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Addressing Selection Criteria

Introduction

Many people don’t get past the first post with their job applications for Public Sector positions because they haven’t prepared their application according to the requirements.

You cannot effectively write a job application for either short or longer term positions without a job and person specification for the position, and remember job and person specifications do change.

When writing ‘full applications’, i.e. includes a resume, responses to the person specification of a job description and covering letter, you must always address the criteria found in the Person Specification to ensure the best possible chance at selection for an interview. You will find that Job and Person specifications vary across agencies/departments, however, they are generally written in terms of ‘merit’ and increasingly in ‘outcome’ terms.

What is Selection Criteria?

Selection criteria are a list of skills, experience, and knowledge that are considered to be either essential or desirable in an applicant for them to successfully perform the duties of the position.

Why are they used?

Under Equal Opportunity legislation it is illegal to appoint a candidate on the basis of anything but their ability to do the job in question. So selection criteria are used to find

the best person for the job; and

as benchmarks against which each applicant is measured - keep panel focussed on type of employee it should select. Each applicant is rated on how well or closely they meet each of the criteria and then ranked against the other applicants.

These Selection Criteria are used to:

indicate essential and desirable factors in successful job performance—for use by applicants and selection panel members

determine who gets shortlisted—e.g. anyone who does not satisfy the essential criteria is omitted from interview

determine the most appropriate types of selection methods

indicate the areas of concern for interview questions

determine the topics to be addressed in referee checks

measure applicants by rating them against the selection criteria

determine who has won on merit because they are the best person for the job

compare and distinguish between applicants in terms of explaining and justifying the panel’s decision

give applicants’ focused and useful feedback

Why selection criteria must be addressed

The selection panel is required to assess each applicant in terms of how well they meet the selection criteria.

However, it is not up to the selection panel, who may have 100 applications to assess, to wade through your résumé and covering letter trying to find the relevant information about you that relates to each criterion.

The onus is on you to clearly demonstrate your value—it is not up to the selection panel to ‘guess’ or ‘decipher’ this from your application. A panel often will only have time to read your application once, therefore it must be well set out, easy to read, concise, clear and relevant.

This will assist the panel to rate your application against the selection criteria and against other applicants, and to decide who to shortlist for interview. Many good applicants are overlooked because they don't clearly address the selection criteria and assume that the panel will be able to “read between the lines” in their résumé.

Shortlisting of applicants is based on the applicant’s ability to convince the selection panel that they can meet the essential and desirable skills necessary to perform the job.

Key expressions found in person specifications

Key expressions found in person specifications

The selection criteria or essential minimum requirements often use key phrases which indicate the type of required skill or ability. Some of these are:

Experience in, Proven ability in, Responsible for;

Awareness of, Knowledge of, An understanding , Appreciation of;

Ability To, Capacity To; and Contributes to;

Well Developed, Demonstrated, Extensive, High Level of.

To write your responses, you must understand what these words mean, as subtle differences can mean a different approach to wording your response. Following is a brief explanation of the meanings of these phrases.

Background In

 

Background in is often used in reference to educational qualifications or areas of specialisation (for example, accounting or marketing).

Experience In, Proven ability in, Responsible for

 

Experience in means you must have practical experience with the matter, have literally done the work as distinct form observed it or only had training in it. For example:

‘Experience in the use of computer packages including word processor and spreadsheet packages’, means you must show that you have performed jobs/tasks using a word processor with spreadsheet packages.

Proven ability in means that you must be able to substantiate any claims to the experience or skill, preferably indicating outcomes that you have attained. For example:

‘Proven ability in planning and organising skills’ means that you must write what you have done and achieved in these areas.

Responsible for indicates a high level of accountability and once again, means must write what you have done in meeting these responsibilities.

Awareness Of, Knowledge Of, Understanding Of, Appreciation of

These expressions are often used in reference to government policies such as EEO and OH&S, and specific responsibilities of the work area. There are subtle differences between these four terms. Careful attention should be paid to the degree of skill or knowledge required.

Awareness of involves perhaps the least amount of familiarity with a subject and can mean little more than a realisation of a matter.

Knowledge of a matter refers to familiarity gained from actual experience or from learning/training. For example; ‘demonstrated knowledge of project management’ suggests that you need more than a passing familiarity with this subject.

Understanding of is more than knowledge. It requires comprehension of the subject matter and perception about the significance of it. For example, you may have knowledge of an organisational policy in so far as you have read it and perhaps even applied some sections of it. However, to understand the policy means you know why the policy was established, who it serves, how and why it is important, and what the implications are for related policies.

Appreciation of implies you have a deeper understanding about a matter. To appreciate a matter you need both knowledge and understanding. For example: ‘an appreciation of cultural barriers experienced by sections of the community’ would mean knowing what the

barriers are, understanding why they exist and how they operate, the impact they have, what is or could be done to eliminate them, and having ideas to address this issue.

Capacity To, Ability To These words suggest degrees of ability. Capacity can mean able to

Capacity To, Ability To

These words suggest degrees of ability.

Capacity can mean able to or qualified to perform a task. It suggests that you have the necessary skill or quality but may not have demonstrated it to any major extent. This is where transferable skills could be used to demonstrate capacity such as in Community Service tasks undertaken.

Ability means having the skills, knowledge and attitude (competency) to do the task required. For example if the job requires a person to handle sensitive information in a professional manner, then the ability to communicate sensitively and display empathy may be needed. Another example could be if a person was required to organise work and follow through to completion, then the ability to manage time, prioritise, delegate, and set and meet specific time-lines may be needed.

It is recommended that you check and clarify with the contact person any doubts you have about the meaning/requirements of each criteria. You need to have a clear understanding of what they are looking for, and require, before you can effectively write to each of the criteria because as you can see, there are subtle differences between these phrases.

Added to these key phrases are other terms which distinguish the level to which they are needed. These terms include well developed, demonstrated, extensive and high level of. These terms indicate that any statements/claims that you make must be soundly supported with concrete examples that show some breadth and depth of experience/and or capability. (Villers, 2000, Chapter 7, beginning page 34)

Skills and Abilities Frequently Sought

The range of skills and qualities sought in applicants frequently include:

work in a team

work under pressure

work with limited supervision

attention to detail

good management of time

research

communication

problem-solve

negotiation

liaison

organisation

flexibility

This list is my no means exhaustive, however, it covers the key skills and abilities frequently mentioned in Person Specifications that are currently considered essential and desirable in employees.

The previous list can be divided into three broad headings:

! work as part of a team

! interacting with people

! managing your own performance

Work As Part Of A Team

Increasingly the team, rather than the individual or office group, is being seen as critical to quality performance. Managers are seeking people who can work in and contribute to a team, either as a participant or team-leader. As a member of a team you can generally be expected to:

take an active part in meetings and group discussions

make objective and constructive suggestions about the teams goals and activities

contribute to planning and determining outcomes

produce results on time and within set budgets

produce accurate work

supervise and train others

contribute to the teams performance, including providing suggestions for continuous improvement

work with a minimum of supervision

organise, co-ordinate, plan and complete tasks, and follow-up outstanding matters

As a team-leader you can generally be expected to:

supervise, coach and train others

provide leadership and direction

set team goals and objectives

manage human, physical and financial resources

manage performance and provide feed-back

develop a participative and cooperative environment

minimise conflict

problem-solve

Interacting With People

Viller’s (2000, page 50) and many other researchers highlight that ‘Skill in building and maintaining relationships with people will continue to be critical in most jobs.’ Increasing attention is being placed on people skills and people management. These skills are needed work as part of a team/office group, and to work effectively with people outside of the team/office including other government agencies and people of the public, i.e. all internal and external customers. Key skills in this area include communication and customer service skills. Broadly you need to demonstrate such abilities as:

being aware of cultural and diversity issues

effective listening

negotiate for win-win outcomes

liase and consult with people

co-operative and collaborate effectively

convey information and ideas to people

receive and understand information and ideas from others

build a network of contacts

Managing Your Own Performance

There has been a strong move in the last decade to move away from being reliant on a supervisor/manager for all instructions. This change has brought about the concept of working in teams along with the ability to also be self-reliant, to take responsibility for one’s own behaviour and to contribute to the workplace. This is supported and reinforced by developments in enterprise bargaining, performance development and career development. Managing your own performance means:

demonstrating initiative and flexibility

being

productive

and

ethical

(including

commitments)

confidentiality

and

honouring

completing to a high standard the work allocated to you

being able to deal with conflicting priorities and multiple tasks

managing your time

following up on outstanding matters

Therefore, when responding to these criteria, think carefully about your performance and behaviour in the workplace.

Time-management can be demonstrated by such things as punctuality, meeting deadlines, prioritising and planning daily work according to what is urgent and important, managing an in-tray etc.

Working under minimal supervision means you know who you are accountable to and what the limits of your work are, you can be trusted to get on with you work without constant supervision, you can work effectively and honestly in using and managing your time, and you have a willingness to put in extra time if a deadline needs to be met.

Flexibility is a quality being increasingly sought since work life and work places are undergoing continuous change. Those who are unwilling and unable to adapt to different circumstances such as new work structures, new location, changing policies and procedures, learning and applying new skills, and embracing technology to name a few, will be left behind. To demonstrate your ability to be flexible and adaptable to change you could include partaking in change processes (such as contributing positively,

developing plans/policies for new work practices and being on reference groups, committees etc.) and at any time, making suggestions to improve work processes.

In summary, you need to have a good understanding of your abilities, strengths and weaknesses. In order to gain a new position, you may need to consider taking on tasks and jobs that ‘take you out of your comfort zone, i.e. they are new, challenging and personally developing—sometimes these are the tasks that on the surface appear dull and are avoided by others. So look out for these opportunities as they can be far and few between! (Villiers, 2000, Chapter 9, beginning page 48)

How do you address selection criteria?

Your statement addressing the selection criteria needs to demonstrate how your previous experience, skills, education and training have equipped you to meet the requirements of the position.

Remember that the selection panel will generally only interview those applicants who demonstrate that they meet all of the essential criteria of the person specification.

Therefore, to maximise your chances of being considered further, you must demonstrate in your application that you:

meet all the essential requirements of the person specification

are capable of carrying out the duties of the position concerned

can meet all or most of the desirable requirements of the person specification

The Key is:

Demonstrate you have the skill by providing the evidence (quote from degree studies, previous work experience, work in the community)

Provide specific details (for example - if using your degree studies, give name of subject where you most obtained the skills, or mention the specific duties in your job where you gained the experience)

where possible, include an indicator of success or a result (indicate the grade you achieved for the project, the favourable comments made by your employer, or the amount you raised as part of a fundraising activity)

If there are only one or two Selection Criteria specified in the advertisement, you could address them in your cover letter.

However, where there are several essential and desirable criteria to address, it is better to prepare a separate document. This document would accompany your resume and cover letter.

6-Step Approach to Addressing Selection Criteria

There are a number of things you can do to make your selection criteria statement effective and easy for the selection panel to read.

The first thing you need to do is to make it a separate attachment from your résumé and covering letter.

This 6-step approach will help guide you in addressing selection criteria.

Step 1

Main Heading and opening sentence

Start with your heading, your name, and your opening sentence.

STATEMENT ADDRESSING THE SELECTION CRITERIA FOR THE POSITION OF RECREATION AND TRAILS OFFICER

Your name

The following information is provided as evidence of my ability to meet the Selection Criteria for the above position.

Step 2: Subheadings

Use the ‘Essential Criteria’ and ‘Desirable Criteria’ as main headings, then under the appropriate Main Heading, list each criterion as a subheading using exactly the same wording as appears on the Person Specification form, eg. “Excellent verbal communication skills”

Make sure you list each criterion in the same order as the selection criteria.

Step 3: Identify what they are looking for

Read each criterion carefully and highlight/underline each area of skill or experience indicated as being required. Identify specific factors - underlining keywords may be useful so you can break them down into meaningful components. For example, the word ‘communication’ can include meanings such as verbal, non-verbal, listening, negotiation, questioning and feedback.

Step 4: Match the criterion to your skills set by brainstorming For each skill set

Step 4: Match the criterion to your skills set by brainstorming

For each skill set in each criterion brainstorm experiences from different aspects of life that support your claims for the criterion. Think of specific examples, drawing on a variety of experiences, for example:

Previous and current employment

Community Activities

Volunteer Work

Placements/Work Experience

Sporting Clubs/Team Activities

Recreational Activities

Fundraisers

Awards

Publications

Educational Studies

Look for evidence of transferable skills and abilities. While you may have not carried out a particular duty, you may have performed similar work but in a different context (for example working in customer of service in the Hospitality Industry may give you transferable communication skills that relate to liaising with corporate clients).

An example - your rough notes

“Highly developed oral and written communication skills.”

Completed topic in communication skills at university.

Three years customer service experience at Transport SA

Delivered presentations to X agencies on X issues.

Committee member IPAA (elected position)

Experience in the preparation of reports, briefing papers.

Research and preparation of university assignments and reports.

Step 5:

Expand on your brainstorming ideas - provide the evidence

Expand on the points you have jotted down as part of your brainstorming activity in Step 4. You will need to be very specific and write down exactly what you did in order to demonstrate convincingly that you can meet each criterion.

! Use an introductory assertion or opening sentence such as ‘I possess a high level of skill in…’ ‘My communication skills are demonstrated by ”

! You should then support this statement, by highlighting your relevant skills and experience by describing your major responsiblities in current or previous employment. Such as ‘In my role of …, I have …’ This is an example of a previous situation where you have demonstrated a particular skill or ability giving consideration to what tasks were involved, or how you would apply the skill or ability.

! Indicate the extent of your experience in relation to a particular criterion, e.g. number of years' experience, number of staff supervised, etc. For example:

! have over four years' experience using Microsoft OUtlook on a daily basis. '

'I

I

am able to use advanced features of the program, such as

! am responsible for supervising the day-to-day work of five staff

'I

'

This is very useful if you want to emphasise that you have lots of experience. If your experience is limited, you may prefer to be vague about how much you have!

! Briefly give details of one or two specific things you've done that are good examples of your ability to meet the criterion. For example:

!

'I was responsible for organising a large seminar attended by 100 staff. This '

involved

! Expand your previous statement by describing (step by step), what was involved in the process. Where possible, mention the same kinds of tasks and responsibilities as are listed in the advertised duty statement. For example:

Selection Criterion: Prepare agendas, minutes and reports for the XYZ Committee. 'I have been project officer to a number of senior level committees. My responsibilities have included organising meetings, researching background information, taking minutes, and preparing and distributing agendas, reports and minutes.'

! Where possible, indicate how successfully you meet the criterion, by providing support or evidence of achievements, such as ‘the attached statement from …’; ‘this resulted in…’; ‘I have improved…’ You could also do this by referring to feedback you've received from others, or things you've set up that are still being used. For example:

! 'A report I wrote about

was well received by the

circulated as a discussion paper.'

Committee, and

! 'The accounting spreadsheet system I introduced two years ago is working effectively and staff say that they find it easy to use.'

! Mention any relevant qualifications and training you have, particularly if your experience is limited. These might include:

! details of any relevant training courses you've attended, such as ‘Proofing and Editing Documents’, or 'Dreamweaver'

! subjects studied as part of award courses, such as Occcupational Health and Safety, Project Management, etc.

As a Guide to help you to be specific, try the STAR method as follows:

S

= Situation – brief outline of the setting

T

= Task - what you did

A

= Approach or Action you took - how you did it

R

= Result - outline any outcomes

Deal with each brainstormed idea in this manner.

Make sure you use positive, strong, specific language

Avoid using the passive voice as in “My ability for detailed work has allowed me to spot omissions and inaccuracies before information is published or distributed” (passive voice). Instead, use the active voice and say: “As the person responsible for editing final copy, I have become adept at spotting omissions and inaccuracies”

Avoid vague words and expressions like assisted, was involved in or helped. These don’t say what you specifically contributed or did. So rather than “I helped produce a newsletter” you might say: “I formatted and edited the newsletter”.

This sounds much more positive and outlines your specific contribution.

Step 6: Check Your Work

You should have someone else read your responses, checking for clarity of expression, correct grammar and spelling as well as how accurately you have responded to each criterion.

Consider the following:

Is the language active, strong and specific?

Have you undersold, or oversold yourself?

Have you avoided unsupported claims about your abilities? “There is ample evidence of my excellent communication skills in my resume. have no doubt about my ability to effectively communicate with superiors and subordinates”

This claim is evidence.

based

on your personal opinion and doesn’t offer any supporting

I

Have you addressed all aspects of the criterion? For example, with this Selection Criterion - Well developed conceptual, analytical and research skills – you will need to provide evidence of your ability to meet all three elements.

Have you given the information that shows you are the best candidate for the job?

Proof read for grammar and spelling.

TIPS

Imagine you are a selection panel member reading your application; how does it sound—convincing, irritating, off-putting? Would you be keen to interview this person? What assumptions are you making about this applicant? Are you keen to meet and interview this person?

Content

! Don't be too concerned about any overlap of examples you use for the criteria, but try to provide a different slant in each case.

! When you come across a selection criterion that you cannot satisfy, don't just ignore it – your failure to address it will 'stand out like a sore thumb'! Be prepared to write something about your understanding of the relevance of the criterion – convince the employer that you possess the potential to satisfy it.

! Preface the examples you use with a short overview statement which clearly indicates that you meet the criterion, and which reflects your understanding of the relevance/importance of that specific criterion. For example, ‘In preparing for any exhibition, working to a deadline is important, and this is a skill I have demonstrated on numerous occasions throughout my tertiary studies and tourism sector experience.’

Layout

Where appropriate use dot points in your answers to help with clarity – it will make your application easier to read. Remember some points will need to be expanded on in more detail.

If your responses are lengthy, place each selection criterion on a separate page with the selection criterion stated at the top of every page.

Length

Although there are no hard and fast rules, the suggested length of the response should be between 1 to 3 paragraphs per selection criterion, although this will depend on the level of the position being applied for, and how many factors make up the criterion.

Other Presentation Tips

Put your name, vacancy reference number or title and page number on each page.

Ensure there are no errors (eg. telephone numbers and e-mail addresses) and that your sentences are grammatically correct.

If applications are to be sent via e-mail avoid the use of fancy fonts that may not be part of the recipients library.

Providing Additional Information At the end of your selection criteria statement you may like to add any extra information that you believe is relevant to the job. Alternatively you could refer to it in your covering letter. Examples of things you could mention include:

skills and abilities which you think are important and which haven't been mentioned in the selection criteria, e.g. 'flexibility', 'ability to maintain confidentiality'

knowledge or experience you have which you believe is important to the job, e.g. knowledge of particular University systems, policies or procedures.

Make sure that any information you include is directly relevant to the position.

SAMPLE ANSWER Let’s have a look at a selection criterion common to many roles. The wording may vary and depend on the level of the position applied for.

‘Well developed oral and written communication skills as evidenced by the ability to liaise with a range of clients at all levels.’

Many answers received by selection panels are not sufficiently detailed for panels to make a full assessment of the applicants’ claims. Generally a three or four sentence response would not be considered sufficient. Here is an example of a response which would not be sufficient based on the above selection criteria.

‘I possess well developed oral and written communication skills which I have utilised throughout my working career. At XZY Corporation I was required to liaise regularly with people at all levels ranging from senior managers to staff, on a range of recruitment and procedural matters. I have written a large number of documents including memos and articles in an office newsletter.’

In this example, the broader view has been taken without the applicant outlining how they specifically met the criteria.

Using the 6 Step Process described earlier, let’s try to improve this answer so the applicant has the best chance of being invited to interview.

Let’s have a look at the reworked answer.

‘I possess well developed communication skills which I have gained throughout my

working career. In particular, in my role as Human Resource Officer at XZY Agency,

I liaised on a daily basis with senior managers, staff at all levels, other agencies and members of the public. Most of the communication was face to-face, email and by telephone and I was frequently commended for the professional manner in which I carried out these duties.

For example, one of my key responsibilities was to organise temporary support staff for various areas within XZY Agency. Managers would phone me to request a temporary staff member and I would personally meet with them to discuss their requirements. I would update the job description and brief the agency on all aspects of the job to ensure they understood our requirements.

This process required well developed communication skills to ensure I acquired an

accurate understanding of the job and clearly communicated this to the agency. As

a result, highly suitable staff were hired .

My written communication skills are also well developed and I have utilised these skill in writing the following documents:

! Updating job descriptions;

! Writing articles in a monthly newsletter; and

! Writing memos to office staff.

As Human Resource Officer I was required to keep managers informed of policies and procedures. To do this, I initiated a monthly newsletter. I wrote an article in each publication and encouraged other staff members to submit an article or I obtained their ideas and input. Feedback received in relation to this newsletter was excellent and resulted in improved lines of communication between managers and the Human Resources.’

The above response shows how the applicant gained relevant skills, give examples and outlines detailed of what they did. The response also gives successful outcomes for all the people involved. This response could continue by expanding upon further examples.