In my presentations about competing for public sector jobs, one thing I talk about is the idea of landing the “dream job” even though it is way out of your current classification. That doesn’t mean you’re not qualified, it just means that it’ll be a challenge. Here’s an example:
- You work in administration at Health Canada (AS-02);
- Your dream job in agriculture comes up at Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and it’s one level higher (AG-03).
Now maybe you have enough experience to apply, etc. Here’s the challenge (think of it like figure skating, gymnastics or diving):
- Switching departments usually is about half- to one-degree of difficulty…there’s always at least some bias towards internal candidates because they already know the department;
- Aiming for the promotion in level is always at least one degree of difficulty; and,
- Switching categories is always at least one degree of difficulty and is often two degrees.
So the AS-02 trying to get an AS-03 in the same area would only be one degree of difficulty, but switching categories, increasing level and changing departments raises your challenge to four degrees of difficulty.
Does that mean you have no chance? No, it just means you need to prepare and practice a lot before trying to land it in competition. And, equally, you can try it in competition, but you also are going to need other lower level jumps/dives/routines that you can land more easily. And unlike the athletic comparison, you don’t have to land all three pieces at the same time.
Take, for example, a question I received by email this week and which is a type that people ask semi-frequently. The question is from someone who has an entry-level job in the PM category (program administration / management) and they want to find a way to switch to the PE category (personnel i.e. HR).
The first question I would ask is “do you have the background experience?”. Because that is the first thing that is going to screen you out. It’s a sad cliché that “I can’t get the job without the experience and I can’t get the experience without the job” but it is only partially true. In this case, the person may not be a PE, but if they had NO experience or background at all, I would recommend two things. First, beefing up the educational side of their resume (there are courses at colleges and universities, and certifications available in HR, etc.). Note these are not simply “hey, I did the course, now you’ll hire me?” because that’s not the way it works. The second part is you need some relevant experience. Maybe you ask your boss to let you sit on selection boards hiring more junior staff, or let you help out with the administration when they’re running a competition for other positions. Maybe you ask if you can manage the budget items for HR or a staffing request. What types of things should you do? Look at the poster for the type of job you want (PE-01, 02, etc.) and see which experience requirements you might be weak on, and get some experience related to those areas. It might not be “fixed” in a week. Maybe it takes you a year or two to find it.
The second question I would have is “are there any annual recruitments that you can apply for?”. The reason I mention it is because lots of people look and might see PE-02 jobs a lot, but no PE-01 jobs, and there are three reasons for that. They may only hire PE-01s when they do annual recruitments, rather than one-off competitions. And in those annual recruitments, the requirements are usually lower or at least more flexible / open-minded because they are targeting people who do not already work for government so they have to adapt to lots of different backgrounds. It also may be that the working level for the jobs is PE-02. I am in the EC category, which has 8 levels officially, but EC-08s are being phased out of use except in specific circumstances (they were supposed to be special advisor type roles but people have used them as director-equivalent roles and tasked them with management functions that are inappropriate to a non-pure-management category). In addition, EC-01 is virtually non-existent. The starting level is EC-02. Or the other reason why there might not be many PE-01 jobs actually opens up a new avenue and links into the degree of difficulty mentioned above — they use AS-01s and -02s for the PE-01-type work.
That last sentence is one that drives union-types completely batty. “AS should not be doing PE work, you have to get the classification right, blah blah blah”. Except here’s the issue…AS is a broad category including administration, filing, information management, finance, HR coordination, etc. What distinguishes it most is decreased “analytical work”, increased “coordination” and “process”, and usually, a broad set of files. I hesitate to use the word “generalist” (and you’ll see why in a minute), but a generalist function is part of many of the duties with lots of areas to cover.
So, when it comes to HR, there are AS-01s and -02s who might spend all of their time, or most of their time, working on HR files, coordinating all the input and sending it to HR. They aren’t doing the official “HR” that the HR branch does i.e. formal classification, analysis, applying controls, verifying delegations and checking the rules but they do put all the paperwork together to send it to them. So they coordinate it in the policy or program or delivery branch and liaise with the PEs who work in HR branch itself. The reason why I hesitate to use the word generalist is that some of those AS working in the non-HR branches actually have a fair amount of expertise they have developed over time or through extra education, so they are HR specialists, but they are not PEs and they do not have the same accountabilities as PEs.
A gross over-simplification is that the AS is responsible for following the HR rules, filling out the forms and sending it all to HR. The PEs in HR are responsible for actually DOING it i.e. posting the job, signing off that the box had the right classification, ensuring the person signing had the right delegations, verifying applicants were eligible, etc. Some argue it is the difference between simple coordination and actually doing HR, but the real difference is what each is accountable in a holistic HR process. While most wouldn’t call the AS world “informal”, the PE world is VERY formal. Almost rules-based. And in some organizations who are all about the rules, they may even act almost like auditors more so than enablers. It happens.
Sooooo, where does this leave the PM person who wants to move from PM-01 to PE-01 or -02? They should be looking at the AS-01 and -02 categories. PMs and AS positions are practically kissing cousins. Much of the wording in their classifications is virtually identical, particularly at more junior levels, and in fact, the Public Service Commission once described the difference between the two as simply “who are the clients?”. If the clients/stakeholders you deal with are mainly external, you get classed as a PM; if you deal mostly with other government people and internal clients, you are an AS. Which isn’t to say PMs don’t often also have lots of Gs&Cs roles that AS types don’t, and that AS types don’t have HR or finance roles that PMs don’t, but rather that the type of work they do in all of it is similar (coordination, consolidation, applying rules, handling processes, etc.).
Now if you go back to the four-degree of difficulty example at the top, what does that tell you? It means the AS-02 wanting to move to the AG-03 position can try to land a quadruple jump in one go, or handle it through three steps:
- Switch departments (Health to CFIA), stay as AS-02;
- Get relevant experience in AG work, maybe do an assignment, try to land AG-02 position; and,
- Try to get promotion from AG-02 to AG-03.
Three steps to land the quad, not just one jump. It takes longer, but it is much easier to land, and there’s nothing stopping you from still trying to land the quad or a triple or a double along the way. Still making progress rather than risking crashing and burning every attempt.
In the PM’s case that wrote me, that would be the same format for the advice, just a bit more detailed:
- Try to get relevant non-HR-branch experience in the AS world while also ensuring you have the requisite educational background needed…aim for assignments, help out on competitions, see if you can fill in for someone while they’re on holidays, etc…put it in your learning and development plan, for example;
- Try to switch to the AS category and aim to focus on HR…this is not that simple, I confess. There are LOTS of people in the AS category who hate general admin duties providing support to directors or divisions, handling correspondence tracking, etc. They too are doing what this person would be doing i.e. trying to get into general AS and then moving into an AS-02 position focusing on finance or HR (two of the areas within AS that often have enough work to have someone coordinating that mostly full-time);
- Try to jump from AS-02 to PE-02…this too, will not necessarily be that easy. Those same AS types who focused on HR above are may also be competing for PE jobs. PE-02s usually pull from one of three groups — PE-01 (obvious), AS-01 or 02 (laterals), or CR (clerical) who might have already been working in HR branch.
Of course, the person can still try to land a PM-01 to PE-02 jump, or look for open annual recruitments for PE-01s, but in the meantime, they can keep slowly edging themselves closer to the job they want and a little more away from the job they have.