How to write killer selection criteria

If you are trying to get a government job (or any position requiring selection criteria responses) it can be a very daunting experience to write effective responses that will achieve interviews.  Yes, there is a definite process in doing so, but once you have the knowledge of what selection criteria actually are, and how you need to respond, it’s not so overwhelming.   If it still is, we are specialists in writing selection criteria responses that achieve interviews and job offers – check out our Selection Criteria page for more information.

What are selection criteria?

The selection criteria for a position is a list of the essential and desirable skills, attributes, experience, and qualifications which an organisation decides is necessary for a specifically advertised position.   The manner in which you respond to each criteria will determine if you achieve an interview for the advertised position.  The criterion is generally structured to gain not only your experience/knowledge level, but also to gather behavioural information.

Do I always have to respond to the selection criteria in the position description?

No, even if there are formal selection criteria on the Position Description, it is not always a requirement to address these and this may be stated on the Position Description itself, or in a separate ‘How to Respond’ instruction. The requirement could be either to respond to ‘targeted questions’ in an online application form or to submit a one- or two-page ‘pitch’ on how you are the best person for the job and meet the requirements of the Role Accountabilities.  For this reason, it is important to read all the information related to the advertised position, i.e. the complete advertisement, any links the advertisement incorporates (such as ‘How to Respond’), and of course, the Position Description.  Whether you are inserting responses into an online application form or submitting a ‘pitch’ or a ‘statement of claims’ all responses should provide quantified examples, ideally using the STAR approach as detailed below.

Does every criterion require a ‘demonstrated’ response?

No, if the criterion is worded ‘knowledge of’ or ‘ability to’ or ‘a good understanding’, they do not necessarily require a demonstrated response.  However, in these situations and depending on the wording of the criterion, it is generally a good idea to quantify your statement response, i.e. provide information on how you have gained a ‘knowledge of’ or a ‘good understanding’ and in what context: what position and why it was necessary to have this ‘knowledge’ or ‘understanding’ to perform your role.  Where the criterion is worded ‘demonstrated experience’ or ‘experience’ or ‘demonstrated capacity’ or ‘demonstrated ability’ or ‘experience using’ or ‘a proven record of’  and similar terminology, a quantified example (or examples) are usually required. 

How long should criteria responses be?

This is usually (but not always) specified and can be restricted by maximum word counts or page limits.  When there are no limits specified, a half-page is usually appropriate for each criterion.  It’s important to abide by any specified response limits, as your application could be rejected based on non-compliance.

How to respond to criteria requiring a ‘demonstrated’ response?

Some advertised positions will state a specific requirement in ‘How to Respond’, either in the related Position Description or via a separate link on the advertised position.  Generally, the STAR response is stipulated, however it can also be a CAR, SAR, or SAO approach (see below).  In using the STAR approach, a Situation, Task, Action and Result is required in your response – i.e. what was the ‘Situation’ (in what job position and in what role); what was the specific ‘Task’ you or your team were assigned; what was the individual ‘Action’ that you took; and what was the ‘Result’ of this action (what benefit was achieved to the organisation and/or customers).   Keep in mind, that it is not necessary to use your current or most recent position for every ‘demonstrated’ example – in some instances, a previous role may provide a better example and may be more relevant to the advertised position that you are applying for.

Check your selection criteria responses

Always thoroughly check that you have clearly addressed each criterion – some of which, do not only have one requirement, but often two or three requirements in a statement, i.e. ‘Ability to contribute to a high functioning team environment and ability to interpret legislative requirements’.  Check the language you have used to address the criteria as this is equally as important as your actual response – you may have appropriately ‘demonstrated’ your experience/ability, however if the language is of a poor quality, this will severely impact on your ability to achieve an interview – and always run a spell-check.

Don't neglect the Position Description

Before responding to selection criteria, read the Position Description in fine detail – particularly, the Organisation/Department Overview (what their core services are and who they are provided to); the Role Purpose (what the primary purpose of the role is); the Key Accountabilities of the role; and any other key information.  This will provide you with a strong knowledge of what the organisation is seeking in their ‘Ideal Candidate’ which may not be obvious in the selection criteria, and importantly, provide you with the ‘keywords’ that are associated with the position which you can incorporate into your resume where necessary and certainly into your selection criteria responses and cover letter.

STAR, SAR, CAR, SAO explained

There are several methods to respond to Selection Criteria/Key Selection Criteria – sometimes these may be quantified as a requirement in the Position Description, but even if they are not, it is best to use of the following methodologies:

STAR: Situation, Task, Action, Result | CAR: Circumstance, Action, Result | SAR: Situation, Action, Result | SAO: Situation, Action, Outcome.

These methodologies and your responses, provide an organisation/company with knowledge of your behaviour within the work environment, and in fact, require ‘behavioural responses’ which will also be required when attending an interview.

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