IQ Q&A: tips for government graduate selection processes

by K B , updated on April 10, 2011

I received another great question (well three or four questions actually) for the blog on the selection process for graduates in government positions. My answers are in italics.  I am writing this as someone who has assessed graduates in many assessment centres, for both the public and private sector. But I cannot cover off all scenarios. So If anyone has anything more to add, or clarify, please leave a comment below.

Hi Karalyn,

I am currently applying for a number of graduate programs with the federal government. I have found your site a valuable resource as both a graduate and someone who is applying to the APS.

Flattery will take you places with anyone in an email – you’re off to a good start here 😉

There are, however, a couple of specific things about applying for APS graduate programs that I am still uncertain about. I have a couple of questions below, and if you have the time or inclination to address these on your blog or by email that would be fantastic! However, I understand that you are likely very busy and you write your blog for free.

My first question is regarding selection criteria. Advice on how to address selection criteria often suggests calling and asking about the duties of the position and so on. However, most of the graduate programs have rotations and neither the department nor the applicant will have any idea where the applicant might end up. This makes targeting rather tricky.

Yes, this can be tricky – particularly as the first rounds of graduate application processes tend to screen people out rather than in, as the people recruiting sometimes anticipate hundreds of applicants. So you talking to one individual within a department can be difficult. My advice on this is to make sure you read any graduate testimonials on the employer’s website to get a sense of what the experience is about. Also, often the larger employers will have open days or stands at careers fairs. Speak with as many people as you can there. Have a read of this post about getting on the “list” when you network.

In terms of targeting your application, you are right – if there are rotations involved you cannot aim your application at one position – although you should have a firm idea of what you want to get out of the program. Think more along the lines of your fit for a graduate role and beyond. In essence this is your fit to achieve accelerated progression into management, and that can be in your particular field.

Some programs are very specific about where you will be at the end – say for example a specialist engineering role. If you know that’s the pathway for the program – then you could provide some examples in your answers to the application, that show your skills in that context. Say, for example, the leadership skills you may need to manage projects as an engineer.

In addition to this, many graduate applications pose their selection criteria as questions. An example from the Department of Infrastructure and Transport’s application:

“Describe a challenging situation you have faced. What made it challenging, what did you do to address the challenges and were you successful? Your response should reflect upon your ability to achieve results through your personal drive and integrity and your ability to cultivate productive working relationships.”

This is quite difficult, as it seems to limit the response to one example. Do you have any recommendations on how to approach this? I have been responding to these in a way that brings in the Department’s values (if available) and looking for selection criteria examples in other advertised positions.

Yes. It is challenging. You are on the right track. Have a look at anything the department may say is required for graduate level skills. If it is a Federal Government position, they often use this model: The Integrated Leadership System. See, the individual profiles for APS5 and APS6 and page two on the documents for some idea on the skills you need to demonstrate in your examples. (These levels of skills are around the right mark for a graduate who has had some leadership experience already.)

As for the right example – it needs to be one where you can demonstrate most of the skills they require. So your killer example, if you like. That’s where the ILS link will help. Use that information to help you identify examples to present. Plus you do need to show that you are a cultural fit as well. If you can pick an example which is fitting for the challenges you might face in the graduate role (I know I am asking a lot here), that’s even better.

Finally, I was wondering if you had any other insights into the graduate hiring process for the APS? Is there anything beyond the obvious that candidates can do to stand out? Most of us don’t have any experience with government hiring and may not understand the assumptions they are working from.

I have to say that the graduate recruitment process is tough. I used to say ironically with one of my clients last year, that to get through, you need all the skills, plus the stars need to be aligned in the right position as well. The employer often does put you through the hoops. Have a read of this post about do’s and don’ts in graduate group exercises. Many people muck up there. Also read this one on how not to be boring.

If the government has outsourced the hiring to one of the larger recruitment firms, you will probably be judged on more of the generic graduate skills, rather than specific skills to that department – so leadership, advanced communication, goal focus, decision making etc.

If you get through the assessment centres, as above – the time where you can stand out in terms of your fit, will be at an interview. And at that point you should show that you understand the department, want to work for the department, and have some good solid behavioural examples you can present. Think about how you know you are ready for the challenges of a graduate program – as often they can be tough. The department will work you hard and will be investing millions into you, if you get through. So they want you to have given some serious thought about this.

Also, advice targeted to APS job seekers does not usually address graduate programs and the difference between these and regular hiring processes.

Unlike other positions, often for the first few rounds of the recruitment process, the government uses a similar model to the private sector. They may use an assessment centre. They may outsource this part. So some of the advice you read around assessment centre prep and graduate interview tips – holds weight here. I think if they have an interview, and you get to that stage, along with everything else, it’s important to stress why you have chosen the government for your graduate career. Some people look upon a government role as a bit of a walk in the part. But that’s not the case. These jobs have their own set of challenges.

Normal government hiring processes usually involve selection criteria, panel interviews and a lot of pain all round. 😉

Hope that helps in some way. And all the best of luck.

K B

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Suzanne April 10, 2011 at 3:45 am

Thank you for this very useful insight into the graduate selection process. It is really good to know that your advice about private sector recruiting is also very applicable to government graduate recruiting.
I also appreciate you drawing my attention to the Integrated Leadership System – I had looked at the overview of this when addressing a question about leadership but didn’t realise it could be more broadly applicable. It is also good to know to aim for APS5 and APS6 – I had been looking at APS3 and APS4 criteria to get an idea of what was required.
If I make it through to the interview stage I will definitely keep in mind your advice about understanding the department and also knowing why I want to work in government and not the private sector. I have a pretty good understanding of my reasons now, but refining them would be useful.

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