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.



Now for a completely different job…

This is a great piece on how you would go about securing a job in a completely different field. 

I am not a skilled career counsellor by any means but I do meet a fair number of people who are discouraged about where they have landed in their career and feel that they are too old or too poor or have too many responsibilities to significantly change their career paths for the better.

Though I have appreciated books that have helped me shift my perspective to one of seeing possibilities  and on the interplay between your identity of your search for meaningful work these are not for everyone.

In contrast, this piece is a practical, step-by-step analysis of how you might go about finding work in a field very different than the one you have trained in or worked in.  It is about seeing possibilities and looking at job posters as “resumes in reverse.”

The article gives clear tips on how to use LinkedIn to find experts who may be willing to grant you information interviews and how you can learn the basics of many jobs on your own steam. I like the explicit instruction that you’ll need to create time and keep yourself accountable to stay on track.  I often see people get discouraged after their efforts to land a job or make a change don’t bear fruit after a few months or a few interactions.

It’s a slog and I don’t have any metrics to help you understand how much and how long it is required but it is usually a longer journey than you’d initially hope.

If you really want to make a radical job move this piece is a good reminder that it could happen mostly on your own steam.

Taking Longer to Reach the Top Has Its Benefits

The rewards of patience.

Source: Taking Longer to Reach the Top Has Its Benefits

This is a great article on why taking some time to ascend in your career has  benefits.

The article lists many good reasons to take a measured approach to promotions including avoiding burnout and gaining the skills you’ll need to succeed.  And my favourite of all:

“Following a “deliberate” path may prevent the problem experienced by any number of hard-charging executives: getting to the top of the career ladder only to realize it’s leaning against the wrong wall.”

How do you act when you are interrupted?

I liked this piece on the importance of humility in leadership.  I have posted here and here on this issue, but this one brought more practically to the subject which I appreciated.

The need for humility in leadership may not be obvious when you think of the stereotype of leaders who should be confident taking decisions and giving direction.  To me the why of humility in leadership is a fusion of understanding that: you need a lot more information than you have to do your job, you may be your best version of a leader when you are in service to everyone, and that humility will help you build endurance for the journey.

From this piece, I particularly liked the test  to ask yourself the question “How do you act when you are interrupted?” (and ask yourself how you’d react when you are busy and when it is someone below you on the org chart).

It’s a brilliantly simple question and it hits at an area of deliberate growth for me in the past few years.  I work in an open concept office so there is no easy way to signal when I am trying to get through something and would prefer not be interrupted.  Though I am sure that I have spent too long acting perturbed that I have been interrupted, I have now taken the decision to treat my entire work day (with rare, clearly announced exceptions) as if I am hosting office hours.  This isn’t to say that I can give each conversation its due at the moment it is proposed – sometimes a sit down meeting is more appropriate and at times I am on my way somewhere.  That said, as a default, I want to be as present as I can for what people are coming to say.

I have learned good habits on this from observing others.  I used to marvel at senior leaders who acted as if they had all the time in the world to listen to you brief when I would be distracted at thinking about how busy they were and how I didn’t want to waste their time with a long briefing.  I then resolved to also be calm and clearly in receiving mode when employees would come and talk to me since expressing irritation, anger or panic do not support receiving the information needed.

Humility may save you from a mindset that won’t serve you well when you hit unfamiliar terrain.  The more you think you should (already) know how to be a good leader including from being told that you have inherent talent for the job, the less prepared you are to succeed when you reach an unfamiliar situation.  Carol Dweck makes a great point in this piece on mindset and leadership – it is much easier to have humility at the beginning of your management career and this wanes over time.  So the ultimate question is how to continue to show humility the longer you stay in a management role and no matter the stress you are feeling.


Transitioning to meta-management

A piece with a lot of technical language (that I can’t entirely follow), that I think still has merit as it touches on a subject I’d like to see treated in greater depth – how to manage other managers.  In this case a specialist has moved up the ranks and is reflecting on when to wade into the fray of her roots as an engineer.  I like her prompts to ask herself: “What problems does my team need me to solve right now?”

“If I feel the itch to do engineering manager work, there have got to be good ways to do this that are absolutely not a) going to intrude on someone’s existing work, and b) not eliminating an opportunity for the manager who reports to you to learn.”

Source: Transitioning to meta-management

Six Questions You Should Ask Yourself When You Want To Quit

Is your job not right for you, or is it just a temporary rough patch? Have an honest conversation with yourself before you walk away.

Some good questions that could guide some useful reflection including:

  1. Are there more opportunities for growth?
  2. Would someone I respect stay?
  3. Am I taking criticism too seriously?

Source: Six Questions You Should Ask Yourself When You Want To Quit

Four Reasons You Should Stop Feeling Guilty About Leaving Your Job


Four Reasons You Should Stop Feeling Guilty About Leaving Your Job.

I know that I am not alone in feeling guilt at leaving jobs.

This is a good piece that has some pointed material on why you do no one any favours to stay in a job when it is only for reasons of guilt.  I think that we forget that we as professionals are expected to move on to grow and develop.  In addition, the costs of missing an opportunity and staying put, specifically costs on your morale as an employee, may well outweigh the short term angst of deciding when it is time to move on.

Give and Take

(c) Julia

A read a lot of business books and this one had the fantastic dual effect of both affirming thinking I’d hoped could be supported with research and expanding my thinking in this area.

I found that this interview with the author with Adam Grant does a decent job of hitting the highlights of the book.

Here is what made the strongest impression on me:

The gist of the thinking is that people are givers, matchers or takers.  You might be a different sort at work than at home.  Work settings can feel harder to navigate because you don’t want to be taken advantage of so you may want to adapt a normally generous style at work to a more matching style.

Givers have the potential to do the best and the worst in work settings.  When they do the best, they succeed at understanding their clients to serve them well and reap the benefits.  They are generous with their time and with information and they are willing to invest in the development of employees/students etc. to mentor them.   This creates a generative cycle.  Having built trust though their investments in others, others are willing to be generous to them.

Grant also gives practical suggestions on how to communicate in a way that isn’t aligned with being a “taker” of information.  He coins the term “powerless communication” and gives a great example of someone in a difficult negotiation on a job offer in a different city who, instead of presenting a demand list, finally asked for HR’s advice on how to proceed noting the considerations with which they were struggling.  They were presented with an ideal solution for their situation.

At worst however, givers can overdo it and burn out.  They do this by failing to look after their own needs and those needs may include neglect of work-related goals crucial to success.  The book also contains interesting information on volunteering.  Apparently 100 hours a year is the ideal for many which is good news for the creative Timeraiser initiative (though the number may decrease for seniors).   Also interesting was that that the research shows that you’d generate more benefits from your volunteering if you did it in large chunks of time rather than small bit of time over many days.  Something for me to aspire to.

I loved that this book affirmed my own commitment to be generous with my own resources with good reminders of the needs to draw boundaries on the levels of contribution.  The book is great at outlining how we must be discerning with our time and it’ll be fine to devote our time to people who will give to others rather than those who are just interested in taking for themselves.

How To Push Past That Terrifying Dip In Motivation | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

Seth Godin has written a gem of a book called “The Dip” on the difficult decisions we often need to take as to whether to push through challenging situations versus throw in the towel. I’ve read it a couple of times and though it’s a good read, I am not much closer to knowing on a day-to-day basis when to push through and when not to.   This has lots to do with the fact that I am generally hard-wired to do so.  What has been more important to me of late is that I am now more more conscious that you shouldn’t push through just because you tend to preserve through things – you should take a step back and ask, who does this serve and why? Once you have decided that you should push through, it is always useful to have support as to help pushing past the dips in motivation. Some of the ways from the article hyperlinked below:

“You embrace the uncertainty and discomfort. Lots of people avoid these two things, but without them, you never get good at anything. You never learn anything worthwhile. Embrace these things and grow. […]

You do it not for success or some end goal, but for the sake of learning. You don’t want to give up every time you face resistance.You let yourself be moved by curiosity: wanting to know what it’s like to get past this, to push through discomfort. You want to find out how this chapter ends. […]

You pause and remind yourself of the reason you started in the first place: it’s not for personal success but to help people, to strengthen yourself, to inspire others, to make someone’s life a little better, to put a smile on your face. And then you ask yourself: which is more important, this reason for doing this project, or your personal comfort?”

via How To Push Past That Terrifying Dip In Motivation | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.

10 Good Reasons to Curb Your Perfectionism | Bonnie St. John

This is another excellent article – worth the whole read especially for female leaders.

Top ten reasons:

1. It drives away good people.

2. It causes pain to those you manage.

“Even if they don’t quit working for you, your perfectionism can cause others on your team to put in unnecessary hours, suffer from constant criticism and actually stop taking initiative.”

3. It blocks promotability.

4. It prevents risk-taking.

5. It stops people from applying for new jobs.

6. It impedes innovation.

7. It makes work-life balance impossible.

8. It crowds out networking:

“Too many of the women we coach have to learn to lift up their heads from task completion to look around, build relationships and study their business beyond their own purview. We, as women, tend to criticize men for golfing, drinking together or taking long lunches while we slave away at our desks. Networking is crucial for building trust, strengthening teams and preparing yourself for the next levels of your career.”

9. Makes you seem overly tactical (and not strategic).

“No one will think you can see the big picture or set priorities when you seem focused on the minutia. Being able to let go of your perfectionist tendencies may help you to win more strategic projects.”

10. Takes the focus off the most important things.

via 10 Good Reasons to Curb Your Perfectionism | Bonnie St. John.