of the poppies from my dad’s funeral on her chest for the funeral. Well, actually, I had my niece do it while I was doing her eulogy (although really because I would have lost my mind doing it). For me, it was almost like a chance for my father to say goodbye to my mother, as she had said goodbye to him. Or maybe it was just a way for him to know she was still thinking of him and her family, even at the end.

Now, you could read the above and think, “Wow, that’s a pretty special connection, of course he would wear a poppy.” But I couldn’t this year, nor last year, and I don’t think I did the year before either. Because I don’t want to wear “any” poppy, I want to wear my dad’s poppy, the one from his funeral. To honour both of them.

But I can’t. I miss them too much. It is too painful to do it. I can’t “settle” for another poppy, I want to be strong enough to wear that one or none. Yet the memory is too raw, the link too fresh to do it. This year I thought, “Okay, I can do this.”

And then I couldn’t find it. Honestly, I couldn’t find it. How could I possibly “lose” the poppy? It wasn’t in my top drawer, it wasn’t on my desk, it wasn’t in my bedside table. It wasn’t in my jewelry box where it was supposed to be, I looked there first. By the time I realized I would have to look harder for it, the fear that I wouldn’t find it was greater than my desire to wear it right then, and my fear that I wouldn’t find it was nowhere near as high as my fear that I would lose my sh** if I couldn’t find it at all.

A coworker lost her husband just over a month ago, and while I didn’t know him, nor was I particularly close to her, it pushed my grief buttons. I have found myself thinking about my parents a lot over the last six weeks, and it was incredibly raw as I approached November 11th.

My son is six this year, Grade 1, and the school was having an assembly. His class wasn’t part of the “performance” for the day, and honestly, I didn’t think it would be a good idea for me to be in the school for a solemn occasion and have the kids wondering, “Why is that guy over there losing his sh**?”. I don’t mean a few tears, I mean there was a real chance I would have a complete sobbing breakdown. I was wound a little tight.

So I skipped the school event, dropped Andrea off, and headed for the river. I didn’t want company, I didn’t want a shared experience, I wanted to be alone for a bit. I sat in the parking lot and stared out over the water, just like the images from our old campsite, and listened to the service on the radio. I watched the planes fly by (they went pretty near where I was before looping back to the cenotaph). And while I didn’t completely lose it, I did let the tears flow freely. When Andrea called me a few minutes after 11:00 to say the event was done at the school, it took me most of the 15 minute drive back there to mentally put myself back together.

Today, I was looking for a highlighter and opened my top drawer on my desk, nothing there, opened my second drawer, no highlighter, but there in a little bin was the poppy. I had seen it sitting on my desk earlier this year, and I moved it down there to be a bit safer.

Maybe next year I can wear it. And then I only have to worry that I’ll *actually* lose it somewhere.

Would it be weird to have two, a regular poppy and a dress poppy?


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NAC Pops — Hollywood: The Epics


Do you know the classic cliché that says, “I don’t know art but I know what I like”? That’s me attending an orchestra performance. I have never taken music (except things like ukelele or the recorder in school), I play no instruments, I can’t read sheet music. I’m not even well versed in Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, and if truth be told, my favorite classical piece is Beethoven’s 5th, which dooms me to the dustbin of the pop-version of classical music, not “real” classical according to the experts. For me, it has to be accessible, and so my wife and I have tickets to the Canadian National Arts Centre orchestra “Pops” series.

It’s not a cheap investment, generally running about $65 a ticket for six shows for two people (I’ll let you do the math). Add in a babysitter, and it makes for six date night outings that we plan for and generally use as our formal outings for the year i.e. we don’t plan too many other ones. We found that if we didn’t subscribe, we wouldn’t bother getting individual tickets and would just forget about it; so we go since we have the tickets, and we have the tickets so that we’ll go.

Even though I enjoy the Pops events, I generally prefer faster tempo pieces, more lively pieces over long slow string sections. Honestly, those can literally put me to sleep and I feel like they are almost lullabies-for-adults. Yes, I know, some of them were written that way intentionally, but I want to close my eyes and let my mind drift with the music. I tend not to do that with the Pops series, it just holds my attention better. I mention this as you need to know where the following review comes from, as it is not your typical review perhaps of an orchestral performance. I won’t debate in detail, for instance, the conductor’s choices in the third movement, or how the violinists seemed a tad too slow on a refrain portion.

Last night was the first outing of the year, entitled “Hollywood: The Epics”. Let me first get out of the way that, as always, the NAC orchestra performed brilliantly. If something was off in anyone’s performance, I would have little chance of noticing, and didn’t find anything offputting anywhere. It’s always crystal-clear sound, fantastic acoustics, although perhaps a bit biased by the fact that we sit near the orchestra and in the centre (sixth row last night).

The program was designed with eight items in the first half and nine in the second, but they did an opening impromptu playing of the French national anthem (while standing) in honour of the citizens of France dealing with the tragedies of the day before. It was a nice tribute, although a bit odd when the very next item was “Hurray for Hollywood” (Whiting). The opening number was a harbinger for me. They do something a couple of times a year with the orchestra, which is bring in a large choir to sing with them…in this case, two large choirs. About 75-80 people in total. If you like choral music, good on you, mate. If they were singing clear words of well-known songs, like Christmas hymns or songs, I’d be okay with it; for this item, about the only words I could make out were in the refrain of “Hurray for Hollywood”. Their voices are beautiful, but for me, it is a lot like spices in cooking…throw too many in, might as well be salt. So the choir adds nothing for me. I’d prefer one or two singers at the front, if at all. Nothing memorable in the opening.

As an aside, the NAC has ramped up their bilingualism in recent years, and while the conductor Jack Everly is not bilingual, they have a co-host/animatrice named Manon St-Jules who does a great job giving some info about the pieces in french, and then throwing it back to Jack. I have heard a few grumblings from other patrons about it, mostly from those who don’t understand what she’s saying, but I love her little bits (partly as I can follow most of it until she hits warp speed) and she brings passion and zest to her little spiels. Jack, by contrast, is all about background and trivia about the pieces, who worked with whom, what else they did, or in last night’s case, how certain scenes were filmed that the music was attached to during production.

Overall, I think the evening was a fair to middling set of pieces, and I’ll run through the list quickly for the “also-ran” items:

  • Main title from “Gone with the Wind” (Steiner) — interesting trivia about the King Kong set being repainted to look like Atlanta for the initial burning scene, but the song was sweeping but ho-hum;
  • Suite from “Titanic” (James Horner) — there was a nice slow build, but it was way too long, and not very exciting (hmm, kind of like the remake version of the movie!);
  • The Exodus song from “Exodus” (Gold) — meh, not sure how this fits into a “Pops” repertoire for anything other than the source, it was slow, boring and unremarkable;
  • “How the West Was Won” (Newman and Darby) — The trivia was interesting (Cinerama) and almost as long as the piece;
  • “It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, world” (Gold) — This was very short, with lyrics I don’t remember from the movie (but it’s been a long time since I saw it), and completely worthless for posterity; and,
  • The Lord’s Prayer from “King of Kings” (Rozsa) — Classic, but unremarkable, even with (or because of?) the too large choir.

The second group includes those where it wasn’t particularly memorable, but where there were some interesting sub-elements:

  • Overture from “Hawaii” (Bernstein) — Introduced as representing four themes in the movie, it had a lively middle and concluded with a decent set of elements combined to represent a big storm, kind of cool development;
  • Prelude from “Ben Hur” remake (Rozsa) — I found the start quite strong, and seemed almost Asian interestingly enough, not sure why;
  • Overture from “Around the World in Eighty Days” (Young) — This had a great violin section at the start, sounded reminiscent of the start of a hot air balloon ride (continuing the movie metaphor) but it was slow, and didn’t really progress from there;
  • Main title from “Lawrence of Arabia” (Jarre) — The large drum work was good, and there was something going on in the middle with double bass or the trombone (as my wife identified) that was interesting, definitely not the flute or the piccolo, deeper and gave a different sound and feel to it, but it didn’t last long enough to be truly memorable; and,
  • Lara’s Theme from “Dr. Zhivago” (Jarre) — So quintessentially the sound used to represent Russia, it’s hard to imagine anything else.

The last group includes the stand-outs of the evening, and in increasing order of quality:

  • “El Cid” (Rozsa) — One of three pieces from Rozsa during the night (mostly Biblical style), and this one was in line with the other two except for one major element repeated throughout where the first violins play a small section that is then “answered” by the second violin section, almost like “dueling” or “arguing” violins… I don’t know how much of this is the original arrangement or a conductor’s choice, but it was really cool to see the conversation ripple across the stage as different elements answered the earlier pieces;
  • Danse des Enfants from “Napoleon” (Honegger) — this piece was short, but completely different from the rest of the night…where the others were dark, ambitious, ominous, serious, this one was light, playful, and a strong focus on the flute and piccolo, almost like a palate cleanser after a heavy meal, quite delightful;
  • Symphonic Suite from “The Magnificent Seven” (Bernstein) — This piece kicked off the second half of the night, and it is awesome — bold, definitive, a clear statement that resonates throughout the entire piece; and,
  • Symphonic Suite from “The Lord of the Rings” (Howard Shore) — This piece soared, bringing about easy images of flying, sweeping mountains, battles and more. I haven’t even seen all of the movies, and I loved it, so not sure if I’m doomed to pablum pieces or not, but it was truly “epic” music to match the theme of the night, and the only truly remarkable piece from the first half.

Any credibility I could ever attempt to claim on music is completely lost with my choice of best piece for the evening. I mentioned that Jack Everly is self-described as “steeped in trivia” and he did a fabulous little bit of trivia showing the music that accompanied the 20th Century Fox logo and the extended version of the logo music to also play while the Cinema scope logo appeared. The reason he played them was that it was about how they defined a lifetime of the studio, and the logos still often appear accompanied by the same music. It was the rampart that called people’s attention to the fact that this was a 20th Century production about to follow.

George Lucas wanted the same “hallmark”, and John Williams gave it to him, as exemplified by the last piece of the night, the main title from “Star Wars”. Maybe it’s the geek in me, maybe it’s the fact that Empire Strikes Back was one of the first movies I ever saw on my own with friends, and even one of the first five I ever saw in a theatre (rather than on TV or at the Drive-In). But John Williams piece is, and will always be, one of the iconic moments of Star Wars. So many scenes throughout the series use pieces of that opening as they transition from one scene to another, whether it be from space to Tatooine, Cloud City to Dagobah, or space battles to Endor. It combines the harsh overlord style of the Empire with the softer peaceful areas of some planets with the rebel uprising, with just a dash of old swashbuckling music thrown in to keep it lively and not quite so serious. I loved it, and it was awesome hearing a professional orchestra play the notes that a generation lived and breathed as they realized what a combination of effects and music could do, the places it could take you unlike any effort previously.

The same goal that all “Epic” music should aspire to, and few in the ensemble tonight delivered. Overall, the three way split between yawn, interesting bits, and really engaging left the evening being rather ho hum. But as ho hum nights go, there are worse ways than listening to a fantastic orchestra do its bit.


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HR Guide – 05 – Understanding how to succeed in competitions – Overview rev 0.6


PolyWogg’s Completely Informal and Totally Unofficial Guide to Competing for Jobs in the Canadian Federal Government

It is now time to get to the real meat of this book, and where we start to get into the nitty-gritty of how to succeed in federal competitions. The next seven chapters (6-12) break the part that you as a candidate experience into smaller and smaller chunks. This is a very high-level overview, just to tell you what’s coming. Often when I’m doing presentations, this is where I start, but invariably I end up having to digress to go back and fill in some of the examples and lessons from the previous chapters as context to understand some sub-element. Since I had the luxury of space and time here in this guide, I wrote whole chapters that I can just refer back to as needed rather than pulling away from the main process here. Over the next seven chapters, here is what you will learn:

  • Chapter 6: Finding out about jobs
    • This chapter will mainly talk about the formal websites and systems in place to alert you when jobs are posted and available. However, this is not the only mechanism, so a few other tips and tricks are included.
  • Chapter 7: Applications
    • It still baffles me that people sending in applications can do them so badly. An application includes two things — a cover letter and a resume. And people mess them up. Sometimes it is because they read a private-sector-oriented website about jobs and cover letters and try to keep it to a page — this is NOT how government applications work, so many people get screened out because they listened to the wrong advice. This chapter will tell you exactly what to do, some minor variations if you want to be creative, and some very clear things NOT to do.
  • Chapter 8: Written exams
    • Written exams are not usually that difficult to prepare for, partly as they are almost always about testing your knowledge. And the knowledge can’t be esoteric stuff that nobody would know, it has to be readily available and knowable, and often a bit generic, so that people can be tested on their general knowledge, and leave the really heavy stuff until you start and can learn on the job (to some extent). There are some key resources everyone should know and use, plus some specific stuff for specific types of jobs.
  • Chapter 9: Interviews
    • For me, this is the area that is the most fun, the most dynamic, and generally, the one that stresses people out the most. There’s a joke that some comedians have used that public speaking and job interviews are often greater fears for people than death, so if you were to kill someone on the way to an interview where they would have to do some public speaking, they would thank you for saving them from what to them is literally a fate worse than death. Interviews in the government are knowable, predictable, and generally structured all in the same way. Not only are there tips to survive them, there are tips to ace them too.
  • Chapter 10: References
    • Once the process part is almost over, they’ll ask you for 2-6 references. Usually it is three, and they’ll contact two of them. Sometimes it is specified who they are, such as your last two direct supervisors. Regardless, not only are there tips on choosing your references if there is flexibility, but also how to prepare your references to be able to better respond to questions about your performance during the reference check.
  • Chapter 11: Language tests
    • Just before a process ends, usually as close to the end as possible (I’ll explain why later), you will have to undergo a language test to ensure you meet the requirements of the position. Note that you are NOT being tested on your mother tongue, so it really is a “second language test”, but often they don’t mention the “second” part. Tips on how to pass the language test are way beyond the scope of this guide, but you should know what to expect.
  • Chapter 12: Special tests
    • There are also some special tests, usually administered by the Public Service Commission, that are frequently used by various departments. Some of them test writing, general intelligence or analytical abilities, or even suitability for the foreign service. I won’t cover them all, but I’ll talk a little about each and how you might prepare for them.

That’s it, that’s all. Seven chapters to get you from finding a job notice to the language test at the end of the process, with a bunch of stops along the way.

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HR Guide – 04 – Understanding the HR process in the Canadian Federal Government rev 0.6


PolyWogg’s Completely Informal and Totally Unofficial Guide to Competing for Jobs in the Canadian Federal Government

Before you start reading about how to prepare for individual parts of a competition, it is good to understand the whole process. I know what you’re thinking – what’s to understand? Somebody has a job, I need a job, let’s go! Not so fast…

The process has a lot of steps, some of which involve you and most of which don’t. Plus, it is very different from the private-sector advice you will find on most websites. Need a quick example? How about cover letters – lots of websites will tell you to keep them to a single page, which if you do for a government job, you’ll pretty much ensure that you get screened OUT (you’ll see why later).

So, the better you understand the whole process from beginning to end, the better chance you will have of succeeding. Don’t worry, this is just an introduction, most of the applied learning comes later, stage by stage.

Government competitions are governed by legislation

The biggest difference between the private-sector and the public sector is that most government competitions at any level are governed by legislation. This is true for the Canadian federal government, and the legislation is broad enough to encompass a whole host of human resources issues in the huge entity known as the Government of Canada. It also goes into detailed guidance on process, well beyond what a private-sector company has to do to comply with labour law legislation.

While many HR people can debate eloquently about the subtle differences between government staffing and private-sector staffing, there is one singular difference that changes the nature of the process from beginning to end:

While both the private-sector and the public sector argue that hiring is always based on merit, the Canadian government has legislation that defines precisely what merit means for all competitions. Which means a manager must be able to document and substantiate HOW that person demonstrates merit and WHY they are the right person.

Put differently, it is not enough to find the right someone to do the job (fact), but to be able to document the assessment criteria beforehand and to prove the person meets it (fact + perception). After all, that person is going to be paid by the taxpayer. And Parliamentarians, on behalf of taxpayers, want to know that merit is being demonstrated for all hiring.

Considering what merit means in layman’s terms

Before going further, stop and think about the merit requirement from a personal perspective. Suppose you went to university or college. You probably thought hard about which one to apply to, which area to study. How would you demonstrate to someone that you picked the “best” or “right” program for you? Or suppose you bought a house. Lots of variables, lots of options to consider. How would you demonstrate to someone that it was the “one right house”?

The short answer is that in both circumstances you probably can’t. Not definitively, at least.

Instead, you could demonstrate that you:

  1. considered a broad range of options;
  2. identified a few factors that were important to you; and,
  3. impartially ranked a few universities or colleges or houses based on those factors.

But, in the end, you are not really demonstrating the “one right choice” so much as that you had a reasonable, logical approach to your decision. Instead of showing the right decision, you show that your “process” was sound and thus led to a “right” decision. This is basically how government processes prove merit too.

Merit prior to 2003

Up until 2003, the “proof” process was one of the biggest problems with government hiring. When the manager reached the end of a competition, there were numerous appeals where they had to demonstrate the “right” decision, or in some cases the “perfect” decision, and they couldn’t have anyone start the work until all the appeals were cleared. Managers felt constrained, employees felt it was too bureaucratic, and overall everything took forever. Let’s walk through a general example of how this worked prior to 2003, and then a specific example to make it more concrete (don’t fuss too much about the terminology at this point, I’ll come back to it later).

Managers ran competitions for positions. They set up a list of criteria, they tested everyone on those criteria, and when it was done, the scores were totaled up and a global score was assigned to each candidate. Then, each candidate was placed on an eligibility list in order of their global score (called a reverse order of merit, but that’s not usually important anymore). A cut-off score, established earlier, was used to determine who made the list and who didn’t – if you were above the cutoff score, you made it; if you were below the cutoff, you didn’t. Sometimes there were five people on a list, or a hundred, and other times, just one. This was called a “competition” or a “competitive process” to create an eligibility list. Once the list was established, and all appeals had been heard / addressed, a manager could hire off the list. But s/he had to do it in order – the person who ranked first got the first offer, the second person got the second offer, etc.

That’s a pretty straightforward process, and is familiar to most people as it looks a lot like academic testing. If you get the most right answers, you get the highest mark. And get the job. A typical process of testing “merit”.

Now suppose you are a manager needing to hire a computer support person and you test just three things – software knowledge, hardware knowledge and interpersonal skills:

  • Person A gets 10/10 on software and 8/10 on hardware, but their interpersonal skills are terrible, and they only get a 5/10 on the last one. Overall score is 23/30.
  • Meanwhile, Person B isn’t as strong on software (2/10), but aces hardware (10/10), and interpersonal (10/10). End result is 22/30.

So Person A beats Person B by one mark, and gets the job. Except the manager is worried – customer service is a key part of the job, as is hardware. So Person B who is great with people, and even better at hardware, might be a better fit for the team than someone whose strength is mainly software. Under the old system, the manager had no choice – whoever came first on the scoring was the one who got the offer.

Even if you ignore the above example, we all know people who are great at certain skills or areas but lousy at taking tests. Equally, we all know people who are great at taking tests, but you wouldn’t want to work with them on a daily basis. Having global scores doesn’t ensure that the person who gets the best score on a series of tests is necessarily the best person for doing the work or for fitting into an existing team.

As a result, under the old system, many managers were frustrated – they would have someone who would rank first on a competition, but be a potentially disastrous fit. Meanwhile, sitting at number 2 on the list was a stellar candidate who missed by one or two marks. In the above example, it was one or two marks out of 30, but a competition might have tested multiple areas with larger scores. For example, on one competition under this system, I was tested on 10 or 12 areas, and beat the second-place candidate by two marks out of five hundred. I got the job. Was there really any difference between her and I on the results, if I beat her by two marks out of five hundred? She could have easily done the job too, but the manager didn’t get to choose which of us was the “better fit”, because I had a higher score. The second-place candidate was offered a different job, so she still received an offer, but she would rather have had a chance at my position (she did regularly remind me that I got the better job because I beat her by only TWO MARKS…I guess she forgave me, she did one of the readings at my wedding).

Yet, as with the above example, a manager had no flexibility once the scores were tallied. Ideally, if the manager was planning properly, they would have weighted factors differently. So, in the computer support person example above, they would have assigned 50 marks to interpersonal skills, 30 marks to hardware knowledge, and only 10 marks for the software side. Which, for the above scores would have given person A 25+10+24 = 59/90 and Person B 50+30+2=82/90.

But often, during appeals, those differential weightings were hard to justify – why is the interpersonal “5x” the software weight? Why not only “2x”? Or equal? Equal weightings are always easy to justify, and many managers defaulted to it. In fact, many HR people advised them to do so because it was easy to manage and easy to defend.

There are numerous academic articles about how bad HR processes were in the government at that time, as well as a couple of official government reports. All of them came to the same conclusion – too bureaucratic, too slow, too inflexible, too “score-driven”.

Merit after 2003

The Canadian government listened to the complaints and passed new legislation to govern human resources management. Called the Public Service Modernization Act (PSMA), it was passed in 2003 and came into effect throughout 2003, 2004 and 2005. Under the PSMA, there are four new or amended acts that encompass the web of rules pertaining to human resources:

  • The Public Service Employment Act (PSEA), which covers employment, staffing, and political activities;
  • The Financial Administration Act (FAA), which covers accountability;
  • The Canada School of Public Service Act (CSPSA), which covers development and learning; and,
  • The Public Service Labour Relations Act, which covers collective bargaining, disputes and labour relations.

The first two are the main ones because they affect how competitions are created and who can compete in them. They also changed the way merit would be assessed. According to the PSEA, an appointment is deemed to be based on merit when:

  1. The Public Service Commission (PSC) is satisfied the appointee meets all essential qualifications including language proficiency; and,
  2. The Manager also takes into account, potentially, any extra qualifications that might be helpful (but not essential) or operational requirements or organizational needs.

In other words, if the resulting appointee meets all the qualifications, they can be appointed WITHOUT having to rank first in all the essential elements, and the manager may consider some additional skills, needs, requirements that a candidate might meet (like other related experiences, educational training, etc.).

As a result of this change in definition of merit, under the new system (i.e. after 2003), “competitions” have been replaced by “selection processes” and “eligibility lists” have been replaced by “pools”. The difference is twofold:

  1. Each of the elements being tested must be passed individually. If you are strong in one area, but weak in another, you can’t compensate through a global score – each element is marked separately and a cutoff score assigned for each. Using the computer support person example from above, a manager might set the cutoff for “interpersonal skills” as a minimum of “6/10”, in which case Person A wouldn’t have have been eligible even though their global score was the highest. Fail one element, and you are “out” – because you failed to demonstrate you are qualified for all of the elements. Oddly enough, this process actually means all elements are ranked equally (since you have to pass every element), but managers don’t have to choose whoever ranks “first” in raw score at the end.
  1. When the process is over, instead of a ranked list of successful candidates, you have a “group” of people who are all considered “equally qualified”. In other words, they all have demonstrated that they meet the essential elements of each of the criteria being tested. Or, in even shorter words, they can do the job. They have the skills. But since they are all “qualified”, a manager can now choose whichever one of them is the “best fit” for the existing team. Suppose, for example, that you were the computer support manager mentioned above and you had four people already on your team with one vacancy. Perhaps, too, the four people are all really strong with software, but not as experienced in hardware trouble-shooting. After the pool is done, a manager can now look at the “pool” of candidates and may want to choose one that is strong in hardware to complement his existing team.

As a result, you now have “selection processes” to determine the qualified person(s), and “best fit” to choose which of the qualified people will meet your current needs the best. The goals of this change in legislation were increased flexibility for the manager, a more streamlined process for appeals (due to some other changes discussed later), and a shorter overall timeframe for the processes. While there is some evidence of the first two, timeframes have not shrunk significantly since before 2003. An average process still lasts approximately six months from job posting to the person starting the job, and there is wide variation in the range (from three months to two years).

** Note that while the formal HR system now refers to “selection processes”, the layman term of “competition” is still used by most employees. As such, I will still use the term competition throughout the book for simplicity’s sake. However, for all current processes, it is technically a “selection process”.

The four legislative acts come into play more when we get to specific areas of the HR process, and I’ll address them where they are relevant in future chapters rather than going into any additional depth here.

Understanding The Selection Process / Competition

In a full selection process, there are eight phases and the candidate will likely only participate in two of them. While many of them are “short”, and some of them may even be inapplicable in a situation, a variation on them happens in most competitions. Here is the full list:

  1. Managers identify a “need”
  2. Managers formally advertise their needs
  3. Applicants apply and are screened in / out
  4. Candidates are tested for essential (and potentially asset) qualifications
  5. Managers select best fit candidate
  6. Managers formally state intention to hire specific applicant(s)
  7. Managers address appeals
  8. Managers hire the successful candidate

Let’s look at those steps in a bit more detail and see why you might care about all eight phases, even though it looks like you only participate in two of them.

Phase 1: Managers identify a “need”

Often, the need has been identified because someone has left the division and they want to replace them; other times, the unit’s workload has been growing and they need another body; and still other times, they have a growing or new need for a specialized skill that they don’t already have on the team. But managers have choices in how they meet their needs:

  • WORKLOAD: They could eliminate less “pressing” files;
  • PRIORITIES: They could postpone this work until someone else can do it;
  • TEMPORARY HELP: They can use temporary help to cover off on a short-term basis;
  • CONTRACTS: They can engage professional contractors on a short- to medium-term basis to provide specific deliverables; or,
  • COMPETITION: They can hire someone on an assignment (borrowing someone), determinate (specified period) or indeterminate (permanent) basis.

If it is a new position, and they are filling it through competition, the manager has to do a full job description and a list of duties to get a position “classified”. The classification process establishes two things – first, the stream of work (i.e. a Project Management Officer or an Information Officer or a Policy Analyst) and the level of work (01, 02, 03, etc.). The stream generally matches what type of work you will be doing and affects which union you will join, while the level determines the size of your paycheque.

Classification is relatively easy if the manager is just replacing someone who left, as the position and its classification already exist; if not, and it is a “new position”, classification can take anywhere from 3 to 24 months. (Note: That is not a joke – classification has to be done by the HR branch, as it must be consistently applied across government to ensure pay equity. Unfortunately, there is a significant government-wide shortage of classification experts. As such, some departments are faced with really long waits.) Given that possible delay, many managers will instead try to find existing positions that are sitting empty, and “re-purpose” them for a competition (i.e. borrow a Project Manager or Analyst position from another work unit that is sitting empty). Alternatively, some may use positions that exist but with the wrong classification (i.e. some managers, preferring expediency over form, have hired people into PM boxes knowing that they were going to move towards more EC work over time – and reclassified them afterwards). This is not a recommended practice for managers, and can be painful for the candidates too (by having them apply for positions that do not match their career goals, for example).

One “trick” that has sped up classification has been the development of “generic” job descriptions. For example, at ESDC, there are generic job descriptions for what a Policy Analyst, Level 3 (EC-03) generally does. On the positive side, a manager can create a new position, use the EC-03 generic job description, and classification is near-instantaneous. On the negative side, the job description is generic and may give little to no information to candidates about what they would actually be doing in that position once hired (Social policy? Labour market policy? Learning policy?).

There will also usually be some form of internal approval process whereby a manager will talk to their boss, and get approval (APPROVAL #1) to go ahead with staffing a position. This may be part of an overall HR planning process, or it could be a one-off approval. Either way, the manager will frequently draft a general list of duties that the new position would handle as part of explaining to the boss why the staff is required.

Why do you care about this “needs” phase if you are an applicant?

  • If the manager is replacing someone who left, they may be looking for someone very similar to the person who left (i.e. a narrow-minded approach to staffing); however, if the manager is looking to cover new or expanding work, the manager may be more flexible on the profile of the successful candidate (i.e. open-minded). Knowing which is the case could tell you how much flexibility you have in how you tailor your application, resume and interview approach.
  • Knowing that there are other options for hiring besides a competition opens up other ways to work for government. Some people have very enjoyable careers doing “government work” without ever actually being a government employee i.e. being contractors/consultants/temps.
  • Candidates can and do ask for a copy of the “job description” that the manager had to develop during this stage of the process, but don’t be too surprised if it doesn’t completely specify exactly what the job looks like on a day-to-day basis (it’s extra information though, something most won’t ask about). The SMART candidate will also ask if there is a list of duties available too – HR and/or the manager may not share it, but sometimes they will. And you can then tailor your answers better in the interview towards the REAL job, not the generic job description! The closer you come to showing you can do the actual duties, the better off you are as a candidate
  • Classifications tend to reflect the type of work you do and it is not always easy to move between classifications, particularly outside of the National Capital Region. Let’s suppose, for example, you want to be a policy analyst. While lots of private sector people will tell you to take any job to “get your foot in the door”, difficulty switching between job classifications means you may be better off sometimes waiting to get into the stream you want rather than risk getting stuck in another stream altogether.

Phase 2: Managers formally advertise their needs

The Manager starts by writing up a Statement of Merit Criteria (SOMC). This is what most people think of as the “job description”, as it is what is posted online to advertise the job. However, the SoMC (which most HR people will pronounce as SAHM-SEE) is not the job description but rather the list of skills / competencies on which the manager will test you.

Once the SOMC is written, Manager submits it to HR to get approval (APPROVAL #2) to post the advertisement. Managers are not HR experts, nor am I. The true experts are the HR people who will review the SOMC and job description to ensure that everything is clear, and, to put it bluntly, to make sure the manager has valid, testable criteria that make sense for the job. No sense in posting analyst criteria for a project manager position. They also serve as gatekeepers to the Public Service Commission website for posting jobs.

Once HR approves, they’ll send the SoMC to the PSC for posting. Most departments don’t do the processing of applications themselves. Nor do they handle “advertising” it (except for large scale recruitments like post-secondary recruitments, for example). Instead, they use the Public Service Commission to administer the advertising process and receipt of advertisements.

When the PSC gets the SoMC, they look at the classification and level, and look in their internal database to identify “priority candidates”. In general terms, these are people who were laid off earlier by the government, or who relocated because their spouse moved, etc. The unions have negotiated with the federal government to give these former employees priority when positions become available at a similar group and level. So, if you post a PM-03 (project manager, level 03) job, the PSC will check to see if there are any PM-03s in your geographical area who are on a priority list for future PM-03 jobs. The list is a little more dynamic than that, but you get the general approach. The PSC can give managers a list of priorities at two different periods of time – now, when the manager is first asking to post, or later, when the competition is done and the manager is looking to staff someone. Managers have to assess the priority candidates to see if a competition has to be run at all.

There is one last step to all of this, and some HR professionals will quibble if it is a step at all. The PSC will post the notice. HR wants to quibble, as each department has access to the PSC websites and can “post” the notices themselves. However, before the notices go “live”, PSC personnel do review the post and approve it going on their site. As such, it is easier to think of it as the PSC posting the notice.

Why do you care about this “advertising” phase if you are an applicant?

  • Because knowing this is the list of testable items makes you focus on what is important and avoid wasting time on things that won’t be tested.
  • Because it is one of the first big “checks and balances” to ensure that the manager is going to run a fair and transparent process that makes sense.
  • Because this helps you immensely in knowing where to look for jobs! Rather than having to look at every department separately to see if they have jobs available, you can (generally) do one-stop shopping at PSC websites (one for internal competitions, one for external competitions). It also adds a high degree of consistency across application processes and streamlines the application process. It also presents some challenges, but those will be discussed later. In addition, the notice gives you two contact information points per competition (a general enquiries person and an HR contact). This can be enormously helpful when following up on an element in a poster, or even just tracking the progress of the process. NOTE: These are NOT people you want to annoy with a multitude of questions, nor call them every day. They are there to help when you have a real problem, not hold your hand…that’s what this guide is for!
  • Because managers have to “assess” priority candidates against the SoMC to see if they have the requisite experience. If the candidates do, the selection process may stop here – the manager will offer them the job, and if they accept, you may never even see the notice. However, the lists are pretty broad and often the priority candidates aren’t an exact match to what the manager was looking for; in these cases, the manager may be open-minded and look to hire one of them anyway, or proceed with the original notice. This is not a simple “checkbox” to be ticked – the manager MUST assess each interested referral. Only when the manager has demonstrated they have assessed the priority candidates will the PSC give a clearance number to proceed with posting the notice.

Phase 3: Applicants apply and are screened in / out

Finally, the masses of interested people send in their cover letters and resumes!

Then the PSC and/or HR screens applicants for eligibility. The PSC will do a quick computer-based check of your information that you enter to make sure you’re eligible (some positions are restricted to internal candidates, or by geography, or to a single department, etc.) and HR often does an additional check on certain elements.

Once the HR gurus have done the basic tests, the manager (or a consultant) will screen applications for experience and education. This is the first big hurdle for you as an applicant. The relevant legislation that controls the process for all competitions / selection processes requires that YOU prove you meet the requirements. Administratively, this means you will show in your cover letter, with the resume as backup evidence, how you meet each of the experience and education requirements. It is NOT sufficient for you just to say you meet that element, you have to show how.

If a manager has 100 applicants for a position, it may be that they screen out a large number of them depending on how restrictive or open they are with the criteria. For those applicants who are screened out, they have the “right” to ask for an informal discussion. While I will discuss this in more detail later under “rights of appeal”, technically this isn’t an appeal. It’s a chance for a manager and an applicant to correct an administrative error. Suppose, for example, that the manager reads your cover letter, determines you didn’t explain how you met criteria 2, and screens you out. However, you request an informal and it is discovered that for some reason there was a second page to your cover letter that was missing from the printout. The manager can say, “oops”, reconsider your application and perhaps screen you in. This is NOT a way for you to say, “here’s more info I didn’t give you previously” – you can’t add anything to your cover letter or resume that wasn’t in your application. However, other times, it may be that the manager misunderstood part of your cover letter for differences in terminology and therefore screened you out. This is rare, as is missed information, but it does occasionally happen. To avoid the candidate appealing the competition later, this is a chance to quickly fix a possible simple error, and proceed with the rest of the competition.

Why do you care about this “application and screening” phase if you are an applicant?

  • Because this is where you get to DO something – you know, apply!
  • Because if you screw up your application and put in the wrong information, the HR people will screen you out, and the hiring manager will never even see your resume. Or, if you’re not eligible, don’t try to “fake” your way past it – all this info is verified, and once your application is found to be invalid, you’re out. All you’ll do is waste your time and theirs.
  • Because if you are screened out, an informal can be a great way to get feedback on why! If you had limited budget experience, for example, and that was one of the requirements for a position, but you applied anyway (I’ll explain later why you might do that), then you know why you were screened out. However, if you did financial forecasting for a year, financial administration for 3 years, etc., and you were still screened out, it’s worth it to ask what they were looking for from candidates. Perhaps they’ll tell you the minimum was five years; or they may tell you that it was too “administrative” processing work and they were looking for more “strategic management” budgeting. Either way, you know either how to word it next time OR what experience you need to try and get in order to be screened in for these types of jobs in the future.

Phase 4: Candidates are tested for essential (and potentially asset) qualifications

Now that the real process is underway for you as an applicant, managers will now assess the candidates knowledge, abilities, and personal suitabilities. This is the phase where you will be tested on every element in the SOMC. If it said you had to have knowledge of the current trends and issues in reproductive health, they will ask you about the current trends and issues in reproductive health. The manager will use a variety of tools (discussed later) to assess knowledge, abilities and personal suitabilities. And if you fail an element, you’re screened out (and usually don’t proceed any further in the process). At that point, the manager will offer informal consultations to screened out candidates to explain where they went wrong. It is POSSIBLE (but not probable) that the scoring was done wrong, and you did pass an element. So, like with the application, an informal could correct an administrative error and allow you to reinsert yourself in the process. Officially, that is why the “informals” exist at these stages, but generally they are used for providing feedback (this will also be discussed in more detail in “rights of appeal”).

In addition to the knowledge / ability / personal suitability tests done by the manager, there will also be assessments by HR or the PSC of any special eligibility requirements like language proficiency. For most departments, the PSC is the organization responsible for assessing your ability in your second language. Each position will have a language profile requirement attached to it (specified in the original poster). Near the end of the process, you will be given an opportunity to be tested at the PSC to see if you meet the required levels (your results are good for five years, so if you already have a profile that meets the requirements on file, you won’t be retested; if you have no profile, or if your current profile is less than the requirements, you will be tested).

Why do you care about this “testing” phase if you are an applicant?

  • Because if it is in the SoMC, they WILL ask you or your references about it. Somewhere, sometime, somehow. Guaranteed. And here’s the fun part – if it’s NOT in the SoMC, they won’t test you on it. They can’t – they have to test what is in the SoMC and ONLY what is in the SoMC. And, if you screw up somewhere, the informal is a great way to find out what you did wrong (spoke too fast, not enough content, drooled on the carpet, missed a question, too much content / not enough synthesis of your content, etc.).
  • Because you can’t fake your way past any element. If you have no chance of making it i.e. you have little to no french but the requirement is full fluency (CCC), you’re going to go through a lot of work likely for nothing, only to be excluded at the end. There are some SMALL exceptions to this situation, and it will be discussed later, but caveat candidatus – let the candidate beware!

Phase 5: Managers select best fit candidate

Once all the testing is done, the manager selects the “best fit” candidate. This doesn’t mean that the candidate with the best smile or the best scores is the one chosen. Once all the “successful” candidates (i.e. all those who pass every element) are considered together, the manager will decide which one is the best fit for the job, work unit, team dynamics, etc. After all, you’re all deemed “qualified” at this point and thus “merit” is proven.

After choosing one, the manager will then get approval from their boss (Approval #3) to select the candidate. Once the manager has chosen someone, they will likely show your resume to their boss to say “this is the person I intend to hire.” They’ll explain how you did in the process, etc, but often they’ll circulate the resume as an intro to their boss. Some managers won’t bother with this step if it is a relatively junior position, but if you are applying for more senior positions that will regularly deal with senior people, the managers will generally show their boss something before formally selecting you. This is also an opportunity for the manager to confirm with the boss that the management situation is still the same as when they started, and to avoid suddenly being caught by surprise if the boss says, “Oops, our budget was reduced and we no longer have the money to hire someone.”

The manager also has to get approval (again) from the PSC to select the candidate (including assessing priority referrals, if necessary; Approval #4). Way back when the posting notice first went to the PSC, managers had to “clear priorities” (if any) before proceeding. Now that the manager is at the end of the process, they may have to clear priorities (again, or for the first time). Generally these are “new” candidates who were added to the priority list after the initial request, but not always.

Why do you care about this “best fit” phase if you are an applicant?

  • Because it means that you can come first on just about every element, and not “win” the job. Why? The manager may be looking for someone who is a strong extrovert to balance out an introverted team, plus a strong oral communicator to give presentations, and someone with superior language skills. Maybe he was also looking for judgement, interpersonal skills, written communication, initiative, etc., where you excelled, but another candidate has a strong background in making presentations in French as part of outreach programs and is an strong extrovert (as reflected in their communication ability and interpersonal skills). As such, the manager may select the one that “best fits” the job and team. It may be you, it may not be. But you need to know this before you start – it means you are NOT trying to convince the manager that you are the best candidate, but rather the best candidate for a specific job. The more you can find out about the team and the job, the better placed you are to show how you would fit in.
  • Because while your first intro to the hiring manager was your cover letter – it’s what they used to screen you in or out – the first intro to their boss is likely to be your resume. Both have to be ready for primetime – no skimping on one or the other in your application process.
  • Because if someone is appointed as a priority candidate, you have almost no right of appeal. They are not considered “part” of the process, and departments may “cancel” the competition and appoint the person from the priority list. It’s as if the competition never happened, because the priority candidates are “outside” the process. Put another way, the course of true love never runs smooth, and neither does HR. Things change, and it may suck to be “leading the pack” only to have a priority candidate seem to jump the queue. Foreign Affairs staff have a saying – “Don’t assume you have the job until you have been doing it for a week, and maybe not even then!”. Good advice to remember – it’s not over until you’re appointed, no matter how well things seem to be going.

Phase 6: Managers formally state intention to hire specific applicant(s)

Okay, the manager has selected someone. And they post a “notice of consideration” that says, “This is the person we intend to hire.” Once a week has passed (usually the duration is a week), a “notice of appointment” is posted this is the formal notice that not only was the person “considered”, they are now being appointed to the position.

If you were the person, the hiring department will issue you a “letter of offer” that you and your manager’s boss have to sign, and you’re generally “good to go”. However, note that the appeals process mentioned earlier is not instantaneous. While the department will move ahead, appoint you and have you start, it is theoretically possible that an appeal could be launched, and if successful, your appointment revoked. This rarely happens, and usually would mean that the hiring manager really screwed something up in the process.

Why do you care about this “notice” phase if you are an applicant?

  • Two reasons – if you aren’t the one chosen, this may be the first time you find out the process has ended and you aren’t the “winning” candidate. You should get a notice from HR earlier to say you were found qualified, but at that point, communication from the department may stop, leaving you scratching your head and wondering, “Now what?”. This tells you that for you, the answer is potentially “nothing.”
  • Because these notices formalize the appeal process, if you are considering appealing. Alternatively, it is also the mechanism for formally announcing that you are the winning candidate if you are the one being selected
  • The most important part for you as the winning candidate is not the appeals process, but the letter of offer. While this includes a whole host of language about values and ethics, etc., it also includes more immediate information for you – your title in the new position, which division you are assigned to (if it wasn’t clear previously, this could be exciting to learn), what your classification will be (this shouldn’t be a surprise, since you applied for a specific job), and what your level will be (which also equates to a specific pay scale!).

Phase 7: Managers address appeals

Most appeals don’t proceed very far in the formal appeal process for one of two reasons. First, if the appellant’s reasons are sound, and it appears the hiring manager was in error, the department will likely correct the problem themselves long before it gets to a tribunal stage. This may involve screening the appellant into the competition and assessing them from the stage where they were screened out, or giving them an opportunity to try a test that they missed for valid enough reasons to grant an extension.

Second, if the appellant is completely out to lunch, the union will advise them that they have no valid grounds to pursue, and possibly withdraw legal support. The person may complain, but they’ll likely let the matter drop once they get into a formal situation of filing briefs for a tribunal, responding to filings by the Department, etc. Some people view appeals as a waste of time – like buses, there will be another competition coming along any minute – and suggest that you just move on. However, sometimes there are grey areas where the appellant and the department do not agree on what was the right approach to take in a given situation (such as a person being tested for language early on in the process, rather than at the end, and getting screened out). In these rare cases, the appeal may go all the way to a tribunal who will decide first if the scope of the complaint is a valid grounds for complaining, and second if the appellant’s complaints prove the grounds of the complaint.

Why do you care about this “appeal” phase if you are an applicant?

  • A whole separate volume could address why candidates should care about tribunal decisions, but at this point, note that tribunal decisions help constrain what is appropriate in future competitions and what is not. Knowing what to expect, and what is “out of bounds”, will help you focus on what really matters.
  • It is also the way of protecting your rights. Managers are not free to do whatever they want, there are rules in place that have to be followed. So an appeal may overturn a bad process. However, note that a tribunal does not have the power to say “Jane was right, John shouldn’t have gotten the job, the process was flawed, give it to Jane”. Their only power is to revoke John’s appointment. So even if you win, you may not get anything out of it beyond the satisfaction that the process gets tossed.

Phase 8: Managers hire the successful candidate

This may seem like an almost anti-climactic step as you already received your letter of offer at this point. But going back to the beginning, this chapter isn’t about understanding the competition part, it is about understanding the entire HR process from beginning to end. Which includes you actually starting the job, being assigned a set of duties, developing a performance agreement, planning some training, meeting your coworkers, etc.

Why do you care about this “appeal” phase if you are an applicant?

  • Remember those two chapters about knowing yourself and knowing government? This is the stage that will tell you if you actually will enjoy the new job.

Now, having read all the above, you know the eight main phases of a competition for a manager. Let’s drill down on the parts that you do as a candidate.

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