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APS Selection Criteria – Unnecessary Evil?

By CloudMonkey - 13 August 2010 74

As an IT contractor to Government in Canberra for some 15 years, I’ve encountered all manner of selection criteria from our various federal departments and have found they share something in common, no-one really understands them.  This begs the question; Are they complete waste of time?

Although an entry document aimed at low to mid level applicants, these verbose and often ambiguous criteria are so difficult to decipher and translate, that a book on how to tackle the criteria has become an acclaimed best seller (Dr Ann Villiers – How to Write and Talk to Selection Criteria).

If an instruction manual to address Selection Criteria has to be written by an academic with a doctorate, one might think alarm bells should be ringing in the APS.

My personal response to these increasingly ridiculous documents has been not to address them anymore and instead, opt for departments and more specifically, Government Agencies that have already dispensed with them.

I’m sure there are supporters of this outdated documents, however I’m equally sure that these are the same people that like to talk in acronyms and use words they picked up at a recent conference, but don’t really have a clue what they are saying.

I’m sure if a whole of government review was conducted on the effectiveness and cost of managing this aspect of recruitment. The tide would change overnight.

What’s Your opinion?


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74 Responses to
APS Selection Criteria – Unnecessary Evil?
astrojax 11:24 am 13 Aug 10

Mathman said :

Having sat on the other side of the selection panel a few times, I can also say that selection criteria serve a useful purpose of being self eliminating – if candidates can’t deal with writing to the selection criteria, they aren’t the people we are looking for.

beg to differ – worked at a vibrant research centre in a uni and received an application for a position from someone who had never dealt with selection criteria but had cited – in their three short paragraph application – relevant experience, which link i followed up. the uni’s HR section were absolutely aghast when i told them i was interviewing this candidate; who eventually got the job!

selection criteria can be a useful way to let prospective employees know what sort of skill set you’re after, but panales need to be able to look through this narrow mindset if they want to capture the best person for the job.

Woody Mann-Caruso 11:07 am 13 Aug 10

See article in this months’ Public Sector Informant (it’s on page 3.)

cross 11:01 am 13 Aug 10

Most private enterprise people would be used to face to face straight talking and would be baffled by APS double speak bullshit.

hellspice 10:44 am 13 Aug 10

Good to see step one of the culling process is working.

cross 10:42 am 13 Aug 10

Selection criteria does not seem to be the only stumbling block for APS newbies there,s also the fact that most jobs are contract so therefore perceived as not permanent and right or wrong the idea that jobs are already taken by the person acting in the position and are only advertised because they have to so don,t waste your time applying.
From the outside looking in it appears to be the APS are happy with their inbreeding program and make very difficult to apply so as to be left alone
by non APS applicants unfamiliar with the rules.

kevin22 10:38 am 13 Aug 10

I’ve been waiting a long time for someone to post this.
I do agreed with everything you said.
Government selection criteria is a big waste of time. The most common would be Oral and Communication skills, which has been rephrase in so many way, that you wouldn’t believe.

Clown Killer 10:19 am 13 Aug 10

Years ago in another life I worked in a NSW Govt. agency that, for a range of reasons, was a highly sought after employer. We’d often get 500-600 applications for one position. The HR people who sent out the application package and background information along with the selection criteria and a cover letter that advised appliactnts to keep it short – in fact no more than a couple of pages.

Once applications were recieved, that same HR department would then ‘cull’ out all the applications under about 15 pages on the basis that those people obviously diddn’t have enough experience otherwise their applications would have been longer.

In the end, we had to ask for all applications to be forwarded to the selection committee – oh what a joy that was.

JessP 10:08 am 13 Aug 10

Total crap I agree….and interesting this is from a ‘Myths and realities’ document from my Depts HR area:

MYTH: Applicants must be asked to address selection criteria.
REALITY: There is no requirement to use selection criteria. Alternatives include: using capabilities such as the XXXXXX Capability Matrix or the Integrated Leadership System; CV and referee reports; a one page statement of suitability for the job or a series of job specific questions.

So we don’t have to use them. But the reality is WE DO!

Public servants find the concept of assessing someone for their suitability on the basis of their resume and a written statement too hard to grasp. So the go for the great leveller – answer the Selection Criteria and then we can compare apples with apples. Hell, we had to do it.

Wrong on many levels. Unfair on those APS virgins who have no idea of how to play the game and it means there are good people who do not apply. Our (APS) loss.

Inappropriate 10:07 am 13 Aug 10

I used to think they were evil, when I had to do them, but having spent some time on the other side of the desk I can see their value. That said however, some places can abuse the idea of selection criteria and come up with some really cryptic ones.

Ceej1973 9:54 am 13 Aug 10

….My personal response to these increasingly ridiculous documents has been not to address them anymore and instead, opt for departments and more specifically, Government Agencies that have already dispensed with them.

Please share with us which Departments these are that don’t use SC. I know many State Governments dont use them, but going backwards (applying) into the State, just aint happenen for me!

sepi 9:51 am 13 Aug 10

Selection criteria can be waffly and meaningless – best to ring the contact person to find out more about the actual job, and address that in your responses.

That said, for many jobs in the APS, the actual work can be a bit like selection criteria – responding to reports, writing up reports that link outcomes to intentions etc etc – so someone who is good at addressing selection criteria (saying what they want to say, while seeming to address set questions), will also be good at the actual APS work.

Mathman 9:47 am 13 Aug 10

Having spent the last 8 months writing applications for jobs in the private sector, I wish selection criteria were used much more widely – at least you would have an idea what they were looking for and could tune your application appropriately.

Having sat on the other side of the selection panel a few times, I can also say that selection criteria serve a useful purpose of being self eliminating – if candidates can’t deal with writing to the selection criteria, they aren’t the people we are looking for.

Rollersk8r 9:36 am 13 Aug 10

I agree they can be frustrating and I’m especially turned off by stuff like “Contributes to strategic thinking – supports shared purpose and direction; maximises work linkages”.

But then again the more you write the easier they get. Most selection criteria focus on 3 general areas, being 1) Relevant experience, 2) Management skills and/or ability to get the job done, tight deadlines etc and 3) Communication and networking skills, working in a team, being flexible etc. It’s usually not too hard to cut, paste and update as necessary once you have done a few.

Somewhat ironically I recently applied for a job with the Aust Public Service Commission, where they simply asked for a 2 page application. I found this more difficult than cutting and pasting from past efforts.

I’m no HR expert but have been on a number of interview panels. I’ll admit that selection criteria aren’t perfect but as with everything else in the APS you need hard evidence of why you made the decision to choose someone. Your application just needs to be good enough to get your foot in the door.

georgesgenitals 9:23 am 13 Aug 10

You are correct. Selection criteria writing is a complete waste of time.

dtc 9:18 am 13 Aug 10

Surely you realise the sole purpose of selection criteria is so the selection panel has a document they can point at to, in order to say some particular answer wasn’t as good as the one submitted by the person they wanted to choose anyway.

As a private sector person, the single biggest impediment to PS employment is the requirement to provide referees from your current supervisors/employers. So when you don’t get the job, your current employer knows your committed level isn’t very high.

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