ARCHIVE: HR Guide – 04 – Understanding the HR process in the Canadian Federal Government rev 0.6 — 9 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”.


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