The following questions and answers address issues raised most often over the 25+ years our company has provided test preparation and career coaching to clients across Canada and abroad who either work in the federal government and are in a competition or developing their learning plan, or to others interested in obtaining a federal government position.
Questions 1, 2 & 3 Pertain to Entry-Level Candidates Only
When does registration open for the entry-level Post-Secondary Recruitment campaign, what are the steps from applying to being hired, and how long is the whole intake process?
Competition Timing: The Post-Secondary Recruitment (PSR) campaign for entry-level federal government positions runs once annually. Typically, the notice appears in mid-to-late September and the closing application date is mid-October. For this year's campaign dates, see the link below.
Registration: The competition is run by the Public Service Commission. Details are available on the government website only during the period when it is open.
The Public Service Commission has moved its website to the Government of Canada website. Its simple www.jobs.gc.ca appears still to be working to direct you to the new site. Click on Public service recruitment programs, then Graduate recruitment programs, then Post Secondary Recruitment.
Job Applications: Job posters for entry-level positions with different departments and agencies are shown when the competition opens. Some may be added over the first few days. Typically, deadlines are the same but check to be sure. You can apply for as many positions as you wish and for which you qualify. No cross-referencing of applications is done by the government.
Online Public Service Entrance Exam (PSEE): The PSEE was introduced several years ago as an online exercise to reduce the number of candidates eligible for subsequent in-class testing. Sub-test 1 (Reasoning) is a multiple-choice exam that tests problem-solving and reasoning abilities; Sub-test 2 (Judgement) is a multiple-choice situational test with options ranging through degrees of effectiveness and ineffectiveness. The online PSEE is administered in late October or November after which candidates are told if they may proceed to the next stage of in-person testing. It is a replication of the same two PSEE-type tests, only with a different number of questions and allocation of time for each.
Written Supervised PSEE Tests: Supervised in-person PSEE tests start in mid- to late November and can run for several months—usually on staggered weekends in major cities across Canada, typically at university or government buildings and possibly at selected Canadian posts around the world. Invited candidates are shown venues from which they may select their test location.
Notification of Supervised PSEE Test Results: Candidates who pass their supervised in-person PSEE tests are “referred” by the Public Service Commission to the hiring departments or agencies to which they applied, where they are placed in a “pool” from which interviewees are selected. Cut-off scores vary to reach the interview pool for different departments and agencies.
Interviews: Notification of an interview by a department or agency may involve two steps: an email indicating that you have been selected for a future interview, and a second email explaining logistics and providing basics on the interview structure. Initial notification may occur as early as mid-January, with actual interviews starting late January or early February. However, it is likely that nothing may be communicated to you until significantly later. Interviews are behaviour-based and assess psychological “competencies” related to the job, not knowledge except in certain specialized recruitment programs.
Preliminary Short List: Once all candidate interviews are completed—typically not until summer or beyond, depending on the number of interviewees—a short list of candidates for further scrutiny is compiled. Neither those on the list nor those who are not are notified.
Follow-up Checks: Depending on job requirements, candidates have to undergo some combination of official language evaluation, medical evaluation, security clearance and behaviour-based reference check. You are contacted to set up language-testing and medicals. You are not contacted about security checking and only about references if a list of referees was not submitted earlier in the competition.
Final Short List: Once the required checks are completed, the names of candidates who emerge are put on the final short list. Unless candidates get in touch with the human resources contact who informed them about the interview, it is unlikely that they will be made aware of their short-list status.
Job Offer and Bilingualism Requirements: In some cases, job offers may be forthcoming between mid-August and mid-September. Notification can often be slower because of complications with various checks, candidate numbers, budget issues affecting hiring, or because government decisions are delayed in summer. An offer for a permanent (“indeterminate” in government-speak) position may then be forthcoming.
Where bilingualism was required on the job, two scenarios were possible in the past. A permanent job offer with language training provided at work was one option, or a conditional job offer was possible which allowed the candidate up to 12 months of full-time official language training at 80% of salary until the level of language proficiency stated in the job poster was attained. Now, bilingualism may be mandatory in order to receive an offer, and without training provided. New language guidelines are a work in progress—not spelled out, not publicized, and confusing to everyone.
Note: Deferring a job offer can be difficult without a substantial reason and a willingness to negotiate on the part of the hiring department or agency.
Intake Process Length: Ten to twelve months usually elapse in most competitions from the time the Post-Secondary Recruitment campaign application window closes until a job offer is received from a department or agency. Competitions with a number of position openings, a high volume of candidates vying for jobs, and government mix-ups can result in significantly longer times to hire people.
Are advanced degrees and high marks essential to be interviewed and hired for entry-level positions by the federal government?
No, although exceptions occur as specified in certain government job posters for RPL, PORP and APAP candidates as outlined on this site.
Government hiring is based preeminently on what are known as “competencies”, or selected skills and qualities, which are tested in exams, interviews and reference checks. The competency-testing approach, while often incomprehensible to external applicants for government jobs, is consistent with internal methods used for evaluating and promoting government employees.
Don’t I need to “know someone” to get an entry-level position in the general government or Foreign Service job categories open in the annual Post-Secondary Recruitment Campaign?
Absolutely not. The hiring process for all types of entry-level officer jobs filled through the federal government’s annual recruitment campaign is completely transparent. Attempts to influence selection rarely occur and never succeed. This is guaranteed by the government, and we have our own evidence to validate their assertion.
Questions 4, 5, 6 & 7
Pertain to Public Servants for Promotions and Entry-level Candidates
How long does it take to prepare for government exams, interviews or simulations and in-basket, or written tests using your study materials and coaching?
Each person is different in terms of time needed to prepare properly for any multiple-choice tests required. We recommend a minimum of about 10 hours for each type of test using the strategies in our study materials to learn how to take, and then practise on, all the tests.
In-Baskets and Simulations There are many types of government in-basket tests and simulations for which we deliver personal coaching. Before the consultation we send you background materials tailored to the specific exercise you are taking. The coaching can be done either by telephone or face-to-face as location demands. [See our listing of different exercises on this website.]
Written Tests A great many variations of written-type tests exist across the government. Some that we help with are primarily in standardized, more general formats: CAR (Candidate Achievement Record) tests, briefing notes, case exercises, and "decks"/PowerPoint presentation. Others are locally developed tools for which we do not coach clients because of the unpredictable nature of such tests and how they are evaluated. [See our listing regarding CAR and other Written Tests on this website.]
Government Interviews Government interviews are heavily competency-based with knowledge-based elements, and you can prepare for them with us in personal coaching sessions. Background materials designed expressly for government interviews are provided for review prior to the coaching, which takes place either by telephone or face-to-face depending on logistics. [See our listing of different level interviews on this website: Non-Ex Level Application & Interviews; Ex-Level Application & Interviews and Video Online Interviews.]
As to how far in advance you should prepare for particular government exams, written tests, in-baskets, simulations and interviews, it’s up to you. Some of our clients like to prepare early to allow for extended time to consider what the study materials and coaching cover; others prefer to wait until close to the critical day so that the advice provided in the study materials or in personal coaching is fresh.
How does your company know what the federal government is looking for on multiple-choice tests, written exams, at interviews and in other recruitment procedures such as simulations, in-basket tests, applications and resumés, and reference checks?
We have coached people for entry, lateral and promotion exercises for longer than many of those carrying out these processes in government staffing operations.
Our preparation is based on four things:
thorough analysis and knowledge of government recruitment, lateral and promotion processes for 25+ years
consultations with senior government executives, informed staff and interviewers
debriefings conducted with clients following different recruitment, lateral and promotion exercises
professional experience in designing and delivering behaviour-based training across Canada and internationally
We deliver study materials and explicit, practical training useful for most types of government competitions. Our personal coaching dispels the rumours and conjecture surrounding government staffing procedures, and teaches clients how to excel against the competition.
What is your success rate in helping clients?
Government Tests Typically, about two-thirds of those who use our materials advance not only to the pool but also to the interview stage.
Government Interviews On average, about 65% of the people we coach for an interview receive a job offer the first time they are interviewed or after they have worked with us because they failed interviews before.
Government In-Basket, Simulation and CAR/Written Tests The success rate for clients we coach is about 70%.