There are processes in GoC HR called “inventories” and they are often done in one of three instances, all of them generally bad for the applicant:
A. They are hiring for LOTS of different categories
You’ve likely seen these, as it will say “Come work at Transport! We’re hiring AS-01, AS-02, AS-03, AS-04,…” and they then list 7 levels of AS, 5 levels of PM, 7 levels of EC, etc. It’s called a “cattle call” and it is basically the equivalent of having a large drop box in front of their building that says “drop your resume off here and maybe someone will look at it”. There are no specific jobs identified, just an open lazy-ass HR process that screams “We have no idea what we’re doing but we need a lot of people and it’s easier to do this than a real competition where we tell you in advance what we want. We would like good people, but since good people won’t apply through this process unless they dream of working at Transport, we’ll settle for warm bodies who have no dignity, self-esteem, or standards. Oh, and since we have offices in multiple locations and can’t tell you what the job is, we won’t bother giving you any details on where the jobs are or what the requirements are, so try and be psychic to include what we’re looking for!”
B. They are hiring for multiple levels in a single category.
Often this is slightly better, as it will say, “Hey we’re hiring, and we need EC-02, -03, 06, 07”. While that seems at least a little more focused, here’s the stupid part. EC-02s and -03s should never be in the same process as an EC-07 since the requirements are completely different. So, since HR knows this and doesn’t have a solution, they tell you almost NOTHING about the requirements for any of the jobs. Again, it screams “We’re really desperate for ECs, and rather than waste time running competitions that might only promote people but not increase our body count, we’ll just see who is desperate enough to run our administrative gauntlet blindly!”. Again, you’re basically being psychic.
C. It’s a single classification level but they have very different jobs within it
So I was asked a question through my website by someone looking to apply for a job at Health Canada in their Regulatory Enforcements and Operations Branch. And it is a perfect example of why I totally hate inventories. I should state, which is probably obvious if you read my guide (see the sidebar), that I prefer crisp and clean processes that are totally linear from one end to the other. It does NOBODY any good to be in a process where elements are opaque. You have people, who are quite good, stumbling over what should be an administrative tickbox and getting tossed from a process just because the tickbox was hidden under a layer of stupid HR and they miss out on a great job while the hiring manager can end up missing out on the best candidate.
Let me show you what I mean with this example from Health Canada. I am not going to list the process or reference numbers because I don’t want to seem in any way like I’m promoting it to anyone.
Increasing the risk of a bad HR process
Let’s go through the poster in detail, and I’ll show you how it combines a bunch of BAD elements for both the candidate and the hiring manager.
First, it is an inventory for an SG-SRE-05 position, which I’ll tell you right off the bat is a specialized category. The job classification falls in the SP grouping (applied science and patent examinations) which includes many of the GoC’s scientists — AC (actuaries), AG (agricultural specialists), BI (biologists), CH (chemists), FO (forestry), MT (meteorology), and PC (physical sciences). For this job, it is in SG-SRE which is “Scientific Regulation” (as opposed to SG PAT which is for patents). It is a highly specialized, highly technical group. It combines scientific knowledge, legal issues, and policy considerations. If it is the right fit for the employee, it can be their DREAM job (for the combination) or their worst NIGHTMARE (depending on the policy direction).
I tried to find out exactly how many people are in that category across all of government, and couldn’t lay my hands on the data easily. I know they’re represented by the PIPSC union, which only has 60K members in total but they have 41 separate groups that they represent. The SP group overall might be decent size, but I suspect SG-SREs are less than 5K across all of government, and likely less than 2K in total. Those specializing in health only? Even smaller. Those operating at the -05 level, their big working level (the equivalent of an EC-06/PM-05 working level for other categories)? Smaller still.
So, to put it differently, the potential pool isn’t big. Which then cuts both ways. If the pool isn’t big, you might want to enlarge it and so an “open call” to anyone and everyone might increase your pool; but if the pool isn’t big, you can also tailor the job to those most likely to apply so that they WILL apply easily. An open-style inventory doesn’t do either of those well.
Here’s the kicker too. It doesn’t say if it is “at level” only; open to actings; or potentially could be an actual competition. You don’t know, you just apply. They’ll figure that out if they want you, I guess.
Next on the list is that it involves three separate streams. Streams aren’t always bad, but they’re looking for regulatory advisors, specialists and supervisors. Those are three positions that attract a wide range of people who are interested. But it doesn’t ask you in the portal which one you want to apply for, you are applying for all three simultaneously, AND it doesn’t tell you which elements go with which job. As you go through the questions, you can likely figure out which ones are “supervisors” as they ask questions about HR and finance. But what if they want a specialist who also has some HR experience because they want people to lead a small team, if not formally supervise them? Well, if you didn’t fill that tickbox out, you’re likely screwed.
However, I will tell you that their HR jedi are putting the most positive spin on their poster — “An inventory is a selection process that can be used by various hiring managers to meet their current and future needs. As a result, you will apply only once to be considered for multiple job opportunities at the SG-SRE-05 level.”
Third up are the multiple locations for the job. It SOUNDS great, as it lists jobs all across Canada (3 offices in BC, 2 in Alberta, 2 in Saskatchewan, 1 in Manitoba, 6 in Ontario including Ottawa, 4 in Quebec including Gatineau, 1 in Nova Scotia and 1 in New Brunswick). Remember that this is a HIGHLY SPECIALISED group with a small base. Which means there isn’t going to be a lot of labour mobility within the category. If you are in an SR5 job in Winnipeg in the one and only office, you’re likely to be in that job for an extended period of time. Equally, you probably aren’t looking to move to Quebec if you’re living in Winnipeg. So when you apply, you need to specify which areas you’re willing to work in, and maybe you’re open, but maybe you’re not. In my regular job, I’ve got some ties to people who work in labour mobility more generally, and while we often work to eliminate barriers between provinces on certifications, the real decision for people to move is often personal, not purely work-related. Dentists don’t leave one province to go to another if they can find work in their home area. So someone looking to apply likely has a VERY defined area they’re interested in. And if the job in Winnipeg is for a supervisor, they could tailor a really kick-ass application to that specific form of the job. Or a really kick-ass advisor application. They just need to know WHICH one they’re applying for and they’ll dance on the head of a pin for it.
But they don’t know which job it is in Winnipeg, or to be honest, if there is even a job IN Winnipeg. They list these inventories every place they might need someone, they rarely exclude a post. There are no “specified” jobs tied to the inventory that have to be filled. Really, you don’t even know that there are ANY jobs available (for the intent of the process where it often undersells anyway, it says “to be determined”). It stands to reason they wouldn’t run an inventory if they didn’t expect to have SOME needs, but hard to say. Sometimes they forecast badly. Maybe they have a lot of young officers at home during a pandemic and they’re worried they’ll lose a lot to parental leave in about 9 months.
But with all this “flexibility”, there is another problem that is made clear when you get to the actual portal to apply. It asks you which of those offices you want to be considered to work in. Sounds easy peasy, right? Except suppose you REALLY want a supervisory position. And if you’re offered THAT, you’d be willing to move to Winnipeg or Halifax, but not Toronto. But you don’t know where the supervisory positions will be. So you have to apply to any location, and if it turns out that Halifax considers you but for a specialist position you don’t want, then both you and the hiring manager just wasted their time.
Most of the poster has to be about the general aspects of the jobs since there is no specific job. Duties are general, the work environment is “general”. But if you’re working in Ottawa with 20 other regulatory people, or coordinating across Canada, your job looks VERY different from someone in Winnipeg where they might be the ONLY -05 in a small office. Across HR, people are working very hard to beef up those elements in job posters as they realize the “non-work” elements are equally important. There is a GREAT example for Agriculture Canada in Ottawa which has an office that is NOT in the downtown core, which drastically improves commuting hassles (before COVID) and they advertise that out the wazoo. Maybe the one in Burnaby is right next to day-care, maybe the one in Montreal is right above a Metro stop. Who knows? Because the poster has to market them all equally, they end up marketing them all badly.
It combines both inside the government and outside the government in the same process. The poster is mainly written for those outside government so it doesn’t look overly bureaucratic. And for those in technical regulations, the truth of the matter is that often they have more experiences and knowledge in common with the industry they are regulating than with the pure policy or technical wonks down the hall. They have counterparts in the industry who also combine law, technical knowledge and policy who manage how to comply with the regulations, comment on them, etc. Often in industry associations. And in some fields, you could more flexibly move between the two. Except the process is overwhelmingly complex for someone outside the government (and more so than a normal comp for 3 separate jobs) and overly opaque for someone inside.
Don’t get me wrong, I like that it is open to the public, I just think it should then be geared towards the public so government doesn’t look like its HR is run by bureaucrats in the worst sense of the word.
For the actual requirements of the job, because of much of the above, there are a lot of requirements where it says OR. And one of them really quite badly. Here’s the wording in the poster:
Significant* experience researching, analyzing, interpreting policies, legislation, or technical information (such as data or literature) and making recommendations.
Okay, so what that means is they are looking for:
- Experience researching (x)
- Experience analyzing (x)
- Experience interpreting (x)
- Experience making recommendations about (x) based on the research, analysis and interpretation;
For the (x) , it says “policies, legislation or technical information”.
I’ve been an EC a long time, and I did a year of law school back in the day. I’m also decent with highly technical information usually, even though I don’t have a science background. So I have some experience with all three of those things, and I can tell you that they are NOT the same skill set. There are lots of people who are great at policy and have no idea how to read legislation and technical stuff would throw them. Or people who are experts at technical but the regulatory and policy stuff would drive them nuts. So the fact that is an “OR” for those three is puzzling. Worse though is it isn’t clear that the wording doesn’t mean:
- Experience researching ANYTHING
- Experience analyzing ANYTHING
- Experience interpreting policies legislation or technical information
- Experience making recommendations about anything
People have successfully challenged clearer wording before, so I’m not going too far in questioning the wording.
Later, it includes references like “Significant* experience developing or reviewing scientific or regulatory documents or policies”…are those (developing or reviewing) (scientific or regulatory) (documents or policies) or does it mean (developing) (or reviewing scientific or regulatory documents) (or policies) or does it mean (developing or reviewing) (scientific or regulatory documents) (or policies). The last one is completely possible that someone could read it as the policies could be about anything, it was just docs that had to be scientific.
Am I being overly pedantic? Maybe. You tell me. Is it LIKELY that they meant anything other than the first option? No, but someone could easily misread it and be “out” even though they would have answered just fine if the poser had said, “Experience in developing and/or reviewing written materials (such as documents and/or policies) related to scientific or regulatory issues”. I prefer AND/OR to simple OR, but that is my legislative interpretation background showing through, I suppose. OR suggests one or the other but not both, while AND/OR makes it clear you might have both and if YOU do have both, you might want to explain that…I have seen people who applied and thought, “Well as long as I have one, I’ll just mention that”, and the hiring manager or HR person thought it wasn’t “significant enough” so they get tossed. It’s a bad way to apply, but the wording encouraged it.
The challenge I’m flagging though is that the MORE you use streams and cattle calls, the more you start to put in a lot of “this OR that OR another thing” and it can lead to some weird wordings that seem obvious to the writer but not necessarily obvious when the applicant is stressed or not quite so knowledgeable about application processes.
However, these pale in comparison with the huge laundry list that then follows:
• Significant* and recent** experience working in any of the following disciplines:
o Quality Assurance
o Quality Control
o Biological Products
o Natural Health Products
o Food Manufacturing
o Medical Devices
o Consumer Products
o Precursor Chemicals
o Controlled Substances
o Environmental Health
o Public Health
o Quality Management Systems in accordance with ISO 9001 or ISO 17025 standards
If you’re too tired to count them, I’ll tell you there are 17 different categories there. In the portal, it asks you “yes or no” if you have each of those separately, and THEN you have a single box where you dump in all your evidence of having that experience. How much should you write about it? I don’t know. I have no idea. Because I don’t know how important each element is to the job that you want. Because I don’t know what the JOB is.
I can tell you that it is a huge burden on the applicant to cover every possible element in that list when they don’t know which ones are relevant to the local job they want. Suppose, for example, you live in Calgary and you want to stay in Calgary. And you see this job, and you think, “Looks interesting, sure, I’ll apply”. And you have lots of experience in Cosmetics so you feel like you clearly meet that one, but in comparison, not so much for most of the others. You have experience in a bunch of the others but aren’t sure if it is “significant” enough. And you’re outside government, and don’t know you should answer EVERYTHING you might qualify for, so you just focus on cosmetics because you can nail that one and think that is sufficient (you got one of the OR options). But it turns out that the Calgary office was mainly interested in Pharmaceuticals and that your experience working for a food and cosmetics company would have been sufficient. But you didn’t tick that box, never even knew there was a job that had food and cosmetics that you would have spent a lot of time on an application for, because YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT’S RELEVANT AND WHAT ISN’T.
Normally when you see a list like that, it is an “asset” element. It says “Hey we have a bunch of core essential elements”, but since the jobs are going to vary, “we are also looking for assets in some of these areas”. They can’t be essential because they are all one big giant OR list.
So what do you have to do? You have to answer EVERY one you possibly can because if they are looking for Cosmetics (which you nailed) and also Food (which you didn’t feel was strong enough to mention but you could have tried), then you’re not even going to get considered. It’s the same as the LOCATIONS part above. If you would take a supervisory position in 8 different offices, say yes to all eight; and say “no” later if they call you and it isn’t supervisory. Why waste everyone’s time applying for elements that will have NOTHING to do with what you end up working on? It’s an inventory, why not?
I don’t mean to rant, but this is just a badly done poster overall. In the same section, where it says here are the essential requirements *that you (supposedly) have to cover in your application*, it lists:
• Respectful of Diversity
• Thinking things through
• Working effectively with others
• Showing initiative and follow through
• Attention to Detail
• Ability to communicate effectively verbally and in writing
• Ability to work in a high pressure environment with changing priorities
If you are within government, you KNOW that the only two things in your application are experiences and eligibility. Competencies + abilities + personal suitability are all elements that are tested through a process. Almost universally. Once in a while, HR will fudge it a bit and use your resume or application as evidence of your written communication skills, but it’s on shaky grounds legally. Anyone can hire someone to write their resume or edit their application. I have helped 100s of people tweak an application letter/element. For my own staff, I’ve even helped edit their cover letters or resume in markup edit mode to give them suggestions where they’re struggling with how to word something or structure a paragraph to cover three different things in a short amount of space. If the HR marked their application for writing, were they marking THEM or ME?
When I saw it on the poster, my first thought was, “What? Are they nuts? How the heck are they going to mark THAT in an application?”. So I went to the portal. And of course they don’t. Sure, they’re essential, but they’re not part of your application even though it says so at the top of that section on the poster. Sigh.
And like all posts that have multiple streams, there are 10 assets. After the 17 above, what could possible be missing? I don’t know, but they have 10 that look an awful lot like some should have been essential. Wouldn’t you think, after you answered the question about your experience with docs, you have likely already answered it completely? Of course you did. But now, they want to know if you have “Significant* experience developing or reviewing scientific or regulatory documents or policies” so they can see if you have at least two years. They could do that with just “scoring” the experience requirement. They don’t need a whole separate element for it, but sure, why not? This is poor process design because the applicant is going to hit it and either just copy and paste what they ALREADY wrote above, or take a risk and say “See element above, ya stupid git”.
Then we come to the Conditions of Employment. When HR processes run broad jobs across a wide range of physical environments in Canada, particularly with regional offices, the duties the employees perform in those offices vary widely. And the CoE often presents serious challenges to the wording. The list includes a requirement for a driver’s license. Or more accurately, “Possession of a valid Driver’s license OR personal mobility to the extent normally associated with the possession of a valid Driver’s License.”
If you’re in Ottawa, you will probably never need that. Why? Because if you’re going to a site location, it is almost guaranteed that you’re going to take a taxi. Toronto and Montreal have great transit systems, are you going to drive? Maybe, maybe not. But if you’re in Moncton, and you have to serve the whole province, a taxi isn’t feasible. So it makes sense there. Some locations? Not so much. So I know some good policy people who could not tick the box that they have personal mobility equivalent to having a drivers license except inside the city limits.
Oh, sure, HR will tell you that it’s possible, some people do travel from Ottawa to somewhere like Bancroft to do an audit and you need to drive. Okay. Sure. It’s possible. But I also know that in most places that have regulatory staff, some of them NEVER leave the office while others LEAVE REGULARLY. Depends on the job, allocation of duties, etc.
What I’m trying to say overall is that it lists a drivers license, travel within and outside provinces, international travel, and three possible levels of security clearance. What if you have a summary conviction offense for smoking marijuana five years ago, and it is enough to block you from a TOP SECRET clearance (maybe, maybe not). But it wouldn’t do anything to your reliability check unless maybe you were working on Cannabis regulations. Almost all of the requirements listed are “dependent on the final job”. But you have to say yes to them all to even continue in the process.
The one that frequently bothers me, and it’s a small bugaboo, is it asks you if you’re willing to work occasional overtime on evenings and weekends. Which most people can and do say “yes” to…except, if you’re a single parent, and have reliable daytime care, you might be able to do the OT if and only if you have a couple of days notice to arrange a backup. Or for example, if you’re sharing custody, and you’re likely going to be swamped for the last two weeks of March, maybe you can arrange for the kids to be with their other parent that week. Or your partner has some flex in their schedule and normally they would take care of the kids at night, but 1 week in 4, they’re on call at night and can’t cover THAT one week.
Yet people are asked a binary question — are you willing yes or no. Wellllll, it’s not a binary world. Yes I’m willing but sometimes I might not be able to…and I’m not even talking about the stress of being asked to work OT because of bad management where they sat on something for three weeks, now it’s urgent, and the only way to get it done is to work over the weekend. Are you STILL willing? Wellll….
I know why we ask, and why HR wants it in there, and the unions are okay with it. I feel it would be a lot better to say “Willing to consider reasonable OT on occasion, if necessary” or some more nuanced wording that HR could come up with that says “you will do it if the request is reasonable, not stupidly inflexible”.
But I’ve seen single mothers who did not apply to something because it said that and they felt it meant on very short notice and they didn’t feel they could find night care on short notice. And then after the fact, after the comp closed and they didn’t apply, they’re talking to someone who works there who says, “oh, yeah, but if we’re doing OT, we always know about it about 2 weeks ahead”.
Yet even if I ignore my regular bugaboo, this section looks like it says “Hey lets only have able-bodied single people with no kids apply”. I’m sure it’s not intended that way, but it sure could turn people off, particularly if they are outside government where OT sometime means “Dave didn’t show up for his shift and I need you to work tonight or you’re fired”.
One last thing about inventories is mentioned at the end of the poster. It says that if you have successfully submitted, you will be registered in the inventory. Does this mean you’re qualified? Nope. It just means you applied and the computer didn’t spit you out. It means NOTHING other than “Thanks, don’t call us, we’ll call you”. Literally. They say: “…your application can be considered. You will be informed in the event that your application is considered as part of a process generated from this inventory.” No one assessed ANYTHING to see if you’re qualified. An inventory isn’t a POOL to hire from, it’s a list of people to MAYBE INTERVIEW.
Sooo, in theory, if a manager looks at for a job, they’ll call you? Not necessarily. The manager might be just browsing. What they MEAN is if the manager decides to do a real process based on the inventory, you’ll hear from them. If they went through and didn’t like your application, they’ll ignore you and you may NEVER HEAR ANYTHING. Lots of people have seen these inventories and thought, “Wow, they must be hiring lots of people, I should apply because multiple jobs with one application, awesome”. And then they hear nothing. Ever. Because nobody used the inventory, or there was only one job and you didn’t tick the COSMETICS box or you didn’t say you were willing to work in Montreal. So your application disappears into a black hole and maybe it comes back out through a worm hole, maybe it doesn’t.
It is a REALLY good way to make an applicant do a LOT of work having no idea what will happen afterwards, if they’re even really going to be considered, or what the jobs even look like, if there are any. And unlike a normal process, where if you were considered, you would get a notice saying you were screened out that could trigger informal feedback as to why, for inventories, you GET NOTHING BACK. “Hey look, this person doesn’t have quality assurance or cosmetics ticked, nope” yet you thought it all went in properly. And maybe you DO have those things but the system isn’t showing your application right. Technical glitches DO happen. Or simple user errors. And we have legislation that says some simple errors can be corrected and the application retained. But it doesn’t really apply to inventories as you may never hear ANYTHING about being considered or not.
But wait, it gets worse. Your first application is only good for 120 days. At the end of the 120 days, you’ll get a notice in the online portal that it’s about to expire, and if you don’t click, “I’m still interested!”, they’ll deactivate your application. You can renew it later, but you have to keep it “active”. They can sit on their butts doing literally nothing, maybe with no intention of EVER using the inventory because they looked through it, saw 3 people that interested them and took them, and left the rest sitting there with no info ever. And departments frequently extend inventory because “maybe someone good is in there”. The HR people may not know they all suck, they just run the process. If the managers don’t say, “Blech”, they’ll keep renewing the inventory. It’s part of their metrics of good HR (“hey our metrics show we have an inventory of 500 people available, aren’t we great?”).
Why don’t I like inventories? Because they encourage HR to merge jobs together, streams together, requirements together, locations together, conditions of employment together into combinations that may or may not exist in the real world. Which means the applicant has no idea what they’re actually applying for — dream policy job in Calgary or their worst nightmare supervisory job in Toronto?
Equally, applications go in, and sometimes, nothing comes out. There’s no process to follow up on, no idea if jobs are being filled, NOTHING. Were you considered?
The processes are opaque to the candidate and all of the control is hidden in the hands of the hiring manager with no checks and balances on things like bias, discrimination, or even simple administrative error.
It’s lazy HR and I think they should be banned. If you have an actual job available, post the damn thing.
If you’re applying for one, don’t get your hopes up, but tick every box you can and answer every possible question where you think you could even remotely qualify.
Personally, I’m fortunate enough to be in a good classification and level for me, and already in government (obvious). My reaction is if someone runs their HR department with lazy inventories? I don’t want to work for them. I know there have been a few who ran huge inventories and then started screening everyone actively, but that type of rigour (and outcome) is rare. There are better processes to target for your time and energy investment.