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Canberra, you are difficult to find work in!

By Brad 17 September 2013 60

I’ve found Canberra to be a very different experience in gaining employment, compared to my previous home, Sydney. I really need to vent.

I’ve worked as an onsite technician in the fields of Security Systems, Communications and IT. For the past seven years I’ve had no issue obtaining work, and have spent a grand total of 2 days unemployed when one company was affected by the financial downturn in 2009.

I have to say my job-seeking experience has been less than desirable since moving to Canberra in July (To be with my partner who lives here, after 4 years it’s about time). I have spent since April this year applying for jobs, including many of those APS / ACT Government positions requiring lengthy selection criteria responses. I’ve only been lucky enough to land temporary work this month. Whilst that’s like gold at the moment, they can only give me work when large projects are on! Five months unemployed isn’t fun.

Has anyone else had this problem? I really can’t stay silent and continue to chase one empty opportunity after another. I’d really rather not go on welfare, nor would I want to go work for Woolies or Maccas given my qualifications and experience.

I’m extremely frustrated with spending hours responding to selection criteria, only to find the employer doesn’t even want to get to know me. As it stands I’m ready to put on my suit and begin answering phones for tech support on the Monday after my temp work is finished! I’m willing to work! I’ve plenty of experience, and am keen to further my learning as well. It is getting to the stage where I’ve had to look into outsourcing the job hunt, and offer incentive for someone successfully finding me placement!

What’s Your opinion?


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Canberra, you are difficult to find work in!
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thebrownstreak69 9:24 am 22 Nov 13

dazzab said :

When the PS advertises a position often times someone in the department will have been appointed to act in that position. The manner in which selection criteria are written, which a selection panel must follow exactly, makes it very difficult to rank above someone who is actually performing those duties. So if they want the job they will more than likely get it unless they are hopeless. It makes sense but it’s a total waste of time for external applicants.

I have also seen external applicants that were over qualified, and willing to take a pay cut, beat out internal staff who have been acting in a position for six months. In the private sector applying for a job that you are overqualified for might be taken as a bit of a warning but in the PS they are so bound to due process that these things happen. The process is designed to get the best value for money and to ensure that it is fair but personally I think it doesn’t work out that way in a lot of cases.

Bottom line, I agree with you. If you are looking to work in the PS it’s difficult to get appointed even if you are qualified. As others here have said, you have to know the exact language and the rules of the game. Getting feedback on why you weren’t selected is a must but I believe that’s only done if you were actually short listed and interviewed.

The ‘fair’ thing seems kind of silly. Surely they should be looking to get the best person possible into the available role?

dazzab 12:07 am 22 Nov 13

When the PS advertises a position often times someone in the department will have been appointed to act in that position. The manner in which selection criteria are written, which a selection panel must follow exactly, makes it very difficult to rank above someone who is actually performing those duties. So if they want the job they will more than likely get it unless they are hopeless. It makes sense but it’s a total waste of time for external applicants.

I have also seen external applicants that were over qualified, and willing to take a pay cut, beat out internal staff who have been acting in a position for six months. In the private sector applying for a job that you are overqualified for might be taken as a bit of a warning but in the PS they are so bound to due process that these things happen. The process is designed to get the best value for money and to ensure that it is fair but personally I think it doesn’t work out that way in a lot of cases.

Bottom line, I agree with you. If you are looking to work in the PS it’s difficult to get appointed even if you are qualified. As others here have said, you have to know the exact language and the rules of the game. Getting feedback on why you weren’t selected is a must but I believe that’s only done if you were actually short listed and interviewed.

Dilandach 10:38 pm 21 Nov 13

ausbradr said :

Well, I should probably update this thread.

I did it. I landed permanent work a couple of weeks ago. Doing what I wanted, in the private sector, but that’s probably for the better given the current climate. My barrage of applications paid off rather well.

Thanks to those who posted advice.

Those making the snarky posts on the other hand (which seems to be common around these boards), on the other hand. Kindly sodomise yourself with a chair.

Hard to tell if I’ve received thanks or should be sodimising myself with a chair…

Instructions unclear.

Morgo 9:08 pm 21 Nov 13

hey ausbradr I’ve just read through this thread and your last post and I’m genuinely pleased for you. There truly are some tossers out there who didn’t really bring much to the table when they were born, so well done to you and up yours to the naysayers.

ausbradr 7:23 pm 21 Nov 13

Well, I should probably update this thread.

I did it. I landed permanent work a couple of weeks ago. Doing what I wanted, in the private sector, but that’s probably for the better given the current climate. My barrage of applications paid off rather well.

Thanks to those who posted advice.

Those making the snarky posts on the other hand (which seems to be common around these boards), on the other hand. Kindly sodomise yourself with a chair.

ausbradr 9:03 pm 26 Sep 13

Lum said :

You are absolutely right on the selection criteria – the answers must be in the acceptable genre – “APS lingo” or whatever we might call it. Your experience matters less than that it be expressed in a form easily digestible to the system. Akin to having the right data design for a database.

Use this book – “How to Write and Talk to Selection Criteria” by Dr Ann Villiers. Maybe you can get it from the library.

Returning from overseas, and very experienced, my wife and I had trouble finding work. So many applications, so many promising leads, but very few of those being from the APS or similarly institutionalised organisations requiring detailed addressing of selection criteria.

We bought this book, applied it to one application and she got the job. 1:1 correlation says something to me.

A caveat though. It took us a long time to apply the advice. We both have experience as applied linguists and we laboured over it at length.

So, IME, absent being in the know, that’s what it takes to effectively address selection criteria – 2 applied linguists and a detailed set of instructions including samples for illustration.

If you want a hand – give me a yell on lum_backinaflash.com.au <—-You know what the underscore is for…

That’s really quite good to know. Cheers for that Lum.

I’ve been quite busy with the temp job winding down a project, and have been following a couple of leads that came up this week (I could have this job thing sorted next week, all going well, fingers crossed, etc). However if that falls through, then it’s definitely back to writing more criteria responses for me. Of which I’ll most definitely hunt down that book. I’ll probably still need to email you, as it would be wonderful to have a (successful) second pair of eyes to look over my work.

I’m hoping for the best on this current lead I’m following! 🙂

Lum 11:20 am 26 Sep 13

You are absolutely right on the selection criteria – the answers must be in the acceptable genre – “APS lingo” or whatever we might call it. Your experience matters less than that it be expressed in a form easily digestible to the system. Akin to having the right data design for a database.

Use this book – “How to Write and Talk to Selection Criteria” by Dr Ann Villiers. Maybe you can get it from the library.

Returning from overseas, and very experienced, my wife and I had trouble finding work. So many applications, so many promising leads, but very few of those being from the APS or similarly institutionalised organisations requiring detailed addressing of selection criteria.

We bought this book, applied it to one application and she got the job. 1:1 correlation says something to me.

A caveat though. It took us a long time to apply the advice. We both have experience as applied linguists and we laboured over it at length.

So, IME, absent being in the know, that’s what it takes to effectively address selection criteria – 2 applied linguists and a detailed set of instructions including samples for illustration.

If you want a hand – give me a yell on lum_backinaflash.com.au <—-You know what the underscore is for…

wildturkeycanoe 7:08 pm 22 Sep 13

Lazy I said :

Really I should have just +1’d Dilandach’s post instead of writing my own. 😀

Isn’t that how someone in the PS increases their productivity?

Lazy I 10:21 pm 21 Sep 13

Really I should have just +1’d Dilandach’s post instead of writing my own. 😀

Lazy I 10:14 pm 21 Sep 13

ausbradr said :

I do lots of work in technology. I hold 2EF(NSW) security licence (ACT conversion pending), National Open Cabling registration. My jobs have been in the fields of Electronic Security for enterprise / government, Telephony (PABX, VoIP, DECT/WiFi), Nurse Call Systems, Wireless Networks, LAN cabling, Information Technology (Windows Servers, Databases), and I have hobbyist experience with Linux. I’ve done a bit of everything, from pulling cables to programming/administrating these systems.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this isn’t ‘lots of work in technology’, it looks like cabling and basic networking, I don’t see how much of this experience is applicable to a full time government position.
All cabling I have ever seen in government has been carried out by subcontractors, it’s not viable to keep someone on site to run data cable, same goes for ageing PABX systems most of the time (unless there is an equally aged PABX admin on staff).
If you do networking / VoIP and Wifi, do you have CCNA / CCNP?, both can be had with self paced learning + exams and are a definite foot in the door.
If you do Windows administration do you have basic certs such as MCITP / MCTS? when you admin ‘databases’ is that Access ‘databses’, or corporate MSSQL / Oracle / DB2 installations? I am yet to meet an Oracle administrator that had trouble finding work.
What languages do you code in? If you want in to government you’re likely going to want Java / C#.
People can blame the PS all they want (I don’t work for the PS), but the reality is, you’re competing with a pretty strong IT market in the ACT.

ausbradr 5:57 pm 21 Sep 13

wildturkeycanoe said :

From what I hear, and this is word-of-mouth second person information, the PS is wrought with nepotism. For those who don’t know what that means, if you have a friend or a friend of a friend who is high enough in the system, you only have to ask them for help and you can get a foot in the door for a position in the industry. This means, that it isn’t necessarily your qualifications that get you a job nor how well you answer all their questions but rather, who is scrutinizing your application and how well you know them.

I try to be optimistic hope that nepotism in any government service is stuff that toilet wall graffiti is made of, but I’m not naive and know how the real world can operate. Hopefully I get employed on merit. It’s a great thing, and an achievement. That, and I don’t know that many people in high places in this town just yet! 😀

wildturkeycanoe 12:32 pm 21 Sep 13

From what I hear, and this is word-of-mouth second person information, the PS is wrought with nepotism. For those who don’t know what that means, if you have a friend or a friend of a friend who is high enough in the system, you only have to ask them for help and you can get a foot in the door for a position in the industry. This means, that it isn’t necessarily your qualifications that get you a job nor how well you answer all their questions but rather, who is scrutinizing your application and how well you know them.
We’ve gone through the same thing in a small country town [pop 7000] with my wife having applied for 100+ jobs over the space of a year or so. We came to Canberra for a holiday, she applied for 3 jobs on a whim and ended up being asked to start work for two of them before the end of the week. That’s how we ended up becoming Canberrans. If only it was still that easy today….

Dilandach 12:06 pm 21 Sep 13

ausbradr said :

wildturkeycanoe said :

Some people think they have all the answers don’t they ausbradr?
Just imagine if you posted about buying a car, specifically a 4 door 4wheel drive utility for instance, in the under $10,000 bracket. They’d have you attending BMW dealerships asking to test drive new sports coupes and criticizing you for not going all the way to Melbourne to find the cheap bargains.
Welcome to what’s commonly known as “having your head in the clouds”.

Yeah I had to laugh a little. I told my partner she was wasting her time with university. She could clearly apply for all 100s of positions in her field on seek with no issue, and find work! PMSL! :p

Okay, I’m just going to be straight up. If it seems rude then well… *shrug*

If you’ve really been applying for many jobs without success then perhaps its time you stopped taking the “its them, not me” approach and start finding out why you were knocked back or got no response. You seem to be a jack of all trades and master of none, do you have a specialisation that you’re focused on if you are working in IT? Its going to do you no good if you know a little bit about a lot with no direction on what you want to do.

You can cable, all well and good but what are you? An electrician? A cabler? A network engineer? A DBA?

If you really do have server / db experience then its also no good if the extent of that is ‘I saw a guy use NT4 once’. If you’re older than 25 – 30 then you’re going to have to stop with the “I’m not sure what I’m going to be when I grow up” and start looking at an area you want to stick to.

You have hobby linux experience? Well good for you, so does a good portion of the planet. The difference is turning that hobby into real enterprise level demonstrable skills otherwise, don’t waste your time in depending on something you’re not developing. If you put it on your resume and don’t know anything more than typing ‘startx’ then you are going to be caught out and if you are, you may as well just stand up and walk out of the interview. I’ve caught my share of ‘Linux specialists’ in interviews who didn’t know their greps from their awks. Their resumes were placed in the circular filing cabinet.

Do you tailor your resume to the role that you’re applying for or do you have a resume that you send out for all the roles? You need to have your resume bring to front the skills that the job you’re applying is looking for.

Is there something you’re not telling us? Have you finished high school? Have you got a uni degree? A TAFE qualification? Any vendor certs? undertaken any homestudy in vendor certs? Vendor training? Where is it that you stand in that regard.

I find it *extremely* hard to believe that someone with experience and qualifications would find it difficult to get an IT job in Canberra after a period of time. As I said, perhaps its time you stopped thinking of the “its them, not me” approach and start looking inward on why you may not be getting employment.

ausbradr 11:10 am 21 Sep 13

wildturkeycanoe said :

Some people think they have all the answers don’t they ausbradr?
Just imagine if you posted about buying a car, specifically a 4 door 4wheel drive utility for instance, in the under $10,000 bracket. They’d have you attending BMW dealerships asking to test drive new sports coupes and criticizing you for not going all the way to Melbourne to find the cheap bargains.
Welcome to what’s commonly known as “having your head in the clouds”.

Yeah I had to laugh a little. I told my partner she was wasting her time with university. She could clearly apply for all 100s of positions in her field on seek with no issue, and find work! PMSL! :p

allyroger 9:35 am 21 Sep 13

It is tough. I took a VR from private last December and only managed to get in to PS at end of May. Must of done 100+ apps and attended 30 interviews. My advice is google the STAR method and cracking the code and get your standard Selection Criteria answers ready. They can generally be tweaked for most of the jobs. Once i figured that out, i would get an interview almost every time. Try and weave STAR method examples into interview questions too.

Thats only part 1 of your problem because many of the jobs have people acting in them and there is very little chance of them giving the job to an outsider. Hopefully you can find an agency which subscribes to a genuine merit based process where you can compete.

Just don’t give up – its just a matter of time.

switch 9:09 am 21 Sep 13

taninaus said :

sorry but the selection criteria is the way we work. essentially it lets us assess all applicants on an even playing field – resumes are so variable you can’t really tell what the person can do against the qualifications and experience you need them to have.

Selection criteria are there to cover the selector’s arse in case the unselected ever challenge the selection process. The rest of the world seems to manage hiring quite well without them. And they hire people who can do the job based on their CV, not merely those good at writing selection criteria answers.

wildturkeycanoe 7:35 am 21 Sep 13

Some people think they have all the answers don’t they ausbradr?
Just imagine if you posted about buying a car, specifically a 4 door 4wheel drive utility for instance, in the under $10,000 bracket. They’d have you attending BMW dealerships asking to test drive new sports coupes and criticizing you for not going all the way to Melbourne to find the cheap bargains.
Welcome to what’s commonly known as “having your head in the clouds”.

ausbradr 6:46 pm 20 Sep 13

Dilandach said :

One question though, are you looking at jumping on the APS gravy train or are you looking at private companies?

I’m looking at both.

ausbradr 6:33 pm 20 Sep 13

Genie said :

You’ve talked about 5 months being unemployed, surely during this time you could have started studying a different area of IT to increase your chances.

If you’re as desperate for work as you’re making out, then you should be applying for a hell of alot more than 50 jobs in 3 months. Perhaps it’s time to step out of your comfort zone and work in a different area while still looking for something in your field.

Study with what money? I am living as frugally as I can because of this uncertainty. This month’s pay has been budgeted to last 3 months!

I’ve tried applying for positions in fields other than IT. More to the point I’ve had an interview, demonstrated I was capable / keen to do the job, yet I still get declined. There are other applications in that lot I’ve written that have been knocked back without any interview.

taninaus 6:02 pm 20 Sep 13

I get involved in recruitment at work and there are a lot of people looking around – particularly people seeking to get into the public service (who’d have thought!!). there are many more applicants at the lower levels and reasonable levels at the more senior admin levels in what I have seen and heard. this means you have to stand out and if you are applying for public service – sorry but the selection criteria is the way we work. essentially it lets us assess all applicants on an even playing field – resumes are so variable you can’t really tell what the person can do against the qualifications and experience you need them to have.

if you want to get better at addressing selection criteria there is plenty of information on the web and most particularly a book giving you all the info you need to do it well – buy/borrow a copy of ‘How to write and talk to selection criteria’ by Ann Villiers. She also has a website heavily targetting public service recruitment processes. If you get someone to help you write the response make sure it is in your voice and you can talk to it, it can be very easy to tell who hasn’t written their information when you get them into an interview!

Good luck with your job search.

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