We always need good people…

(c) timothy via creative commons

It is telling to ask people what work they do for free.  I have a few things that fit into this category and one of them is giving people tips on how to get a job in the Federal government.  The reason is I am do devoted is pretty simple – it maddens me that people feel hopeless about cracking the government code.  While difficult, it is not impossible.

I give so much information out piecemeal that I decided that I should devote some time to putting some of my most often repeated information down in one place for easier access.

**Please understand that these are my opinions and I am not an HR expert in how the Federal government hires workers.  This is in intended to be general information only.**

My main message is that there are many things within your control as a job-seeker to improve your chances at landing work.

First, it may help you to know a bit about my world as a manager:

  • Government managers have a variety of hiring methods at their disposal – some can be deployed very quickly and some take considerable time.  The length of time to hire is, in general, proportional to the tenure of the employment. Short, 90 day casual contracts, can be set up very quickly.  As a casual you will not be a pensionable employee in the government nor have access to jobs reserved for those already in government but you will have a foot in the door for valuable experience.  You can (generally) work 90 days in a calendar year for one government department.  Flexibility in hiring has increased in recent years but you are still dealing with a bureaucracy so calibrate your expectations accordingly.
  • Government managers are generally trying to hire for a position which has a particular classification (which signals a particular professional designation and a pay range) with a particular language profile and security clearance.
  • Managers are really busy managing a variety of tasks and are still trying to advance hiring new talent as quickly as possible.
  • Putting up formal want ads or posters to find people, especially when posters are made available to the public, is a huge undertaking and sometimes a measure of last resort.  This will therefore happen rarely and posters will may be open for as little as 48 hours given that we can expect 200 applications a day.

How you can help managers try and place you:

Be on top of the formal hiring process and follow instructions to the letter:  If you are committed to making landing a government job as your top priority, you will have to visit the federal jobs website every single day and the meet the deadlines imposed for applications and online exams.  Some jobs may be posted once a year or even less often to a public audience.  Read the entire poster carefully to see if you are qualified for the position. Follow the instructions for the application closely.  This may sound like I am trying to insult you with common sense but after looking at hundreds of applications, it is frustrating and sometimes heartbreaking when you cannot continue consideration of an application because the person didn’t follow the rules.  As an example, if the poster asks you to list your courses in a certain specialization and you take a shortcut and say you have a Master’s degree in a general area, be prepared to be screened out of the hiring process to be fair to everyone who applied.

As you start the overall job hunt, I would apply for each position for which you are fully qualified. If you begin to get qualified for positions, it would  make sense to scale back your efforts and move more of your efforts to marketing yourself.

If you have qualified in a pool, please don’t sit by the phone hoping that managers will know of you and give you a call. Unfortunately, pools created in one department are not often shared in other departments.  That said, pool-qualified candidates (in any Department) are often easier to hire under hiring rules.  Be prepared to send a “cold” email prospective managers in areas where you’d like to work. It may be nerve-wracking but if you are professional in your approach you have nothing to lose and much to gain. Here are my tips about “cold emailing.”

  • Target yourself to managers who you’d like to work for making explicit links between your experience and the work you’d like to do for them.
    • Use a specific email title to get their attention –  what exactly are you seeking and when?
    • Write a short pitch email to hiring managers to explain why you think you are a good match for their team.
    • Create a short (2-3 pages max) cv for circulation  so managers can quickly decide if they should ask you in for an interview or save your CV for later consideration.
    • Do some of your own research on what it takes to be employed in the area that you want to work in and showcase what you have that fits the bill with respect to education, certifications, particular skills and knowledge.  Your best ally will be looking at government job posters for jobs to which you aspire and trying to find workers in your areas of interest to speak to about their jobs.
  • Create a polished product (no typos, clean format) and highlight these key bits in your cover email or CV so that they can easily be found:
    • Any government security clearance you have acquired and expiry date.
    • Your language profile (specific results if tested federally but in general otherwise) and expiry dates.
    • You government experience of any kind and specifying if you have been a student through a government program.
    • Your availability for work and what kinds of work you’d accept (part-time, shift).
    • Whether you are currently employed in government and at what level and tenure.
    • Whether you have qualified in any pools and if so, the details. (A pool is a group of qualified candidates who have been through some combination of screening experience and education, exams, interviews and reference checks as well as possibly language testing.  Inventories are not the same as pools.  They have candidates that have been screened less thoroughly).

How to keep our attention once you’ve gotten some interest:

  • Respond quickly to requests for further information.
  • Show up for our meetings or interviews or give good notice that it won’t be possible.
  • Do a bit of preparation online before you come meet with us so you know a bit about our work and we are not starting from scratch.  For the Department where you are seeking work, see what has been in the news, the Budget, the Speech from the Throne and read the “Mandate Letter” for the relevant Minister.  Look in the government directory (though not always up to date) to see how one part of the organization fits in the bigger picture.
  • Bring a recent CV to our meeting.
  • Bring your “A” game to every dealing with exchange with every member of our office.  Treat these interactions as your auditions for working on our team –  we sure do.

Other things you can do:

Update your Linkedin profile and say either explicitly or more subtly that you are looking for work.  Though there were many years when some of us were thinking “I don’t get it” with respect to Linkedin, friends and colleagues are mentioning of late that they are getting more calls from agencies and recruiters based on their Linkedin profiles.

Remember that your potential network extends to every person you have ever met – now is not the moment to be shy about saying you are looking for work.

If there is an area that you are particularly keen on working in, ask for a short “information meeting”  with a manager so that you can introduce yourself and learn more about the organization.

Think about upgrading your skills.  Remember that many courses of education are tax deductible.

  • Consider upgrading your French levels so that you will have a better shot at passing bilingualism exams. At a minimum you can use a free app like Duolingo to get on more solid footing.  You might also consider joining “Toastmasters” to learn how to present more confidently in your second language.
  • Consider investing in additional certification to increase your marketability for certain types of jobs.  As an example, Access to Information shops are sometimes hiring and the University of Alberta has an online certificate you can complete.

Don’t count yourself out too quickly

  • Government hiring takes a long time and regular contact with candidates is not ensured.  Consider doing a short check-in with the HR contact on a process after many months of hearing nothing.
  • Don’t assume you can’t get a job because you are not bilingual.  On job posters, read the fine print as it may indicate that a pool of qualified candidates will be created to include people with various language profiles.  This means that you might not need to be bilingual to be placed in a group of qualified candidate for future hiring.
  • If you cold call an employer that really appeals to you and hear nothing, there is no harm in circling back after a few months to say you are still interested and available.

Ask for help and be open to the feedback you are given

Many government workers or others well established in the job market will be willing to have a look at your CV and give you feedback on whether it is a good product and where they can see a fit with your skills in the bigger government context.  They may also have suggestions of where you could send your CV within their network.

Pay it forward 

You may feel that you have nothing to share when you are without paid work but you can still offer to help your fellow job seekers with access to your own network.  In the spirit of this magnificent book Give and Take,  workplace “givers” (versus “matchers” (who give only as much as they get) or “takers”) will succeed most in the workplace.

Keep your eggs in a few baskets

Don’t put all of your efforts into getting a government job – it can be a long process and in some cases, a long shot.

Start somewhere

Even if you have to start with an entry level position that does not well mirror your education and experience elsewhere, you are well advised to grab it.  It would be better to start getting experience and understanding the government context than to continue to sit at home.  As importantly, it will be useful to build your network and showcase your ability to be a good worker.

Do what you can to keep your spirits up

Though I am suggesting that you be diligent and persistent in your  efforts to seek government work, it is very hard to meet with discouraged job seekers.  You will want to pace yourself (apply only jobs for which you are qualified), and ensure that you strike a balance between a few hours a day of job hunting and an ongoing commitment to other activities that keep you healthy and nourish you.


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