Before you start reading about how to prepare for individual parts of a competition, it is good to understand the whole process. I know what you’re thinking – what’s to understand? Somebody has a job, I need a job, let’s go! Not so fast…

The process has a lot of steps, some of which involve you and most of which don’t. Plus, it is very different from the private-sector advice you will find on most websites. Need a quick example? How about cover letters – lots of websites will tell you to keep them to a single page, which if you do for a government job, you’ll pretty much ensure that you get screened OUT (you’ll see why later).

So, the better you understand the whole process from beginning to end, the better chance you will have of succeeding. Don’t worry, this is just an introduction, most of the applied learning comes later, stage by stage.

Government competitions are governed by legislation

The biggest difference between the private-sector and the public sector is that most government competitions at any level are governed by legislation. This is true for the Canadian federal government, and the legislation is broad enough to encompass a whole host of human resources issues in the huge entity known as the Government of Canada. It also goes into detailed guidance on process, well beyond what a private-sector company has to do to comply with labour law legislation.

While many HR people can debate eloquently about the subtle differences between government staffing and private-sector staffing, there is one singular difference that changes the nature of the process from beginning to end:

While both the private-sector and the public sector argue that hiring is always based on merit, the Canadian government has legislation that defines precisely what merit means for all competitions. Which means a manager must be able to document and substantiate HOW that person demonstrates merit and WHY they are the right person.

Put differently, it is not enough to find the right someone to do the job (fact), but to be able to document the assessment criteria beforehand and to prove the person meets it (fact + perception). After all, that person is going to be paid by the taxpayer. And Parliamentarians, on behalf of taxpayers, want to know that merit is being demonstrated for all hiring.

Considering what merit means in layman’s terms

Before going further, stop and think about the merit requirement from a personal perspective. Suppose you went to university or college. You probably thought hard about which one to apply to, which area to study. How would you demonstrate to someone that you picked the “best” or “right” program for you? Or suppose you bought a house. Lots of variables, lots of options to consider. How would you demonstrate to someone that it was the “one right house”?

The short answer is that in both circumstances you probably can’t. Not definitively, at least.

Instead, you could demonstrate that you:

  1. considered a broad range of options;
  2. identified a few factors that were important to you; and,
  3. impartially ranked a few universities or colleges or houses based on those factors.

But, in the end, you are not really demonstrating the “one right choice” so much as that you had a reasonable, logical approach to your decision. Instead of showing the right decision, you show that your “process” was sound and thus led to a “right” decision. This is basically how government processes prove merit too.

Merit prior to 2003

Up until 2003, the “proof” process was one of the biggest problems with government hiring. When the manager reached the end of a competition, there were numerous appeals where they had to demonstrate the “right” decision, or in some cases the “perfect” decision, and they couldn’t have anyone start the work until all the appeals were cleared. Managers felt constrained, employees felt it was too bureaucratic, and overall everything took forever. Let’s walk through a general example of how this worked prior to 2003, and then a specific example to make it more concrete (don’t fuss too much about the terminology at this point, I’ll come back to it later).

Managers ran competitions for positions. They set up a list of criteria, they tested everyone on those criteria, and when it was done, the scores were totaled up and a global score was assigned to each candidate. Then, each candidate was placed on an eligibility list in order of their global score (called a reverse order of merit, but that’s not usually important anymore). A cut-off score, established earlier, was used to determine who made the list and who didn’t – if you were above the cutoff score, you made it; if you were below the cutoff, you didn’t. Sometimes there were five people on a list, or a hundred, and other times, just one. This was called a “competition” or a “competitive process” to create an eligibility list. Once the list was established, and all appeals had been heard / addressed, a manager could hire off the list. But s/he had to do it in order – the person who ranked first got the first offer, the second person got the second offer, etc.

That’s a pretty straightforward process, and is familiar to most people as it looks a lot like academic testing. If you get the most right answers, you get the highest mark. And get the job. A typical process of testing “merit”.

Now suppose you are a manager needing to hire a computer support person and you test just three things – software knowledge, hardware knowledge and interpersonal skills:

  • Person A gets 10/10 on software and 8/10 on hardware, but their interpersonal skills are terrible, and they only get a 5/10 on the last one. Overall score is 23/30.
  • Meanwhile, Person B isn’t as strong on software (2/10), but aces hardware (10/10), and interpersonal (10/10). End result is 22/30.

So Person A beats Person B by one mark, and gets the job. Except the manager is worried – customer service is a key part of the job, as is hardware. So Person B who is great with people, and even better at hardware, might be a better fit for the team than someone whose strength is mainly software. Under the old system, the manager had no choice – whoever came first on the scoring was the one who got the offer.

Even if you ignore the above example, we all know people who are great at certain skills or areas but lousy at taking tests. Equally, we all know people who are great at taking tests, but you wouldn’t want to work with them on a daily basis. Having global scores doesn’t ensure that the person who gets the best score on a series of tests is necessarily the best person for doing the work or for fitting into an existing team.

As a result, under the old system, many managers were frustrated – they would have someone who would rank first on a competition, but be a potentially disastrous fit. Meanwhile, sitting at number 2 on the list was a stellar candidate who missed by one or two marks. In the above example, it was one or two marks out of 30, but a competition might have tested multiple areas with larger scores. For example, on one competition under this system, I was tested on 10 or 12 areas, and beat the second-place candidate by two marks out of five hundred. I got the job. Was there really any difference between her and I on the results, if I beat her by two marks out of five hundred? She could have easily done the job too, but the manager didn’t get to choose which of us was the “better fit”, because I had a higher score. The second-place candidate was offered a different job, so she still received an offer, but she would rather have had a chance at my position (she did regularly remind me that I got the better job because I beat her by only TWO MARKS…I guess she forgave me, she did one of the readings at my wedding).

Yet, as with the above example, a manager had no flexibility once the scores were tallied. Ideally, if the manager was planning properly, they would have weighted factors differently. So, in the computer support person example above, they would have assigned 50 marks to interpersonal skills, 30 marks to hardware knowledge, and only 10 marks for the software side. Which, for the above scores would have given person A 25+10+24 = 59/90 and Person B 50+30+2=82/90.

But often, during appeals, those differential weightings were hard to justify – why is the interpersonal “5x” the software weight? Why not only “2x”? Or equal? Equal weightings are always easy to justify, and many managers defaulted to it. In fact, many HR people advised them to do so because it was easy to manage and easy to defend.

There are numerous academic articles about how bad HR processes were in the government at that time, as well as a couple of official government reports. All of them came to the same conclusion – too bureaucratic, too slow, too inflexible, too “score-driven”.

Merit after 2003

The Canadian government listened to the complaints and passed new legislation to govern human resources management. Called the Public Service Modernization Act (PSMA), it was passed in 2003 and came into effect throughout 2003, 2004 and 2005. Under the PSMA, there are four new or amended acts that encompass the web of rules pertaining to human resources:

  • The Public Service Employment Act (PSEA), which covers employment, staffing, and political activities;
  • The Financial Administration Act (FAA), which covers accountability;
  • The Canada School of Public Service Act (CSPSA), which covers development and learning; and,
  • The Public Service Labour Relations Act, which covers collective bargaining, disputes and labour relations.

The first two are the main ones because they affect how competitions are created and who can compete in them. They also changed the way merit would be assessed. According to the PSEA, an appointment is deemed to be based on merit when:

  1. The Public Service Commission (PSC) is satisfied the appointee meets all essential qualifications including language proficiency; and,
  2. The Manager also takes into account, potentially, any extra qualifications that might be helpful (but not essential) or operational requirements or organizational needs.

In other words, if the resulting appointee meets all the qualifications, they can be appointed WITHOUT having to rank first in all the essential elements, and the manager may consider some additional skills, needs, requirements that a candidate might meet (like other related experiences, educational training, etc.).

As a result of this change in definition of merit, under the new system (i.e. after 2003), “competitions” have been replaced by “selection processes” and “eligibility lists” have been replaced by “pools”. The difference is twofold:

  1. Each of the elements being tested must be passed individually. If you are strong in one area, but weak in another, you can’t compensate through a global score – each element is marked separately and a cutoff score assigned for each. Using the computer support person example from above, a manager might set the cutoff for “interpersonal skills” as a minimum of “6/10”, in which case Person A wouldn’t have passed even though their global score was the highest. Fail one element, and you are “out” – because you failed to demonstrate you are qualified for all of the elements. Oddly enough, this process actually means all elements are ranked equally (since you have to pass every element), but managers don’t have to choose whoever ranks “first” in raw score at the end.
  2. When the process is over, instead of a ranked list of successful candidates, you have a “group” of people who are all considered “equally qualified”. In other words, they all have demonstrated that they meet the essential elements of each of the criteria being tested. Or, in even shorter words, they can do the job. They have the skills. But since they are all “qualified”, a manager can now choose whichever one of them is the “best fit” for the existing team. Suppose, for example, that you were the computer support manager mentioned above and you had four people already on your team with one vacancy. Perhaps, too, the four people are all really strong with software, but not as experienced in hardware trouble-shooting. After the pool is done, a manager can now look at the “pool” of candidates and may want to choose one that is strong in hardware to complement his existing team.

As a result, you now have “selection processes” to determine the qualified person(s), and “best fit” to choose which of the qualified people will meet your current needs the best. The goals of this change in legislation were increased flexibility for the manager, a more streamlined process for appeals (due to some other changes discussed later), and a shorter overall timeframe for the processes. While there is some evidence of the first two, timeframes have not shrunk significantly since before 2003. An average process still lasts approximately six months from job posting to the person starting the job, and there is wide variation in the range (from three months to two years).

** Note that while the formal HR system now refers to “selection processes”, the layman term of “competition” is still used by most employees. As such, I will still use the term competition throughout the book for simplicity’s sake. However, for all current processes, it is technically a “selection process”.

The four legislative acts come into play more when we get to specific areas of the HR process, and I’ll address them where they are relevant in future chapters rather than going into any additional depth here.

Understanding The Selection Process / Competition

In a full selection process, there are eight phases and the candidate will likely only participate in two of them. While many of them are “short”, and some of them may even be inapplicable in a situation, a variation on them happens in most competitions. Here is the full list:

  1. Managers identify a “need”
  2. Managers formally advertise their needs
  3. Applicants apply and are screened in / out
  4. Candidates are tested for essential (and potentially asset) qualifications
  5. Managers select best fit candidate
  6. Managers formally state intention to hire specific applicant(s)
  7. Managers address appeals
  8. Managers hire the successful candidate

Let’s look at those steps in a bit more detail and see why you might care about all eight phases, even though it looks like you only participate in two of them.

Phase 1: Managers identify a “need”

Often, the need has been identified because someone has left the division and they want to replace them; other times, the unit’s workload has been growing and they need another body; and still other times, they have a growing or new need for a specialized skill that they don’t already have on the team. But managers have choices in how they meet their needs:

  • WORKLOAD: They could eliminate less “pressing” files;
  • PRIORITIES: They could postpone this work until someone else can do it;
  • TEMPORARY HELP: They can use temporary help to cover off on a short-term basis;
  • CONTRACTS: They can engage professional contractors on a short- to medium-term basis to provide specific deliverables; or,
  • COMPETITION: They can hire someone on an assignment (borrowing someone), determinate (specified period) or indeterminate (permanent) basis.

If it is a new position, and they are filling it through competition, the manager has to do a full job description and a list of duties to get a position “classified”. The classification process establishes two things – first, the stream of work (i.e. a Project Management Officer – PM or an Information Officer – IS or a Policy Analyst – EC) and the level of work (01, 02, 03, etc.). The stream generally matches what type of work you will be doing and affects which union you will join, while the level determines the size of your paycheque.

Classification is relatively easy if the manager is just replacing someone who left, as the position and its classification already exist; if not, and it is a “new position”, classification can take anywhere from 3 days to 24 months. (Note: That is not a joke – classification has to be done by the HR branch, as it must be consistently applied across government to ensure pay equity. Unfortunately, there is a significant government-wide shortage of classification experts. As such, some departments are faced with really long waits.) Given that possible delay, many managers will instead try to find existing positions that are sitting empty, and “re-purpose” them for a competition (i.e. borrow a Project Manager or Analyst position from another work unit that is sitting empty). Alternatively, some may use positions that exist but with the wrong classification (i.e. some managers, preferring expediency over form, have hired people into PM boxes knowing that they were going to move towards more EC work over time – and reclassified them afterwards). This is not a recommended practice for managers, and can be painful for the candidates too (by having them apply for positions that do not match their career goals, for example).

One “trick” that has sped up classification has been the development of “generic” job descriptions. For example, at ESDC, there are generic job descriptions for what a Policy Analyst, Level 4 (EC-04) generally does. On the positive side, a manager can create a new position, use the EC-04 generic job description, and classification is near-instantaneous. On the negative side, the job description is generic and may give little to no information to candidates about what they would actually be doing in that position once hired (Social policy? Labour market policy? Learning policy?).

There will also usually be some form of internal approval process whereby a manager will talk to their boss, and get approval (APPROVAL #1) to go ahead with staffing a position. This may be part of an overall HR planning process, or it could be a one-off approval. Either way, the manager will frequently draft a general list of duties that the new position would handle as part of explaining to the boss why the staff is required.

Why do you care about this “needs” phase if you are an applicant?

Because if the manager is replacing someone who left, they may be looking for someone very similar to the person who left (i.e. a narrow-minded approach to staffing); however, if the manager is looking to cover new or expanding work, the manager may be more flexible on the profile of the successful candidate (i.e. open-minded). Knowing which is the case could tell you how much flexibility you have in how you tailor your application, resume and interview approach.

Because it is good to know that there are other options for hiring besides a competition as it opens up other ways to work for government. Some people have very enjoyable careers doing “government work” without ever actually being a government employee i.e. being contractors/consultants/temps.

Because candidates can and do ask for a copy of the “job description” that the manager had to develop during this stage of the process, but don’t be too surprised if it doesn’t completely specify exactly what the job looks like on a day-to-day basis (it’s extra information though, something most won’t ask about). The SMART candidate will also ask if there is a list of duties available too – HR and/or the manager may not share it, but sometimes they will. And you can then tailor your answers better in the interview towards the REAL job, not the generic job description! The closer you come to showing you can do the actual duties, the better off you are as a candidate.

Because classifications tend to reflect the type of work you do and it is not always easy to move between classifications, particularly outside of the National Capital Region. Let’s suppose, for example, you want to be a policy analyst. While lots of private sector people will tell you to take any job to “get your foot in the door”, difficulty switching between job classifications means you may be better off sometimes waiting to get into the stream you want rather than risk getting stuck in another stream altogether.

Phase 2: Managers formally advertise their needs

The Manager starts by writing up a Statement of Merit Criteria (SOMC). This is what most people think of as the “job description”, as it is what is posted online to advertise the job. However, the SoMC (which most HR people will pronounce as SAHM-SEE) is not the job description but rather the list of skills / competencies on which the manager will test you.

Once the SOMC is written, the Manager submits it to HR to get approval (APPROVAL #2) to post the advertisement. Managers are not HR experts, nor am I. The true experts are the HR people who will review the SOMC and job description to ensure that everything is clear, and, to put it bluntly, to make sure the manager has valid, testable criteria that make sense for the job. No sense in posting analyst criteria for a project manager position. They also serve as gatekeepers to the Public Service Commission website for posting jobs.

Once HR approves, they’ll send the SoMC to the PSC for posting. Most departments don’t do the processing of applications themselves. Nor do they handle “advertising” it (except for large scale recruitments like post-secondary recruitments, for example). Instead, they use the Public Service Commission to administer the advertising process and receipt of advertisements.

When the PSC gets the SoMC, they look at the classification and level, and look in their internal database to identify “priority candidates”. In general terms, these are people who were laid off earlier by the government, or who relocated because their spouse moved, etc. The unions have negotiated with the federal government to give these former employees priority when positions become available at a similar group and level. So, if you post a PM-03 (project manager, level 03) job, the PSC will check to see if there are any PM-03s in your geographical area who are on a priority list for future PM-03 jobs. The list is a little more dynamic than that, but you get the general approach. The PSC can give managers a list of priorities at two different periods of time – now, when the manager is first asking to post, or later, when the competition is done and the manager is looking to staff someone. Managers have to assess the priority candidates to see if a competition has to be run at all.

There is one last step to all of this, and some HR professionals will quibble if it is a step at all. The PSC will post the notice. HR wants to quibble, as each department has access to the PSC websites and can “post” the notices themselves. However, before the notices go “live”, PSC personnel do review the post and approve it going on their site. As such, it is easier to think of it as the PSC posting the notice.

Why do you care about this “advertising” phase if you are an applicant?

Because knowing this is the list of testable items makes you focus on what is important and avoid wasting time on things that won’t be tested.

Because it is one of the first big “checks and balances” to ensure that the manager is going to run a fair and transparent process that makes sense.

Because this helps you immensely in knowing where to look for jobs! Rather than having to look at every department separately to see if they have jobs available, you can (generally) do one-stop shopping at the PSC websites (one for internal competitions, one for external competitions). It also adds a high degree of consistency across application processes and streamlines the application process. It also presents some challenges, but those will be discussed later. In addition, the notice gives you two contact information points per competition (a general enquiries person and an HR contact). This can be enormously helpful when following up on an element in a poster, or even just tracking the progress of the process. NOTE: These are NOT people you want to annoy with a multitude of questions, nor call them every day. They are there to help when you have a real problem, not hold your hand…that’s what this guide is for!

Because managers have to “assess” priority candidates against the SoMC to see if they have the requisite experience. If the candidates do, the selection process may stop here – the manager will offer them the job, and if they accept, you may never even see the notice. However, the lists are pretty broad and often the priority candidates aren’t an exact match to what the manager was looking for; in these cases, the manager may be open-minded and look to hire one of them anyway, or proceed with the original notice. This is not a simple “checkbox” to be ticked – the manager MUST assess each interested referral. Only when the manager has demonstrated they have assessed the priority candidates will the PSC give a clearance number to proceed with posting the notice.

Phase 3: Applicants apply and are screened in / out

Finally, the masses of interested people send in their cover letters and resumes!

Then the PSC and/or HR screens applicants for eligibility. The PSC will do a quick computer-based check of your information that you enter to make sure you’re eligible (some positions are restricted to internal candidates, or by geography, or to a single department, etc.) and HR often does an additional check on certain elements.

Once the HR gurus have done the basic tests, the manager (or a consultant) will screen applications for experience and education. This is the first big hurdle for you as an applicant. The relevant legislation that controls the process for all competitions / selection processes requires that YOU prove you meet the requirements. Administratively, this means you will show in your cover letter, with the resume as backup evidence, how you meet each of the experience and education requirements. It is NOT sufficient for you just to say you meet that element, you have to show how.

If a manager has 100 applicants for a position, it may be that they screen out a large number of them depending on how restrictive or open they are with the criteria. For those applicants who are screened out, they have the “right” to ask for an informal discussion. While I will discuss this in more detail later under “rights of appeal”, technically this isn’t an appeal. It’s a chance for a manager and an applicant to correct an administrative error. Suppose, for example, that the manager reads your cover letter, determines you didn’t explain how you met criteria 2, and screens you out. However, you request an informal and it is discovered that for some reason there was a second page to your cover letter that was missing from the printout. The manager can say, “oops”, reconsider your application and perhaps screen you in. This is NOT a way for you to say, “here’s more info I didn’t give you previously” – you can’t add anything to your cover letter or resume that wasn’t in your application. However, other times, it may be that the manager misunderstood part of your cover letter for differences in terminology and therefore screened you out. This is rare, as is missed information, but it does occasionally happen. To avoid the candidate appealing the competition later, this is a chance to quickly fix a possible simple error, and proceed with the rest of the competition.

Why do you care about this “application and screening” phase if you are an applicant?

Because this is where you get to DO something – you know, apply!

Because if you screw up your application and put in the wrong information, the HR people will screen you out, and the hiring manager will never even see your resume. Or, if you’re not eligible, don’t try to “fake” your way past it – all this info is verified, and once your application is found to be invalid, you’re out. All you’ll do is waste your time and theirs.

Because if you are screened out, an informal can be a great way to get feedback on why! If you had limited budget experience, for example, and that was one of the requirements for a position, but you applied anyway (I’ll explain later why you might do that), then you know why you were screened out. However, if you did financial forecasting for a year, financial administration for 3 years, etc., and you were still screened out, it’s worth it to ask what they were looking for from candidates. Perhaps they’ll tell you the minimum was five years; or they may tell you that it was too “administrative” processing work and they were looking for more “strategic management” budgeting. Either way, you know either how to word it next time OR what experience you need to try and get in order to be screened in for these types of jobs in the future.

Phase 4: Candidates are tested for essential (and potentially asset) qualifications

Now that the real process is underway for you as an applicant, managers will now assess the candidates knowledge, abilities, and personal suitabilities. This is the phase where you will be tested on every element in the SOMC. If it said you had to have knowledge of the current trends and issues in reproductive health, they will ask you about the current trends and issues in reproductive health. The manager will use a variety of tools (discussed later) to assess knowledge, abilities and personal suitabilities. And if you fail an element, you’re screened out (and usually don’t proceed any further in the process). At that point, the manager will offer informal consultations to screened out candidates to explain where they went wrong. It is POSSIBLE (but not probable) that the scoring was done wrong, and you did pass an element. So, like with the application, an informal could correct an administrative error and allow you to reinsert yourself in the process. Officially, that is why the “informals” exist at these stages, but generally they are used for providing feedback (this will also be discussed in more detail in “rights of appeal”).

In addition to the knowledge / ability / personal suitability tests done by the manager, there will also be assessments by HR or the PSC of any special eligibility requirements like language proficiency. For most departments, the PSC is the organization responsible for assessing your ability in your second language. Each position will have a language profile requirement attached to it (specified in the original poster). Near the end of the process, you will be given an opportunity to be tested at the PSC to see if you meet the required levels (your results are good for five years, so if you already have a profile that meets the requirements on file, you won’t be retested; if you have no profile, or if your current profile is less than the requirements, you will be tested).

Why do you care about this “testing” phase if you are an applicant?

Because if it is in the SoMC, they WILL ask you or your references about it. Somewhere, sometime, somehow. Guaranteed. And here’s the fun part – if it’s NOT in the SoMC, they won’t test you on it. They can’t – they have to test what is in the SoMC and ONLY what is in the SoMC. And, if you screw up somewhere, the informal is a great way to find out what you did wrong (spoke too fast, not enough content, drooled on the carpet, missed a question, too much content / not enough synthesis of your content, etc.).

Because you can’t fake your way past any element. If you have no chance of making it i.e. you have little to no french but the requirement is full fluency (CCC), you’re going to go through a lot of work likely for nothing, only to be excluded at the end. There are some SMALL exceptions to this situation, and it will be discussed later, but caveat candidatus – let the candidate beware!

Phase 5: Managers select best fit candidate

Once all the testing is done, the manager selects the “best fit” candidate. This doesn’t mean that the candidate with the best smile or the best scores is the one chosen. Once all the “successful” candidates (i.e. all those who pass every element) are considered together, the manager will decide which one is the best fit for the job, work unit, team dynamics, etc. After all, you’re all deemed “qualified” at this point and thus “merit” is proven.

After choosing one, the manager may then get approval from their boss (Approval #3) to select the candidate. Once the manager has chosen someone, they will likely show your resume to their boss to say “this is the person I intend to hire.” They’ll explain how you did in the process, etc, but often they’ll circulate the resume as an intro to their boss. Some managers won’t bother with this step if it is a relatively junior position, but if you are applying for more senior positions that will regularly deal with senior people, the managers will generally show their boss something before formally selecting you. This is also an opportunity for the manager to confirm with the boss that the management situation is still the same as when they started, and to avoid suddenly being caught by surprise if the boss says, “Oops, our budget was reduced and we no longer have the money to hire someone.”

The manager also has to get approval (again) from the PSC to select the candidate (including assessing priority referrals, if necessary; Approval #4). Way back when the posting notice first went to the PSC, managers had to “clear priorities” (if any) before proceeding. Now that the manager is at the end of the process, they may have to clear priorities (again, or for the first time). Generally these are “new” candidates who were added to the priority list after the initial request, but not always.

Why do you care about this “best fit” phase if you are an applicant?

Because it means that you can come first on just about every element, and not “win” the job. Why? The manager may be looking for someone who is a strong extrovert to balance out an introverted team, plus a strong oral communicator to give presentations, and someone with superior language skills. Or maybe she was also looking for judgement, interpersonal skills, written communication, initiative, etc., where you excelled, but another candidate has a strong background in making presentations in French as part of outreach programs and is an strong extrovert (as reflected in their communication ability and interpersonal skills). As such, the manager may select the one that “best fits” the job and team. It may be you, it may not be. But you need to know this before you start – it means you are NOT trying to convince the manager that you are the best candidate, but rather the best candidate for a specific job. The more you can find out about the team and the job, the better placed you are to show how you would fit in.

Because while your first intro to the hiring manager was your cover letter – it’s what they used to screen you in or out – the first intro to their boss is likely to be your resume. Both have to be ready for prime time – no skimping on one or the other in your application process.

Because if someone is appointed as a priority candidate, you have almost no right of appeal. They are not considered “part” of the process, and departments may “cancel” the competition and appoint the person from the priority list. It’s as if the competition never happened, because the priority candidates are “outside” the process. Put another way, the course of true love never runs smooth, and neither does HR. Things change, and it may suck to be “leading the pack” only to have a priority candidate seem to jump the queue. Foreign Affairs staff had a saying – “Don’t assume you have the job until you have been doing it for a week, and maybe not even then!”. Good advice to remember – it’s not over until you’re appointed, no matter how well things seem to be going.

Phase 6: Managers formally state intention to hire specific applicant(s)

Okay, the manager has selected someone. And they post a “notice of consideration” that says, “This is the person we intend to hire.” Once a week has passed (the duration is usually a week), a “notice of appointment” is posted this is the formal notice that not only was the person “considered”, they are now being appointed to the position.

If you were the person, the hiring department will issue you a “letter of offer” that you and your boss have to sign, and you’re generally “good to go”. However, note that the appeals process mentioned earlier is not instantaneous. While the department will move ahead to appoint you and have you start, it is theoretically possible that an appeal could be launched, and if successful, your appointment revoked. This rarely happens, and usually would mean that the hiring manager really screwed something up in the process.

Why do you care about this “notice” phase if you are an applicant?

Because of two reasons – if you aren’t the one chosen, this may be the first time you find out the process has ended and you aren’t the “winning” candidate. You should get a notice from HR earlier to say you were found qualified, but at that point, communication from the department may stop, leaving you scratching your head and wondering, “Now what?”. This tells you that for you, the answer is potentially “nothing.”

Because these notices formalize the appeal process, if you are considering appealing. Alternatively, it is also the mechanism for formally announcing that you are the winning candidate if you are the one being selected

Because the most important part for you as the winning candidate is not the appeals process, but the letter of offer. While this includes a whole host of language about values and ethics, etc., it also includes more immediate information for you – your title in the new position, which division you are assigned to (if it wasn’t clear previously, this could be exciting to learn), what your classification will be (this shouldn’t be a surprise, since you applied for a specific job), and what your level will be (which also equates to a specific pay scale!).

Phase 7: Managers address appeals

Most appeals don’t proceed very far in the formal appeal process for one of two reasons. First, if the appellant’s reasons are sound, and it appears the hiring manager was in error, the department will likely correct the problem themselves long before it gets to a tribunal stage. This may involve screening the appellant into the competition and assessing them from the stage where they were screened out, or giving them an opportunity to try a test that they missed for valid enough reasons to grant an extension.

Second, if the appellant is completely out to lunch, the union will advise them that they have no valid grounds to pursue, and possibly withdraw legal support. The person may complain, but they’ll likely let the matter drop once they get into a formal situation of filing briefs for a tribunal, responding to filings by the Department, etc. Some people view appeals as a waste of time – like buses, there will be another competition coming along any minute – and suggest that you just move on. However, sometimes there are grey areas where the appellant and the department do not agree on what was the right approach to take in a given situation (such as a person being tested for language early on in the process, rather than at the end, and getting screened out). In these rare cases, the appeal may go all the way to a tribunal who will decide first if the scope of the complaint is a valid grounds for complaining, and second if the appellant’s complaints prove the grounds of the complaint.

Why do you care about this “appeal” phase if you are an applicant?

Because a whole separate volume could address why candidates should care about tribunal decisions, but at this point, note that tribunal decisions help constrain what is appropriate in future competitions and what is not. Knowing what to expect, and what is “out of bounds”, will help you focus on what really matters.

Becaise it is also the way of protecting your rights. Managers are not free to do whatever they want, there are rules in place that have to be followed. So an appeal may overturn a bad process. However, note that a tribunal does not have the power to say “Jane was right, John shouldn’t have gotten the job, the process was flawed, give it to Jane”. Their only power is to revoke John’s appointment. So even if you win, you may not get anything out of it beyond the satisfaction that the process gets tossed.

Phase 8: Managers hire the successful candidate

This may seem like an almost anti-climactic step as you already received your letter of offer at this point. But going back to the beginning, this chapter isn’t about understanding the competition part, it is about understanding the entire HR process from beginning to end. Which includes you actually starting the job, being assigned a set of duties, developing a performance agreement, planning some training, meeting your coworkers, etc.

Why do you care about this “appeal” phase if you are an applicant?

Because if you remember those two chapters about knowing yourself and knowing government, this is the stage that will tell you if you actually will enjoy the new job.

Now, having read all the above, you know the eight main phases of a competition for a manager. Let’s drill down on the parts that you do as a candidate.

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Karen
9 months ago

Hi Paul!

Thanks so much for taking the time and putting so much effort to create this website for everyone! I personally am so thankful I ran into this website while I was doing my research for preparing for my very first written exam for a position I recently applied for the federal government (fingers crossed it goes smoothly! If not, I will work hard to continue to improve my skills and try again when I find another suitable position)!

It is really interesting to read the differences of the federal government jobs in comparison to municipal and provincial government positions, as someone in their 20s with only experience with jobs at the municipal and provincial level, this website was extremely helpful!

Just wanted to pass on my thanks! 🙂
Karen

Guest
J Mar
1 year ago

Hello, I have been involved in a number of different applications within the government of Canada. For one of the positions I applied for, I completed written tests, completed an interview, provided proof of education, residence. Lastly, I was given a form to complete my security clearance and was instructed to mail it. The security clearance was received by them roughly 6 weeks ago. Do you think my chances are good for receiving an offer given the fact that I made it to the security clearance process? Thank you!

Guest
Sherri
1 year ago

Dear Paul,
I received a formal Placed in Pool letter today from Health Canada for a CR-04 process. I’m so pleased! I am currently waiting for language testing, but apart from that, references have been submitted and all preceding steps completed.
My question is: is there any way to find out who the hiring managers are for a particular process? In an ideal world, I may have a network connection that may speak on my behalf, noting my strengths. After working in municipal government for 5 years, I am eager to move into the Federal Government for the long haul.
My fear is that despite being in this pool, my resume may not be selected at all. In the interim, I will continue applying externally for various positions.
I look forward to your response. Thank you kindly for your time and guidance re: navigating HR in the Federal Government. (Also, your overall website is a pleasure to read).
Sincerely,
Sherri

Guest
Alexandra
5 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Now that the economy is opening up, and after the hiring freeze period, Do you have information on how fast is the hiring process working now ?

Guest
Maelys
1 year ago

Hi Paul
I applied for a position in the federal government (IRB) since August 2019 and I was preselected. in December they sent me a test to do at home to be returned by email within 48 hours. Yesterday March 3, I received an email asking me some information if I am an employee of the Federal Government. Since I am not an employee of the federal government, I did not have to send this information. I sent the reply since yesterday. I do not know what to think about it or what stage they are in the process. What do you think? I specify that I am a permanent resident. Do I have to wait for an interview? Thanks already for helping me to see more clearly.

Guest
Maelys
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul

Thank you for the answer. I have a better idea now. I will continue to do my activities without putting too much focus on this job so as not to be disappointed in case I am not hired. But I will still continue to hope and wait patiently because this job perfectly matches my profile (studies, experiences and skills). For the conflict of interest as you say, if it really is a problem, they would only have to exclude my country of origin from the list of files that I would have to deal with. Being a permanent resident is like an obstacle in this case. Thanks again.Paul.

Guest
Emmanuel
1 year ago

Hi Poly,
I was recently placed in an essentially-qualified pool by ESDC after passing two stages exam, succeed in the interview, my reference contacted. My reference gave a positive response.
I’m a permanent residency who just applied for my citizenship.
When will I be issued an offer letter? Will my immigration status affect my appointment?
Thanks,
Emmanuel

Guest
Emmanuel
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul

Hi Paul,
Thank you so much for your insightful and detailed response.
I can now comfortably channel my energy into other ventures.
Warm regards

Guest
Drew Mueller
2 years ago

Hi Polywogg! Thanks for the excellent guide, it has been extremely helpful. I just had one question that I can’t seem to find the answer to. When applying for PS jobs some of them have’Results available’ up to a year or two later! What exactly does this mean? Are they able to hire someone before that date, or how does that work? I understand it’s a slow process, but those seem like positions to apply for once you’re in and able to wait it out a bit. Or maybe it’s not like that at all, haha. Thanks for your help!

Guest
Drew Mueller
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul

Sorry, I re-read what I wrote and yes, it’s not very clear. What I meant was when you apply for a job and then it tells you “results available 2020-10-10”. Does this mean you have to wait 10 months to get a response? Or it’s possible for certain applicants to get an update before then?

Guest
Kassie
2 years ago

The position requires SECRET security clearance. I am guessing if the Director needs someone immediately, then I suppose this approach with me would not work?
K

Guest
Kassie
2 years ago

Hi PolyW
This is a great blog! I do have a question. I was talking to a senior director couple weeks back. She got my resume from a friend of mine and looking to fill a very specialized role that i fit perfectly. After a short conversation, she said she will discuss with HR on what mechanism she could bring me in and fast. She said she will make a case. I am an external candidate. How is she planning to do that? Is that even possible- if so what are the possible options?

Guest
Kassie
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul

Hi Paul,
Thanks for replying. If they offer me term or casual, would I be able to negotiate the duration? The position that they need to fill is a indeterminate spot and the current person is moving onto a new role and they need to fill it urgently as the previous person was the only one leading that file, and I bring those experiences. If I move, I will be moving my family and quitting a permanent provincial government job. Can I negotiate the term/casual position to be 1 year with the Director? its an EC-6 position.
Secondly, if they bring me for a year let say, would I have access to internal jobs? Incase they dont renew my term, do I have an option of finding another position internally? I have build quiet bit of network within the Feds and know few department interested in me but without getting into the pool its hard. I have been trying now and so far have written 5 exams.
Finally, my husband just got into a partially qualified pool (written and interview has been completed). It is not in Ottawa but same city/province as me. Can he email directors/managers in Ottawa for networking and getting the word out there that if they need to fill a position at his level, he is available. does that help?
Please let me know,
Thanks
K.

Guest
Kassie
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul

Thanks Paul, These are great information. It will be a lateral move for me as I am already in EC-06 equivalent level with the province.
I am a bit concerned about my husband however. He has very limited job options in Ottawa.
Thank you so much!

Guest
Kassie
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul

Hi P.
So this morning they asked me for my references and SECRET Security Clearances as it is needed for the position, which I do not have as it was never required before by provincial government. I do have clean records in all aspect. I offered to fill in the paperwork but that being said it would take few weeks to months. Can they expedite the process or will this impede my chances of getting an offer? I have heard some departments will do Security Clearance and on boarding concurrently but I am not sure if that is applicable in this case.
Thanks,
K
Trina

Guest
Cimarine
2 years ago

Good day,
thank you so much for the explanations.
In my case I have applied online for a a job at National Research Council (CNRC) in August 2019, I was selected for an interview and I passed all the phases of the hiring process: technical and behavioral competencies, presentation, interview, SLE exams (reading, writting, oral), PSCA, fingerprints, security screening. In October the HR mentioned that the managers are travelling for seminars and conferences and they will be back to me with updates. It’s been a month and HR is not answering my update requests. Is this normal? I was selected for the job or I am only part of some pre-qualified list? Thank you

Guest
Mar
2 years ago

Hi – this is a great article and gives me some much needed insight into the process. I recently was notified that my application was “screened in” for a PM-03 position, and have been asked to set aside a week for the next phase of the process. Any insight into what this means and what stage of the “process” I am at? Is this the interview stage? The job was originally listed as “Anticipatory” and the position is “Additions” to policy analyst. I haven’t worked in the PSC before so this is all new to me. Also, would it be appropriate at this point to ask the HR contact emailing me for the manager’s original job description/ a list of duties available? Thanks in advance for the insight!

Guest
EL
2 years ago

Thank you for your article! It is so helpful!
I have been invited included in the inventory and invited to do a test for an IRCC position. I am unavailable on the testing date and have emailed the appropriate email, but it’s been over a week and I have not heard back. As well, the email asks for “Contact information for at least two (2) recent, including current, work supervisors or managers who have supervised you for a period of at least four (4) months. ” I am not sure if this means we MUST provide our current manager’s contact and when they will be contacted. For obvious reasons I do not want to tell my current manager about this yet. I have asked for more info on this, but have also not heard back. Any insight or tips?
thank you!

Guest
EL
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul

Thank you so much! That’s really helpful. Hoping my current manager takes me asking for a reference well…

Guest
Luis
2 years ago

This is amazing. Though found it a bit late, as I went thru the process with a bit of a cavalier approach 🙂 Been 20+ years in the private sector (telecom) and earlier this year decided to switch and dedicate the next half (the better one!) of my career to public service. Simply put, grow tired of revenue/profit getting in the way of doing the right things. Man, I wish I had done this earlier, mean switch and find your site earlier! Anyhow, better late than never. Thanks for the information. Coming from the private sector I had been on both sides of the hiring process, thought (silly me) I seen it all. Nope, government processes are a whole different enchilada! I did use Dr. Google and applied some common sense to my approach, but thus far I admit been going along as things happen. Let’s see how things move now with the election. In one ‘competition,’ I had written the exam and believe got in the ‘Inventory Pool’ and in another Written Exam and had the Formal Interview. Both positions are what would call entry-level (PM-01 one and EL-01) I thought appropriate to start anew if my private sector skills are any good should be no inconvenient to move out of the entry-level. I feel pretty good about both, more the one I had the interview since it is in telecoms and skills may be rather hard to find. In the Job Description – this is for ISED – they declared 30 positions (30!) to be filled across the country. Never seen something like this before, any idea how the process work in this case, as I guess there are many ‘hiring managers’ involved, I was actually asked the location I wanted to be considered. It is definitively a different approach from what I had experienced in the past!
Thank You Paul – this is great, whatever the outcome of the competitions this will guide me in the future to come. Merci!
Luis

Guest
R.K.
2 years ago

Hi Paul,
These guides are so helpful, thank you. I’m currently in the process for an external PM-06 position (for a tribunal) and my references were contacted about 2 weeks ago. (I did a written test and interview before that, and then had my fingerprints taken). I understand that this doesn’t necessarily mean I passed the interview (I thought it went pretty well, FWIW) but I am also now feeling very disappointed that I haven’t heard yet, that it means I did not get the position. Is this reasonable or do government processes just take longer? I keep fanatically checking my e-mail only to be disappointed every time….

Guest
R.K.
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul

Gosh, thank you SO much for that detailed response. Whether or not I get the offer, it puts my mind at ease to have SOME insight into how complex the process can be. Really, your kindness and generosity in responding is so appreciated.
It helps to know the process is long. But I did however hear from someone else in the competition who told me they had received a call last week asking if they were interested in the position. Their references were contacted after this call and they were told they’d hear from them this week. That doesn’t look good for me if offers are going out this week, and well, it’s almost Friday and crickets.
I never received any such call and my references were contacted shortly after my interview. The person in question is already in the public service though, so I’m assuming they don’t need to go through security screening again and maybe the whole process is different for them?!
Thank you again for this incredible website and your thoughtful responses.

Guest
Sarah
2 years ago

Hi Paul, Thanks so much for this. I am in the private sector and trying to move to a federal job. They have asked me to provide my current supervisor as a reference but I can’t do that because it’s a really small company and there is a huge chance that I will be fired if they know I’m looking elsewhere. If I end up getting screened out, i would have put my current job in jeopardy for nothing. What do you advice?

Guest
Sarah
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul

Thank you for the quick response Paul. I did offer to provide a reference from my last supervisor from 6 months ago. I haven’t heard back yet but will keep you posted.

Guest
Erica
2 years ago

You’ve done an excellent job of breaking this done clearly and addressing the nuances involved in each of the most likely sub-scenarios we’d find ourselves in. Just really impressed by how easy this was to understand! Thank you for that, on top of having really great advice. 🙂

Guest
T.
2 years ago

Hi,
I’ve been following your blog and found it very helpful – thank you.
I took a writing test for SLE with the PSC some months back, I got an A, but the job level required a B.
Weeks after, I was placed in the pool and then asked to send my PSC results in.
I sent it in, but not sure what to expect now.
On my SLE test result, there was a re-test date; but I never went in because I didn’t receive any confirmation email to re-take the test.
What do I do now? Should I contact the HR and ask for a re-scheduled test, or do I just wait to hear back from them?
Thanks
T.

Guest
Rose Ann
2 years ago

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

Guest
Darlene Albert
2 years ago

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.

Guest
Mochi
2 years ago

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.

Guest
PatientlyWating
3 years ago

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?
Thanks!