Recruitment: the five reasons you didn't get an interview

By Sharon Akinyi

November 3, 2014

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for your application and for your interest in this position. Your application has now been considered and I regret to advise you that your application was unsuccessful on this occasion. We appreciate your interest in working for our organisation.

Sound familiar?

It can be gut-wrenching to receive a rejection email or letter for a job you had your heart set on. The time spent compiling the application, editing your resume and composing a cover letter suddenly seems to have been a wasted effort. The stockpile of rejection letters wouldn’t make matters any easier.

One of the biggest frustrations for public service jobseekers is figuring out what the selection panel is looking for in job applications. Rejection letters aren’t often accompanied with feedback, making it harder to know how to improve your next application.

Well, wonder no more. APS employees who have been involved in public service recruitment gave their top reasons why applicants don’t progress to interview. What they had to say will give you an insight into useful tweaks you can make to instantly improve your application and finally get a call for that elusive interview.

No link between experience and the role:

“People convince me that they are terrific in their current role and I believe them; but they often don’t explain why their previous role has been a great preparation for this next step in their career.”

When assessing applications for a position, the selection panel looks for evidence that the applicant can effectively perform the advertised role. While it’s not detrimental to outline your amazing achievements in previous roles, you must clearly demonstrate to the selection panel that you can also perform the advertised job with the same diligence and enthusiasm. Simply linking your experience to the duties of the role or the skills required for the role will achieve this.

Didn’t address the selection criteria:

“Many rely on their qualifications and the previous jobs they have done to substantiate their case rather than arguing their case against the selection criteria. Their strong expectation is that they will get the chance to argue their case at interview.”

As much as the majority of us would gladly bypass responding to selection criteria for APS jobs, this process has been around for a long time, and is not going anywhere anytime soon. The use of selection criteria is central to the APS recruitment process, and partially addressing a selection criterion, or not addressing any of them, will hamper your chances for an interview.

Examples not provided:

“Don’t just claim to have a skill (e.g. ‘I am experienced in supervising teams’) — give an example that supports your claim.”

The merit principle — the cornerstone of the use of selection criteria — demands that applicants provide evidence to prove their suitability for the job in the form of examples. Failing to provide them means your application will be thrown into the “don’t hold your breath” pile. But by backing up your claims of suitability for the job with compelling examples, you will instantly increase your chances of getting an interview.

Selection criteria responses not reworked:

“Each application needs to be tailored to suit the specific role. This means changing your CV as well as reworking responses to selection criteria.”

We’re all guilty of recycling an application or three. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, the pitfall comes when the application and selection criteria responses haven’t been reworked to address the specifics of the advertised role. To position yourself as an ideal candidate, adapt each application to integrate the skills, requirements and duties of the position.

Just may not have been suited to the role:

“When an applicant hasn’t been thorough enough in their self-assessment regarding their suitability for a particular role, it reflects in their responses that they aren’t suited to that job.”

Public service employment is currently at its most competitive and sometimes, regardless of how suited you thought you were to a position, you just might not be the right person for that department at that time, compared with another applicant. In this situation, the best way forward is to seek feedback on the strengths of your application and areas for development so you can have a better chance to advance next time around.

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