This past week, I had the opportunity to speak to the Young Professionals Network at Health Canada about HR processes and what happens after a pool is established. Earlier sessions had already covered how to get into the public service and how to prepare and participate in various processes. There were a LOT of questions provided before the session and even more posted in the chat during the event, so I offered to try and do a blog response for some of the pieces I didn’t get to during the event or where I didn’t have the luxury to go into more detail. I have taken the liberty of trying to group them into some semblance of process order rather than just going numerically. Buckle up, and get comfortable…it’s a long and bumpy ride!
What are the ways to get into public service?
Some of this had already been covered in previous presentations, so I didn’t want to spend too much time on it in the session. My main focus was that all government staffing is governed by the merit principle, and in order to do any staffing of any type, the focus is on documenting that each of the merit criterion has been demonstrated by the candidate, hence why they’re being chosen. So most of the presentation focused on “selection processes”, but some people are not yet in that world or are still looking for alternative ways into the public service.
If you are outside the public service, and manage to come in as a casual employee, the process is relatively straightforward (not the search, the actual “hiring” once you find something). There isn’t much paperwork to do for a casual, as it isn’t “permanent”. You are not, in fact, a full employee and can be let go relatively easily. So nobody gets too fussed about how it looks, a short rationale is written mostly based on your resume or an early conversation they had with you and the rationale explains how you’re qualified.
Similarly, if you come in as an FSWEP or co-op student, the hiring manager does a basic rationale as to “why this student is qualified”. Many people think the rationale is about why YOU and not someone else, but that’s not really the focus. The focus is “is this person qualified?”.
But then it gets more interesting. As a casual or a student, you might have the opportunity to be bridged in as a term (fixed length duration) or indeterminate (no end date). This happens regularly enough that the government has an actual box on a form to say “How did you assess them?” and the option says “They worked for us as a casual / they worked for us as a student”. The hiring manager then has to say what the requirements are for your job and go through a series of questions to say how you meet them. Initiative? A short sentence or two to explain where you demonstrated initiative while working for them as a casual or a student. Judgment? Same thing. Working well with others? Same thing.
In each of the scenarios above, to an increasing degree, the hiring manager is justifying / documenting that YOU meet the qualifications of the job they’re staffing you in. And they’re doing it mostly based on interactions with you, observing your work, etc. As long as it is an entry-level job and/or a recognized mechanism like student bridging, it goes along pretty easily. It’s a “known” mechanism.
However, if you apply for a job while already in the public service, or a more senior position from external, the hiring manager will run a process to TEST you on all the elements of the job description through a series of exams, interviews and/or reference checks. And then, based on the results of those tests, they can and do write a much longer rationale that pulls the lines of evidence from the testing and says, “Here, this is how I know they’re qualified, I tested them!”.
A somewhat unusual question was asked in the chat about applying for a term, but taking something else in the meantime, like a casual. They wanted to know if taking the casual means they can’t take the term. Officially, no. And that applies in any situation normally. All positions override whatever you had previously. So if you take an EC-02 today, and someone gives you an EC-02 you like better tomorrow, you can take it, and it overrides your previous appointment. If you take a casual and get offered a term, it overrides your casual and you get the term. I say “officially” as more often than not, people take things that are “better” and everyone understands — term is better than casual, indeterminate is better than term, EC-04 is better than EC-02. But you should be aware that if it is something obvious, and the manager understands, that doesn’t mean they might not be annoyed which can affect future plans. That sounds ominous, but it isn’t, it’s just human nature.
Take an example where say Bob is the employee and Mary offers him a casual. He has nothing else, he wants the job, he takes the casual. Then he works for her for two months, it goes well, she starts talking about maybe doing a term EC-03. Meanwhile, he applied for a job with Dave who ran a term EC-02, and Bob jumps to take it. Seems all good, right? But Mary might feel like “out of sight, out of mind” and maybe her plans to offer Bob an EC-03 start to cool. If you’re there and working for her, maybe Mary feels a bit of duty and loyalty / obligation to give you a good option, a promotion based on your abilities. But when you’re gone, she starts thinking about it a bit more, you’re not her employee any longer, and maybe she’ll just run an EC-03 competition rather than simply appointing you.
Were you able to take the term? Of course. Was it the best career management decision? I have no idea, only you can decide that.
Roll-over. There was a pretty specific question asked in the chat, and I hesitate to answer as I don’t quite have enough info to answer. The question is about the “automatic roll-over” provisions to becoming indeterminate. Let me explain how that works in theory first.
Suppose you are working on term. After a year, perhaps they offer you a second term. Maybe 18 months this time. When you finish that, you would be at 2.5 years. Suppose they offer to extend it again or give you another, and this one is for a year. When you reach the 3-year mark, if you have three complete years of consecutive service, no breaks between terms, not even for a day, it has to be continuous service, you are supposed to be rolled over to indeterminate in whatever position you are then currently in. If that division doesn’t have funding for you at the end of their year (your 3.5 year mark), you’re already permanent, they’ll have to make you a reasonable job offer to continue working. You’re “indeterminate” at that point.
Again, though, I can’t really answer the question which is whether I would take one of two different positions. A three-year rollover point is nothing to sneeze at, that’s pretty significant. As is any indeterminate offer. But is it the most important thing to you? Maybe, maybe not.
I’m reminded of my first boss at DFAIT. She was a term employee and had been for almost 5 years. At the time, the roll-over rule was 5 years. But then they “froze” the clock as part of internal rules. For 3 more years, it was frozen, so she was coming up on 8 years, not yet permanent but still working the whole time in there. And then? She went to work for a special secretariat in the government. No break in service, BUT the new place? It didn’t have the same rules and she was no longer part of the core public administration. In other words, her clock stopped at 8 years and reset, and she kept working without knowing her clock was no longer running. She finished the project, got a term with another department, reached her 5-year point — and found out she was only at 1 year again. So it took another 3 years before she was starting to see the window again, I think she had about 8 months to go, and she got appointed without competition to another position. Officially indeterminate based on an appointment, about 8 months before her roll-over date, and she had been working continuously in varying jobs for close to 13 years at that point. That is NOT the way it is supposed to work, and she may have had a case to challenge it if she’d had her clock reset again. But did it matter? Not really. She worked the WHOLE time anyway, all pensionable years, all paid work. The only thing she didn’t have was ease of mind, not insignificant I know, but it didn’t actually change anything for her in the end.
Overall, though, my general impression is that casual is better than being a contractor; term is better than casual; indeterminate is better than term. Not the least of which is that if cuts come, the first thing that gets cut are terms and contracts. Terms stop being renewed (and may end early) and they will often immediately freeze the roll-over. Soooo, that’s a factor. Is it the most important factor for you? Only you know.
What are the basic steps in a selection process?
Again, as with the above, this has already been covered in previous presentations, so I simply covered the basics — application to test experiences, tests for knowledge, interviews for abilities and personal suitability, references for abilities and personal suitability, and extra tests for language, etc. But after that, people wanted to know what comes “next”.
Can I get feedback on how I did in the process?
You are entitled to feedback (aka it’s called “informal”) if you meet two criteria:
- You are part of the public service and it is an internal competition;
- You failed an element.
That may seem obvious in some respects, but the devils are in the details and purpose. Note that the purpose is NOT simply to help you get better. It’s to give you information about what went wrong AND if it was something administrative that was an error, an opportunity to informally fix it with the hiring manager rather than having to wait to the end. What kind of error? You applied for the process (before the current approach), sent them your resume and cover letter, and for some reason, they didn’t attach the cover letter properly. They DID get it, you can show them the email, but for some reason, they didn’t have it in the file. Or page 2-3 of your application was missing. You meet, you find out there was a glitch, you’re back in, and the process continues. The discussion is to give an opportunity for those simple errors to get corrected rather than having to start the whole process for everyone all over again. It is NOT an opportunity for you to add new information to an application, or give them the right answer after you gave them a wrong answer in an interview. It helps you decide if you have grounds for an appeal, basically, and while doing so, tells you where you went wrong which you can use to do better next time.
For the first bullet above, generally speaking, internal people can get feedback, external can’t.
Now, if it is an internal competition, only internal people could apply anyway. Therefore, you can get feedback.
If it is external AND you are external, there is no such requirement. You can still ask for it, but most HR departments say no without even asking the manager. Many have just a blanket policy that for external processes and external candidates, the answer is simply “no”. They’re not required to do it by regulation or law, so they don’t. Personally, I find that a bit questionable for ethics as it is the external candidates who are likely to need the most guidance on where they went wrong!
However, there is another grey area for those who are internal but who might have applied to an external process. Officially, they are supposed to be given feedback if they request it, but some departments have said no repeatedly to such requests (deciding by process, not by individual, but it is the individual who has the right, not the process that grants it).
For the second bullet, many people think, “Well, if I passed, why would I ask for feedback?”. Just because you passed doesn’t mean you handled a question well, just well enough to pass. Next time? The interviewer might mark harder and you’d fail with the same answer. In my case, way back in 2005, I did an interview where I got asked for an answer about briefing the minister as a sort of role-play. I passed, I got hired, but I asked my boss if he had any feedback on how I had done, and his reaction too was “well, you must have been good, you passed.”. Almost all departments are uniform on this — if you passed the element, they won’t give you feedback on it. Occasionally, if you failed question 2, maybe they’ll give you feedback on all the questions while they tell you about Q2, but quite often, HR tells them to stick to ONLY what you failed. It’s all that matters in an informal.
Is there any penalty for not making it through a competition?
Absolutely no, 100% no, no penalty. I say that with full confidence. Couldn’t be stronger.
Then I have a niggly thought. It’s not about the competition, or a formal penalty of any sort, it’s about your ongoing career management discussions with your boss. And it’s not a penalty per se, but it’s not completely neutral either. Let me explain a broader scenario.
Let’s say you’re in a large branch. You’re a strong PM-04, pushing on the PM-05 door. And your branch runs a branch-wide competition for PM-05. I’m your manager, I encourage you to apply, we’ve talked about this, if you make it through, I’m going to pull you. Everything is lined up, ready to go. And then you fail the process. You don’t make it through. You and a bunch of others, to be clear, not just you alone. Every pool does this — not everyone makes it. That’s why we run tests, to see if you can demonstrate in a test situation that you can meet the requirements. But, as I said, you didn’t make it. Maybe you misunderstood a question. Maybe you suck at tests. Maybe you were hungover. Maybe you were nervous. Maybe you just weren’t ready. Doesn’t matter, the issue was you didn’t make it.
Now what? Is there a penalty? Nope, it was an opportunity, not a requirement to pass, nothing happens. But now I’m a bit stuck as your manager. Suppose I really need an EC-05. And I was planning on staffing one, i.e., by promoting YOU. But now you didn’t make it. Can I give you an acting assignment? Before the process, probably yes. Nobody would question it. In the six months to a year after the process? Probably no, I can’t. Why? Because you just got tested at that level and failed. So we have clear evidence that you’re not ready. How can I write a rationale that a committee will accept saying you ARE ready when you just proved you weren’t?
More importantly, there is a qualified pool sitting there. If I try to appoint someone to that level who is not only NOT in the pool but actually FAILED to get into it, everybody in that pool has an (almost) automatic right of appeal to say, “Hey, they’re not qualified, the pool said so, so you can’t appoint them instead of someone from the pool.” Unions will go crazy. Management are basically bound by the pools they run. They are supposed to use them, that’s why they ran them. They can’t just say, “Oh, I don’t like that pool, I’m going with someone I know who btw is NOT qualified in any pool.” Soooo…officially no, there’s no penalty. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some possible consequences in terms of a narrowing of options afterwards. And that generally may last until at least half to two thirds of the pool is gone and the remaining people are still eligible. Management has to use the pool first while it’s there, with very few options to NOT use it. Or until you make a different pool somewhere else.
Most of the time, there is no downside. But “most of the time” is not “100% of the time”, even if there is no official penalty.
What is a “best fit” interview?
When it’s a “process” and it creates a pool of equally-qualified candidates (there’s no ranking within the pool), a manager might look at the pool of say 30 candidates and realize that they only interviewed 3 of them. Other managers interviewed the other 27. So, to be fair, and to ensure they get the best possible candidate, they’ll consider all 30, and pick 5 or 6 perhaps that look like promising fits with their team.
Suppose for example I work with 10 other managers to hire an EC-06. We get 30 people in the final pool. They’re all qualified but some are stronger at writing, some are better at oral communication, some might be stronger on working with others, etc. So when I choose who I want to talk to, if I really need someone who is great at oral communication, I might pick the people who did the best on that element for an informal interview…I don’t have to “test” them again, they’re already fully vetted, I just have to choose the one that seems like they would fit in well with my team.
In the presentation, I used the example of an IT manager who hires lots of qualified people and they all do a bit of MAC support, PC support and mainframe support. So they run a process, create a pool, and then when they go to hire, they look around the existing team and decide they are a bit short on mainframe people and people who can do formal presentations. So they look through all the qualified applicants, and interview some mainframe people who are good at comms. From that, they might pick Mary. She is the “best fit”, based on a review of all the candidates in the pool against key criteria for their team. A year from now, the manager might need MAC people and pull some MAC experts from the same pool.
What can you negotiate and when?
The answer depends mostly on where you are BEFORE the new job would start and what is triggering the new job.
If you are outside government, either externally, a casual or a student, then this will be your FIRST appointment into the public service. To make it concrete, I’ll use the example of someone being hired into an EC position (economic and social sciences). The normal entry level requirement at EC-02 is for someone with a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in economics, statistics or sociology. Within the EC-02 level, there are five “steps” in pay — the base, your increment after 1 year, after 2 years, after 3 and after 4. These “steps” are also often referred to as “bands” in English or “echelons” in French. Normally, when someone is hired, they go to the first band of the level that they’re being hired in. That’s the “default” starting point.
However, if you’ve already been working for the government as a casual or student, you can ask your boss if perhaps they’ll “recognize” that previous time and let you start at Step 2. That would be the difference between 62,168 and 63,675, an extra $1500. Or perhaps you have worked in the private sector and want them to have you start at Step 3 or 4. Your manager may be open to it or they may say, “Nope, base is all I’m offering”. That’s the default and many people end up there, but you CAN try to negotiate for a higher band. BUT ONLY WHEN YOU ARE FIRST BEING APPOINTED TO THE PUBLIC SERVICE.
Alternatively, some people might even try to be appointed to a higher level. For example, if an EC-02 is entry level with a Bachelor’s degree, some people try to argue that they have a Master’s and should start at EC-03, or at EC-04 with a Ph.D. However, just because you CAN ask for it doesn’t mean the manager will agree. Unless you have some really unique skill or background, most managers will not automatically upgrade you on level. Maybe band/step, but rarely level without a really good reason. And again, this is ONLY when you are first appointed.
So let’s move to someone who is EC-02 and looking to move to a new job at the same level (EC-02 to EC-02). Can you negotiate pay? Nope, it is entirely governed by the rules and regulations relating to pay. A manager has no discretion to change that in any way, shape or form. Can you negotiate level? Not usually, again, there’s no option to just “do that”. I can’t hand out promotions just because you think you’re ready. If I want to promote someone, I have to document that they meet all the requirements of that higher level … usually because I’ve TESTED them as part of some open process. If you get a formal promotion to the next level somehow, through a competition for example, your new “band” will be governed / chosen by the same rules and regulations. You’ll go to the first band of the new level, with a small caveat that the last step of the previous band might be higher, in which case you would go to band 2. You can’t go “down” in salary with a promotion, it will always go to the next appropriate band level above your current salary.
After that? The rest of the things that you can negotiate are the same whether it is your first appointment or your tenth. And most of them fall into three broad buckets. The first bucket is your start date. Whenever possible, I recommend that you NOT try to negotiate a start date. I prefer to let my old boss and my new boss talk and decide on a mutually agreeable date. Two weeks is standard, sometimes a new manager will agree to a month, but lots of “old” managers will say, “Hey, I need them for six more months.” Nope, that’s not worth discussing. The new manager won’t agree to that, and you probably don’t want to stay anyway. But unless it looks like both are in agreement with a two week timeline, in which case you can facilitate the negotiation, I prefer to just let them fight it out amongst themselves. In the end, the power is ENTIRELY within the new manager as they are giving you a letter of offer that appoints you to a new position as of a certain date. The other manager cannot block it, cannot cancel it, cannot do anything formally that would mess that up. It’s up to the new manager to set the final dates. Sure, a manager might call your new manager and whine and moan, and maybe your new managers says, “Okay, 3 weeks”. But they don’t have to. I just prefer not to be in the middle. They’re managers, let them figure it out.
Now, while I say that 2 weeks is standard, that is only partially true. Many departments have internal processing rules in place to reduce the likelihood of something getting screwed up in Phoenix. So, my dept has an informal 5w rule for starting new jobs. That gives the whole system time to process everything if you’re moving internally. Some depts do it faster and risk the screw-up; others take longer to avoid it. There’s no uniform answer, but generally it happens faster within a department than across departments.
In the current environment, many people will want to ask questions about the ability to work from home. And I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but there is a reality check that needs to happen here. All departments are generally in the same boat. Which is they know what they’re doing for the next year or so. After that, there are no guarantees. I flag this because lots of departments have said very encouraging things about the future which people are interpreting as written in stone, and it is written in pixie dust. You can only count on what they’re saying right now for 1 year. This is particularly problematic if you are living in one city but your position is in another. There are a lot of letters of offer that have been issued in the last 2 years where HR put something down to facilitate the appointment and nobody did the math that goes with it.
If we fast-forward 3-4 years where all the managers involved in the original appointment are gone, things are likely to get ugly. Or maybe you want a promotion and your “position” is in Toronto but the rest of the group is in Ottawa, and no, you won’t be able to just get them to make your promotion box also in Toronto. Every position is uniquely assigned to one area. If you change jobs, you can’t automatically take your work from home details with you. Soooo, if you’re starting a new job, that may be high on your list to negotiate. Just know that it is not necessarily written in stone and is only as good as long as you are in the same position doing the same job at the same level and nothing changes at work. This isn’t a legal nicety you can negotiate around. In the end, the employer can change the terms relatively easily.
One thing I like to discuss with potential managers in a negotiation is if there are any specific files I want to work on in a team or if there are specific learning elements I want to try and get. For example, when I started one job way back in 1996, one of the options was language training for French. I had two options, one with language training and one without. I took the one with it and confirmed those details before I said yes. Later in 2008, I started a new job as a seasoned manager, and I knew there was a big project coming our way in about 12-18 months. I said “yes” on the condition that I could lead that exercise. It wasn’t binding of course, but I put my marker down early to do that project. Having done that project, I then got five other assignments that were pretty great that went to me relatively easily because I had negotiated that first project. As I said, it’s not binding, you can’t say “Well, you didn’t give me project X so I’m going to do blah”, but managers do tend to try and honour those items that you negotiated when you start. Much more so than what you ask for AFTER you start.
A popular question people ask is, “But what if…”, to try and explain why they think they should be able to negotiate pay or steps even after they’re in the public service. One of the questions in the chat was about joining at a junior level to get in, and then later applying for a much higher level and wanting to negotiate steps (say EC-02 going to EC-05 and asking for more than Step 1 because of experience and academic credentials). All of the reasons people want to suggest why they shouldn’t be bound by the rules? The unions have already negotiated with TBS how this all works and it is set in stone.
If you are at one level, and going to another, if the “promotion” to the new band raises you more than 4% of your current salary, you start at Band 1. All of those “extra” factors are what is justifying your promotion. Therefore you don’t have anything else to negotiate “above that”. The ONLY time that doesn’t apply is if you were going to a separate government AGENCY (who might have their own rules, but that can only happen because you’re essentially leaving the core public service). If you’re “in”, the rules apply, and the defaults apply. Managers on up, nobody has the authority to waive those rules. It’s black letter law.
Why are there more notices of appeal / consideration than actual competitions being run?
After an informal interview, and saying they’re choosing you, the hiring manager has to post through the PSC website two notices. One is a notice of consideration, and one is a formal notice of appeal, notifying everyone that they’re planning to appoint you. To pull you from the pool. The notices are for anyone who wants to challenge that decision to now be aware that someone is being appointed and to launch an appeal if they have grounds to do so. FYI, “I think I’m better” is not sufficient grounds. Generally, they have to prove an abuse of authority somewhere in the process against them. 98% of all NOAs/NOCs are just telling other candidates they’ve chosen you.
But here’s the thing. A process might be initially a single notice that a competition is being launched. And hundreds of people may apply so that at the end, perhaps a pool of 30 people is created. Then they start appointing those people. What’s the result? 1 notice of a job, 30 notices of appeals, and 30 notices of consideration. So yes, it does look like there are more NoAs/NoCs, because that’s the way pools work. 1 process, multiple appointments.
What happens if I have multiple letters of offer?
So let’s back up a step. Someone ran a competition. You ran the gauntlet of tests, interviews, etc., they chose you, you dealt with any negotiable issues you could, they posted an NOA and NOC, and now it’s time to hire you. They do so by issuing you a letter of offer that says:
- Your title
- Your level
- Your starting pay
- Your department
- Where you position is located
- A bunch of requirements about values and ethics, use of computers, probation periods etc.
So how could you get multiple letters of offer? Well, let’s say you’re pretty great, and you’re interviewing at Transport Canada, Health Canada, and Treasury Board. And you’re a good stats person with a decent background, interview well, they all want you. So all those steps that I mentioned above have to be done to get you a letter of offer.
Until you GET an actual letter of offer to sign, you have no “real” job offer. The manager at Transport Canada may have everything in place, promising you the moon, and suddenly they have a budget cut. Or Health Canada was hiring you to replace someone who was leaving, and uh oh, they didn’t leave in the end, their offer fell through. Meanwhile, perhaps Treasury Board is still doing best fit discussions and you might be their second choice but they haven’t told you that yet. It’s all “promising” but no firm offer in writing.
So, you keep pursuing all of them, and bam, suddenly they all give you a letter of offer at the same time. First, congratulations, that is a good problem to have. And you could choose the best one.
But the real problem is to suppose that Transport Canada is moving forward with a letter of offer, but you think you’d rather take the Health Canada offer, which hasn’t arrived yet. What do you do then?
As I said in the presentation, there is no one right answer to this. For me, the best analogy is someone who is dating multiple people. Are you open about dating multiple people? Do you hide other dates from your date of the day? If one suggests becoming exclusive, but you like someone else better, do you say yes or try to string them along until the other person decides? Do you say yes to that one but if the other crooks their finger, do you dump them and go running to the one you prefer?
My personal position is that I would rather risk being burned for being transparent than for someone thinking I’m playing fast and loose with my intentions. Back in 2007, I was looking at 5 different jobs at level, and when I talked to each of those five potential bosses, I was completely upfront with them that I was playing the field and exploring my options. One of the original five dropped me when I said that, as they needed an answer sooner than I was going to be able to commit. I dropped another one who was pressing. Of the remaining three, any one of them would have been a decent fit for me. But I was completely upfront with them.
By contrast, there are those who argue “don’t say anything to anyone until you have a letter of offer in your hand”. That’s up to you and how you feel comfortable managing things. But that approach too can blow up in your face. There have been instances where someone was working at, say, Health Canada and Transport was working on a letter of offer. So their HR area calls over to HC’s HR area to confirm some details, all good, routine info sharing to generate an LoO. But then TBS calls over to HC and says they need the same info. At which time, HC says, “Huh, didn’t I just give you that? Oh, wait that was TC. Are you sure they’re going to TBS?”. And someone tells the two hiring managers and they get ticked off because they’re doing all this work to make you a formal offer expecting you’ll say yes, and maybe NOT pursuing other candidates because they think you’re coming to start in a few weeks. They find out you’re playing the field when they were ready to go exclusive.
In one instance, a student had two offers evaporate because the two managers thought that type of behaviour was unethical and they no longer wanted them in their team. That’s pretty harsh in my view, not very understanding of the student’s dilemma, That type of situation more often happens within a department where someone internal (like HR) contacts both managers and says, “Hey you both sent me the same request, where is this person going to be working?”. And again, the manager may be perfectly understanding or decide you’re the Devil’s spawn.
There’s risk either way. It’s up to you to decide how you want to manage your professional relationships. There is no “right” answer for everyone.
How do I choose between multiple LoOs / career paths?
There is no single right answer to this. On Reddit, the frequent question is of the form — should I take THIS position or THAT position, where it comes down to a direct choice between two options. Personally, I think the question is one of the strangest to ask. How could I possibly tell you which is better for YOU? I’m not you. I can give you some broad variables, some factors to consider, but only you know which is more important.
For my HR guide, I am writing a prose version, and I just wrote 6000 words on one aspect of this question — knowing what’s important to you. For some, they care more about what the job is DOING (HR, finance, etc.) or more about where the job is SET (Finance, Transport, Health) or about the DURATION (indeterminate, term, casual). Others are swayed more by the culture or the opportunities, regardless of anything else. For me, and where I am in my career, the question is more about WHO MY BOSS WILL BE.
Your mileage may vary. The standard advice is to pick 3 or 4 factors that are the most important to you and weight the various options against those factors, maybe even assigning “points”.
How long does it take to get an LoO?
This is the most popular question of all, and there’s no standard. From the start of a competition, through a written test, interview and reference checks, that routinely takes 6-9 months. I mentioned in the session that part of that is because each stage has to be complete for everyone before they move on.
So let’s say I’m running a process, 100 people screened in for the written test, and 75 are available to do it the second month of the process. Of the remaining 25, 10 are dilly-dallying on schedule, maybe 5 withdraw, and 10 more are trying to schedule things for month three instead. Why? Because they have work obligations that are really high, or they have approved leave, or maybe they’re about to give birth, etc. Some reasons are more legitimate than others, but it rarely goes smoothly. Life happens. And so they try to be understanding, and someone’s basement floods the day of the exam, blah blah blah. Like I said, life. So it may be an extra 3 weeks to get the tests done.
Then it comes to interviews and the same thing happens. Supposed to all happen in 2 weeks, instead, it takes 6. Then reference checks and that stage is always like pulling teeth to get people to submit their reference checks…not the names, I mean for your references to actually do the references. Directors who are forever busy and take 6-7 weeks of chasing to get them to fill it out.
Sooooo, a medium-size comp can easily take more than 6m. And that’s IF they don’t do language testing before they create the pool … if they assess language in advance too, well, that phase can add 4-5 months all on its own to get everyone to the PSC to be tested.
And that is the most popular question — how long do all those steps take to create a pool? And the answer is: nobody knows, it depends on too many factors. I once ran a full pool with tight criteria in about eight weeks from poster to pool and nobody believed it could be done. And I wasn’t full out in there, there were some down weeks. I could have done it in six. But everybody’s references were available and I called them all personally to get the info faster.
But the second question is for after a pool, how long to get a Letter of Offer? As I said above, there are two parts in there. First, they’ll perhaps do some best-fit interviews, maybe quickly or maybe slowly, but pools dry up fast and good candidates take other jobs, so pool owners call quickly if they’re smart. Then to actually generate the letter of offer with your start date? That depends on what the department’s fear of Phoenix is. They CAN do the letter in about a week, but they often do it slower than that just because the Phoenix timelines determine how fast they try to push it.
However, I would be remiss if I mentioned that some managers are not, umm, well versed in how HR works. In order for me to issue you a letter of offer, I need to have six things in place:
a. An empty box created with the right language profile
b. Budget earmarked to actually pay you
c. A rationale written to demonstrate/document that you are qualified
d. Approval within my work unit (often a branch) to appoint you, by demonstrating I’ve done all the right paperwork and I’m not off doing something weird or wonky
e. Priority clearance from the PSC to actually appoint someone from the pool
f. Timelines respected for Phoenix processing
In theory, if I know what I’m doing, I’ve had a, b, d and e already done for some time. Then all I need is the rationale and Phoenix timelines to be respected. But maybe your HR group didn’t bother to create the box at the start because their was no urgency. Or your committee won’t approve without the rationale done. Or your budget is in a state of flux until you have a candidate to consider appointing. If so, then you may have some other hoops to jump while the candidate is sitting there wondering, “is there a job or not?”.
Leveraging a pool
Okay, so let’s say you made a pool, you’ve been notified, and now there’s radio silence. The pool owners aren’t calling, or maybe they’ve posted a NOA / NOC for someone else. And so you’re not feeling the love any more. Your romance has seemingly fizzled. So what can you do with the fact that you’re in a pool?
First and foremost, you are going to tell everyone you talk to that you made a pool. Or at least it will seem like it. I need to explain for a moment though about pools. A pool has a “pool owner” (the people who ran the process) and there are official rules about who can pull directly from the pool. In short, the pool owners decided who would be ABLE to pull from it when they first started the process. That is something they have to tell the PSC when they launch the process. Partly because that helps the PSC compare your request against the priorities they have in their database (people who were laid off or on spousal relocation who have to be hired before anyone else is at that level, if they meet the requirements). Very few departments are very creative when they run a pool unless they’re looking for brownie points from the Centre (PCO/Finance/TBS). So let’s go back to the beginning and remember the goal is the hiring manager, Dave, has a specific need. Dave is running a process from start to finish. They are not doing that to help John at Transport or Mary at Health with their needs, John and Mary are not running the process or doing the work, Dave is doing it all. So Dave isn’t likely to say, “Oh, yeah, after I do all the work, anyone can pull from my pool.” Instead, it likely will say that anyone in Dave’s department will have access to fill other similar positions. This means when the pool is done, ONLY Dave’s department can officially pull from it.
However, let’s say Mary knows one of her staff is in the pool. And it is an EC-05, with relatively generic elements, and in fact are the same criteria that Mary would use for a job description if she was running a pool. If only she could pull from the pool directly, she would appoint her staff member to a new level. Well, she can’t pull DIRECTLY, but she DOES have delegated authority to do what is called a non-advertised appointment. Remember back to the beginning where I said the goal is to prove that someone is qualified for a position? Well, Mary can write a very detailed rationale that says why her staff is qualified to be appointed to the EC-05 level. And one of her BIG lines of evidence? A letter from Dave’s organization that says they were found qualified and placed in the pool. In other words, Mary’s rationale includes an option that says “because someone ELSE tested them and found them qualified.” The authority being used for the appointment, the “risk” that she’s wrong, lies entirely with Mary. And some organizations use the approach that “Oh, they’re in another pool? Tick this box, attach the notification, and that’s enough” while others say “write an 8-page rationale that includes that notification but also references your own observations that the person is qualified based on resume, prior work, and knowledge of their abilities”.
So now that you know that other groups can use another group’s pool to appoint you if they want to do so, you want to make that the first thing you tell someone when you’re talking to them about a job. Yes, you’re interested in a job AND you’re in an established pool.
Second, if it has been a week or two and NONE of the pool owners has called you, you will want to go to plan B and decide who ELSE might be able to use you or where else you might want to work. You’ll likely start with your own boss. It should never come as a surprise to your current bosses that you are in competitions, nor that you have made a pool. In my last job, I had 14 staff, and two of them were in active processes that I knew about in advance. As a good little manager, I had planned ahead that if either of them made the pool, I would appoint them (it was within the same branch so I could pull directly). For a third employee, they hadn’t officially told us what their plans were, but they had approached me about being a reference so I informally knew anyway. Which meant that I had figured out that I could appoint her too if she made a pool. So while we were waiting to hear, we did some other contingency planning as well. In the end, she went elsewhere before the pool was finalized, and I chatted with her about what she should try and negotiate with them in advance, to talk to them about being matched for this other pool if she made it. A fourth employee was in multiple processes but hadn’t told us, we just knew in general she was ambitious and competing. I didn’t have a contingency plan for her as I didn’t know any details. So if/when she made a pool, I would have had to then scramble to see if we had any options to keep her or other options in sister divisions that would be able to match. (For reference, my view is that my job is to give my employees the best options I can and then they choose from those with the other options they already have…if I can’t give them a spot in MY team, I’ll chalk up an assist if they get a promotion in a sister division or unit and can stay in the branch.)
But I can only do contingency planning like that as a manager IF you tell me in advance. I was told once by someone that they were leaving with 3 days of notice. They would have known for some time that it was happening, but the LoO came through late. I’m okay with that, I’m always happy to see people find a good fit with any group, and I don’t care about the time factor, as I know they weren’t the one who chose the start date or delayed the LoO. I know it was their HR people. But there are a lot of managers out there who would be TICKED with only 3 days of notice. But that’s a separate issue from whether or not I could have offered anything to counter the offer. Maybe they wanted to leave, or maybe it’s their dream job, but that is a bit irrelevant. They have no idea what I could have offered instead because they never gave me the chance to suggest other options.
If you make a pool, the first person you tell is your immediate boss. And maybe you say to them right then, “Soooo, boss, do you think there is anything we can do here to match?” That could be phrased a dozen different ways, your mileage and personality may vary, but they are your best bet to find a match.
If they aren’t interested (perhaps they don’t really need anyone at that higher-level) or can’t do it (perhaps they may not have the budget for a higher-level position, for example), then look to your work neighbours. The same directorate, the same branch, the same department. If you find an area that interests you, look up the work unit and see if you know anyone there. Try to find a manager or director there and send them an email. “Hi Bob, I’m an EC-04 over in research and I’m looking to make a change in the next few months. I’ve recently made a pool (blah blah blah reference number and level), so I’m starting to do some research about what other areas are doing, see if I can find a good fit for my interests. Would you or someone in your team be available for a coffee sometime to discuss your unit’s work in the next couple of years?”.
You’ll notice that nowhere in there did I say, “Bob, do you have a job for me?”. Because Bob doesn’t even KNOW you yet. But he knows why you’re emailing. You want a job. But if you ask for a job, Bob can say, “Sorry, we don’t have anything” and round file your email. On the other hand, it’s pretty hard to say no to someone who’s asking if they can chat with you or someone in your team about the type of work you do over coffee. That would be pretty rude. So they’ll meet with you.
Now here’s the thing. This is the equivalent of swiping right on a dating app. That’s all. You’ve expressed an interest, you’ll see if they take you up on it. They KNOW you’re interested in more than just a text chat, if there is any mutual interest. I have one small caveat though in my above example that I would do differently. That’s the basic version above, but it is not likely to have any real resonance with the manager. Why? Because there is NOTHING about why you’re interested in their area.
For a small digression, I hate blanket emails that say “I’m Dave and I’m willing to work for anyone anywhere anytime if they’ll just pull me from this pool of statistical people” that Dave has been an idiot about and sent to 100s of managers hoping for a nibble. Except I don’t do stats, there’s ZERO effort to target me, it’s basically just spam. Which I don’t even respond to anymore. I delete immediately. The person might be the best candidate out there but they have zero judgment. Pass. Instead, I will respond if you say “Hi, I’m Dave, I’m an EC-04 in blah working on blah but I’m interested in areas such as (my area) and (blah, a subarea of my area that proves you actually aren’t just taking my title and pretending you know what we do).” Give me SOMETHING about you other than that you swiped right. I need a profile that makes sense that makes me want to swipe right back to connect. Show me you’re swiping right on me because you want to work with me, not because you swiped right on everyone.
Now, you can email people in your own department, or even across government. Maybe it leads somewhere, maybe it doesn’t. But you’ll mention every time that you’re in a pool. Why? Because it tells the other manager “there’s a way to appoint me that’s easy, if you’re interested”. Anyone in a pool is a step above someone who is NOT in a pool. Just like students who are eligible for bridging, that’s way easier than if I have to write a rationale for a random person off the street.
Can I use my pool to apply to other jobs at that level?
The short answer is “no”. When a pool says they’re doing stuff “at level” (like a deployment), that means your current substantive level. If you’re an EC-04 in an EC-05 pool, your substantive level is still -04, not -05. You won’t be at the -05 level until someone actually appoints you to that level.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily end the discussion. There’s nothing to stop you from emailing the person running an at-level process to say why you’re interested, and noting you’re in a pool at that level. Maybe they’ll reach out, maybe they won’t. But you have nothing to lose by not emailing. You just can’t apply in the competitive process based on being in a pool.
As an aside to this, people are often confused by what “at level” means…it is almost entirely about pay. When it is the same category, it’s relatively clear. If there’s an EC-05 job, and you’re an EC-05, you’re obviously at level, it’s identical. If you were an -04, you wouldn’t be.
However, the way to figure out if you’re at-level across categories is two-fold. First, there is the unofficial way. If you are an IS-03 at step 2 of the pay, you are making $74319 per year as per the rates of pay on the TBS website. If you take that pay rate over to an EC category, you would see that the rate of pay would put you between Step 3 ($72581) and Step 4 ($75105) of an EC-03. Informally, then, an IS-03 is at-level to an EC-03.
Officially, it’s more complicated than that. In order for an IS-03 to be truly at level with an EC-03, HR has to compare the top band of IS-03 (77368) with the top band of the EC-03 (77696). What they’re looking for is to make sure that you are NOT getting a promotion out of the switch, i.e., not comparing where you are now, but where you will top out at the new band. In this case, they’re within $330, and there is a complicated formula that HR has to use to make sure it doesn’t represent a certain percentage above the other (5%). In this example, it would likely be fine.
However, let’s bump the starting level and see what happens…an IS-04 tops out at $92412 right now. If I compare that to an EC range, that would put it between step 2 and 3 of an EC-05 (!), but EC-05 tops out at $101199 for band 5. In other words, if someone was an IS-04, and someone only compares the current salary, it might suggest EC-05. But switching over, the person would then be eligible for another $9500 in annual bumps, likely way over the calculation process. Which means an IS-4 could likely ONLY come over at the EC-04 level, not EC-05 officially. But even that gets messy as an EC-04 tops out at $85778, above their current salary.
If I do it again, with an IS-05, the salary comes out as $95,209 to $102,712. Looking at EC, an EC-05 is $88618 to $101999 while an EC-06 is $101121 to $116116. If you were top of the IS-05 band, you’d be slightly higher than EC-05 top out (by $700) and within the EC-06 band (by $1600). So lots of people would see that informally as IS-05 translates to EC-06; but it is the top of the band that determines, and I’m 99% sure it would be only “at level” for an EC-05.
In the end? Unofficial is good enough to figure out approximately what is equivalent, but in the end, you’ll need an official answer from HR. And the easiest way to do that is to email the HR contact on a competition where you informally think you’re equivalent and ask if you’re eligible. They’ll give you an official answer, and you can decide if you want to apply or not. Obviously, you’ll need to ask that EARLY to get an answer back in time to apply OR just apply and let them screen you out if you’re not eligible. I prefer to ask, because no sense doing the work if you’re not even at level.
And to be clear, there is ZERO flexibility on this. They can’t decide “close enough”, it is a pay and benefits calculation set by the Financial Administration Act and the Pay Administration Act, and various regulations. They apply a calculation and see. If they don’t notice on your initial application, screen you in, and you get all the way to the end before someone notices? You’re out. Because you were never eligible to begin with.
If there’s doubt, ASK early and get a formal answer. Don’t wing it and hope for the best.
Managing your career
I don’t quite know what to call this category as they tend to be a bunch of questions that are NOT related to a process, more just random HR questions. So I’m grouping them together here.
What are some broad trends you see in HR?
This is a great question, with a lot of scope to wax and wane. I’ll limit myself to four areas.
First and foremost, I would say almost all processes are going to be done digitally for quite some time. There’s literally no reason to go back to in-person interviews in most departments, although some may want to if they’re back to work several days a week anyway, but the reality is that virtual interviews are SO much easier to schedule and arrange. No need to escort people around buildings, shorter transition times, etc. So lots of processes are going to continue to be 100% virtual/digital for the next 2-3 years. After that, we’ll see…I suspect they’ll start to see that some of the interview techniques (interviews and role plays) are not working as well as they think they are, and people will shift back to hybrid options with a lot of resistance. In the end, I suspect it will be “candidate choice” for interview format. They’ll be offered both and have to choose.
Second, we know that work environments are chaotic right now. Nobody knows what’s happening for the future, everyone wants certainty, and there’s little certainty to be had. So lots of employees are NOT going to make changes across departments or across big areas of their departments without knowing what’s going on in the other area. That means LOTS of extra questions before accepting offers, much more push back on issues of location of work and RTW/hybrid options with people assuming that a manager can just authorize anything, when they can’t. We’re already seeing that many people are running pools and at the end, they get no one out of it because the people are afraid to change departments, afraid of Phoenix, afraid of change in general. Which means a huge increase in non-advertised appointments and deployments at level.
The public service is undergoing conversions of positions where AS, PM, etc all get merged into a category called PA, CS etc into an IT category. There will be some advantages of it all, but there will be a lot of chaos too. And it pains me to say, but I think there will be some real perversions in the process instead of conversions. The public service has been through this before, someone always finds a way to game the system, and the unions will try to game the system for some conversions to try to get some areas promotions. Conversions are NOT supposed to be about promotion, or giving anyone a bonus, it’s simply about amalgamating existing levels into a single category. But there are always objections where someone feels they were underclassified before, and they should therefore come out at a higher level afterwards. There will be grievances once it is “done” that will run on for years.
But I think the much bigger outcome of all of it will be a larger focus on deployments rather than promotions. Particularly if we start seeing cuts come out of TBS for some form of Strategic Review. And in the short term? Greater use of generic job descriptions as people leave / retire not so much due to demographics as the change back to RTW…I think some will simply say, “Nope, I’m done.”.
If I get my language levels, can I have my box reclassified as bilingual and get the bilingual bonus?
You as an employee cannot make that change happen. You can tell your boss you got your levels, and they can decide if they want to make that change and put you in the bilingual box. And lots of employees think this is just paperwork, it should obviously be done. But that is NOT how boxes work.
When a box is created, classification looks at the work in the position (in theory), and decides based on the description what level it is. They also review what the need is for bilingualism and make the determination accordingly. Managers have a lot of say in what that outcome is, as they provide the info about the box. But if you’re in a box, and they change it to bilingual, and you leave? They then have to do their next recruitment and appointment for a bilingual box. They can’t just change it back willy-nilly and there’s no questions. On a regular basis, someone in HR looks at EVERY change to bilingual ratings for boxes to make sure nobody is playing fast and loose with the rules. Upgrades or downgrades, doesn’t matter, the change is intended to reflect what the position actually needs — not what the employee IS in their profile, what the job actually needs. So if you’re bilingual and move to a position that doesn’t require bilingualism, they shouldn’t reclassify it as bilingual. The box fits the requirements of the job, and the person has to fit in the box, not adjusting the box to fit the person. So your boss may decide, “Sorry, no, I’m not reclassifying that box, because when you leave, I won’t be able to find a bilingual EC-02 to replace you and the position doesn’t really require it.”. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for managers to have empty boxes at the same level…so I might have an EC-02 English/French essential, AND another that is EC-02 BBB/BBB. In which case, if you’re in the English Essential box, and get your levels, instead of reclassifying your box, I can likely move you to that other bilingual box. Most experienced managers would rather create a second box than reclass an existing box.
What are other ways to develop in your career beyond pools?
There were a couple of questions that asked similar elements without using those words. And I already mentioned earlier that lots of people ask on Reddit or my blog or in Q&As which type of job is better, A or B. There’s no universal answer to that, unfortunately. Ultimately, it comes down to what is important to YOU.
Actings. Lots of people want to know if they should take / pursue acting assignments. The answer is “yes” if it helps you get where you want to go, maybe not if you’re sure it won’t. That sounds pedestrian and obvious, but it goes to the heart of understanding yourself and your choices. I could take an acting assignment in Communications and it would do me NO GOOD for my career as that is not where my career is going. I have enough experience to know that. I can DO comms, I don’t WANT to do it for long though. I can do lots of things, and maybe early in one’s career, you want to try lots of different things to help figure that out. But then you know THAT variable i.e., testing things, is important to you.
Beyond that, the most obvious question I have for people considering acting is about what happens after you are done. Is there a chance you’ll be appointed permanently? Do you have to make a pool? Do you WANT to be appointed? I just completed an 8-month acting EX assignment in an area I knew well, and part of my desire to do that was to give the EX a full try. I’ve acted lots of times before, 4m here and there, I’ve run a division for extended periods of time (3 years), but I generally do NOT want my EX. But with 5y to go in my career, I wanted to do that job for a while to be sure and to push myself a bit, plus to work on a specific file that was happening during that time. However, I knew from the beginning, that if I wanted to be “appointed” at the end, I would have to make a pool. There was no option for a non-advertised appointment at the end. That’s not the way that works. I would have had to do something to “help” them or they would just pick someone at level when I was done (which they did).
A fair amount of time ago, I was off work on and off for about six months. While I was going through that period, a team member stepped up to act for me. Great experience. But at the end of it, when I came back, it would have meant that she would go back to her normal duties. I joked though with her that it is very hard “to go back to the farm after seeing the bright lights of the big city” (the old cliché). And for her, she had an offer to go do something more challenging at another department which I recommended her to take (which she did). She had grown in the position, there was no reason for her to just bounce back to her old job. I didn’t have a promotion opportunity for her, she’d already found her own alternative, and it worked well for her. She had a plan after the acting. Others in a similar position might have been quite happy to bounce back to their old box. Often they do so willingly, having hated the job above.
Although I’d be remiss if I didn’t note something that frequently happens in acting assignments that make them somewhat false tests. Let’s take a simple example of myself. I’m an EC-07 manager, let’s say my EX-01 director decides to move to a new area, and while the DG is waiting to find a replacement, they say, “Great, let’s let Paul act for 4 months less a day while we do our search.” It’s a standard philosophy, seen as giving underlings a chance to develop. But what often happens is that sure, I move up to be A/Director, but often I don’t get someone who becomes A/Manager in my place. So whereas perhaps the previous Director had 3 managers reporting to them with full teams, now I’m acting with a missing manager. I’m doing double duty Manager + Director. This happens far too readily, there’s no domino chain to backfill everyone down the line. Sometimes a manager is filled, sometimes they aren’t.
So if I have a crappy time as Director, run off my feet, and not really enjoying it all…is it because I’m doing two jobs? Is it because I can’t really run the whole show my way because in 3-4 months, someone new will come in and want to do things their way, so then I’m not really doing the “full” job per se? I know that’s beyond the scope of the question, but it is an important thing to think about when doing an acting. Are you doing the real job or just part of it, and is it just that job or your old one too?
Secondments/assignments. Almost everything I mentioned above about acting applies to doing secondments as well. It’s a bit different, you’re only at level, but again, my question is always about what happens next. Are they testing you out with a view to deploying you? Is it a time-limited activity and you’ll bounce back when done? What’s the overall plan for how this helps you?
I am not a big fan of long-term secondments or assignments because I think it totally messes up normal risk/reward scenarios for people’s careers. Let me give you an example where an employee named Dave wants to go on assignment at Dept X to work for Mary, and so Mary and Dave ask Dave’s current manager, Bob, if he’ll agree to a secondment. Note that whenever there is an assignment/secondment (or acting), the current manager has to agree to it. The way it will work is that Bob and Mary (and now Dave) will sign a secondment agreement that has a set period of time saying Dave will go work for Mary and Mary will reimburse Bob for Dave’s salary. The agreement is what allows Dave to not show up for work at Bob’s area and start working for Mary, without having to quit his old job. At the end of the agreement, the theory is that Dave will go back to Bob’s area. Any one of the three can end the agreement at any time for ANY reason. If one no longer agrees, it ends.
If you look at risk/rewards, Mary as the new manager is laughing all the way to the bank. She gets to hire a new employee with no risk. If Dave doesn’t work out, she can end the agreement early and send Dave back. If she loses her budget, she sends Dave back. If she finds someone else who would be better, she sends Dave back. And if she’s a jerk, she can hold that over Dave anytime she wants to motivate him to work harder if he wants to stay (not that I’m suggesting it would be that blatant). Sure, she has to pay him, but she doesn’t have to do anything to help him develop further either. He’s not really her employee. Dave belongs to Bob. She’s just borrowing / renting him.
For Bob, the deal probably sucks. If Dave or Mary decide it’s not working out, Bob suddenly gets Dave back. If he hires someone to cover Dave’s files while Dave is on secondment, and Dave suddenly reappears, Bob has to make a whole bunch of adjustments to maybe get rid of Dave’s replacement, give Dave back his files, etc. The “hole” that Mary filled with Dave is basically transferred to Bob but Bob can’t just go out and hire someone permanently. Dave still occupies his box. All Bob can do is fill the hole with someone temporary. Assuming Bob can find someone who will take a temporary assignment (and if they will, that likely creates a domino effect for their old division and so on, and so on). The risk of not having someone starts with Mary but gets transferred to Bob with the agreement. And what does Bob get out of it? Maybe a happier and more well-rounded Dave when he comes back. If he comes back. If Mary keeps Dave after six months, makes him permanent, then Bob has wasted six months waiting for Mary to make up her mind, when he could have been hiring someone permanent to replace Dave.
And what happens to poor Dave? Well, Mary is renting him making him no promise other than to try him out. Maybe it’s good work, maybe it sucks. Mary won’t want to spend a lot of training money on Dave, he’s not her full employee. He’ll be, by default, a second-class citizen in his new area. And likely, Bob approved but he might not be too happy that Dave put him in this position. And any given day, maybe Mary sends him back early, making it look like maybe Dave wasn’t that great an employee after all. Lots of downside for Dave with ZERO upside from Mary other than they will give him a chance.
Lots of times on Reddit, people will post to complain that their manager said no to an assignment/secondment. Because the deal generally sucks for the manager sending someone out. And, not to be too aggressive about it, the original manager has a list of duties too, and he/she has to ensure that they can deliver on them. If they let Dave go, will they be able to replace him if all they can offer someone is something temporary? Maybe not. In which case, they’ll be down a body for the length of a secondment.
My approach to assignments/secondments is a bit different. First and foremost, I have a discussion with my employee to let them know the risks to them. And that I’m willing to agree to something for 6m, but after that, the other manager either has to commit or send them back. That is MORE than enough time if they want to try them out. If I can go longer, great. But I also talk about changes in files while they’re gone, and that their current job may not exist exactly as they leave it. So they need to know that too.
For me going on an assignment, I generally am grateful if my boss says yes. But I outright tell them that they do not need to “keep” my job for me, that they can reassign any file to any one, regardless of the rules in place. Otherwise, it is giving them all the risk and no reward. When my assignment ended, I was supposed to bounce back and they had followed my instructions, they had not kept my previous job for me. It existed but not in the same form, so I had a job, just not the one I left. In the end, I didn’t go back, I went on to something else instead. I tried to minimize the risk to them when they gave me the opportunity. And personally, I wouldn’t do much else if I could avoid it.
Development programs. For those not too familiar with development programs, the general structure is that you start at one level (maybe PM-02), and over the series of say 3-4 years, the department will give you training, work experience and development opportunities to help you advance say to PM-04 or -05. Overall, development programs are designed to ensure commonality in training and opportunity and to help build capacity at the graduation level (PM-05 for example). Every DP struggles with some basic elements…is everyone allowed in? What happens if you get a promotion while in the DP, are you out of the program? What are the criteria to advance — is it “time served = promotion” or is there some sort of evaluation process? Is it automatic or are you tested? What if you don’t make it or someone else is flying up fast?
Generally speaking, DPs are primarily positive for the employees in the program. However, that does not mean perfectly positive. One concern that they frequently have to deal with is people advancing too quickly or feeling like they aren’t advancing quickly enough. I’ll flash back to an old example, a development program at CIDA. They dealt with the issues I mentioned above — was it automatic or evaluative promotions — but also another. At the end of the program, you became a PM-05. Great. Except now you had people who were PM-05s after 4 years of work experience managing Gs&Cs projects. In that four years, they did good work, but in the past, it would normally take PM-05s about 8-10 years to reach that level. The issue then was that PM-05s were expected to do the same work as the previous PM-05s but were doing so with half the experience as the predecessors. That’s not about age or paying your dues, it’s about what you’ve seen before.
So a prior PM-05 would know what to do when a partner caused problem X because they likely would have seen it before; a newly minted PM-05 only saw 4y worth of examples in their time and may never have managed a problem like that before. They also generally had only managed basic and moderate difficulty projects while moving up, whereas prior PM-05s would have managed basic, moderate and complex projects before reaching the same level. This can often lead to a perception, rightly or wrongly, that the newer officers are still pretty “green” and perhaps are being promoted too quickly, regardless of the fact that they have advantages to their training too.
On a side example, if not everyone is in the DP, what happens to others for their opportunities to advance? At CIDA, when the program was started, we did external recruitment to hire PM-02s and then slowly developed them to PM-05s. There was no need for competitions at the PM-03, -04 or 05 level anymore because the DP handled that. But not everyone was in the DP…there were existing PM-03s and -04s who no longer had any way to advance because there were no competitions for them anymore and they couldn’t just transfer into the new DP.
And to be honest, all DPs suffer from the fact that they have to some sort of structure. And for every structural element, there’s always SOMEONE who doesn’t quite fit. For me at CIDA, it was the fact that I had prior experience at DFAIT, and a different profile than most (more policy than program management) so I was offered positions that didn’t really fit the development program’s parameters. And each time they had to figure out “What do we do with Paul?”. Eventually, I just competed out of it into an EC category and ignored their program after that.
Learning plans. I confess that people tend to ask this type of question in different ways. They ask about courses or promotions or external training. But just like the development programs above, all of it is about how you can you develop as an employee. For me, the best way to do that is to put it in your performance agreement and discuss it with your boss during your performance agreement discussions at the start of the year, mid-year and the end of the year.
Obviously, one of the biggest areas is language training. It is VERY hard to come by in some departments, or at least in any way that resembles something that will help you become bilingual. There are LOTS of good options for maintenance, but not so many for dedicated time to advance your skills. I have only three real “tricks” to help get yourself approved.
First and foremost, all departments include an aspect of “is the employee making an effort already”. Evidence can be that you’re taking a course on your own, perhaps, or if you’re doing the office-supplied options, that you show up for EVERY session that you are booked for, no skipping unless you’re dying. Everyone who cancels a class gets flagged on reports from the service provider because the government still has to pay for the time, whether you show up or not. If you sign up and never go, obviously (to them) you don’t really value language resources being spent on you. Show you value it, invest your time and money, and use any chance you get well.
Secondly, if you see a job that is one level above you, and would be a really good obvious next step for you, but you can’t do it because you’re not bilingual, then include that in your discussions with your manager. Don’t say “Well, I’m not bilingual, so it’s limiting my career.” That’s too general. Show them a specific opportunity that you would have naturally pursued and that would make sense to them too, something obvious, and show that you couldn’t apply. Note that you can’t simply point to an ADM level job and say you’re not qualified. Cuz you’re not anyway. If you need language training, you need to show that lacking it is hurting your career NOW, not in 10 or 20 years.
Lastly, when pursuing language training full-time, I often try to put people on the list not for this year but for next. Why? Because everyone fights to be on this year’s list. Nobody fights for next year’s list. But if I as a manager can put you on the list for next year, and can talk about it this year, then when next year comes, you are often already on the list. With a bullet. I’ve seen it where I put person A on the list last June, everybody said, “sure, no problem, we’ll worry about that next year, let’s talk about this year”. But then when next year comes, they don’t just say, “Okay who is on the list this year?” and include A with everyone else. Often, they instead say, “Oh, right, A is already on the list and approved, so who else is on the list?”. It doesn’t always work, there are no guarantees, but I’ve seen it happen often enough that I consider it an official trick or tip.
Other people want to know what are the best courses to take. There are no perfect answers to that either, it depends on what you want to do in your career and what you already have. ECs benefit from strong writing and some basic stats, PMs benefit from project management (not IT projects management, Gs&Cs type projects) and performance measurement. If you don’t have that, it doesn’t hurt. ASs tend to benefit from various process training plus expertise in subfields that interest them (ATIP, finance, HR).
Some also want to know if it should be internal or external training. I don’t really have a view on that, other than ensuring that if it is external training, make sure it isn’t geared only to the private sector. Make sure there’s someone in government who has taken it and recommends it. You can even ask externals for references from anyone in government. Too often, external groups offer courses for “everyone” that end up being almost irrelevant to government operations. You spend all your time trying to adapt their material to your context rather than learning from people knowledgeable about what you actually do.
I tend to like the Institute on Governance at UofO for EC policy-type courses, and I like PPX for PMs related tp performance measurement, risk, planning, etc.
Outside experience. This is a difficult one to parse as it often comes in the form of “using past skills” or “acquiring future skills” that are useful.
One of the questions in the chat was about how to “transfer more technical skills (e.g., from a lab role) to other public service roles such as administration or policy analyst”. That’s an awesome question, and one that I may not be able to do true justice to in this response. I can tell you that I would normally start not by looking BACK at those skills but FORWARD to your future skills. And I’m going to go sideways with an example, because it helps explain the second part (acquiring outside skills).
When you apply for early management positions, they frequently ask for two things — HR experience and financial experience. But quite often in your junior experiences, you had neither. That often is NOT delegated down in any way. So people will frequently screen themselves out. Yet it does not say “HR experience while managing in the public service”. It IMPLIES that, sure, and it’s the best example if you have it, but maybe you have it another way. In my HR guide, I have a table that tells you how to prepare for your application process, particularly if you’re weak on something, where I say, “Okay, financial resources. Where in EACH job that you have EVER done have you dealt with financial resources?”. That is not how people normally do the analysis…they say “where did I do that?” assuming in effect that the filter is only jobs that had financial resources as a major responsibility. But if you do the larger analysis — writing down ANYTHING about financial resources in ANY job, they frequently surprise themselves.
For example, they might find that when they worked as an analyst at TBS, one of their duties was to always review the financial annex. Not exactly what was asked, but they write it down. Then they remember in that research job, they managed 2 research projects and that included monitoring expenditures by the companies. Oh, and they managed a researcher too. Or a co-op student.
Then they turn to their academic experience, and they took budgeting and accounting in their MPA. And while they were at university, they managed money one summer in one of those lemonade stands shaped like a lemon.
Oh, and in their volunteer capacity, they reviewed the audits of their organization, that included financial audits.
How does that help? Well, they just went from saying they have no experience managing financial resources to having five or six examples they can write about and see if that meets the requirement. Will it? I don’t know, but at least they haven’t screened themselves out.
A friend of mine was applying to a management position for managing ECs, and she screened herself out because she didn’t manage anyone or have budget authority. But it didn’t say “recent”, it just said to have it. And I met her some 15 years before when she was actively managing contracts, multi–million dollar a year Gs&Cs projects, and contractors. But she didn’t include it as it didn’t look like what they wanted. She had filtered out the experience by focusing on what it was SUPPOSED to look like, not what it was.
For those who are trying to apply other experiences, take analysis for example. While the request might suggest “analysis” related to policy, can you write about your lab work as a different form of analysis? Can you talk about how research set the parameters, you analysed options, you designed projects to respond to needs, etc.? If you take a heading like “initiative”, can you demonstrate that through your technical work? Can you talk about priorities, analytical thinking, thinking things through?
If you start with the heading “analysis”, what has EVERY job (even the technical ones) taught you about “analysis”? If you can answer that for a bunch of headings that apply to your new job, you can see what skills can be applied from your old job to the new one.
As I said, it’s not exactly responding directly to the question, it’s a bit sideways as a way to think about the old skills against your new areas.
Should I work in HQ or a region or both? Should I choose to be an EC or AS?
This is a bit of a variation on choosing between government or not that I mentioned above. There is no “one” answer and the variables tend to be obvious — do you like what ECs do? Do you like what AS does? Do you want to live in a region? Do you want to live in Ottawa?
The one “extra” variable that I’ll mention for both is that there are generally two ways to manage your career overall — go with the flow or swim against the tide.
Go with the flow. When I was at DFAIT, almost everyone who works there by a factor of about 5 to 1 are Foreign Service policy officers. If you want a long successful career, chances are you will have more opportunities and easier progression if you are exactly the duck they are looking for every day. In a building full of FSOs, and a department whose whole HR system is geared to FSOs, it makes sense to be an FSO. Life is, mostly at least, easier if you go with the flow.
When I moved to CIDA, the whole department’s ouevre was about bilateral project management i.e., PMs. If you wanted to work at CIDA, the whole system was geared to PMs, including postings, training, etc. Be the duck, my normal mantra (for HR processes at least).
For people at departments with a strong regional presence, a decentralized model like Service Canada, and you’re a PM, then yes, absolutely, you will want to at least consider working in a region. That’s the structure that’s in place, the majority of employees work in regions, you might want that experience to look like everyone else moving up. Or if you’re in the region, and you see that most of your senior managers have done a HQ stint at some point, maybe you want to do the same. With WFH, now is the PERFECT time to do an assignment for a year or two with no impact on your family, you likely won’t have to physically move to do it.
Swim against the tide. There is one giant caveat to going with the flow. If you look like everyone else, it’s pretty hard to stand out in the crowd. For myself, I have consistently swam against the tide, although I can’t claim that as some grand strategy I committed to at the beginning. I just gravitated that way. When I was at DFAIT in a sea of policy folk, I was the logistics guy. Somewhere between AS and IS, I did briefing books, computers, travel, actual logistics for events, all of it. It was a great niche, and it kept me gainfully employed while other term employees who were “policy wannabes” struggled at times to stay fully employed year-round. Contracts or budgets would ebb and flow, and in a few cases, they were let go because in-house people could do the policy stuff, but NOBODY wanted to do logistics so I would be kept on and rehired.
When I went to CIDA, the standard plan for anyone was bilateral — I opted for multilateral instead. I was comfortable with multi, I had done lots of multilateral things at DFAIT, I wanted to know more about UN and Commonwealth, it was a good fit for me. Before me? Nobody had ever asked for multilateral before. And so I got my exact request when placed in the new development program — multilateral, institutions, UN and Commonwealth programs. And I was a partial policy wonk, who was good at DFAIT-style policy coordination. So I did that for multi — in a sea of former-bilateral officers who were excellent policy specialists for on-the-ground projects. I was a bit different, and took on lots of corporate functions that nobody else wanted. So they loved me. And it led to other job offers.
Eventually, I was offered a brand new position in the President’s Office. They weren’t entirely sure what they wanted, but they knew what kind of profile they wanted, someone who knew the department (not just one branch), someone who knew policy AND bilateral (I had done it for a whole 6 months before deciding I was bored), and someone who was good at, well, process to keep things moving. Which I could combine into a strategic advice function. Not many officers within CIDA had that kind of background, most went “vertical” on a bilateral program. So when they created it, they didn’t create it and advertise it to everyone — they knew I was looking, and with a bit of synergy, they said, “Hey, let’s pilot you in that role and you can help us figure out what the job should be”. I got opportunities because I was swimming against the tide, I didn’t look like everyone else.
Lastly, while at ESDC, I opted for a huge corporate file at one point, one that most people would run from rather than embrace. I went all-in, and have had 4-5 opportunities based on that work that nobody else was given or offered. They just went to me, because again, I look like a unicorn in a sea of policy wonks. I like management, I like corporate, I like broader horizontal functions. Swimming against the tide has served me VERY well, and to be honest, it makes it MUCH easier to stand out from the crowd. My profile looks different than the rest.
But that isn’t universal. I know ECs who have moved from a centralized department HQ to their regional office, where there are few ECs at all. And nobody really knows what to do with them. So they can struggle in that environment, just as a PM might in a primarily EC environment. Swimming against the tide in that environment can be REALLY hard. In the end, for me, if I was going to go to a region or HQ “for the experience”, I would want to go within the mainstream category that is there to get the mainstream experience. It isn’t simply “go to the region” or “go to Ottawa”, it is to get the “regional/Ottawa-type work experience”.
How long should you stay in one position?
This is a hard question to answer because it depends on who you ask and for what reason. Let’s go at it from a generic category, neither AS nor EC, etc. And let’s assume you start at entry level.
How long should you stay in that position? Generally, a year. And immediately somebody will say, “Yeah, but I’m over-qualified”. Soooo, who told you that? How do you know? Is it simply because you find it easy? Or has someone offered you something else higher? Have your bosses told you that you’re overqualified? Because unless someone is offering you something higher based on having evaluated you in some way, you’re qualified for the level you have right now. That’s the only test you have in hand. And there are almost no jobs in the government where there isn’t at least some element in the position that is cyclical by fiscal year, so doing it for a year will show you a full cycle. Can you jump sooner? Sure. Can it take you longer? Sure. Are you a failure if you don’t bounce within a year? Of course not.
Entry-level jobs are “entry-level” only in a comparative sense with other jobs. You are still working, you are doing “good work”, and being paid accordingly. Some people may not want to move up, some people may not be able to move up. There is nothing anywhere in the public service that says “thou must move up”. Other than the military, there is no “up or out” provision. CR-04s do valuable work. Maybe they’ll move up to CR-05 or AS-01 or PM-01 or ADM at some point. But there’s nothing wrong with them if they don’t.
I also want to emphasize that your career is a marathon of potentially 30-35 years, not a sprint of 1 year or 2 years. I’m setting aside pay issues, student debt, family commitments, etc. I’m just talking about the work.
After the first entry-level position, I generally feel that your time should extend a bit as you go…1 year for entry-level, maybe 12-18 months at the next level, 18-24 at the next, 24-30 at the next, etc. There’s no “right” answer, and that’s just a rough estimate of how long I see people spending at a level to fully master it. But even as I say that, there are three caveats I want to mention.
There are huge advantages to moving up faster if your ultimate goal is to make EX or whatever. Most people don’t make EX before age 35, a few under that of course, but 35-40 is about average. Some not until 50 or more. Some just before their retirement. But if you look at ADMs in their 50s, most made DG somewhere in their 40s, and most made Director somewhere in their 30s. That’s a rough profile, there is no “must do”. I say that there are advantages in that the faster you get to the EX minus 1 and 2 level, the better you will be able to get experiences that you will need to move up and to do so at a decent-enough level that you are involved in strategic conversations with management, and seeing them in action (a huge mentoring component), more so than as junior staff.
There can also be huge disadvantages in moving up too fast. Without getting into too many specifics, I have seen multiple occurrences where a “star” moved up quickly to a level, say EC-06, and yet they never really spent enough time at the EC-04 and -05 levels. Yep, they qualified, they “earned” their promotion, they jumped all the hoops they were asked, but now that they’re an EC-06, they’re struggling. By contrast, another average officer spent 2 years as a -04 and 3 as a -05, and they are clearly ready for the -06 level. In comparison? That incrementalist looks like a really solid officer and the fast-mover suddenly looks like a dud.
And no, before you assume that is just a baby boomer’s view of old “progression”, it’s not. I don’t care about the age of the person, I care about how much they’ve seen and dealt with as they moved up. I’ll give you an example of a much more senior person now. She’s Director level, but before she was a Director, she was at TBS. A senior analyst there for about 2+ years. In that 2 years, she saw literally hundreds of new program proposals go through. 95% of them were routine. But 5%? They were unicorns. Innovative ideas, new pilots trying something out, and each one was a challenge to figure out how to measure results, how to structure the implementation. Of the 500 proposals or so, she saw 25 unicorns. Someone else in the same job for a year or so? They would only see about 10-12. Someone leading similar files from PCO might have only seen 2-4. And someone at a line department? They might have only seen 1. So now, bring her back to a line department, and put her in a position against others looking at innovation options for program design, and she has 2-6x the experience of someone at the same level. I don’t care if someone only does a job for 4m, if they got a really intensive experience at that level that compressed the normal learning curve for each type of work into a shorter period. Or if they spent 3 years doing all aspects of the job. I just need to know they did it, because when they’re at the higher level, they look weak in comparison to others who have more experience. And that is NOT good for your career. Being a high-flyer CAN be good as long as you keep delivering. But if you flame out or even struggle at the next level? That shine comes off pretty fast.
The last point I’ll make is that I also know some people who have made really good careers based on being UNDER their level. How? Easy. Let’s say that I have someone who is an EC-04 but has been for a while, and they are really really good. Maybe even EC-06 ready. So, in effect, they are EC-04 by level, could easily do EC-05, and for some things, EC-06. Which means if I hire them as an EC-04, which is their current level, I’m getting a really cheap EC-06. Or a superstar EC-04. Or an EC-05 in disguise. An old friend of mine, used to be on my team, he never moved up early because of some other issues with his qualifications, so he was an ES-02/EC-03. Who was capable of EC-06 level work. A unicorn who ANYONE would take in a heartbeat just to get him. Because he was WAY over level. Eventually, he fixed the other problems and jumped from EC-03 to EC-06 in a single year, and an EC-07 a year after that. Did it suck for him? Certainly “yes” for pay, he was way underpaid all those years. But he also got opportunities way outside what any other EC-03 or -04 would have gotten. If you’re overqualified / underappointed by even one level, you have ZERO challenges with career mobility. Just about ANYONE will take you because you’re a diamond in the rough, even if you’re doing it by design.
Now, let’s come back to a separate issue, not really part of the above. The real question about when to leave or stay is if you’re still learning in the job, assuming you are TRYING to learn. If you’re bored, and you’re not really trying to learn anything, not really making an effort, that’s not the same scenario. If you’re an EC-02 or EC-04 or EC-7 or DM-01, and you’re wanting to “move up”, then manage the crap out of your current files, take on more, ensure that you’re continuing to learn. It is quite often that someone says, “Oh, I’m overqualified because I’m bored.” Except that isn’t really the problem. The issue is they don’t like the job and they’re bored. So they’re messing up what they think are meaningless details they don’t care about, and so they’re not even doing the job they’re paid to do. If you’re so “great”, how are you NOT knocking your current job out of the park? And even if you’re trying to move up, remember that you do still have to do your current job in the meantime without crapping on everyone else who might not be interested in moving up.
Equally, people always want to know about job-hopping. If you are “moving up”, and you’re okay with all of the above issues, nobody cares if you job-hop upwards. They might be worried you rose too quick, and didn’t consolidate the experience at previous levels, but not about jumping jobs. They do care if you jump between 4 jobs at level in 2 years. What that tells people is you really have no idea what you’re looking for. So you’re trying something out, maybe it’s too hard or not what you’re interested in, and you bounce. Great. But I don’t want you on my team for 3m and see you bounce before you ever really gave it a try. You start to look like someone attracted only to shiny objects, a flake who goes for anything interesting without actually doing any work.
Should you stay in a job you don’t like? No, you shouldn’t. But if you jump 4 times in 2 years, that may be a signal that it is not about the job or your bosses. That is a pretty strong signal it’s about you. So make sure before you bounce from a job that a) you gave it a real shot; b) wherever you are going, you are reasonably sure it’s what you want or better than where you are; and c) you have a story to explain why you left the first place to go to the second, or third, or fourth. The more hops, the better your story needs to be. And I don’t mean a fictional tale of woe and abuse. I mean a strong rationale that says, “This is my origin story for my career, this is how I became your Batman.”
When is a demotion a good idea, if ever?
Before discussing the “good side”, let’s make sure we understand what a demotion means, because it can happen three different ways.
First and foremost, if you go through some sort of layoff process, like the last DRAP world, or relocation with spouse process, you may be a priority EC-06 to staff other positions, but suppose there are no EC-06s available to fill. But then someone is willing to offer you an EC-05 position. Is it good to take that? I don’t know, do you want the stability of an EC-05 or the potential uncertainty of never seeing another -06 offer? I suspect I’d take the -05, but that’s just me. I wouldn’t be happy with a demotion, but I’d be happy to still be employed.
Secondly, if someone is consistently not performing at level, say an EC-06 who has over the last two years been given lower ratings, additional training, more time to do their files, reduced workloads, added supervision, and they are still not meeting their level. Under the rules, they can actually be terminated. But, in many cases, if they were an EC-05 previously, they may be offered a demotion instead of termination. Is that “good”? Hard to say. Maybe the issue was something else going on, maybe it was the type of work. Lots of issues could be the cause, but that is irrelevant to whether a demotion offer is good or bad. Maybe they take it, as some have, resettle their levels, reconsolidate their approach, and they’re ready for a future opportunity to move back up. Or they are now happy with a lower level that they can manage well.
However, the third one that most people ask about is a voluntary demotion. The first two were more the results of the actions of the employer, while a voluntary demotion is where you as perhaps an AS-05 suggest that you would like to take a demotion to AS-04. Why might you want to do that?
The most common reason is that the more senior level includes supervision of staff and you hate it. I will note however that what most people REALLY mean is they hate dealing with HR problems, not just dealing with HR. Nobody likes being a manager of a problem employee. It’s simply not fun. But it is regrettably part of any job that includes supervision. It will happen, it is just a question of when. For some people, that type of supervision with the potential for conflict is too much for them. They hate the conflict or even the risk of conflict, so they think if they take a demotion, all is good. And it may very well be. They lose pay, sure, but they dump the supervisory aspects. And then they’re in that world of being an AS-04 who is a hidden -05 for abilities and might be a superstar -04 that people want to hire anytime, anywhere. But, as I said, they lose pay to do it. They may also lose files…some areas manage certain files only at certain levels. So, perhaps a fun file that they were doing as an -05 included outreach across the branch that they really enjoyed. But as a -04, it will now be led by their replacement as a -05. So they don’t get to do what they liked. You might dump the bad aspects, but you likely dump some good parts too that you liked or were challenging you. Is it better than what you had? I don’t know.
What I prefer to talk to people about when they’re talking about taking a demotion is to understand WHY they want to take the demotion. Because if demotion is the “solution”, I want to ensure they’re properly framing the problem. Let me give you some quick examples.
I know someone who was planning a wedding and getting really really stressed about it, because they also had a busy job. And in their mind, all they could see was that they had this big thing coming up in their personal life that they wanted to go a certain way, and they were worried that work was “in the way”. So what if work wasn’t “in the way”? I talked to her about seeing if there was an assignment she could do at level, no loss in pay, she gave up the really busy job and did something a bit quieter for awhile, and when it was over, she went back to her job. Her issue was that she could do the two things together, but one was temporary. So why look for a permanent “demotion” solution when a temporary “assignment” solution would solve the problem?
Another person is a manager and looking at going back to work after an illness. They are worried that they won’t be able to handle the stress, so they’re thinking about asking for a demotion. But there are other options in there. Gradual return to work, modified duties while reintegrating, a special project to manage for a while until they’re back in, smaller team to manage, etc. Lots of other “options” before going nuclear.
So why do people go nuclear so fast? Because it is totally within their control. They’re looking at a problem that they want to solve, and this option is generally open to them to control. They can ask for this and it solves everything **IF GRANTED**. Note that your boss does not have to give you a demotion, and in fact, they may not even have a box available for you. Just as they didn’t when you told them you were in a pool and looking for a promotion.
For some, going back to the AS-05 example, they’re trying to avoid supervising anyone. Okay, but there ARE some positions that don’t include supervision. Would you prefer one of those to going back to a -04?
My concern is generally that it is often so hard to get a promotion, giving up a level should be considered and reconsidered carefully to make sure that is the ONLY option that will address your concerns. I confess that I am a bit biased, as I have also seen it be a poor solution for another reason. In a couple of cases, the person was stressed, and they thought they would just go back to being a lower level and all would be well. But it wasn’t better because that wasn’t the real problem…their personal life was falling apart, and they were trying to make work life less stressful, thinking if they could just have a bit more mental space, all would be right at home. Of course, that didn’t happen, they ended up getting divorced, and 6m later were regretting taking a demotion as they would have liked the higher pay and the job back that they fought so hard for in the first place. And getting BACK to a higher level can be a challenge. Some managers will just do it by appointment, others will make them compete and make a pool.
I have seen demotions work too. Someone who really didn’t like supervising people, sure, but what they really didn’t like was the responsibility that went with the level. They didn’t want to be the one making decisions and briefing upwards, they were quite happy to have someone else calling the shots. They were happy to come in, do their job and do it well, and go home. That’s it, that’s all.
In my case, I am an EC-07 and have been offered EX-01s in other types of work than I am doing now. But I don’t often like what EX-01s do with their time and energy. As an EX-01, I wouldn’t have time to meet with my team as often as I do as a manager, I wouldn’t be able to take time to roll up my sleeves and dig into a file from time to time, or usually not, anyway. I would take an EX-01 of a specific type doing something specific (mostly horizontal corporate functions), but not just any EX. And I’m not willing to take on some of the other stuff that goes with EX-01 to just take ANY EX position. The philosophy out there is “You can’t choose your first EX”, but you can if you’re willing to accept you might not get one.
Similarly, for lots of levels, people may get there and go “Blech! This job sucks!”. And their options are not just go back down. They may move laterally and find something else, move up and see if you like that better (I know some DGs who hated EX-01 but love EX-03 and do not want EX-05), or move back down to your comfort zone with a demotion. I just want to make sure they’re solving the right problem.
That is a lot of text, I know. It is one of the reasons why I couldn’t answer everything at one go in the session, nor some of them in the same level of detail. I hope this helps…