When job searching within the public sector, the process is often more involved. In addition to submitting your resume and cover letter, a lot of government organisations will require you to respond to a list of key selection criteria, which depending on the job advertised can range from a list of 4 or 5 criterion to fifteen. As this process is often unfamiliar to those who’ve worked outside of the public sector, addressing key selection criteria can seem like an intimidating, time consuming and unnecessary step – won’t your resume be enough to demonstrate your suitability for a role? The simple answer is, no. By law, recruiters and HR professionals must assess all candidates for a job fairly and consistently and then select the best person for the role based on merit; using key selection criteria to assess all candidates helps them achieve this. In fact, a recent survey found that selection criteria can often count for up to 60% of the entire recruitment process within the public sector. Therefore, the extra effort involved in preparing and effectively addressing selection criteria, is essential for securing a job interview.
What is Selection Criteria?
Usually set by an organisation’s HR department, the key selection criteria outlines the qualities, knowledge and skills required for a candidate to perform a particular role. This criteria will often be presented as a number of specific questions or statements aimed at revealing a candidate’s background, knowledge in areas relevant to the position and traits identified as important to the organisation. The number of questions a candidate will have to answer can depend on the type of position they’re applying for and their level of experience however, they will usually be split into two categories: essential and desirable. Obviously, the essential criteria will be given more weighting when looked over by the employer, but the ultimate aim for a candidate is to demonstrate how well they suit a particular role through their ‘answers’.
To ensure jobseekers best chance of success when applying for public sector roles, we’ve broken down the selection criteria process into some key steps below:
- Check The Requirements/Instructions
Firstly (and most importantly), before contemplating the selection criteria for a particular role, you need to check if you meet the job’s requirements. This can seem obvious, but selection criteria is specific and if candidates don’t exactly meet an essential criterion they won’t proceed to the interview phase. To quickly determine if a role is the right fit for you, carefully scroll through the selection criteria the position lists and see if you can easily think of previous work experiences that address these. If you’re struggling to come up with examples, it probably means the role isn’t suited to your experience and skill level.
Once establishing the relevance of your skills and experience, it’s important to read the requirements and instructions of the job application carefully. Government roles are often very specific on how they want candidates to apply and these instructions can vary depending on the organisation and role itself. And again, not being able to comply with these instructions can mean your application is automatically rejected. An easy way to help ensure your application passes the first hurdle is to ensure you’re following the application instructions. Check to see if the job position asks you to adhere to a word limit (either for each question or pages overall) and where and how they want you to address the criteria (in a separate document, within your cover letter etc.). They might have also specified a particular way they want you to format your answers- e.g. if there’s any abbreviations for certain criteria that need to be included.
- Research The Organisation
Like with any stage of the job application process, the more preparation you can do, the better. Before addressing the selection criteria, try and do as much research into the organisation advertising the role as possible. See if you can access any of their annual reports, any news updates, media releases and the values they state on their website. You can also reach out to your network to gain a better understanding of their workplace culture. Being able to apply this knowledge to your answers when addressing the selection criteria will demonstrate the effort you’ve taken with your application, help stand out from other applicants and highlight a greater understanding into how your skills and experience relates to their organisation.
For example, if one of the selection criterion for a local council job relates to stakeholder management, you could research that council’s key stakeholders and find ways to include their names when providing your answer- perhaps providing a hypothetical scenario of how you would manage that particular stakeholder relationship.
- Pay Attention to Language
Read through selection criteria in detail and understand what each criterion is asking from you. The particular language used or how things are worded can guide you on how you should shape your responses. For example, does the criteria use words like ‘demonstrated capacity’, or ‘experience using’, or ‘knowledge of’? These are all different requirements and consequently will each require a different approach. ‘Experience using’ requires a description of how you’ve used a process or platform to achieve a particular outcome, while ‘knowledge of’ requires you to demonstrate your knowledge in a particular area.
Job advertisements will also have 'keywords' scattered throughout thier selection criteria and job description, like 'workplace health and safety' , 'strategic planning', or 'stakeholder management'. Including these keywords within your answers (where applicable) will help to demonstrate to HR professionals and recruiters that you've taken the time to digest what the role will entail and that your experience and skills 'match' the criteria they've prioritised. It will also help to visually convey your suitability to the role in question.
- Apply the STAR Model
When addressing the specific question/statement for each selection criterion, recruitment and HR professionals recommend using the STAR Model, which stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. The purpose of the STAR Model, is to ensure that you’re providing real-life, quantifiable examples of your experience to help ‘prove’ or showcase your ability to meet their criteria. A breakdown of the model is as follows:
Situation- firstly, you need to provide the context around your answer; the who, what, when and where. So, when addressing criteria that focuses on problem solving skills and initiative for example, you firstly need to provide the context for your answer: “As the marketing coordinator for my local council, I was in charge of ensuring all organisation communication (internal/external) aligned with our branding…”
Task - secondly, you need to mention the specific task that you performed or the problem you needed to solve. So if continuing to address the criteria on problem solving, you could then say something like: “our council worked with a lot of external stakeholders on community projects, and when referring to our council in their communications (emails, socials etc) our branding wouldn’t be showcased correctly or consistently. There would be different logos, font sizes, colours etc. which would make it harder for the public to recognise and associate us with these projects.”
Action- once outlining the problem or task, you must then provide the action you took to solve the problem or handle the task; demonstrating what you did and how you did it. So again, if continuing to address the criteria on problem solving you could then say something like: “to ensure consistency I developed branding guidelines which included instructions on how and in what scenario to apply our branding elements (colour, logos etc) and sent this to all of the stakeholders we worked with.”
Result- finally, list the outcome achieved or the direct result of your actions. Try and quantify your actions where possible. So, when referring to the problem solving criteria , you’d summarise your answer by saying: “These guidelines were able to provide brand consistency across all external communication, which in turn positively contributed to our brand recognition and awareness- we saw an increase of 6.5% in direct traffic to our website in the months after sending off these brand guidelines.”
- Select Relevant Examples
When choosing the examples to use in the STAR Model, try and choose examples that are most relevant to the particular criterion you’re addressing. For example, if the criterion focuses on advanced computer skills, it wouldn’t make sense to provide a work example that had nothing to do with software or computers. Furthermore, you should also try and choose the most recent examples whenever possible, to show that your knowledge and skill level is up to date.
Finally, quantify the experiences or outcomes within your examples whenever possible. For example, having three years experience in using Microsoft Excel, or possessing
- Keep Formatting Simple
Once you feel confident that you’ve sufficiently addressed every criterion within the selection criteria, you must proofread your application to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward. Are your responses accurate and honest? Have you addressed everything the organisation has asked for? Does your selection criteria align with what you’ve written in your resume? Proofreading also means to pay special attention to your grammar and spelling. Double check for typos and grammatical errors as these suggest you haven’t invested much effort into the document and therefore don’t care enough about the role. It can also indicate that you don’t have great attention to detail and poor communication skills- two traits that are universally important for available jobs.
Finally, make sure your formatting and layout is clear and easy to read. You want to ensure that any HR professionals looking over your document can quickly scan and digest the relevant information they need. Furthermore, if an organisation is using Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Applicant Tracking Processes (ATS) to help in the initial stages of recruitment, they’ll be sensitive to particular formats; any formats the technology can’t recognise or read, won’t make it to the shortlist. So, ensure you’ve chosen an easy to read font, have equal spacing and have each selection criterion highlighted in bold or italics to make it easier for those marking the document to distinguish between the criteria and your answers.
Ultimately, addressing key selection criteria is an involved process- especially when done right. But taking the time to answer each criterion properly and following the above steps can make all the difference in landing your next role within the public sector.
Public Sector People specialise in helping candidates with resumes, selection criteria and cover letters within the public sector and know what these organisations are looking for when hiring. If you’re wanting to seek advice on key selection criteria and how to ‘cut through’ within the current job market, reach out today at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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