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APS Selection Criteria – Unnecessary Evil?

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I’m sure there are supporters of this outdated documents, however I’m equally sure that these are the same people that like to talk in acronyms and use words they picked up at a recent conference, but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


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74 Responses to APS Selection Criteria – Unnecessary Evil?
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sepi sepi 1:31 pm 30 Sep 10

Referees can always ask the applicant to give them some written dot pots to help them write the referecne quickly. Or just write a sentence per criteria – you aren’t applying for the job, just verifying that the person would be able to do it.

bella22 bella22 12:06 pm 30 Sep 10

I was shocked to find that when asked to write a reference for a past empolyer my reference also had to be written in the selection criteria format. As an Manager in my current empolyment i really struggled to find the time to write this.

Something needs to change!

rosscoact rosscoact 7:33 am 11 Sep 10

those who can’t complain and those who can keep those who can’t out of the club

However, it is a test of your ability to write succinctly and well. If you can’t write well enough (and most people outside the PS cannot) then the first place it shows up is in the statement addressing the SC.

Sir Q. Mozart-Sprong Sir Q. Mozart-Sprong 7:02 pm 10 Sep 10

The trouble is, you have to lie. What if I were to answer truthfully to the inevitable “teamwork” question? That I’ve always found that the best and most efficient way to get anything done is to do it yourself?

boo-radley boo-radley 9:33 am 10 Sep 10

My background is in the private sector and after moving to Canberra I’ve been applying for APS jobs over the past few months. It is a strange and bizarrely time consuming and inefficient system compared to what I’ve experienced in the private sector. My first three or four attempts all resulted in nada – it wasn’t until I got some new acquaintances who worked in the APS and had sat on selection panels to review my applications, explain the STAR system (not specified in the position description or SC) and give me some hints on key-words to use that I’ve had some success in being called for interviews.

My experience and capability for the job hasn’t changed – I’ve just become better at APS-speak.

So, I think the SC exclude good private sector people bringing their skills and experience to the APS.

Jey Jey 7:37 am 10 Sep 10

My concern is it’s not the person who is most qualified who ends up with the job, it’s the person who can play the SC game better.

And it’s a game that takes months to learn.

lbruce401@hotmail.com lbruce401@hotmail.com 9:33 pm 27 Aug 10

I have to agree that the selection criterias can either be an agony or a breeze depending on different Departments. i have come across where some is friendly in putting up a link to explain just what ‘strategic thinking’ means as compared to ‘results’. i used to get the two mixed up.

But i find that its not the SC thats ‘hard’ as they’re all the same (im applying for the Qld state govt job and surprise, surprise they are using the same.) so its all standardised, which is good in a ways in that once you understand just what each really means (STAR, and in that how did you use the star effect, eg; what was the situtiaon such as the type of work you came across or had to do. So you use your type of expertise in your work to describe it. They dont care if it’s exactly to their ‘role description’ but to show that you can do that work even if in a different role but that the effect is the same, once taught in that role. So if you plan ahead in trying to lessen the deadline that you know will come up; its the same to them in that you will apply that reasoning to the job you apply for. MOST IMPORTANT NOTE: use their role descripton to cross reference your experience. so if they say they want a certain experience and you dont have it, then try to put across some sort of similarity to it as they are aware that you will be taught that role but the fact you have an idea of how to ‘start’ is good. (not starting from scratch like a level entry person if applying for level 4 upwards…)

An example of a STAR that i did was:
what was the situation (last employee in my role, before i took over, had outstanding invoices of more than 12 months)
what was the task – to reduce the timelines to the minimal i can get and to find out the effective way to do this
what was the action – sent out new claim for payment invoices to all outstanding Departments and find out where to send it; could be phone calls, invoices etc
what was the result – My Dept got paid quickly; brought down timeline from >12 months to 2-3 months.
This is what they are after.. basically deadlines, use of initiatives, plain english speaking languages (they are encouraging ppl to use plain words and not big ones in less words possible; ive been to courses on this and its a vast improvement.).
its not ‘dumbing down’ but actually helping all sorts of ppl to understand us, and they especially say that SES and high band ppl are to use plain english!! yay. im a Uni grad but ive been a ‘blue collar’ worker in that ive spoken to lots of ppl with varied backgrounds and they all speak plainly; so why should papers be so different??

Regarding that person who said about a high level boss doing such a hardball writing; seems to me to be covering up that they dont know what the hell the’re talking/doing and thats a bad thing because that person may not be ‘training’ or teaching others how to better their job. I really really believe that ppl in high positions should check their egos at the door and realise that all of us is there to do our work and to do it the best way we can and to do that is to be taught the best/efficient way we can by utilising ppl with better experience than we have!

if i had an opportunity to create a better SC; it would be to find out if that person is a good team leader!!! Sadly, ive found this lacking in the higher level personnel and that in fact, if brought to their attention they rather believe it was the ‘lower level’ personnel causing the trouble rather than the high one just not giving a damn, being a bully (omission of teaching) or inapathy. That sadly has been my experience and gripe about the PS so far and the sad fact is that lots of ppl in the APS1-6 has the same problems….

godot64 godot64 12:14 am 27 Aug 10

It depends on the department and the job. I’m looking at a set of selection criteria right now for a ps agency not known for their plain speaking. Its first criterion asks for “Highly effective management and leadership skills”. That’s it. And specifies no more than half a page for the response.

Another one: “Highly developed analytical and conceptual skills”. A little bit more nebulous, but still not really a big ask to demonstrate if you have ’em.

A final one, “Ability to produce results under pressure”. Which should be easy enough to demonstrate for anyone that actually can.

Ok, I know there’s a pile of waffle out there masquerading as selection criteria in some departments, but they basically want to know the same things – the criteria above, plus how you work with people and how you communicate. And perhaps your familiarity with how the APS expects you to conduct yourself. No slapping the boss’ EA on the arse, for example.

And if you can’t decipher public service waffle, why in the hell would you think you could be useful in a public service job. If the private sector is so much more to your liking, then stay there. I promise we won’t miss you. Especially if you’re an IT contractor.

MALLIE MALLIE 12:17 pm 25 Aug 10

I find most selection criterias mind boggling, questions made up of more questions so I usually go for the jobs with easy selection criterias which limits my employment opportunities but doesn’t give me a headache after applying for an APS job.

ladyesprit ladyesprit 9:27 pm 18 Aug 10

I really don’t agree to everyone, it is not a waste of effort. Maybe, the person who thinks it is a complete waste is just too lazy to ‘sell’ him/herself. If you’re too lazy mate, do not even bother thinking to apply for the job cause you will be a complete waste of time in the service, too.

clueless70 clueless70 8:55 pm 18 Aug 10

The ‘bullshit’, ‘waffle’ and ‘technobabble’ pile high in both the private and public sectors. There is no government monopoly. But people who do real work are interestingly free of it: paramedics, garbage collectors, cooks, teachers, cleaners, plumbers (to refer to one poster’s example profession).

Surely the terms of selection criteria have little or nothing to do with a person’s fitness to undertake any quiet job at a desk on which sit a computer and telephone. I think of the language of selection criteria – and of government and business generally – as an attempt to justify the glaring shortage of useful work to be done by anyone today, but especially anyone with a high level of education. This is a crisis which has been deepening for a century; ignoring it has made people crazy. The addled minds produce nonsensical rationalisations for the distress they suffer themselves and the distress they cause to others who fall beneath their dubious authority.

I think that wherever the bullshit and waffle flow free, people are having trouble understanding the meaning, or believing in the usefulness, of their work – perhaps because it really is meaningless and worthless. Or it may simply be that, regardless of the job to be done, there is underlying guilt and anxiety that it was me, not he or she, who was chosen to do it, and not for reasons of merit but those of chance.

dundle dundle 2:13 pm 17 Aug 10

I hate selection criteria but they do get easier in time, I’ve become much better with lots of practice. Some of them are so meaningless – “shapes strategic thinking”???? But others are actually relevant to the task. I’ve never worked in HR but they need some things to distinguish applicants on. Sometimes I find selection criteria easier than applications where I’m being judged on a lot less.

p1 p1 1:27 pm 17 Aug 10

Icepoet said :

…apparently didn’t use the STAR method. Situation, Task, Action, Result – for those non PS people out there.

I am at my public service job right now, and I have never heard of this particular acronym before. Maybe that is why I am posting on Riotact instead of working?

Selection criteria perform a function just like any other application method a employer might choose to deploy. How well it performs depends entirely on how it is used. Same goes for interviews, phone interviews, written applications addressing questions asked in the job ad (but not called selection criteria), etc.

They have only become so popular in the PS so that people can explain why a specific person was picked, to avoid the old “they got the job because of their oral skills…” type accusation. Although as people have pointed out, if someone is wanted in the job, they will still get it, and the SC will back that up.

shadow boxer shadow boxer 9:09 am 17 Aug 10

Dude, if someone doesn’t understand those concepts or the Public Serice or a career as a professional administrator is probably not for you, as I said it weeds out those that will find the complex business of government not for them.

My year 10 daughter had no trouble with them.

We’ll call in the same way we call a plumber when we neeed something done but the administration of Government and complicated program and project delivery requires a certain skill set and is really difficult work.

In this case the selction criteria will have done its job by ensuring everyone is compared against an even playing field with the most suited making it through.

astrojax astrojax 9:41 pm 16 Aug 10

my point exactly – “transaction-based metrics”??? “systematic programming of pre-identified strategies”???

and you want plain english and rekkun these things are self-explanatory? (not nec you, personally, shadow boxer) no wonder skilled folk, with excellent english language skills but no ps experience falter…

i want to read something about the candidate and have them tell me, in their words, why they should be considered for the gig – this orwellian context is cruel and unusual behaviour best left to abu graib and gitmo, for mine…

shadow boxer shadow boxer 4:32 pm 16 Aug 10

Wikipedia is your friend.

A business outcome is defined as an observable result or change in business performance possibly supported by transaction-based metrics, resulting from an event or action, such as outsourcing.

Examples of higher/value business outcome might be increased speed to market, reduced defects or rework, and lower working capital requirements made possible by higher efficiencies.

Strategic thinking is defined as the systematic programming of pre-identified strategies

A good selection criteria response will demonstrate by example where you have achieved these outcomes and driven change.

astrojax astrojax 1:55 pm 16 Aug 10

blackberrystorm said :

Writing a selection criteria really isn’t that hard. You don’t need to be able to write in ‘SC’ talk, you just need to be able to determine what skills they are asking you to demonstrate.

People shouldn’t be scared about writing a SC, by doing a bit of research and putting in a bit of hard work then you’ll be setting yourself apart from the majority of other applicants. If you can’t walk the walk and talk the talk then you leave yourself vulnerable to losing out on the position to others that have done the research. That’s not to say that you need to be a clone in order to secure a position, you just have to be creative. …

Just my 3 cents.

while of course there are sensible points to be made for some sort of selection criteria in recruitment processes, the idea that someone can simply ‘do a bit of research’ and whacko, they’ll knock up a winning application neglects the sort of first time / new to canberra applicant who may not already have contacts in the ps and so it may take a few goes at applicatios before they have much hope of acquiring this [dubious] skill and being admitted to ‘the game’ – why shouldn’t a suitable applicatn have a fair and realistic chance of securing the gig at their first attempt?

and while you shouldn’t have to write in ‘sc speak’, as you say, the reality is you do; and you need to know what ‘demonstrating these skills’ entails and to write so the audience [a typical panel] will not have to think outside their narrow expectations.

not talking the talk means you lose out to those who are already in the game, not necessarily those who have ‘done the research’ (other than through some usually considerable experience in the system)

shadow boxer said :

A good selection criteria quickly uncovers those that think the actual work of the Public Sefvice is beneath their considerable skills or simply don’t wish to hang up the tools and particiapte in the difficult budget cycles and strategic planning.

a ‘good selection criteria’, by definition, would be one that clearly asks the applicant to tell the panel the information that is relevant to the position – codswallop that it weeds out those for whom government sector work is beneath them – now, that’s a high and mighty statement – need mirror…

btw, care to elucidate ‘strategic thinking’ and ‘business outcomes’ for us? and do it in a sentence or two, max, for each…

shadow boxer shadow boxer 1:30 pm 16 Aug 10

I love selection criteria, it lets me immediately weed out those that can’t write or understand concepts like business outcomes or strategic planning.

It’s especially true with IT contractors who I like to think of as the plumbers of the 21st century, they have a mildly unique skill set, leased BMW’s, cheap suits and a chip on their shoulder the size of a small car, much like Tradies used to…

If you ask 90% of them to outline the business benefits of the technology they are proposing you will get a blank look or more techno-babble.

A good selection criteria quickly uncovers those that think the actual work of the Public Sefvice is beneath their considerable skills or simply don’t wish to hang up the tools and particiapte in the difficult budget cycles and strategic planning.

blackberrystorm blackberrystorm 10:46 am 16 Aug 10

farnarkler said :

I find it amazing how complicated the selection criteria have become in the space of a decade. When I left the APS in 98, selection criteria consisted of one sentence per criteria. Now, each criteria has a number of ‘inner’ criteria.

Did anyone read Dr Ann Villier’s article in the CT a few weeks ago? She wrote that selection criteria are so complex that potential employees aren’t applying for jobs they could do very well.

I agree that they are getting more complicated. However, it might be because there is more competition for positions within the public service.

Writing a selection criteria really isn’t that hard. You don’t need to be able to write in ‘SC’ talk, you just need to be able to determine what skills they are asking you to demonstrate.

People shouldn’t be scared about writing a SC, by doing a bit of research and putting in a bit of hard work then you’ll be setting yourself apart from the majority of other applicants. If you can’t walk the walk and talk the talk then you leave yourself vulnerable to losing out on the position to others that have done the research. That’s not to say that you need to be a clone in order to secure a position, you just have to be creative. I guess the reason each criterion is so generic is so that it captures the many skills/experience and attributes that a lot of people have – the more that apply the better the chance of recruiting high calibre staff.

Just my 3 cents.

cmdwedge cmdwedge 8:52 am 16 Aug 10

I get a few calls every month from recruitment agencies… if the words ‘ok, I’ll send you the selection criteria’ ever come up in conversation, I hang up the phone.

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