Reforming the selection process: NT ahead of the game

By David Donaldson

January 22, 2016

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It’s well known that the tide is moving against long job applications at the Commonwealth level: public service commissioner John Lloyd is no fan of tedious selection criteria and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has adopted the ‘one page pitch’ approach to recruitment.

Less widely recognised is that the tiny Northern Territory Public Service had a similar policy in place a few months before PMC.

NT commissioner for public employment Craig Allen-portrait
Craig Allen

“We were a bit ahead of the game”, NT commissioner for public employment Craig Allen told The Mandarin.

“A lot of the selection processes around the public sector are archaic. There is often very little difference between selection criteria. We’re trying to get people to write succinctly, and a good way to do that is the single page application.”

Under the new rules introduced in June 2015 — an outcome of the Chief Minister’s Simplified Recruitment Initiative, intended to streamline and improve the quality of NTPS selection processes — unsuccessful applicants for public sector jobs in the territory are also given information about who was given the position and why.

The NT saw a 30% jump in public servant “grievance reviews” against employers in the year to June, before the introduction of the new system — with the largest growth in complaints about recruitment selection decisions. Some of those were unsuccessful job applicants wanting to know why they were overlooked.

But while he thinks people making complaints isn’t a bad thing in itself — it means people feel comfortable and confident enough to think it worthwhile engaging the appeal system — Allen said appeals against selection decisions were trending down since the new policy was implemented.

The response to the changes has been generally positive. A lot of people “have said ‘thank you for making it one page, we were sick of writing the same thing’,” he explained. “You would get lots of cut and pasting.”

As part of the simplified process, 4500 of the NT’s 20,000 public servants have been given recruitment merit selection training.

“You would get lots of cut and pasting.”

This includes learning about the importance of referee reports — “not from your cousin or your uncle, but from a former or current supervisor” — and teaching people how to “drill down” and look for specific things in referee reports.

If the selection panel has enough information and they think that person is a standout and is already well known to the panel, the selectors can choose not to interview them if it would be “a waste of time”, he adds.

“Anecdotally we’re getting information this has shortened the process considerably.”

Asked about concerns the single page format could make it harder for some to explain gaps in their CV — for time taken off to care for children, for example — Allen admitted “there is no perfect selection process”, but said it seemed to be a good way to find the best person, and that they had had no complaints about it so far.

The Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment intends to conduct a review in June to examine whether the first year of the new policy has been successful.

Allen also said the whole-of-government human resources policy review currently being undertaken was to ensure the same approaches were being taken to HR policies across the territory’s 30 agencies.

“There are only 20,000 employees in the NT public service. I came from the Queensland Department of Education where that one department had 80,000 employees,” he said.

“Even though it’s small, there are lots of different policies on the same issue, so we’re trying to standardise policies.”

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