Friday, September 12, 2008

CPSRENEWAL.CA Weekly: An Interview With a New Hire

In order to shed some light on the on-boarding process, one of the governments new post secondary recruits has agreed to participate in an interview with [CPSR]. It is my pleasure today to introduce you to New Hire [NH]. Hello NH, thanks for agreeing to speak with us, how are you today?

[NH] Good. Thanks for inviting me.

[CPSR]: Can you speak a little bit about how you wound up working for the federal government?

[NH]: In September ‘07 I was in my last semester of grad school at Carleton. I had just wrapped up a co-op term in the government and was disappointed by how things played out over the 4 months I spent working in the public service. But I decided to give it another go when the Post-Secondary Recruitment Campaigns started up again in late September.

[CPSR]: So, you applied to PSR?

[NH]: Yes, about 7 of the big guns were all conducting post-secondary recruitment campaigns, and all of them were promising challenging careers and the opportunity to “hit the ground running” in their new job.

[CPSR]: How was the recruitment process?

[NH]: It was a very busy time at school – my schedule was overloaded so I could finish my master's early and I was working part time. The online application process was way too time-consuming. I remember coming home from school at eleven o’clock at night and being bombarded with midnight deadlines. I tried to complete the applications, but they were ridiculously tedious. I realized quickly that I wouldn’t be able complete all of the separate applications, so I focused on a single process.

[CPSR]: And you were successful?

Yes, in November, I got an e-mail from the government – I had been screened in for an interview and I was to bring my transcripts and three letters of recommendation to the interview. Unfortunately I only had 4 business days to gather all the documents. This was no easy task given that even simple administrative requests take weeks at most Universities. I wondered how I would track down professors and past employers and lobby them for recommendation letters in such a short time frame. I did however manage to gather everything I needed for the interview. I was very nervous. I had never been interviewed for a position in government before. After completing the interview I was satisfied but unsure if the answers I had provided were the ones they were looking for.

[CPSR]: Were they?

[NH]: They were. In late December I was notified again by e-mail that I made it through the screening process and was invited to attend a two-day interviewing process. The itinerary was intimidating. The days started at 8 in the morning, and included breakfasts, lunches, dinners, receptions, meeting managers, meeting past recruits, interviews, and tours of the Parliament building.

[CPSR]: Sounds like a pretty full day.

[NH]: It was. The entire experience was absolutely overwhelming.

[CPSR]: How did it feel to be lumped in with the country’s ‘best and brightest’?

[NH]: I was proud that I had been selected from a group of seven thousand applicants. The recruiters telling me how much the public service needed me, and how our skills would help ensure that Canada’s public service remained one of the best in the world sure didn’t hurt either. Collectively the group was made to feel as though we would all find ourselves filling a specific niche in fast-paced working environments. There was also a lot of emphasis placed on our ability to quickly move through the ranks of the public service via the development program, and we were reassured multiple times that the entry level wages were just the tip of the financial iceberg.

[CPSR]: You had said earlier that you were disappointed with your first experience working as a co-op student, how did this experience change that?

[NH]: I was glad to see that the public service impressed me. The process was long and tiring but given the commitment shown in the recruitment process, I had my heart set on getting a position.

[CPSR]: And you got a position, didn’t you?

[NH]: By the middle of January I had received two separate offers from the same department. I was absolutely ecstatic and considered this to be one of my greatest achievements. My family, friends, professors and colleagues were all equally proud of me. I felt like all of my hard work had paid off, and I was eager to put myself to the test. I accepted the job of policy analyst and I couldn’t believe that it took only two months to transition from grad school into a wonderful new job in the public service.

[CPSR]: Congrats, it took me about 8 months to make the same jump. How was it when you started your work, did you ‘hit the ground running’ in a high-paced working environment?

[NH]: Despite coming in really pumped from the recruitment process, the first week on the job was very slow. My manager was away and the rest of the team generally kept to themselves. I spent the first week eating lunch alone.

[CPSR]: Your new colleagues ignored you altogether?

[NH]: No, they introduced themselves, but quickly went back to their cubicles without giving it a second thought. Later on another PSR started and despite our differences we got along smashingly. Having someone to relate to took a lot of the edge off.

[CPSR]: You said your manager was away when you started? How did you keep busy?

[NH]: I tried to navigate my new work environment the best I could. I tried to read as much as possible. I tried to stay positive, and remind myself that beginnings are always difficult. I was fully expecting things to pick up as soon as my manager came back from vacation. I figured she would be able to clarify my tasks and help me learn the ropes.

[CPSR]: Did things change when your manager returned?

[NH]: Sadly, not much changed. It took days before a “welcome to the team” e-mail was even sent out to our group and the rest of the directorate to introduce me and the other PSR. A senior team member introduced me around, but that was about as much interaction I had with my team.

[CPSR]: Did you meet with your manager to discuss what you were experiencing?

[NH]: No, for weeks, my manager seemed busy and distracted. We never sat down for an introduction, and I never got the opportunity to tell her who I was or how excited I was to be there. It quickly became apparent that there was no plan for me. I was assigned small tasks on an ad-hoc basis. I languished in my cubicle, even though my team appeared to be busy.

[CPSR]: In retrospect, how would you compare your expectation and your experience after having completed the PSR?

[NH]: The promises made to me during the recruitment process were absolutely false. I was not hired to fill a specific need nor was I working in a fast-paced environment. The development program had been on hold for over a year and was not accepting new candidates. I felt betrayed and desperate. I tried several times to talk to my manager, but for some reason we could never have an honest conversation. It seemed to me like she was more interested in making me feel thankful for what I did have, rather then addressing what was missing. I repeatedly struggled to find the right words to express my concerns, but I left every meeting feeling helpless.

[CPSR]: If things were that bad, why not just leave? You were successful once, you could do it again.

[NH]: I have a very strong sense of loyalty, I wanted her to know how grateful I was to have the job and that I was more then ready to work hard. I didn’t want to sullen my professional image. I was not looking for special treatment.

[CPSR]: What could she have done in order to help guide you through the situation?

[NH]: A simple informal meeting with my manager would have helped greatly. If she had sat down at the outset and said: “The beginning of your public service career will most likely be uneventful. Don’t expect to do a lot of high profile work during this time; you need to learn about the process first. But don’t worry I have a plan for you, over the next year I want you to immerse yourself in your file and become an expert on it. You need to practice these skills and abilities. Here are a handful of conferences that may be of interest. I am trying to set you up to be successful in the future. If you follow through with this then bigger things will inevitably come your way.”

[CPSR]: So having a game plan and a position is probably all you needed to make you feel better about the way things had turned out? Did you ever have that meeting?

[NH]: No, it never came, and I never found out exactly what was planned for me. I felt like little more then an office decoration. I remember attending a team meeting a few months after my start date and having literally NO idea what my team mates were talking about because I either wasn’t in the loop by accident or I was purposely kept out of the loop. I was reaching the boiling point, if I had not had a large student debt looming over my head, I would have quit.

[CPSR]: You aren’t still in that boat, are you? Withholding your resignation due to financial pressures?

[NH]: No, in May I attended the Orientation to the Public Service, a mandatory two-day training session offered by the Canada School of Public Service. While courses were somewhat useful, what the two-day training session offered was a chance to speak to other new public servants. Some of whom had been working for the Government for over a year and were willing and able to provide help and advice. I have kept in contact with some of them, and their helpful guidance has been a bright light at the end of the dark “new public servant” tunnel.

[CPSR]: Does anything in particular standout?

[NH]: One person in particular has encouraged me to get involved in the workplace. He taught me that nothing precludes you from trying to make your present work environment better, while looking for a better work environment to work in. Most importantly he has shown me that I am not alone in my struggles. He helped me discover that there are other intelligent and capable new hires who were not being used to their full potential but who refused to just resign themselves to that as a cold hard fact. His determination to affect change, even in the smallest modicum, is most encouraging.

[CPSR]: So things are getting better?

[NH]: Yes, my state of mind has definitely improved – I have gained the confidence to voice my honest concerns to my colleagues, and I have spoken to my manager about my needs. I am feverishly applying to positions all over the government and am already being screened into the processes. In short, I feel more at home in the public service. Given the opportunity for mobility within the public service, I feel confident that I will be able to find a position that gives me what I need as well as uses my full potential to the advantage of the organization.

[CPSR]: Do you have any final words of wisdom, or lessons to share with our readership?

[NH]: My one piece of advice to new public servants, especially those who are struggling, would be to get out and meet people. Despite its shortcomings, the public service is filled with knowledgeable and extremely friendly people who are willing to help you when you need it. Never hesitate to ask for help, and never turn down an opportunity to meet with a colleague. Often, a 15-minute coffee break can do more for your career development or morale than an entire day at your desk. Creating and maintaining networks is crucial, learning from them, paramount.

[CPSR]: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview, and good luck.

*** please note that NH is not actually pictured above ***


  1. Fantastic interview. Something to consider to get it a slightly broader range of readership would be to submit a condensed version as an E.X. File - seems to be a good fit for that column.

  2. Wow, that was like reading my autobiography! Thanks for posting this interview - it made me feel a bit less alone.

    My onboarding process has been rocky, to say the least. I think one of the many 'highlights' was being told that I had to move from my hometown to Ottawa with only 2 weeks' notice.

    Currently, I'm feeling pretty disappointed, but I can't seem to pinpoint whether it's with my assignment, my department, or the public service in general. I fear that I will become complacent. I'm not going to give up on the public service just yet, but I'm completely willing to move on if things don't change...