How to answer selection criteria- tips from a professional selection criteria writer
Are you struggling to write your selection criteria? Do you keep missing out on interviews? If so you’re not alone. The process is frustrating and time consuming. Even the most experienced public sector professionals and professional selection criteria writers struggle sometimes. Read below for essential pointers and answers, from me, a professional selection criteria writer.
These will help get you started.
How long should the selection criteria be?
How long is a piece of string?
This really depends on the seniority of your position and the extent of your experience. Having waded through hundreds of claims in my years of recruitment and as a professional writer, I normally start to get a headache after I’ve viewed 5 or 6 in a row. I favour brevity.
If a word limit is not specified in the application, you can try calling the panel convener or person listed on the application pack for advice.
On second thoughts, no matter what your level, it’s always worthwhile calling the convener to make sure you fully understand the role. Position descriptions and selection criteria can be confusing. You will also want to ask what the convener sees as the real challenges of the role and which skills are priorities.
As a very general rule use half to ¾ of a page per selection criteria for more junior positions and a page and a half for more senior roles. This rule however, depends on the selection criteria you’re answering and the role at hand. If you are asked to describe your qualifications, for example, you simply need to state what that qualification is, when and where you completed it. If the skill you’re asked to demonstrate is complex, then you spend more space outlining it.
Answering selection criteria
Here are a few tips from a professional writer on selection criteria answers.
Often there can be three or four things you need to address in the one criteria statement. If phrases in the one statement appear unrelated, they probably are. (Often the person who writes the advertisement will squeeze two or three criteria into the one line. When recruiters advertise online in some forums, there is often only space for a set number of criteria – I know this as I have done it myself)
If there are multiple criteria in the one criterion statement, you’ll need to put them in separate headings to make it easy for the panel to read. Why? It makes it easy to read and headache proofs your application!
The way the criteria are written is not meant to confuse you. Sometimes criteria are just written really quickly, or there have been several hands in the process.
What does demonstrate, demonstrated knowledge, demonstrated skills or demonstrated ability mean?
This question should really be at the top of the list. Even applicants for the most senior positions struggle with this. Demonstrate essentially means show you have the skills, and or, provide some evidence to support a claim that you’ve made.
To do this you can pull examples out of your experience to show you have used those skills or knowledge. Like an answer in a behavioural interview, you can give a specific example of what the situation was, how you handled it and the outcome you achieved.
Or, if you have many examples to present, you could bullet point a list of your achievements. But highlight in this list, how you knew you were successful. The examples below will show you what I mean.
Selection criteria examples to demonstrate what I mean
This is from a criteria I wrote for an applicant for a Clinical Nurse Specialist.
Effective communication skills.
My roles as a nursing practitioner in dealing with clients with drug and alcohol issues, have required highly effective communication skills. The following two examples demonstrate my skills:
In my roles at ABC and DEF I needed to communicate with clients who were marginalized from society, intoxicated, drug affected, angry, depressed, frustrated, incoherent or in need of interventions. Communication required patience, empathy, and an ability to not perceive aggression or frustration as personal. I also needed careful questioning and listening skills and an ability to build trust in a tense situation. I have needed to be open and non-judgmental, read body language and defuse aggression. In my performance reviews, my supervisors have commended my communication skills. I have consistently received satisfactory grading and have been regularly promoted to act in a supervisory capacity.
As part of my role as a Clinical Nurse Specialist at ABC I also regularly conduct in-service training for team members, provide case studies in meetings and coach and mentor other staff. Often my colleagues will provide positive feedback on the way I communicate. They say they find my content interesting and my ideas engaging.
Here’s an example for an Executive Support Assistant.
Advanced skills in word-processing and presentation software applications, for the preparation of high quality documents.
I have advanced skills in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I have used these packages extensively over the past 10 years. I have produced letters, reports, translations of documents, teaching correspondence, student documents and class notes.
The example I provide below demonstrates my ability to use these packages to prepare high quality documents.
As an Executive Assistant I often prepared and compiled information booklets for dignitaries from Australia and New Zealand visiting China for trophy presentations. These booklets included hotel information, maps, train timetables, sightseeing itineraries, company organizational committee tables, simple Chinese language phrases and racing information. To compile the book I researched this information from websites, translated it into English then re-presented and reformatted the information. The users of the booklets praised them and stated that they contained “indispensable information” allowing the dignitaries to have “a worry free stay.”
How to manage the word limit
Working within a word restriction is often more challenging than where you have all the space in the world. Read this for some ideas on how to manage this.
Do I actually need to address all the selection criteria?
The answer to this is absolutely. You will miss out if you don’t.
Is it worth the bother?
Here’s another insider’s tip. Ask the convener if someone is acting in the position. If they are, then they will probably be the front runner for the role. You can still apply, but you will probably need to be truly outstanding to secure the position.
The convener will not tell you this. They will say that the position is “open” or “competitive” and leave it up to you to decide. If you hear this you may be able to tell how much chance you will have as an outsider, by seeing how forthcoming the convener is when they provide information.
At this point you may well be asking, is it really worth the effort? The answer is an obvious yes if you are interested in the job and yes if you understand the purpose of selection criteria. You can use the selection criteria to assess if you are truly suitable for the role.
If, however, you are struggling to reply to more than one or two selection criteria, have a long and hard think about whether it’s the right job for you.
What can I expect once I’ve submitted my selection criteria?
A wait. Possibly for weeks. With three or more panel members to coordinate and for a whole host of other reasons, including rules around panels, public sector interviews are unavoidably slow.
Should I chase up my application?
You can chase it up, but not hurry it up. This process takes time as all panel members often need to complete a report. You’d need to get all panel members moving faster. The point to remember about merit selection is the government is mindful of fairness to all applicants. The panelists also may not understand the type of skills market they are dealing in, if recruitment is not something they do every day. So a call from you to say you have another job offer may elicit empathy, but no action.
The bottom line about this point is that no news can be good news. Expect to wait a lot longer than in the private sector.
Final word on feedback
What can you do if despite your best efforts you’re not successful?
Always ask for feedback. The government is required to document their processes so as a general rule anyone who’s been short listed for interview may have a paragraph or two written about them. You may not get feedback, the government is only required to deliver this to applicants already in the public sector. However if you ask for it couched in terms of improving your performance, you may be surprised at what you find out.
Selection Criteria Writing Services
Some people are comfortable responding to the selection criteria themselves, but as your responses will be often be long and detailed, it’s easy to make mistakes. If you do it yourself you might want to ask a good friend (that is a very good friend who owes you a favour) to read through it. Make sure they have a lot of patience and a good eye for detail.
An alternative to doing your selection criteria yourself is to get it done professionally. There are definite advantages here. If your written communication skills let you down, a professional can help make understanding you easy. This is particularly important if English is not your first language. A professional is also skilled at drawing out your unique strengths and will tell you about where you sit in the market in comparison to other applicants.
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