Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Student Guide to Getting a Job with the Federal Government

Note: This post refers to student positions with the Government of Canada. It is only one person's perspective and it is by no means "official," but I hope this will help to illuminate the process.

When I started thinking that I wanted to get a summer position with the federal government (more specifically Library and Archives Canada) back in September of last year, it was difficult to find information. Sure, there is the offiicial information that describes the programs on government websites, but there was nothing I could find about the nuts and bolts of the process. I am writing this post to remedy that and hopefully be of assistance to others in the future. I imagine it will be of greatest interest to graduate students interested in getting summer jobs with the federal government, though undergraduates, law and other university students use a similar process.

As far as I am aware, there are two ways of getting a federal summer job. The first is through a university arranged co-op placement - this option is only possible if your institution has a co-op program in place and you are registered in it. My university did not offer that option, so I had to look into FSWEP (Federal Student Work Experience Program). The rest of this post will be structured as a FAQ.

What are the basic requirements to participate in FSWEP?
For this, I will have to refer to to the government's website. In essence, you need to be a Canadian citizen (non-citizens can apply, but citizens get preference), must be a current student and must be returning to university study in the fall.

How does the application work?
You fill in a profile at the Public Service Commission of Canada website, check off that you want to be included in the "FSWEP Inventory." That's it. It is a bit odd since you have to submit a general application - there is no way to customize it for a particular position. The online application should take maybe 1/2 hour or so to complete.

When do people get hired for summer jobs under FSWEP?
A handful of people I know got hired in February. I was offered a position in April. My impression is that most job offers are made in April and May.

How are you contacted for interviews?
For me, it was a mixutre of phone calls and emails. It is critically important that you double and triple check your contact information on the form.

How do the interviews work?
I had two phone interviews with different departments. Both were approximately twenty minutes long and it was a conference call. In one case, there were four people on the other end, in another, there were two.

How much are FSWEP employees paid?
It depends on your degree level. Law and doctoral students get paid the most. You can find the pay ranges on the Treasury Board of Canada website. For the present year, the range for Master's students is $16-$20 per hour and most people work full time (37.5 hours / week). Your monthly income would therefore be somewhere between $1500 to $2000 per month, which is fairly good for a student position.

What are my chances of getting hired?
In the library science and archives field, there are about 50-70 students hired each summer by various parts of the federal government. I had the experience of working in two archives before applying, but others from my program were hired without any experience at all. Try to obtain any practical experince you can by the time you apply.

What about bilingualism?
For my particular position, it could be English or French. For others (esp. those dealing with the public), being bi-lingual is more important. While being bilingual will certainly give you an edge in general, it is certainly possible to be hired if you only know one of Canada's official languages.

That about covers everything I wish I knew before I applied. I would be happy to field further questions about the process and would certainly invite comments from others who have gone through it.

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