Before you look through our Qs & As for advice on how Canadian Foreign Service Officer hiring typically works, the following introductory comments explain inconsistencies in the recruitment process in recent years:
Since 2013, the Foreign Affairs department—now Global Affairs Canada (GAC)—has recruited infrequently, largely because of hiring cutbacks. Over the same period, Citizenship and Immigration Canada—now called Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)—recruited in the traditional manner through the annual Post-Secondary Recruitment (PSR) campaign in most years.
In 2014-2015, Foreign Affairs held an internal competition for people working there then or previously in term or contract positions. Hundreds participated, about 100 were interviewed, and about 30 were hired. Do not confuse this rare internal competition with the standard PSR campaign competition for external candidates.
In July 2016, Global Affairs concluded a set of abbreviated interviews for external candidates who had applied to Foreign Affairs two to three years earlier, in the PSR campaigns of 2013 and 2014. Longer and more complex traditional interviews also began in July 2016 for external candidates from the 2015 PSR campaign held the previous fall. While Global Affairs recruited in the 2016 PSR campaign, it cancelled the process before proceeding to the interview stage and did not recruit again until the 2019 PSR campaign.
IRCC recruited in the 2016 PSR campaign but not in the 2017 or 2018 campaigns. Instead—for the first time ever—it opened its own Inventory competition in September 2018 with an August 2020 closing date. The enthusiastic response caused IRCC to close the competition early, in June 2019. It conducted four tranches of interviews based on that process and returned to regular recruitment in the fall 2019 PSR campaign, with an offer of 20 jobs.
Given that Global Affairs had not hired through the PSR campaign since 2015, applications soared when its poster offering 100 Foreign Service officer jobs appeared in the 2019 campaign. This may have contributed to the massive Public Service Commission website crash when thousands logged on to write the initial unsupervised set of Public Service Entrance Exams (PSEEs) in late October 2019. The standard requirement to write this online screening version of the exams (Step 1) was dropped, and all applicants were moved direct to the supervised in-class version (Step 2), conducted over a greatly extended time period.
To see the evolution of the "Foreign Service exam(s)" from the 1980s onward, click on Changes to Foreign Service and Other Tests from the 1980s. This overview is provided to dispel misinformation about the testing process frequently given to aspiring candidates by out-of-date advisors, and to inform those who may have applied to the competition in the past under significantly different rules. While not essential reading, the details may be of interest to those seeking to join the Foreign Service with an enhanced understanding of its recruitment history.
When does registration open, what are the steps from registration 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 application period opens in mid-to-late September and closes in mid-October. For 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-person 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. The online PSEE is administered in late October or November, after which candidates are told if they may proceed to the stage of in-person testing. It is now 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 tests are “referred” by the Public Service Commission to the hiring departments or agencies to which they applied. Results appear on candidate profiles no sooner than mid- to late December. Candidates then are placed in a “pool” from which interviewees are selected. Cut-off scores vary each year to reach the interview pool for Global Affairs and IRCC positions.
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 possible that nothing may be communicated to you until significantly later. Interviews are behaviour-based and assess psychological “competencies” related to the job, not international affairs knowledge.lick here to see more details on government interviews and our Interview Coaching.
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 will have to undergo some combination of official language evaluation rarely but possibly evaluation of other specified languages, security clearance, medical check, and a behaviour-based reference check. You are contacted to set up medical and language-testing activities. 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.
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.
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 offer was possible which allowed the candidate up to 12 months of full-time official language training at 80% of the salary until the level of language proficiency stated in the job poster was attained. Now, bilingualism may be required in order to receive an offer and without any training provided. New language guidelines are a work in progress—not spelled out, not publicized, and confusing to everyone.
Intake Process Length: Ten to twelve months usually elapse in most competitions from the time the Post-Secondary Recruitment campaign application period 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.
How have tests and criteria to apply to Global Affairs (GAC, formerly DFAIT and CIDA) and Immigration (IRCC, formerly CIC) jobs changed over time?
The Canadian government recruitment competition over the past 25 years has been marked by changes in testing and innumerable alterations in the qualifications specified for candidates. Many changes seemed illogical and were extremely confusing to potential recruits. Global Affairs recruitment has added several positions to the entry process, including former CIDA positions (which were recruited for separately in the past but have been folded into Global Affairs since merging with it) and non-rotational Commerce and Policy officer positions. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC, formerly CIC) split off its recruitment from Global Affairs long ago and it runs separately.
Foreign Service (FS) positions are with either Global Affairs Canada in the Political Economic, International Trade, Management Consular, and International Development streams, or with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for the Immigration officer stream. Commerce officer (CO) and Policy officer (EC) jobs are with GAC.
Note: Historical Overview in the box below is provided to dispel lingering misinformation about the testing process frequently given by out-of-date advisors to aspiring candidates, or to update candidates planning to enter the competition again who did so in the somewhat distant past under different rules. It is not essential rending but may be of interest to aspiring FSs.
Changes to Foreign Service and Other Tests: 1980s to Present
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 interview component of the FS entry process 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. Writing exercises of different types may now take place before, at or after interviews. The cognitivetests included in the process were also changed four times between 1984 and 2005.
Adding to general uncertainty about the entry process, recruitment was cancelled seven times in 28 years in DFAIT, including 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013. IRCC (formerly CIC) has recruited separately since 2006 and does so most years. CIDA recruited independently and intermittently for many years and now these positions are with Global Affairs.
The 2011 Post-Secondary Recruitment competition introduced an online test, the Public Service Entrance Exam (PSEE), which had to be passed before candidates were invited to the in-person cognitive (GRT), judgment (SJT) and written (WCPT) exams.
In 2013, the online PSEE became a two-part exercise. The original PSEE "math-type" test was named PSEE Sub-test 1 (Reasoning) and a new PSEE Sub-test 2 (Judgement) was added. The in-person tests that followed in 2013 included only the GRT and SJT, as the WCPT was dropped. Since 2014, the same two PSEE tests used online have also been used for supervised, in-person testing, with only the number of questions and time limit changed, and eliminating the GRT and SJT completely from the entry level recruitment process.
Academic Requirements to Apply Academic qualifications for candidates have changed many times over 30 years, going from and back to a Bachelor’s degree in any discipline (1984-1992 and 1999-2016).
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. Since 2006, a Bachelor’s degree with occasional discipline or specialization criteria imposed for selected streams has been all that is needed to qualify to apply.
Foreign Languages On the subject of foreign languages as a qualifying criterion, multiple different sets of language combinations have been used involving more than a dozen languages overall. Most frequent language requirement changes took place between 1993 and 1998, but another variant was incorporated for Commercial/Economic Officers only in the 2005 competition. Perhaps most important, specialized language skills had on several occasions been tested once a candidate performed well at the interview, to factor in with the interview score. More recently, specialized language ability was often said to be “valued” by the government but typically was used to screen multilingual candidates from the short-list for a job offer to an in-depth language test to advance in the pool.
As of 2016, changes to use selected Asian and perhaps other languages prevailing in countries important to Canada for trade were considered as a means to advance multilingual candidates in competitions. If that may continue to be done and when the evaluation would take place in the competitive process—possibly before interviews—has not been determined or communicated to the public or prospective candidates.
Note: All the changes in academic/linguistic qualifications and in the tests themselves make it difficult for Public Service Commission, GAC and IRCC staff to give clear answers to inquiries. Also, the changes are pointless because no tracking has ever been done on the job suitability and success of different intake groups.
Are advanced degrees and/or high marks essential to be interviewed and hired by the federal government?
No, although exceptions may occur in certain specialized competitions.
Government hiring is based virtually exclusively on what are known as “competencies” which are tested in exams, interviews and reference checks. Advanced degrees, marks, scholarships, languages and experience are not typically used in a definitive way because, in the early stages of evaluation at any rate, they cannot be quantified by government examiners. The behaviour-based testing approach, while often incomprehensible to external applicants for government jobs, is consistent with internal methods used for evaluating and promoting government employees up to and including senior levels.
Note: In recent past competitions for Global Affairs and IRCC, candidate applications were screened by computer to select individuals for the interview pool who had passed the second round of PSEE testing often with somewhat low scores but who had ticked off certain boxes in the online template. Experience abroad, past policy work, stakeholder/client service interaction or selected languages were areas of note. That said, no one involved in the assessment process actually read and tried to evaluate what candidates said to support the skill(s) they checked off, so the scrutiny to develop interview pools was flawed.
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), Advanced Policy Analyst (APAP) 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 does your company know what the federal government is looking for on multiple-choice tests, at interviews, and in other recruitment procedures such as simulations, in basket tests, written and Candidate Achievement Record (CAR) tests, resumés and online applications, 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. We take the entrance exams every year to stay current, and we update our study materials accordingly.
Our preparation is based on four things:
thorough analysis of recruitment and promotion processes for 25+ years
consultations with senior government executives, informed staff and interviewers, many of whom we have coached frequently over their careers
debriefings conducted with clients following recruitment and promotion exercises
longstanding 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 up to and including executive levels. Our personal coaching dispels the rumours and conjecture surrounding government staffing procedures, and teaches clients how to excel against the competition.
How long does it take to prepare for government exams and interviews 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 20 hours using the strategies in our PSEE Study Materials [click here] to learn how to take, and then practise on, all the tests.
Government Interviews Because government face-to-face, telephone or video conference interviews are behaviour-based rather than knowledge-based, 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 consultation [click here].
As to how far in advance you should prepare for particular government exams and interviews, it’s up to you. Some of our clients like to prepare early to allow plenty of 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 PSEE materials or in personal interview coaching sessions is fresh and recent.
What is your success rate in helping clients?
Government Tests Overall, between 8% and 10% of candidates who take government tests reach the interview pool in job competitions. Typically, about 65% of those in the pool are interviewed. In contrast, about two-thirds of those who use our materials advance not only to the pool but also to the interview stage.
Typically, 15% to 18% of those interviewed for government positions get hired. On average, about 65% of the people we coach for an interview receive a job offer the first time they are assessed or after they have worked with us because they failed previously in interviews.