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|Written by Kendall R. Giberson|
|Thursday, 28 February 2008 19:00|
For those who wish to pursue a career in the Canadian public service, prepare for a rude awakening. The enticement of a meaningful career, financial security, and spectacular benefits is supposed to beckon the best and brightest of society. However, the hiring processes of federal government departments are not like most jobs that you may have previously applied for. This article is not meant to be a criticism of the civil service’s human resource policies, but rather a ‘heads-up’ to those who may have unreal expectations about working for the federal government.
For starters, most government jobs require post-secondary education. That requirement encompasses everything from a Ph.D in astrophysics to a college diploma in flower arranging. Regardless, almost no one waltzes right into a government job upon their graduation (though it is sometimes possible). Let’s examine the ways in which people can manoeuvre into such a career.
The easiest way to get into the federal service is also the easiest way to get into any job: nepotism. Everyone from low-ranking civil servants to human resource professionals at staffing agencies will tell you that having contacts in the civil service gives one a leg up on a job search; “You need to know the right people”, they say. It is unknown how many civil servants are hired in this manner, but it can be safely said that several of them had a contact through their cousin’s wife’s mechanic’s neighbour who bowls in a league with a director. This is the most persistent criticism of the civil service’s hiring process and led to the establishment of the merit-based criteria currently in use.
This approach leads to hiring based on merit. The process begins with a posting for a position which one applies for via an on-line application. This involves very detailed outlines of work experience and essay-type questions that must be answered. Also, applicants must go through several stages of screening, which commonly involve tests for competency in writing, situational judgement, problem-solving ability, and French language proficiency, among others. Most of these tests are administered even before people get to the interview stage. Regarding French testing, some positions are not ‘bilingual-imperative’, but your civil service career at the federal level will most certainly be hampered if you cannot speak French. In theory these tests are meant to screen in only the best qualified and most suitable people for a position, and the whole process often takes several months.
The skill set that you possess is also a determining factor in getting hired by the Canadian government. If you have highly specialized training in a particular field where there is a demand, like information technology, then you may be recruited and whisked through the hiring process fairly quickly. There is also a bias towards bilingual candidates in the federal civil service. This is another criticism of the government’s hiring policies, but it remains, and several positions demand candidates who can function in both official languages. Accepting this fact, people ought to make an effort to learn both languages instead of complaining about it. Education level in a particular field is supposed to give one a leg up on the competition as well. In practice, however, a person with an undergraduate degree or lower who has worked with the government as a co-op student and made contacts in addition to being bilingual, has a greater chance of getting hired than someone with a graduate degree who is unilingual and earned all her credits through coursework. This is the case even if, in the former case, the candidate was a ‘C’ student and, in the latter case, an ‘A’ student in the same discipline.
The growth of the federal civil service in recent years has presented several new career opportunities for Canadians. A public sector job represents a very enticing carrot for university graduates to chase. However, more and more people are graduating with postsecondary degrees than ever before. It is not like in the old days, where departments sought out university students with certain skill sets and presented them offers upon graduation. It was not uncommon a generation or two ago for a university graduate to field several job offers and be able to negotiate terms such as salary and benefits packages. Today, a university degree is not as rare and prestigious as it once was, so increased competition has watered down the pool of job candidates, not just in the public sector, but the private sector as well. In pursuing a career in the public sector, the application process is often the hardest, most time-consuming, and most discouraging aspect. However, if it were easy, then everyone would be doing it.