This is my guide to succeeding in Canadian Federal Government Competitions, part of a series of guides to government that I have planned. I have developed multiple versions of the guide over the last 17 years and I still consider it to be a work in progress.

Cover page - Be the duck
PolyWogg's HR Guide

Initially, I just had a PDF version (version 0.4) which is the version I used for presentations over the years. Version 0.5 was the first prose version on my site and only included a subset of the full list of topics. Version 0.6 followed with slight updates of some sections, as did version 0.7.

When I started posting versions online, I thought the best way to do that was to simply write separate chapters as individual blog posts rather than pages of a website. The problem with that approach was that some people would follow links to the old posts rather than the updated versions with the latest advice. As such, I have decided to modify my site and put the latest version here. I’ll keep links to previous versions, but only for archival purposes. The latest prose version will always be under the menu headings.

In the meantime, if you want the latest Powerpoint deck, you can click on the file name below to see a pop-up PDF version in your browser or click on the Download button to save a copy to your device.

2017 Prose Version

  • Welcome
    • Welcome — this page explaining the version that follows
    • Introduction — The five principles that underpin my approach to competing in “selection processes” aka competitions
  • Early preparations
  • The Process
    • Overview of the process — All the elements of a selection process from start to finish and why you should care about each stage
    • Find jobs — How you find out about jobs in government and where they are posted
    • Applications — How to fill out your application so you don’t get screened out
    • Written exams — How to prepare and PASS the test so you can move on to the interview
    • Interviews — How to prepare for a GOVERNMENT interview, not a private-sector interview
    • References — How to choose the right reference and help THEM prepare to help YOU
  • Other elements
    • Language tests — Tips and tricks to be ready for the language tests of the Public Service Commission
    • Special tests — Overview of different types of unique tests you may be asked to undergo as part of the process
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Guest
Roy Sharma
2 months ago

Hello Paul,

Hope this reaches you with well!

I have an upcoming written three hours take-home exam and it will assess on the following: Ability to communicate effectively in writing, ability to present analytical thinking and ability to plan and organize to meet deadlines. In the essential qualifications, they have asked for experience in conducting economic or commercial research, analyses, studies, Excel and presenting statistics. Could you please advice me what should I prepare for this? Any lead or recommendations will be highly appreciated.
Thank you in advance!

Guest
C
2 months ago

Hello,

Thank you for the guide! Your page on Applications doesn’t seem to be opening properly. I’ve tried it on google chrome and firefox but they both only show your website header and I’m not able to scroll down. I think you mentioned in other comments that you’ll be editing the guide? In that case, is there a pdf or different link available to read in the meantime?

Thank you kindly,
C

Guest
M
3 months ago

When your next hr guide update coming?

Guest
C
3 months ago

Hi Paul,

I just wanted to reach out and thank you for the huge service you’re providing here. It undeniably helped me get to the final stages of a couple of competitions, and succeed in another one down the road when I came into hard times and really needed it the most. I’ve recommended your guide to at least 15-20 people including those applying to non-Canadian government jobs, all of which have come back with praise for the content here. Grateful for your contribution, and keep it up!

C

Guest
Gigi
3 months ago

Hi Paul,

Please I have an upcoming written test and two of the rated requirements under “Knowledge” are:

1. General knowledge of evidence-based research methods and social media presence.
2. Understanding of the impact of political, economic, and social factors on migration-related matters.

Please, I do not understand what they mean by that. What and where do I read to for this?

Can you please help?

Thank you.

Guest
Gigi
3 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Dear Paul,

Thank you for your comments.

I had already started studying generally on the topics. I was only asking for a further opinion and view as to what kind of questions I could expect.

Anyway, I passed the test and have been invited for interview.

Thank you.

Gg

Guest
C
4 months ago

Hi Paul,

I’m currently preparing for an interview. This interview I’ve heard is mostly situational questions. So a very difficult situation will be given to me and I have to explain how I will deal with it. I’ve formulated my response for this but I’m wondering whether I should give an example of when I’ve dealt with a similar situation. I’m worried that giving an example might look like I’m going off-topic aka the situation given. Also, I’m worried that ending my answer with an example will shift focus away from my conclusion of the given situation.

Guest
Alma
4 months ago

Hi there Paul,

I have been trying to get a govt job for about 3 years now and last competition I did kind of broke the camel’s back and I am here for advice. I am getting so tired and discouraged.
I did a EPSI exam then a written examination on April 13, I wrote everything according to PM-04 guidelines and STAR method and after that I followed up two times and just found out yesterday that I did not make it for further consideration.
What I disliked the most about this one was that the answer I got was just a generic DONOTREPLY email address telling me I did not meet the merit criteria assessed. On the email, also, it stated that if I wanted to contact them I could click on the link but that link only took me to the sign in page of the Canada Government Jobs. Did not list which criteria did I fail or anything and if I could get any feedback.
So, I went to the original job posting and emailed the manager listed at the bottom asking for my written examination to be given a second look but I highly doubt it that it ever will.
I put in so much time, researched the department, the merit criteria, the project management cycle, the mandate, you name it. I wrote that exam so well that when I received that rejection letter I wanted to reach out to the assessment board and tell them something I might later regret.
Is there a process I can follow to request my written exam to be re-examined? What do I do different next time so I don’t make a mistake and get an interview?

Thanks so much,

Alma

Guest
B
5 months ago

Hey Paul! Thank you so much for writing such a helpful HR guide. I’m new to competitions and as an external applicant, your guide has gotten me to the interview stage of 2 competitions! I never knew I could get this far, and it’s all thanks to your guide.

I have an upcoming interview and I had some questions that I hope you can address (if you have time!)

Two months ago, I had an interview for another competition and in my opinion (still have not received results), it did not go as well as I would have wanted. I had examples prepared for each merit criteria they told would be tested in the interview, but I was a bit thrown off by the 4 part questions in each question. For example, the question would be to tell me about a time you displayed initiative. This question would accompany 4 further questions (ex. What was the situation? What was your approach? etc). I understand that these questions were probably meant to facilitate our answers and to make sure we answer every part kind of like the STAR method. I answered each question as they were. For example, I’d respond “The situation happened when I worked at XXX and what happened was XXX. My approach was XXXX). I’m answering each question directly and putting in my response. Is this okay, or does it sound a bit robotic and not having a good flow? I’m worried since the interview overall also assesses the criteria “ability to communicate effectively orally”.

Another part that threw me off was the situation question. I couldn’t directly prepare for these questions since I don’t know the exact situation they would give, but I did prepare for some steps that I would take aka the process. This scenario was directly related to the job and I doubt I could ever predict this scenario. This also had 4 part questions to it similar to the previous question (ex. How do you interpret this situation? How do you assess it? etc). I answered it like I did the previous question, addressing each question directly. However, I did not use a specific EXAMPLE in this response. In the previous question I mentioned, they asked for an example so my entire answer was based around that example. But this one I was given a scenario so I based my answer around that scenario and I did not bring any examples of a time I dealt with a similar situation. Is this okay? Should I be explaining how I would respond to the situation but also go further and say, for example, “I encountered a similar situation when I worked at XXX doing XXX. The situation was XXX and I solved it by doing XXX”? I want to be giving detailed answers but also don’t want my answers to be too long.

This leads to my concerns about the timing of the responses. Because of the pandemic, interviews are being done through an online platform where you complete a recorded timed interview. For each question, you are given a 10-minute time limit and after 10 minutes it will automatically stop recording your response. In one of my questions, I took the full 10 minutes in my response. Does this look bad? I’m not sure how they felt listening to someone speak non-stop for 10 minutes. This is much longer than the average 6-minute answer. Do you have any advice on how I can work on this? I just want to make sure I’m being clear and hitting every point but also not speaking for super long.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. Any insight would be appreciated.

Guest
B
5 months ago
Reply to  Paul

This was very helpful! The PowerPoint presentation example was great!

I’m definitely the type to jot some points down and then when it’s time to answer, I tend to speak on it for too long and always miss something I really wanted to say. If I could write down the entire answer word by word, I know I can do much better and articulate what I want to say in a concise manner. The interview is done online through a recorded software, so I could technically type my answers on a document during the time we get to prepare. However, I don’t want it to seem like I’m reading off something and not making enough eye contact. Even though there’s no one on the other side listening to me live like a real interview pre-pandemic, I still get very nervous.

Guest
Chris
5 months ago

Hello Paul,

I appreciate your details and excellent description of government job preparation.

I am currently preparing for one position in GC Jobs, and I have some questions.

1) The position I would like to apply says essential, and asset qualification, but there is one more description for some others: assets knowledge, knowledge, abilities, personal suitability, qualification. There is also mentioned “assessed at a later date(essential for the job) and assessed at a later date (may be needed for the job)” under these items.
Have you ever seen this description? I am not sure that I need to cover all those items in my cover letter.
That is because those 3 categories belong to “assessed at a later date (essential for the job)”, and one belongs to “assessed at a later date (may be needed for the job)”.
In addition, there are several sub-categories under those 4 categories, for examples personal suitability has 5 items (effective interpersonal skills, dependability, initiative, team player, and adaptability), “abilities” has 4 items, and knowledge has 2 items.
How should I cover all those items? Do you have any suggestions?

2) Follow up question from above, if listed 2 (or more) experiences (or any other sub-categories) are connected in my experience, should I separate them to describe each? or would it be okay that I put one long story that contains 2 experiences?
For example, in case of experience managing or working as part of teams and experience developing collaborative partnerships, should I state separate two story to describe each experience or make a one story to include two experience

3) How to write “Knowledge of SOMETHING”?
I can wrote the specific knowledge of BACKGROUND OR CONCEPT. I just wrote my educational information, and I added what I learn in my study. That would be very short, though.
However, the concept that I didn’t learn from university or can’t be taught from educational institution is tricky to cover. For example, “knowledge the principles and practices of scientific investigation”. I do not know how to start writing of this. Should I write what they mean? or write something others?

Thank you very much.

Sincerely,
Chris

Guest
Chris
5 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Thank you Paul your kind response!

It makes lots of sense to me.

Then, could you back to my questions #2 and give me some comments? As you know, there are bunch of items I need to cover them on the cover letter, but I am not sure I need to tell them individual example of them or writing few stroies, including those items.

Sincerely,
Chris

Guest
Chris
5 months ago
Reply to  Chris

Sorry, Paul,

I wanted to ask you follow up question from your answer my first question.

So should I write down all PS/A to my cover letter with STAR method, or just specify those items in my resume would be okay?

Thanks!

Guest
Chris
5 months ago
Reply to  Chris

Thank you Paul!

Now I feel comfortable everything.

I have one last question.
Which one HR prefer to read, writing few paragraphs (more than 2), 1-2 paragraph(s), ,header and “bullet point like” ,or combining (some items are written paragraph like, some items are written bullet point like) in a cover letter?

Thanks!

Guest
Alex
5 months ago

Hi, thank you for providing this. I have always been very unsuccessful when it comes to the Situation Task Action Result interview. Alot of government interviews within the last year (about 10) and all have not passed the interview stage.

I never knew why until the last interviewer said i lack explanation on the “results” the hiring manager mentioned most candidates would spend 2 to 5min answering this question more so than the Situation, Task, and Action. Is this true to put more emphasis on the results instead?

Guest
Alex
5 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Thanks Paul, looking forward to seeing the new updated guide. Very appreciated of your detailed response. It will definitely help me out when preparing again. Cheers

Guest
Ying
6 months ago

Hi!
First of all, just want to thank you for the amazing work you did here and it was extremely useful. I truly appreciated it because it helped me get the job (almost).
I have a couple of questions after the interview part.
1) Can you negotiate for the salary and/or benefit once you get your offer? I know it is a government position and everything is set. But I heard mixed experiences with salary negotiation.
2) It is related to the first one. Could you ask for a higher category during the negotiation? For example, the position I applied for it is an EG 04 position. I applied for it 2 years ago and it is lower than my current position title. So it is possible to make them offer me a higher one like EG 05? Again I heard mixed experiences about it.
3) Do you think it is hard to get promoted in the government system? Is this going to be a dead-end job like most people described?
I thank you for taking the time to reply to my email. Again, you have done great work here.
Sincerely,
Ying

Guest
Ying
6 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Hi Paul,
Thank you so much for your very detailed reply. I really appreciate it. I organized my thoughts a bit based on your reply so if you don’t mind hearing me out.

I am new to the government system. So I am glad to hear that there will be some flexibility based on your reply.

The new government job is at an analyst level and I have been working as an associate in my current job. However, I think your said past job experience will not matter that much for salary negotiation. I am curious that if awards, or publications help with salary negotiation.

However, in the end, the new job only requires a degree or diploma but I have a Ph.D. For that, I believe this is a leverage point.

I gathered that my manager has some power over my pay and my position. Hopefully, he will be willing to give me something extra.

I am happy to hear that it is not a dead-end job. I will be actively looking for a better “box” to jump into once I am in the system.

Thank you again for your reply. It was very helpful.

Ying

Guest
Ying
5 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Hi Paul,
Thanks again for the very specific and useful reply. I appreciate it.
Your comments are very helpful for me to understand the process. All I really wanted is a-okay starting salary, so it would be a meaningful switch on my end. I understand it will take time to get used to the system and the culture and I am not expecting a promotion right away. I was wondering between waiting for a higher position available or taking this lower one. From your reply, I get the idea that it is better to be in the government system earlier, so that is probably what I am going to do.
Thank you,
Ying