PolyWogg’s (Completely Informal and Totally Unofficial) Guide to Competing for Jobs in the Canadian Federal Government
Finding out about available jobs in the Federal Government
There used to be two separate sites for finding out about available jobs in the government — an external site for people who didn’t already work for the government and were looking to get in, and an internal site for those who already worked for government and who were looking for a change or promotion.
In 2015, the government merged the sites into one — Jobs.GC.CA. The “jobs” part is obvious, GC is short for “Government of Canada” and “CA” is the country code designation for Canada. While each of those may seem obvious, they are not obvious to everyone — this site is for jobs with the Canadian Federal GOVERNMENT, not any of the provinces. And it should not be confused with Job Bank, an online inventory of external jobs in the private and public sector that the Government runs to help employers and potential employees connect (http://www.jobbank.gc.ca).
When you go to http://jobs.gc.ca, here is a sample of what you should see (there may be some layout changes, etc., this was snapped on May 14, 2017):
(Image © Government of Canada, 2017)
The site is run by the Public Service Commission of Canada which regulates and aids in HR staffing across the government. The site has:
- info on the process, which is in slightly different form than what I wrote in the previous chapter, plus lots of details about applying online, accommodations if you have a disability, language requirements, different types of tests, etc.;
- special sections for Veterans and Canadian Armed Forces members, students, and recent graduates;
- some info for organizations or colleges and universities looking to partner with the government on recruitment issues; and,
- a nice big section called “inside government”.
All of this is what departments call “public facing” information. Useful as background, but none of it is what you are really looking for — the actual jobs that are available. To get to those, you have two options:
- Click on “Search for jobs”, and this will list all the jobs available currently, with the search results shown in tabs. If you are from outside government, or not logged in, you will see one tab (jobs open to the public). If you are within government, and logged in, you will see five tabs:
- internal jobs i.e. those only open to those already in the public service;
- jobs open to the public;
- notices of consideration (kind of like a formal transparent pre-announcement of who they INTEND to appoint from an already-run competition in order to inform anyone who might have grounds for appeal);
- notices of appointment or proposal of appointment (the notice where they ACTUALLY say “okay, we’re appointing this person, let us know if anyone is appealing”); and,
- notices of acting appointments (people who are filling in temporarily for someone else at a higher level, i.e. a temporary promotion).
- Click on one of the more targeted links like for “Canadian Armed Forces” or “Public Service Recruitment Programs” or perhaps one of the featured areas farther down the page.
Feel free to go to the site and browse around. I’ll wait.
Okay, you’re back? Good. Hopefully you saw some jobs that might interest you. If you didn’t, that should tell you something (kind of like in earlier chapters, maybe government isn’t the right fit for you). However, before I move on, I do want to flag something that may not be obvious. These are not actually ALL the jobs available.
As I explained before, there are two types of government departments — one group that is called “core public administration” and one group that is considered separate from the core. The first group, core, publishes ALL their notices on this site. It’s required. For the second group, it’s a bit hit and miss. Some post there too as they know that it is a huge advantage to have all government jobs posted on one site. However, some post ONLY on their individual agency website because they want to control branding, look and feel, etc. It’s a smaller and smaller percentage each year of agencies that only post on their own site, but if you know of an agency or department that really interests you and you don’t see any jobs posted with them, check out their own agency website directly. Chances are you will find links to job notices or recruitment information.
Now, for the main JOBS.GC.CA site, if you actually want to apply for any of the jobs that come up in the job search window, you need to create an account. That is done easily via that helpful little link over to the right, up at the the top, that says “Create an account”. This isn’t going to be rocket science…they’re going to ask you basic questions like your name, email address, etc. You do NOT want to be creative here with your name like you might on Facebook or a news commenting site — this is a professional site where you apply for jobs. Putting in your name as Johnny Appleseed might be cute, but it is a quick way to look like an idiot when you apply for a job. And the security on these sites is way beyond what you see on someone’s blog, so your info is relatively safe. In this case, you WANT them to know who you are, and they have jobs you want, so you want to fill out any box that applies to you.
I’ll even go one step further — for your email address, make it look professional. If you have had the same one since you were 14 when you thought “fluffy_bunny92” was cute, or “big_stud104” was catchy, get a new one. I confess that I use my ThePolyBlog@gmail.com in lots of situations that I probably shouldn’t, as it isn’t as professional as I would normally recommend, but it also isn’t completely egregious. If in any doubt, I use a separate one that has standard firstname.lastname@example.org as the format, and I just auto-forward that email to my G-mail account so I don’t have to check it separately.
You don’t have to do this next part yet, but once you are up and running, you can configure your logged-in profile in a bunch of different ways:
- Save generic searches so you can run them again quickly at any point (such as all jobs in Newfoundland, or all clerical positions in the National Capital Region or all PM-05 jobs within your own department);
- Set up email alerts to tell you when jobs that match your criteria are posted; and,
- Eventually, upload your resume and biographical information that will allow you to apply for jobs faster each time.
** One significant change for internal applicants is that the online system for internal jobs used to only be accessible from work computers. With the merger of the two sites, and the addition of logins and passwords, you can now login and check stuff from home, and even receive your job alerts at a non-work email address (note thate you have to set up your account first from a work computer so the network knows it is really you, but after that, you can login from home).
Once you create your account, and log in, you get a whole new set of menus:
- Job applications (in progress or previously submitted);
- Status of job applications (status of those you submitted to previously);
- View your saved searches (covered below);
- Edit email alerts (covered below);
- Personal information — name and identification, address, contact information, education, languages, and your resume;
- Account information (email, password, hint question and answer); and,
- System notifications.
They are also located under MY ACCOUNT across the top as well.
Why are these boxes important?
I know you might think, “Oh those are just a bunch of profile things, I don’t need to fill those out.” Yes, you do. Because a lot of the information they do when screening is based on those boxes. If the job is limited to those living in Montreal, you need that box filled out to say you live in Montreal. If you have to be internal only, you want your Personnel Record Identifier (PRI) number listed in the identification so they can verify that you are currently working for government. If you have to have a university degree, you want that info listed in the education section. These are all quick ways for the system to triage you when you’re applying, and if the info isn’t there, the SYSTEM CANNOT SCREEN YOU IN. That’s right, the computer will spit you out of a competition because you didn’t give it the right information. That’s your responsibility (I’ll cover that later), no one is going to chase after you to make sure you did it right.
SPECIAL TIP: Your resume can be added to a text box so that you can just “attach” it to your applications easily. This is a plain text box, no room for fancy formats, etc. If you are using Microsoft Word (or whatever word processing software you did your resume in), chances are good that there are little tiny hidden codes in your text that you can’t see. If you copy and paste directly from a program like Word, those codes will be embedded with your text. 90% of them will do nothing. Maybe even 98% of them are likely to be ignored by the system. But those other 2%? They do weird things like tell printers to do extra hard returns, or overwrite the previous line or go up three lines, etc. And suddenly your carefully written resume comes out looking like:
[&–;[&–;[&–;[&–;[&–;[&–;255 Park Street
In other words, it looks like bad formatting, and more importantly, unprofessional. You can’t see the codes, you can’t tell they’re there, but when the computer spits out your resume for the hiring manager, it will look like gobbledy-gook. How do you get around this?
Copy it from your wordprocessing program and paste it into something like NOTEPAD (in Windows) or a simple Text Editor. Some people have really basic email software and sometime paste it there first instead. You can use any software that has minimal formatting (preferably one with none). Then copy and paste from the non-formatted area into the website. Saving it as text in Word is not the same, it doesn’t actually strip everything. Use NOTEPAD or the equivalent.
The system does it’s best to strip out that stuff, but it may not get everything, so just play it safe — paste simple unformatted text. This goes for cover letters too.
Job Search Options
As noted earlier, the real power for this tool is of course to search for jobs that you might be interested in applying for and hopefully getting. The job search screen looks like this:
(Image © Government of Canada, 2017)
If you’re already in government, you’ll notice five tabs across the top that I mentioned earlier and the two most important are:
- Internal jobs (open only to those already working in government); and,
- Jobs open to the public.
Some people from outside government or even internally immediately object to the separation, but there are two reasons for it. Let me digress for a minute, and explain some of the differences between those two types of jobs. If you want to just get to the search function, feel free to skip ahead to “narrowing your search”.
First, there are union issues. Almost all government employees are in one of several unions that cover the public service, and part of almost every union agreement in any sector is that their members will be considered first for promotions, etc. before you hire from outside. Pretty standard stuff for staffing in an organized labour environment, and whether or not you agree with the need or role for unions, it’s well-established labour law that they are legal to exist and that employees have to be members. So, management has to consider them first for lots of jobs.
Second, it’s also more efficient in some ways. Bear with me, I’m not blowing smoke at you on this one. The goal of any hiring manager in any sector is to hire someone who can do the job. They don’t often care who it is, they just want someone who can start and do the job immediately with minimal new training, hopefully. They also don’t want to interview 500 people in a long laborious process — they just want to interview enough people to give them some selection, i.e. some choice, and take the one who is the best fit for the job.
So to use a private sector example, suppose the manager is in retail, and wants to hire a senior customer service manager. Who are they likely to find who is the most qualified — someone who already works in the retail environment doing customer service, maybe even a junior manager? Or would it be a senior customer service manager from a completely different environment like government? Would you think, “Hey, that person who has been managing EI benefits delivery would be great at selling yoga pants”? Or would you think, if you’re being generous, “Sure, they have some transferable skills, interesting work experience, professional outlook, but I really wanted someone with experience in retail customer service”? Chances are you want the latter.
Managers in government are no different. They might be hiring a senior policy analyst and the most likely pool of candidates who are going to have the exact skills and experience they are looking for is going to be the junior policy analysts already working in government. “Promoting from within” is a potential strength (and I’ll deal with the weakness side in a moment), and it is highly efficient. As such, the positions that are listed under “internal jobs” tend to be more senior positions. Not all, but many. By contrast, the jobs open to the public are usually one of four types:
- Entry level positions, a way to get “into” government, your foot in the door;
- Highly-specialized positions that the government can’t fill internally, such as specialized medical positions (doctors, veterinarians, etc.) or highly competitive fields that the government has trouble attracting (like computer specialists);
- Special recruitment programs designed to boost integration of specific groups like new graduates, veterans, students, newcomers, etc.; and,
- Specific targeted jobs to promote renewal.
This last one is where I said above that the government needs to address that “promote from within” weakness. Obviously, if an organization only promotes from within, there’s a risk of narrowing your diversity of options over time.
There’s a classic example of “group think” in a sociology experiment that was conducted with monkeys. The experiment was that they put five monkeys in an enclosure and electrified the bars, floor and climbing structures. Along with other food options, the scientists also hung some bananas. If the monkeys ate the other food, nothing happened; if any monkey touched the bananas, they would all get a shock. The five monkeys learned pretty fast, “no bananas”. The scientists then replaced one monkey, and of course the new monkey went for the bananas. However, the other monkeys knew they would get zapped so they stopped the new monkey from getting to the bananas. Eventually, the new monkey learned not to touch them either. So the scientists replaced the other four one at a time. Eventually, they all learned the banana lesson well enough to stop any other monkey from doing it until all five monkeys in the cage knew not to touch the bananas — but none of the monkeys in the cage had ever actually experienced the shock. The shocks only went to the first five, and THOSE monkeys set up a culture of “don’t touch the bananas” that carried on after the original five were gone. “Why don’t they eat the bananas? Because nobody eats the bananas, it’s always been like that.” The new monkeys didn’t know why, they just knew they weren’t supposed to do it.
Now lots of people might say, “That’s bureaucracy for you”, but it’s not about bureaucracy. Group think exists in every sector that’s been in existence longer than about five years. In retail, somebody might suggest a new type of promotion or marketing, and someone will say, “nah, we tried that once, didn’t work.” It exists as a direct result of best practices and training on ways that work, as people start eliminating ways that either they don’t think will work or which are not open to them. And, yes, it can happen in government too.
Take for example a problem with educational attainment and options on how to address it. There are a number of constraints on what the Federal government can do about it. It can’t, for example, decide that elementary education is not going well and thus open a bunch of new elementary schools to combat the problem — education is within provincial control and the feds are barred from doing it by that pesky little thing called the Constitution. Over time, some departments and their analysts may view that area not only out of bounds legally, but also out of bounds for even analysis. Yet what if one of the provinces might be open to some sort of joint project, or discussions of the issues at least, that would help inform their approach? Analysts in the federal system may have started to think that “all of it is off the table”, since it was never on the table in the first place. Then along came someone at some point who said, “Hmm, we can’t do anything as the federal government, but what if we offered the provinces money to do more in that area?”. A disruption in approach called “federal spending power”. Spending doesn’t violate the Constitution, so lots of things came back on the table in some departments.
Alternatively, you could have people at senior levels who don’t have a very good grasp of digital technology, or social media, and if you were in the area of international affairs, most of them might not have had a really good grasp of options around what is now called “digital diplomacy”. Then some people came along who said, “what if?” and suddenly international affairs officers and Ambassadors started using Twitter as a policy tool.
In both cases, external recruitment can be a good way to get fresh insights or fresh ways of looking at things, partly to make sure you’re considering all the possible solutions and not just the ones that have been working recently. A way of bringing in people with fresh approaches to help disrupt the status quo.
In government, that sometimes happens at very senior levels with a particular government appointing a deputy minister from the private sector, for example. Those tend to be very unique posts though, not something that would show up on a website advertised to the public. At the regular employee level, there are some recruitment programs that have the same goal — the “Recruitment of Policy Leaders” program, for example.
The RPL program is aimed at students and young policy thinkers who have shown some success in various disciplines through winning large scholarships or awards, working in interesting fields on large projects, etc. and generally having advanced degrees — Masters or a Ph.D. Instead of hiring them at the bottom of the policy analyst ladder (EC-02), and risking their entrepreneurial / innovation spark being driven out by Group Think while they work their way up the ladder, these high-fliers are hired at the mid- to senior-policy levels (EC-05 and -06). Deputy Ministers are heavily engaged in the hiring, and often serve as mentors. Fresh blood, fresh ideas, high-level access to ensure both potential innovation and that we consider all the policy options, not just the ones we already have under consideration. Many of these programs come with bumps and bruises in implementation, since after all, they are indeed forces of disruption, but they can achieve some forms of renewal and are actively managed.
So, as I said, there are jobs open to the public and jobs open to government employees, with the majority of senior positions available internally and most entry-level or short-term positions available externally. Simple, right?
Narrowing the search
The left-hand sidebar, entitled Refine Search, has a whole list of options to help you narrow down the list. For example, on the day I pulled the image above, there were 283 internal jobs and 552 external jobs available — across the entire Government. Some people think that is amazing, others wonder why so low. Either way, truthfully, most of the jobs don’t apply to you and your interests. There are multiple different categories, locations, etc. And most of those jobs are only posted for 2-3 weeks at a time, so the list is constantly changing. So narrowing it down to the jobs that apply only to you is a challenge. You want the list to be manageable, but you also don’t want to miss out on some potential jobs because you accidentally narrowed the search too fine. Let’s walk through some of the ways you can refine your search, and in particular, what I consider the four biggest criteria:
|Job title||If you are looking for a policy analyst position, or veterinarian, you could type in policy analyst or veterinarian and see all the positions. Relatively straightforward.||If you search for senior policy analyst, but the hiring manager called it policy coordinator, it won’t show up. Just as search for veterinarian won’t pull up veterinary specialist.|
|Work location||Enter your city or province, narrow the search to jobs near you. This is the first of the big criterion — why look for jobs in Newfoundland if you don’t want to leave B.C.? You can also exclude international positions such as Global Affairs or multilateral or the old CIDA (under Global Affairs now) i.e. just see jobs in Canada.
||If you type in Edmonton, you won’t see jobs you might like in Calgary. Or Ottawa might not pick up Gatineau across the river.|
|Job types||This is the second big criterion — know what you are looking for and are open to accepting/pursing. It isn’t the classification (clerical, management, etc.), this is whether the job is indeterminate (i.e. permanent), term (i.e. a specified period of six months, or a year perhaps), a deployment (moving you permanently from your current spot in government to another at the same level), assignment or secondment (temporarily loaning you from one spot to another), or acting (temporary promotion). For external jobs, you can limit to graduate programs or student programs or just regular job postings (everyone).||Some people only look at indeterminate positions (i.e. permanent ones) and miss out on temporary positions that might lead to something permanent. Or they search for assignments or secondments, without first knowing whether or not their current boss would agree to loan them somewhere else (your boss has to agree to secondments or assignments).|
|Date posted||Obvious||This is more looking for historical posts than anything, not much risk.|
|GC organizations||This is the third big criterion — which departments or agencies are you willing to consider? Or are you willing to work for any department? You can narrow it down to just the ones you are interested in.||As I explained in earlier chapters, you’re likely to be happier in a job if the substantive area is one that interests you, even if you’re doing finance or administrative work that is more generic.|
|Classifications||This is the last of the four big criterion — as explained above, you may only be interested in EC or AS or PM positions, and if so, there is no reason to look at veterinarian positions or park rangers. After you choose the classification, you can also choose levels.||Some people limit themselves only to the classification they are already in, or the one they want to be in, which negates the fact that some AS or PM jobs might be quite similar, and even some IS and EC jobs could have common elements. In most classifications, there are sister / cousin classifications that are worth seeing too.|
|Language required||Pretty straight-forward, English / French / Bilingual. Many people consider this a big criterion, and for individuals it may be. But it’s more like a “fact”, than a search technique. If you’re unilingual, there’s no point in looking at the bilingual positions or the ones that require the official language you don’t have. It’s a very important element, but it is more like a screening criteria than a search technique — you either qualify or you don’t.||If you search for bilingual only, it might exclude some unilingual positions that might interest you.|
|Minimum salary||Some people use this rather than the classification one because it can help keep the search parameters open. For example, if you are interested in an EC-04 or higher job, but would consider AS-05, PM-05, IS-04, or higher, then you would have to enter EC, AS, PM, IS, etc. in your search plus the appropriate levels. Or you could say “anything higher than $70K”, and you’ll get all of those.||You’ll also get some other ones you likely don’t want, including technical specialists or lawyer positions that you don’t qualify for, but it is an alternate way to search for specific levels of jobs. You just have to wade through a lot of jobs that might not interest you.|
|Process number||This one is deceptively simple. Some people think, “Well, why would I search for that?”. Because that’s how you’re going to find out the status, look back at a description, etc. — it lets you find old ones.||If you saw a job a month ago, and wanted to go back to look at it again for reference, it can be hard to find it again if you don’t know the number.|
That’s the basics of the Job Site. Time to look at the actual application process once you find a job you want.