Still haven’t gotten past the online screening questions in your quest to join the federal government? You are not alone.

A job in the public service offers a lot of benefits that the private industry just can’t compete with, like permanency, stability, and above average benefits and pensions. Once you’re in, you’re in – but it can take a long time to get there. Trust me, I’ve done it! Here are my top tips to break through the first layer of screening: the online application.

#5 Copy-paste your answers from other selection processes

If you are applying to government jobs, chances are you are not just applying to just one. Besides the fact that government job postings are vague in terms of what the position will actually entail, the federal government is so vast that it won’t hurt your reputation to apply for many processes at the same time. It can become tedious to write the same types of answers to very similar screening questions over and over again. The solution? Save your completed answers all together in one word document to start your personal treasury of screening question responses that you can reuse and rework for many processes in the future. Make sure to edit your pre-fabricated responses if they are not exactly fitting to the screening question and tailor appropriately.

If you’ve already applied to a few selection processes and haven’t saved anything, don’t worry: your responses can be retrieved in the application system! From the main jobs menu, select ‘Status of job applications’ and click ‘View Application’ for any process you have submitted for. Each question and answer are saved here for you to review at any time.

#4 Start your answer using the exact phrasing as the question

It may sound inane, but remember that real people do not usually read your screening questions – at least not at first. They are read primordially by machines which look for key words. So give them those key words!

Example: `Do you have a degree from a recognized Canadian university with an acceptable specialization in Economics, Sociology, Statistics or another discipline relevant to the position?’

Answer: ‘I have a degree from a recognized Canadian university with an acceptable specialization in Economics, Sociology, Statistics or another discipline relevant to the position. I have a bachelor’s degree from Queen’s University in Business and Economics. Graduation date was 2015.’

#3 Follow the formatting requirements, if specified

Some government departments want your responses to follow a particular format. If you do not adhere to the requirements, it can be seen as an inability to follow instructions and can result in your elimination from the process.

One selection process indicated:
‘Use the following format: Title of position/job; Period of time in the job (From month/year – to month/year); Duration of experience (number of months/years); Description of how you meet the qualification.’

Potential answer:
‘Teaching Assistant, University of British Columbia; 09/2014 – 04/2015; 8 months; I was in charge of teaching tutorials for the course ‘Econometrics 101′ for first year students. My duties included facilitating debate and conversation, explaining concepts in detail, and answering students’ questions. I was responsible for grading mid and end of term exams as well as research papers, at the professor’s discretion.’

#2 Give sufficient details (and stretch if necessary)

It is not enough to simply use the drop-down box to select ‘Yes’ for every screening question. You must give ample information in the ‘complementary question’ section that follows. Once a real person starts reading your answers, they will be looking for substance. Examples with details prove that you really have that experience collecting information from a variety of sources. Just like a police lie-detector, the selection process favours those answers which seem plausible with sufficient amount of detail – and coming up with specifics is always much easier when speaking (or writing) the truth.

Can you embellish? Sure, but don’t go over the top, because it’s probably not worth the effort. Can you stretch your experience to be more relevant to the job? Absolutely.  But within limits, of course. If you have experience ‘writing minutes and briefing notes for senior management (EX-01 and above)’ from your volunteer position at your community association, definitely include that! Just because you haven’t provided the briefing notes to someone in the government doesn’t mean you haven’t provided them to an executive at an equivalent level at a different organization. The skills are the same.

#1 Don’t waste time perfecting your answers

Time is money, even when you are unemployed. The number one tip I can give you is to not obsess over whether your commas are in the right place or if you have the precise start date of your previous employment. If you meet the screening requirements and the position requires writing expertise, you will be tested with a written examination on a topic relevant to the job. Investing hours into crafting beautifully written responses will not get you the return you are hoping for; having substantial answers will.

Last but not least, don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back from a process right away. The federal government has an average hiring time of six months from the job posting’s closing date. It is not unheard of for over a year to go by before an applicant hears back from a process for the first time. Don’t hold your breath for one specific job; keep looking, keep applying!

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