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The following questions and answers cover issues that have been raised most often over the 25+ years our company has provided specialized test preparation and career coaching to clients across Canada, throughout the United States and around the world. If you have a concern not dealt with below, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call our office at 613 567-9229.
How does your company know what the federal government is looking for on multi-choice tests, written exams, at interviews and in other recruitment procedures such as simulations, in-basket tests, statements of interest, resumés and cover letters, and reference checks?
We have coached people for government entry and promotion exercises for longer than many of those carrying out these processes in government staffing operations. We take government tests every year to stay current, and we update study materials accordingly.
Our preparation for interviews, simulations, in-basket tests, written exams, statements of interest, resumés/cover letters and reference checks is based on four things: informed analysis of recruitment and promotion processes, consultations with government personnel staff and interviewers, experience designing and delivering behaviour-based training programs independently and for an international consulting firm, and debriefings we conduct with clients following different recruitment and promotion exercises.
Because of our experience and research, we deliver study materials and explicit, practical training useful for most types of government hiring and promotions. Our personal coaching dispels the rumours and conjecture surrounding government staffing procedures, and teaches clients how to excel against the competition.
What is the federal government’s view of your organization’s programs?
The government cannot “officially” endorse, nor can employees publicly voice opinions on, an individual private-sector company. Because of this general policy, officials are usually neutral when questioned about us, or they simply suggest that people check us out themselves.
However, literally hundreds of federal officials have referred clients to us on a personal basis over the years, including family members, neighbours, colleagues and other contacts.
Canadian government officials who have recommended our services include three former Clerks of the Privy Council; current and former Deputy Ministers and Assistant Deputy Ministers from various departments, agencies and Crown corporations; present and past Heads of Mission and officer colleagues abroad; other executives and support staff in jobs throughout the federal government. Canadian politicians who have sent us clients include two past Prime Ministers, current and former Cabinet Ministers, sitting and retired Members of Parliament, and several Senators. U. S. officials and politicians who have referred clients to us include serving diplomats we have coached and staff members serving a former Secretary of State. Testimonials by selected senior officials are included among the Client & Supporter Comments [click here] on our website.
Are advanced degrees, high marks—and in some cases—foreign language skills essential to be interviewed and hired by the federal government?
No, although exceptions occur as specified in certain government job posters, their accompanying statement of merit or in post-interview evaluation.
Government hiring is based virtually exclusively on what are known as “competencies” in Canada or “dimensions” in the United States which are tested in exams, in baskets, simulations, interviews and reference checks. In Canada, advanced degrees, marks, scholar-ships, languages and experience are not counted because they cannot be quantified by government examiners. In the United States, however, selected languages and military service are factored in after success on the oral assessment. The behaviour-based testing approach, while often incomprehensible to highly qualified external applicants for government jobs, is consistent with internal methods used for evaluating and promoting government employees.
Our strength is to help you use your background, bolstered by our study materials and personal coaching, to satisfy the competencies or dimensions tested in the various exercises required to obtain the government position you want.
How have the tests and the academic criteria to apply in Canada for DFAIT and CIC jobs changed over time?
The Canadian government competition to recruit FS officers over the past 25 years has been marked by innumerable changes in testing and in the qualifications specified for candidates. Many of these changes seemed illogical and were extremely confusing to potential recruits. Additionally, DFAIT recruitment has added several positions to the entry process, and CIC has split off its exam and interview process from DFAIT.
Foreign Service (FS) positions are with either the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) in the Political/Economic and Commercial/Economic officer streams, or with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) for the Immigration officer stream. Management/Consular (MCO), Commercial (CO), Economist (ES) or Administrative (AS) officer jobs are with DFAIT; Program Manager (PM) positions are with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
Changes to Foreign Service and Other Canadian Tests Between 1984 and 2005, the form of the Foreign Service exam changed six times, with four of the changes occurring from 1999 to 2005.
Most surprising was that, after 1998, testing of candidates for the Foreign Service eliminated substantive questions about international affairs with the termination of the Foreign Service Knowledge Test (FSKT). Even in its last incarnation, the FSKT was weighted at only 10% of the cumulative score of the three tests (the FSKT, a writing test and a cognitive test) used at that time. The crucial interview component of the FS entry process had eliminated substantive international affairs questions even earlier, in 1989.
Changes to other tests involved in the overall FS entry process were puzzling as well. For about 20 years, the writing element of the testing comprised an executive summary exercise. After 2000, the executive summary was replaced by a multiple-choice test that required no writing but rather the selection of answers from options presented. Then, in the Spring 2005 competition, the summary exercise was reintroduced and the multiple-choice test dropped for FS candidates. The following year the multiple-choice writing test was reinserted and is still in use.
The cognitive tests included in the process were also changed four times between 1984 and 2005. Adding to the general uncertainty about the entry process, recruitment was cancelled five times in 26 years in DFAIT, including 2009 and 2010. CIC has recruited separately and annually since 2006.
Academic Requirements for Canadian Candidates Academic qualifications for candidates changed seven times over 27 years, going from and back a Bachelor’s degree in any discipline (1984–1992 and 1999–2010).
From 1993 to 1998, academic requirements changed each year from Master’s degrees to designated Bachelor’s degrees, often with special languages demanded. The most astounding change occurred in 1994, when Political Science and International Relations degrees were not acceptable to enter the competition unless accompanied by certain foreign language abilities. In the Spring 2005 competition, the Bachelor’s minimum remained but each “stream”, or career path, added other variants, some academic and some experiential Political/Economic candidates required two of four criteria: studies in Law, Public Admin, PoliSci/International Relations or Economics; work or study abroad; policy experience; or international organization experience. Commercial/Economic candidates required one of three criteria: work or study abroad; experience related to business, economics, finance, law, engineering, science, technology, public admin or international trade; or a language—either Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin or Russian. Immigration candidates required two of four criteria: academic work in migration or refugee issues, international development/globalization, International or Canadian Studies; work or study abroad; immigration/refugee experience with government or an NGO; or leadership skills gained through experience. Since 2006, a Bachelor’s degree with virtually no other criteria imposed has been all that is needed to qualify for all streams.
On the subject of language as a qualifying criterion, six different sets of language combinations have been used involving nine languages overall. Most frequent language requirement changes took place between 1993 and 1998, but another variant was incorporated in the Statement of Qualifications for Commercial/Economic Officers only in the 2005 competition as noted above. Perhaps most important, specialized language skills had for several years been tested once a candidate had performed well at the interview, to supplement the interview score. More recently, specialized language ability is often said to be “valued” by the government but does not play a role in augmenting interview scores.
Conclusion All the changes in academic/linguistic qualifications and in the tests themselves make it difficult for Public Service Commission and even DFAIT and CIC staff to give clear answers to inquiries. Also, the changes were pointless because no tracking has ever been done on the job suitability and success of different intake groups. However, because we have followed Foreign Service and related recruitment as a business for over 25 years, we are able to provide informed and thorough advice on all aspects of the competition. Our clients’ success in attaining DFAIT and CIC FS jobs, CO, ES and MCO positions in DFAIT, and—when offered—CIDA PM openings is testimony to our effective exam and interview prep information.
Don’t I need to “know someone” to get a position in the Foreign Service or in the other government job categories open in the annual Post-Secondary Recruitment Campaign?
Absolutely not. The recruitment process for all types of entry-level officer jobs filled through the federal government’s annual 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.
You may hear claims about people in entry-level or more advanced officer jobs who supposedly did not join government through the Post-Secondary Recruitment process or similar national intake exercises such as the Management Trainee (MTP) or Recruitment of Policy Leaders (RPL) programs. Be cautious about believing such stories. There are indeed internship, contract and term positions, single-assignment opportunities, the odd job someone “bridged” into, openings filled by exempt (former political) staff, and some high-level appointments by the party in power. But a permanent position at the officer level—or, in government speak, an indeterminate appointment—is infrequently attained directly without going through the regular staffing and evaluation processes, or is being misrepresented either unknowingly or intentionally.
How long does it take to prepare for government exams, interviews or simulations and in-basket tests using your study materials and coaching?
Each person is different in terms of time needed to prepare properly for the multiple-choice tests required. We recommend a minimum of 20 hours using the strategies in our Study Kit to learn how to take, and then practise on, all the tests.
Depending on your results and concerns, you may benefit from redoing the tests in a few days. You can also book an Exam Tutoring session with us by telephone for further guidance.
Because government interviews are behaviour-based rather than knowledge-based, you can prepare for them with us in a personal coaching session. Background materials designed expressly for government interviews are provided for review prior to the consultation, which takes place either by telephone or face-to-face depending on logistics.
In-Basket Tests and Simulations
There are various 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 held either by telephone or face-to-face as location demands.
Conclusion As to how far in advance you should prepare for particular government exams, interviews, in basket tests or simulations, it’s up to you. Some of our clients like to prepare early to allow time to consider what the study materials and coaching covered; others prefer to wait until close to the critical day so that the advice provided in the kit or in a personal coaching session is fresh in their mind.
What other preparation is available to assist me in applying for Canadian or American federal government positions, or jobs with international agencies?
No other counselling service in the world specializes in preparing clients personally for much-sought-after government and international job opportunities. We can help you because we have worked in, and counselled candidates aspiring to, these types of jobs for over 25 years.
We know exactly what is required of candidates by government and other institutional organizations with arcane staffing practices. Using this expertise, we work with you at length in a one-on-one relationship to give you a distinct advantage in highly competitive recruitment exercises. The Client Comments [click here] section on this website substantiates our international reputation for personal, practical service and effectiveness.
Why would I use a service outside the government to prepare for government job-entry or job-advancement competitions?
Three clear reasons: i) we provide informed, objective advice based on longstanding experience with institutional hiring practices; ii) we deliver personal service that you do not get from the government’s generic websites, telephone voice systems or staff who, when accessible, actually know very little about the hiring processes they discuss on the telephone or at public events; iii) we give you inside tips, which government materials and staff do not provide, to show you how to perform on each step of the multifaceted government recruitment process.
Our sole purpose is to help you succeed. And our experience and reputation, covered in the About Us and Client Comments sections of this website, prove that we ably serve the interests and personal needs of individuals from entry-level to executive-level who come to us for help.
How does your résumé and cover letter service differ from that of others in the business?
Our service is distinct in several important ways from that of virtually all other providers of career guidance:
First, our service is tailored to your needs and is delivered personally to you. It is not a generic lecture to a group or a theory derived from a book that you have to apply alone.
Second, our help goes beyond your résumé and involves several complementary elements: cover letter technique; selection, display and priming of references; creation of a convincing “sales pitch” useful in cold calls and interviews; and the unearthing of attributes from your past experience to enhance your background.
Third, we use language, text and format judiciously to elicit close review of your written material by employers.
What is your success rate in helping clients taking federal government multiple-choice tests, interviews, simulations and in basket tests?
Overall, about 10% of candidates who take government exams reach the interview pool in job competitions. In contrast, well over 40% of those who use our materials advance to the interview stage.
Typically, 15% to 18% of those interviewed for government positions get hired. On average, about 50% of the people we coach for an interview receive a job offer.
Government In-Basket and Simulation Tests
Usually around 20% of candidates taking in-basket or simulation exercises attain a pass score. The success rate for clients we coach is above 70%.
Conclusion Our success rate reflects the success of our clients in exams, interviews, in-basket tests and simulations as well as in reference checks for an array of job categories in federal departments and agencies. Many people simply “don’t know what they don’t know” about government hiring and advancement processes. We present clear, reliable, practical information to bright candidates and show them how to use it to their advantage—with proven results.
Why Use Our Services?
We are the only career coaching firm that specializes in helping candidates understand and advance in government, multilateral organization and international NGO hiring and promotion competitions—from entry level to executive level.
No service offered by government, universities or the private sector—past or present, in North America or abroad—matches our expertise or placement record over the past 25 years. The success rate of our clients in institutional hiring and promotion processes attests to the high quality training we provide. Please take the time to read the testimonials sent to us by clients and supporters displayed under Client Comments [click here].