ARCHIVE: HR Guide – 04 – Understanding the HR process in the Canadian Federal Government rev 0.6 — 15 Comments

  1. Hi! Well this was an amazing, indepth, so-kind-of-you-to-provide article, I was blown away at the detail! I am applying for a promotion in federal government and was searching for advise which is how I came upon your website. Applying really is an exhausting process and you have confirmed that for me – I think I was looking for a shortcut, lol.

    I started looking through your other pages and see that I have a lot of interesting reading to do. Looking forward to it and, truly, thank you for the HR Guide and the HR Guide for Interviews, you put in a lot of effort for strangers and it is very much appreciated!

  2. This article is very informative and of great help! I am currently being assessed for a Payment Service Officer position (PM01) with ESDC. I have screened in, completed the Unsupervised internet test, written exam that consisted of 3 essay type questions, and am scheduled for the GCT2 next week. How would I go about requesting a copy of the job description? Should I request this from the Assessment Committee?

    Thanks again for the great article!

  3. As a current government employee, I find it quite disheartening the number of my colleagues who have been screened out of processes on technicalities, or are acting in the position or otherwise doing the job, but can’t get the job because they fail one element of the process. It seems to me like the system itself is broken and needs to change.

    • I understand the frustration and the viewpoint, but I don’t share it. The difference between the private sector and the public sector is that it is not only based on merit but also a legislated definition of merit and the ability to demonstrate the merit. The part that is difficult to understand is that the manager has made a choice when they run a comp for someone who is acting in a position, which often doesn’t seem like a decision, but it is. The manager can:

      a) appoint someone without competition based on a general rationale that they can do the job, i.e., use their own discretion and judgment as the justification to appoint;
      b) appoint someone based on having met the criteria In a comp for a similar job, but again is basically appointing without competition and using the other results as the justification to appoint;
      c) appoint someone based on them having met the criteria of a development program;
      d) appoint someone based on being in a common pool of positions that are similar; or,
      e) appoint someone based on them having qualified in a position directly related to the job (i.e. they ran a comp for that job).

      In an abstract sense, everybody thinks a) is a terrible option because it is so ripe for abuse, people appointing people they know and not giving others a chance. But for someone who is acting in the position, it’s the easiest way to appoint them. It is also, in some ways, fairer than running what “looks like” an open comp but the manager is planning on hiring the incumbent. So a fake comp, and there’s not really a job open to everyone. Yet, the alternative is for you seeing people who are doing the job but can’t win a comp who want to be just appointed. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

      Some people hate people pulling from other comps i.e. matching in (b), and I have some sympathy for that. A few years ago, I saw someone appointed as a Director of Finance at a small org based on having made a comp at a large org. There are a lot of people who would have applied for the small org if it had been run as a comp, but who had NO interest in working at the large org. So they never applied to the large comp because they didn’t want to work there. And then missed out on an opening at the small org they would have liked.

      C, D, and E are just variations on a theme, but people (i.e. unions) seem to collectively agree that the open comp is the fairest process of all. Everyone can apply, everyone has a chance (real or not), and everyone gets assessed the same. But it isn’t a test if you can do the job, or if you can do it the best, it is a test if you can demonstrate your ability in a specific way that is measurable and justifiable so that anyone who is appointed can be defensibly said to have met the criteria. It’s proof that on that day with that test you rose to the challenge and were able to show your abilities.

      Some people think that is “broken”, others view it as the best of a bad set of choices and the most fair. And critics would argue that if you can’t demonstrate your abilities and pass the comp, you shouldn’t get the job. Remember too that acting in a position doesn’t always mean they’re doing the full job. Often, for example, when I’ve been acting in EX-01s or equivalent, I’ve been doing part of the job, but I’m not carrying the full weight of the division. Sometimes the DG is providing more guidance; sometimes some tough staffing is delayed until the permanent person is hired; sometimes the manager doesn’t delegate all the functions they COULD because the person is still “learning and developing”. A full appointment says “you’re fully ready on day 1”; acting says “you’re mostly ready and you are willing to stretch for the duration of the assignment”.

      But, as I said, you’re not alone with seeing the frustration of someone failing a component. But demonstrating merit is not a “technicality”, it’s the fundamental philosophy behind all staffing. And it beats the alternative of patronage and favoritism…it is one of the reasons I write the blog. Because some people “miss out” on a technicality simply because they didn’t know how the system works or what Qs are being asked, and they answer to the side of the question rather than directly to the elements being assessed.


  4. Hi Polly,
    I’ve been told by the hiring manager that she intends to hire me, but that she’s waiting on HR to provide me with a start date so that I know when to resign from my current position. Is this normal, and do you have any idea how long it typically takes to get that offer letter/start date after security has gone through?

    • Hi Kristy,

      Congratulations on the intent of the hiring manager! While it is too early to say congrats on the job (Foreign Affairs personnel used to have an internal maxim to wait until you had been doing the job for two weeks before you announce, sigh), it is an encouraging sign…

      So once a hiring manager has someone they want to hire, they have to give HR several things…a number for the box you’re going into (the position number), indication that nothing has changed significantly since it was last classified (i.e., often the box has been recently vacated by someone and the manager is basically saying they’re replacing them…this is to avoid the possible situation that someone was doing a PM-04 job, they left, the job sat empty for two years, all the files have been moved around, and really it’s a PM-02 job now, but they’re still putting a PM-04 in it…when jobs sit empty for too long, HR starts to get nervous that it is still the same level as it was before), all your paperwork that says you’re a wonderful person, a rationale that you are the right level / fit / etc. for the job and that their own internal committees said they could go ahead and hire (which incidentally is almost uniform across govt since the cutbacks five years ago, there are vacancy management committees at varying levels to confirm you’re okay to hire within your branch / directorate / division / sector / etc. and ALWAYS includes proof that the manager has the budget), and various other forms, signatures to prove the hiring manager has the delegated authority to staff and fill that box. It makes getting paid look easy. But the complications come from the fact that all appointments are delegated from legislation and HR is the only one who can generate the letter of offer. They ALSO have to ensure you have all the clearances for security, etc. And generally they won’t do ANYTHING until all those steps are cleared.

      Now, even if all cleared, suppose it is mid-December and you’d like to start work the middle of January. In theory, this should mean that the new dept HR people would give the manager the letter of offer in the next week or so with a start date of mid-January, you would sign, and then give your current manager two weeks notice. Seems reasonable, right? Apparently HR has its own logic. In the public service, particularly where people are moving within the service, it is not uncommon for HR to delay those LoOs until someone puts a gun to their head and says “Jane is starting Monday, it is now Thursday, I NEED THE LETTER!”. A huge portion of people get their new LoO the day they start the new job. Which means telling your old boss you’re moving without the new letter yet being in your hand. It’s stressful. There are a not insignificant number of people who even start their job on a Monday and their LoO doesn’t show up until Wednesday. Until there’s real urgency, sometimes it’s hard to unstick the letters from the HR people.

      Not all departments are this bad, but there are times where the cynical side of me thinks “90% of departments make the other 10% look bad”. Unfortunately, the answer is that until the HR manager starts signaling a likely date to you, you just have to be patient. When it finally happens, it will be all at once. It isn’t uncommon for people to get a call they’ve been waiting for and the hiring manager expects them to start in two days. Just be clear with the hiring manager that you’ll need x days after receiving it before you can start.

      This should run smoothly but rarely does. Students in particular see it the worst every summer, including in some cases moving across the country to Ottawa, renting an apt, showing up for work the first day and without a LoO ready, they get sent home for the day. And they’re all new to the PS, so of course they start panicking about what it means, and our “Welcome to the Govt” onboarding msg says, “Man, are we ever screwed up!”. It’s one of the most frustrating parts of HR, outside of pay and benefits.

      Good luck, and keep “Patiently Waiting”.


  5. Hi Polly
    Great article and thanks for sharing. How do I appeal the selection board decision? It’s for an internal process and I have received the feedback in writing as the informal discussion.

    • You’ll have to wait for the final notice to be posted when they appoint someone. However, note that appealing your “exclusion” rarely does you any good…the most it can do is put you in a pool, assuming you’re successful, but the likelihood of them selecting you at that point is pretty low. If you have someone else who might pull you, might be worth continuing to push, but there are pretty narrow grounds for appeal. When they post the first person to be posted from the pool, there is a notice of consideration with the rights for appeal clearly listed in the notice.


  6. I am currently with the federal government and I am looking to move up. I made a pool and I have another department, (B), wanting to take me out of the pool for a promotional position. The Department B has tried to reach Department C-pool and they were unresponsive until today whereby, according to Department B, they have stated that they will not comply with the request of releasing me and responding to the questions from Department B. Is Department C-pool allowed to do that and if so what’s the point of making a pool? I am wondering if what Department B has stated of Department C-Pool is correct and factual.

    • The short answer is likely yes correct and factual, and the way around it is option d at the bottom. But I might as well give you the full answer.

      To answer your question, I have to go waaaay back to the start of the process when the department created the process. They said publicly who it would be open to (eligibility for individuals) and the intent of the process (which usually says something like other positions in the same department). There is a bit more technical stuff behind the scenes, but the department has to say to PSC up front before the process is posted who will be able to pull directly from the pool i.e. which departments.

      Most departments default to saying themselves only. In other words, if department B somewhere else (in your example the letters are reversed) wants to pull from A’s pool, the immediate answer is often “no”. There’s a reason for this…department A ran the pool. They incurrred a lot of cost in time and money to do that. So they want to pull the best candidates who make the pool. In your case, suppose you’re awesome. The other department ran a pool, and if they let your original department pull you, then they completely wasted their time. Worst case scenario? They run a comp, narrow it down from 1000 people on the application stage and have 500 write a written; narrow it down to 100 for interviews; narrow it down to 30 for reference and language checks; and 10 people make the pool. Say eight of them are from other departments and get pulled by the other departments, leaving them maybe 2 from their own department. And those 2 might be good enough to make the pool but not the right fit for the job, and thus they are left with no one, or maybe they need eight people and they just spent half a million dollars in staff time to get the two people they already had.

      Soooo, there are often four options:

      a. The other department COULD have said it was open at the beginning and thus pulling would be easy and/or you could have asked at the beginning and they would have told you “just us”, it would only be used internally and you might not have applied if you didn’t want to work there;

      b. The department MIGHT open it up after 4-6 months i.e. after they take the best ones themselves, meet their needs, and then let other departments pull from the competition too, BUT the PSC has to give them permission to do this and it isn’t automatic. Take for example a case I saw that actually was a bit questionable in my view. ESDC ran a Director of Finance position (EX-01) and created a pool. But ESDC is a HUGE department and a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily want to work there, so they wouldn’t have applied. Meanwhile, someone at CSPS pulled from the pool for THEIR finance needs…but perhaps people working at CSPS like the small nature, would NEVER have applied for a position at ESDC but WOULD have applied if it said it was open to CSPS too, yet never got the chance to directly apply for the job at CSPS. It’s a little more complicated than that, but in your situation, it means your boss would be pulling you from another pool to give you a promotion to the next level in your current organization but nobody around you got a chance to compete directly for that job, it was never posted, it was never even suggested it was “open” in that sense. So the PSC doesn’t always say “yes” to opening it up after the fact. They often look to see how many comps are run in the both orgs, how many across govt, whether it is a category with lots of priority list people, etc. FYI, this is a huge concern for the PSC because in order to appoint from a pool, you have to first “clear any potential priority referrals too”. So in your case, the other department has permission to appoint AND a referral clearance, but your dept doesn’t have either.

      c. Your department could run their own comp if they have needs; 🙂

      d. Your boss can do what is called a non-advertised appointment without competition. Any manager with delegated authority (usually EX-01 level) has the authority to appoint anyone to a higher level if they have sufficient rationale to do so…some of the obvious ones are emergency life or death stuff; national security; etc. Or, more normally, because the person has clearly demonstrated they meet the merit because they have made a pool somewhere else. They’re NOT pulling from the other pool, they’re using that other pool as evidence that you made it through a selection process with comparable statement of merit criteria, and thus demonstrated merit for the position they’re appointing you to using their own authority. If you look on the jobs site, there are LOTS of posters that say promotional appointment and it is against a non-advertised process. Half of these are probably formal developmental programs, the other half are promoting people based on the fact they made a pool somewhere else and the other dept won’t or can’t let them pull directly from the pool.

      It’s the cleanest way to do it, but for the future, you should know that simply making a pool at another dept doesn’t do anything for you automatically if you just want to stay where you are. You either need flex from the other department or flex from your own management. Both you can ask about before you apply.


  7. Hi Poly,

    this is a great read! really interesting. I am looking for answers to my questions when I found this article and find that this is very helpful Though, I have a few more questions. I applied for a position through the government of canada jobs website last February 2019. I have completed an unsupervised written exam, and after nearly 2 months, I was asked to provide proof of education and residency because I am not a Canadian Citizen, only a permanent resident Its been over a month now since and I haven’t heard anything again. I don’t have any idea about the status of my application. Should I follow and ask? the status of my application remains the same though. I am just not sure if I am waiting for something or nothing. I really want this job. Thanks for your reply

    • Hi Rose Ann,

      Glad you found it helpful. So Feb to now for exam and education and residency in about 3-4 months is about normal speed. Or at least, it’s not unusual. You can always follow up and ask if they know if/when they might be doing the next stage. I don’t know the job, or the process, but not being a full Canadian Citizen is a challenge that is difficult to overcome. Many depts and even managers in depts don’t even consider it, they just default to Cdn citizens only. It also affects security status for some jobs i.e. some places require secret or top secret, and if I recall correctly, RCMP/CSIS won’t grant it until you switch from PR to CC, which means you might get screened out for some jobs.

      But that is going farther afield than your question. Short version is that you can ask about next steps, just don’t do it too often, monthly at most.

      Good luck!


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