Effective  Merit Criteria - A closer look at job  opportunities in the public service

What we did

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  • We randomly reviewed a sample of 100 external job ads for the most common classification groups found in the federal public service
  • To support inclusivity in hiring practices, we looked at the merit criteria to identify potential barriers

What we found

The vast majority of job ads reviewed contained potential barriers for external candidates

Common practices with potential barriers:

  • Qualifications that can only be acquired through previous government employment
  • Knowledge that can easily be learned on the job
  • Emphasis on experience vs ability

1. Qualifications that can only be acquired through previous government employment

Real examples:

  • Experience editing, coordinating, reviewing, formatting and proofreading ministerial correspondence, briefing notes and other presentation material
  • Experience working in a natural resource-based government department or industry
  • Experience in the materiel management/procurement field within the federal public service
  • Knowledge of federal government security procedures as they apply to classified documents


  • Using government-specific terms limits the candidate pool to only those with previous government experience

2. Knowledge that can easily be learned on the job

Real examples:

  • Knowledge of  the National Joint Council travel directive
  • Knowledge of sections 32, 33 and 34 of the Financial Administration Act
  • Knowledge of Treasury Board’s directive and travel procedures
  • Knowledge of the Finance and Administration Branch


  • Impedes opportunities to recruit quality candidates who could easily acquire the knowledge on the job
  • Makes the assessment process more cumbersome than it has to be, potentially affecting time to staff

3. Emphasis on experience vs. ability

Real examples:

  • Experience in supervising staff
  • Experience in a facility that repairs heavy machinery
  • Experience in practicing law


  • Experience and ability provide different and complementary information
  • May provide false assurance of a candidate’s ability to perform a certain task (having done it ≠ being good at it)
  • Find a balance between experience and ability by taking the requirements of the position into consideration as well as the feeder pool

Other observations

  • Use of these terms to quantify the level of experience could discourage quality candidates from applying and could be viewed as discriminatory (for example, period away from work due to medical reasons, family responsibilities):
    • Recent
    • Significant
    • Extensive
  • Consider explaining the reason for the qualifier (for example, a new technological environment, new act, change in policy) rather than using a number of months or year, or other temporal expression
  • Use of government-specific acronyms or terms:
    • PMP
    • WFA
    • SAP
  • Consider explaining the need in a way that can be understood by external applicants

Key takeaways

Express merit criteria in a way that reflects qualifications for the job without creating barriers

  • Consider own organizational needs and context
  • Adapt merit criteria to feeder pool
  • Focus on clear and simple language
  • Pay attention to the linguistic equivalence in both official languages
  • Avoid re-using previous merit criteria without questioning their relevance
  • Don’t copy the work description’s key activities

Want to know more?

Your human resources advisor can help you establish effective merit criteria that will allow candidates to demonstrate their interest and attract a broader range of talent to your organization!

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