Recruitment: how to win a job with a private sector background

By Sharon Akinyi

August 11, 2014

Winning a job in the private sector can often be done through making a compelling case in a well-crafted CV boasting impressive qualifications and extensive experience. However, it would be detrimental to think that the same applies in the public service.

Selection criteria rule in public service recruitment; they are used to substantiate skills and assess suitability for the role, and the successful candidates are those who carefully and comprehensively address them.

While the concept of selection criteria is nothing new, there is a distinct approach in the way they must be addressed in the Australian public service, and it’s not uncommon that it is missed by many applicants from the private sector. Their limited experience and knowledge in the process places them at a disadvantage to their APS competitors who are well-versed in the nuances of selection criteria.

Many private sector applicants fail to make the link between their experience and the selection criteria. They instead rely on their CVs to do the talking and hope for a chance to make their case in an interview. Because of the graded aspect of APS recruitment, this oversight earns them an early setback in the race.

There is also a tendency for some private sector applicants to take a “carpet bombing” approach to APS job applications in the hopes that one of them will prevail. Successful applications are those that are tailored to suit the specific role and, needless to say, the recruitment panel sees right through “carpet bombing”.

To get a foot in the door, private sector applicants must understand the precise writing and communication style required for public service applications. By taking the following advice, they can become frontrunners for an APS job …

Tailor your application

It will work in your favour to go to the effort of writing and submitting tailored and well-considered applications. The public service is a complex environment so tailor your application, and take the time to do your homework on the department/agency. Consider questions like:

  • Who is the minister?
  • What is their portfolio?
  • What are the key issues and challenges facing the organisation?
  • What is the organisation’s strategic direction?

There are many resources at your disposal to find this information: websites, annual reports, corporate plans, budget papers, policy statements and Senate Estimates transcripts to name a few. You will instantly increase your chances of success when you work this information into your selection criteria responses.

Understand the written aspect of the application

Particularly the selection criteria, which are critical. The skills and experiences you highlight when responding to the selection criteria should be supported with examples using the STAR format (situation, task, action/approach and result).

Don’t worry if you haven’t worked in a role identical to the one you’re applying for. What is important is that your written application explains how your private sector skills and experience distinguish you as an ideal candidate. Think about what makes these skills and experiences transferable and how they will enable you to decisively influence the work and direction of your team.

Call the contact officer

Applicants already in the APS reap the benefits of access to departmental policies and guidelines, and knowledge of standard APS processes and jargon, giving them a better understanding of the advertised role. Speaking to the contact officer is the only way to regain the advantage and get an insight into how best to adapt your application.

Your first exceptional APS job application will be the hardest to write, but the task of applying for future APS jobs does become easier once you have a decent application to use as a starting point.

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