Tips for applying to communications staffing processes

By: The Government of Canada with excerpts from the Health Canada Interview Toolkit and the Health Canada CV Writing Toolkit

If you’ve ever applied to a Government of Canada (GC) staffing process, then you know it involves a thorough process meant to qualify job seekers from across Canada. In this article, we explore some key tips and best practices to help you in your next staffing process. But first, check out Public Service Hiring 101 to learn the terminology used in hiring processes.

Finding jobs

If this is your first time applying, you must first create an account and log in to GC Jobs. Select the “Job search” tab at the top of the page. You can search jobs by keyword or, if you are a GC employee, you can search by classification, such as IS-03, IS-04, etc.

Statement of merit criteria

As explained in the Health Canada Interview Toolkit, once you have found a suitable job posting, you will notice that it includes the statement of merit criteria, which “lists the essential qualifications, asset qualifications, and operational requirements for the job. It is the metric used to assess candidates in the appointment process. Read the job posting carefully for the specific screening requirements (the section that says, “Applicants must demonstrate on their application that they meet the following criteria”).”

Tip: Always use the statement of merit criteria to update your résumé and prepare for the interview.

Tip: If you notice that you are lacking experience or competencies, ask your manager how you can gain them in your current position.

Being screened in is an opportunity to have your qualifications assessed, to see if you are the right fit for the position and the organization. Read the job posting and the statement of merit criteria very carefully. Ensure that:

If you can honestly answer yes to the four points above, and the position interests you, apply for it, even if you do not necessarily meet the asset qualifications, the organizational needs or the operational requirements. You should especially apply if the posting indicates that the appointment process will be used to establish a pool of qualified candidates.

If you decide to apply, the next step is to prepare your résumé to illustrate clearly and convincingly that what you have to offer meets the position’s and the organization’s needs. Tailoring your résumé to the job will increase your chances of being screened in and moved on to the next step in the process.


You will be asked to demonstrate how you meet the essential qualifications and asset qualifications (if applicable). During the application process, you may be asked to write a cover letter or answer screening questions.

Watch: When Demonstrating Your Experience, K I S S Keep It Simple S'il Vous Plait (1.5 hours)

Tip: The Interview toolkit suggests that before updating your résumé, writing a cover letter, or answering the screening questions, research the organization, the department’s mission statement, the HR plan, websites, and other literature to help guide your answers. Understanding the type of programs and work the organization does can help you choose the best examples and draw parallels between your work and the position for which you are applying.

Tip: Read the fine print. The job posting and the application website may have additional information about how to apply. For example, instructions about what to include in the cover letter may be in the job posting, while information about screening questions could be found on the application webpage.

In your cover letter or in your answers to the screening questions, you should provide a detailed description of how you acquired the experience. It is recommended that for each essential qualification, you provide two or three concrete examples, rather than just one example that doesn’t show the breadth of your experience. If you write only one short paragraph per essential qualification, then you have not provided enough detail to assess your experience. Also, be sure to clearly indicate in your examples how you led or were directly involved in delivering a project or initiative. You can be screened out of the process if your application speaks only to how you may have supported a project as part of a larger team. The use of “I” versus “we” is an important distinction when you are answering screening questions. 

Tip: Be sure to respect the word count or character limit for each question. Verify that your text is not cut off at the bottom of the text boxes before submitting. This happens when your answer exceeds the character limit.

Tip: Always include the 5Ws in your example describing how you meet the essential qualifications: who, what, where, when, and why. If you have not answered all 5Ws, your answer will be lacking some of the details needed to explain how you gained the experience.

Tip: For screening questions, always double-check that you have selected the right answer (“yes” or “no”) when you tick the box about whether you meet the qualification above each screening question. If you select “no” when asked about essential qualifications, you will be automatically screened out, even if you provided a detailed answer in the text box. Attention to detail is key.

Tip: Reuse the same keywords from the questions for your answers and examples.


When writing or updating your résumé, make sure that it reflects the essential qualifications from the job posting. You must also ensure that the information you provide is true. It may be verified and any false or fraudulent information can lead to serious consequences, such as rejection of your application, revocation of your job in the public service if you have already been hired, and/or criminal investigation. While this is not the place for false modesty, it is also not the place for exaggeration or embellishment.

Watch: Stand-Out Resume Formats and Techniques (1.5 hours) and follow along with the  GC Jobs: Connecting you and your future (accessible only on the Government of Canada network) presentation.

Read: Résumé writing do & don'ts

Use the following checklist from the Health Canada CV writing toolkit to make sure your résumé is ready to be submitted.

Editing checklist

Lastly, check out the Repository of resumes for inspiration in creating your own resume and the Knowing your Skills and interests Presentation.

Written exams

Many staffing processes will include a written exam to evaluate your knowledge and/or abilities. The job posting and the invitation to the written exam will indicate which criteria will be assessed during the exam.

Tip: To prepare for an exam, research the department or agency’s priorities and programs. Learn about them by visiting the organization’s website and social media platforms.

During the exam, you may be asked questions to demonstrate your knowledge and abilities. You will more than likely also be asked to write communications products and/or develop a presentation, solve a problem, and demonstrate your ability to write.

Tip: Have some communications templates on hand for the written exam, such as communication plans, news releases, and briefing notes.

Tip: Make sure that you can demonstrate your knowledge of the Policy on Communications and Federal Identity and how it is applied.

Read the exam questions several times to make sure you understand them. Many candidates are not successful because they misunderstand questions and do not answer them appropriately. Also, leave some time to review and edit your answers because you will certainly be evaluated on your ability to communicate effectively in writing. Ensure your text is properly structured, that your ideas flow, and that they are coherent.

Tip: Save your work often and manage your time. Written exams are usually timed (unless you need accommodations) and if you lose your work, you will not be afforded more time.

The interview

During the interview, you will be given questions based on the information from the job posting. Usually, the questions are based on competencies, such as attention to detail, ability to work under pressure, judgment, dependability, etc. The questions frequently focus on how you would deal with a challenging project or colleague, problem solving, and how you manage your priorities. You may sometimes receive the questions ahead of time (usually about 30 minutes) to prepare your answers. Use this time wisely.

Read: Interview Guide by Michel Brazeau

Watch: Career Basics (with English Subtitle) (1.5 hours)

Tip: To save time during your interview preparation, brainstorm ahead of time to come up with examples of answers based on your experience. Look at the job posting and consult with colleagues who have gone through similar interviews to deduce what types of questions could be asked. If you have examples ready ahead of time, you can use your time more efficiently to prepare for your interview.      

Remember that you are also being evaluated on your ability to communicate orally. Check your flow and speed as you talk (don’t talk too fast) and structure your ideas. Using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) is a good technique to organize your ideas and thoughts.

STAR technique for interview answers:

You should be able to provide an example of a time you demonstrated each of the key qualifications outlined in the job posting and on your résumé. You may not need to use STAR examples for every question asked but, by identifying and practising STAR examples, you will be more comfortable talking about your skills and qualifications. Also include the 5Ws: who, where, when, what, and most importantly, why, which is an opportunity to explain your thought processes and demonstrate that you can think things through. Provide detailed answers with the names of the organizations you worked for and the dates you worked for them. Also, demonstrate how you accomplished tasks and why you chose to do the thing you did.

Tip: Focus on tasks that you did. Do not speak in “we” (you and your team); talk about yourself and your specific role in a situation or project. You are the person being assessed, not your colleagues.

Simply telling a story about a situation is only part of presenting a STAR answer. Think about your examples and be certain that you understand what happened and why you made specific decisions and took certain actions, and how these were related to the final results. Use storytelling techniques. The Polywogg HR guide explains that generally speaking, there are three main types of questions:

Watch: Applying TikTok Principles to Interview Storytelling (1.5 hours)

Watch: How to master interview skills in the Canadian public service (1 hour)

Watch: The art of the pitch (1 hour)

The Interview toolkit discusses three types of questions you can expect.

Job knowledge questions for the interview

These questions assess knowledge that is essential to job performance and must be known before starting the job. These questions often deal with the job’s technical aspects or the basic knowledge that is essential to learning the job. Depending on the job’s level and requirements, these questions can assess basic professional competencies or very complex managerial skills.

Example: “What are the steps involved in developing a communications plan?”

Situational questions for the interview

These questions usually involve a hypothetical job situation. You must respond by describing what you would do in a given situation.

Example: “If you were appointed manager, what would you do to build more cohesive work teams?”

Behaviour-based questions for the interview

Behaviour-based interview questions rest on the premise that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. They are a valuable means of finding out whether candidates have demonstrated their qualifications in real situations.

Example: “Can you tell me about a difficult situation working with a colleague, client, or partner on a project and how you approached the situation to get the job done?”

Use the following checklist from the Health Canada Interview toolkit to make sure you are ready.

Interview day checklist

After the interview

The Interview toolkit recommends that “as soon as possible after the interview, take time to reflect on what went well and what didn’t. Be positive, objective, and as honest with yourself as possible. Write down what went well and what you learned from the process. Consider how you managed your non-verbal behaviour, your presentation, and how you concluded the interview. You should also write down important accomplishments you forgot to mention, skills you didn’t highlight enough, or any errors you want to correct for future interviews.” Finally, write down as many questions you can remember so that you can practice for other interviews. Don’t forget to evaluate the job itself. Is it the right fit for your goals?

You can also check in with the hiring department by writing a follow-up email.


Sometimes, you may be asked to provide the name of your current and previous manager or supervisor as a reference. Other times, you may be able to choose your references. In this case,  you’ll want to choose the right people when selecting your references. Make sure they are directors, managers, colleagues, or partners who have seen your best work and think favourably of you. It’s a best practice to request permission before handing out a reference’s name and contact information. Filling out reference documents is time consuming and not everyone wants to be a reference. It’s also a best practice to prepare a refresher email for the people in question with examples of the work you did with them and how you demonstrated your competencies doing that work, to help jog their memories.

Read: Next Step getting your references in order

Watch: Not Done Yet...Equip Yourself for Beyond the Process (1.5 hours)

Pools and networking

Each job posting has an “intent of the process” section where it indicates whether a pool of qualified candidates will be established. For those processes that do create a pool, you will be informed by email if you are successful and have been placed in a pool. You may be offered the position for which you applied, but do not count on it.

Read: Getting in the Pool

This is the time to use your network and let people know that you have made it into a pool. Note that a hiring manager can pull you from another department’s pool. If you want to move up, or laterally, within your own organization, you may want to inform your management team and talk to your manager about opportunities. You can also contact former colleagues and managers to see if they have any openings in their organizations.

You can also share your availability for new opportunities in groups such as the GCconnex Career Marketplace (accessible only on the Government of Canada network) or the GC Communications (Informal/Unofficial) Facebook group. Lastly, make sure to contact the Communications Community Office to ask to be added to their at-level list or list of candidates who have qualified on a departmental pool; this list is shared with hiring managers looking to fill positions in their organizations. 

Request an informal discussion

The Interview toolkit explains that “under the Public Service Employment Act, the appointment process includes the opportunity for a candidate who has been eliminated from consideration to request an informal discussion before an appointment is made. An informal discussion is a one-on-one meeting with a manager or assessment board member to obtain information about your results.”

Read: Guidance Series - Participating in Informal Discussion

The toolkit also says that “The informal discussion is an opportunity to find out why you were eliminated from consideration in an appointment process so you can learn from that information. It’s a chance for you to get valuable feedback that you can apply to your career development. Ask for specific information on the expected answers, on your strong points at the interview, and on what you need to improve for the next time.”

“Welcome suggestions for improvement and be sure to say “thank you.” You want to encourage the person to give you honest feedback so that you can learn the most from the experience.”

“If you are not successful, don’t be discouraged. Keep in mind that all interviews are developmental. Most importantly, do not take it personally! Your preparation before each interview, your practice during each interview, and the feedback you receive after each interview can only improve your performance the next time. Good luck!”

Additional resources:


  1. Government of Canada. (n.d.). Health Canada Interview Toolkit (accessible only on the Government of Canada network). GCconnex.
  2. Government of Canada. (n.d.). Health Canada CV writing toolkit (accessible only on the Government of Canada network). GCconnex. 
  3. Government of Canada. (n.d.). STAR.
  4. Polywogg. (n.d.). HR Guide.


  1. Brazeau, M. (n.d.). Practical Guidelines to help prepare for Interviews [PowerPoint slides]. Government of Canada. 
  2. Canada School of Public Service. (n.d.) Principles of Effective Workplace Storytelling [Word document]. Government of Canada.
  3. GC Communications (Informal/Unofficial). (n.d.) Home [Facebook page]. Facebook. Retrieved June 23, 2022.
  4. Government of Canada. (2020, March 31). Applying for Government of Canada jobs: What to expect.
  5. Government of Canada. (2015, December 31). Archived - Guidance Series - Assessment, Selection and Appointment.
  6. Government of Canada. (2022, January 18). Applying TikTok Principles to Interview Storytelling [Video]. YouTube.
  7. Government of Canada. (n.d.). Applying to Public Service Processes - Screening Questions and Resumes Resources 2021. GCcollab.
  8. Government of Canada. (2022, January 18). Career basics [Video]. YouTube.
  9. Government of Canada. (2022, January 18). Career Boot Camp/Resume Styles. GCcollab.
  10. Government of Canada. (n.d.). Career Marketplace. GCconnex.
  11. Government of Canada. (2022, January 18). Demystifying the Building Blocks of the GC Hiring Process [Video]. YouTube.
  12. Government of Canada. (2022, January 18). GC Jobs [Video]. YouTube.
  13. Government of Canada. (n.d.). Getting in the pool. GCcollab.
  14. Government of Canada. (2015, December 31). Guidance Series - Participating in Informal Discussion.
  15. Government of Canada. (n.d.). How to apply. GCcollab.
  16. Government of Canada. (2022, January 18). How to master interview skills in the Canadian public service [Video]. Vimeo.
  17. Government of Canada. (n.d.). Interview finished, so what’s next? GCcollab.
  18. Government of Canada. (n.d.). Next Step getting your references in order. GCcollab.
  19. Government of Canada. (2022, January 25). Not Done Yet...Equip Yourself for Beyond the Process [Video]. YouTube.
  20. Government of Canada (Retrieved June 23, 2022), Policy on Communications and Federal Identity.
  21. Government of Canada. (n.d.). Résumé writing do’s and don’ts. GCconnex. 
  22. Government of Canada. (2022, January 18). Stand-Out Resume Formats and Techniques [Video]. YouTube.
  23. Government of Canada. (2022, January 18). The art of the pitch [Video]. YouTube.
  24. Government of Canada. (2022, January 18). When Demonstrating Your Experience, K I S S Keep It Simple S'il Vous Plait [Video]. YouTube.
  25. Lahyane, Z. (n.d.). GC Jobs: Connecting you and your future (accessible only on the Government of Canada network) [PowerPoint slides]. Government of Canada. 
  26. Sacca, A. (2022, January). Knowing your skills and interests: Fitting in or finding fit [PowerPoint slides]. Government of Canada. 

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