Get to the point! Write within government selection criteria word limits

by K B , updated on November 8, 2012

That’s it! You’re cut off. You’ve used up your word limit!

Often in online applications many government departments now limit the number of words or spaces you can use in your selection criteria. I think it is to save their spending on headache tablets. When I have sat on government panels and saw a “War and Peace” type selection criteria, I used to mark that person down on communication skills.  Yes that’s a bit harsh. But if you think about it, a good communicator engages their audience.  They understand the point of a question, and they think of the most powerful way to answer that question. They may only make the point once.

So how do you answer government selection criteria with word limits? This is often harder than answering a selection criteria with no limits, as every word counts. Here are some insider tips on how.

Make sure you understand the role

That means when you answer the selection criteria, you are giving examples at the right level and not wasting your space with irrelevant examples.

Make sure you understand the what the selection criteria is asking

Call the convener, if you are in any way confused. Often selection criteria are vague, have double ups, or are repeated.

Bullet point your achievements and examples to demonstrate your experience

Here are some examples of what I mean:

My ability to communicate effectively with a diverse range of stakeholders can be demonstrated by the following examples:

–          For the past six years I have convened contract review meetings with my contracted suppliers. Through clear communication and regular meetings, I have ensured that we consistently maintained costs within budgets

–          As a result of my professionalism and strong communication skills, for the past three years executive management have selected me to represent our team at community forums

–          I have built positive relationships with our internal stakeholders. In my recent performance reviews my Leader has ranked me as “performing at a high level”

Don’t fluff about with too many words

Have a look at this post on action words for resumes. Try to choose just one of these to describe what you do. If you really struggle with this, write out what you want to say without focusing on the word limit, take a break then go back and delete words.

Use the active rather than the passive voice. This is instantly more powerful and you will find you have more words to play with.

Don’t be afraid to get professional help when you need it

There is a real art to writing selection criteria, so do not tear your hair out if you are finding it tough. Read here for things you need to know before you apply for a government job.

You may only need to get professional help once to see how it’s done.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Dustin - Key Selection Criteria April 30, 2010 at 10:12 pm

This happened to my girlfriend once she was cursing!@

Rafah July 3, 2012 at 6:20 am

So then how many words per criterion is generally acceptable?

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