Gaining a competitive edge in the job stakes: A conversation at Paperchain Bookstore Manuka
Writing an application is a painful experience. That pain comes from:
- Not understanding the process
- Not understanding the jargon
- The amount of information that has to be provided
- The amount of time it takes to compile that information.
One of the reasons for writing the first edition of my book was to reduce this pain. It’s a shame that four editions later, the pain continues and in some ways has increased.
One reason is that the game rules change. The fourth edition (How to Write and Talk to Selection Criteria) updates the rules. Even since its release last year, there have been further developments. These include:
- Agencies are increasingly using:
Generic criteria based on the Integrated Leadership System with its recent extension to cover APS 3-6. This means that everyone will need to understand this System. Online application submission. Bulk rounds rather than job specific selection.
- Attention is being given to three areas. Employment of:
- Indigenous Australians
- People with disabilities
- Mature age workers.
- Increasing attention is being given to retention issues.
- There is a growing realisation that selection panels need to be skilled. (See 101 Ways to Erode Trust in Public Sector Recruiting.)
Four tips for reducing the pain and boosting job success.
- Pitch to the level of the job.
Particularly when applying for a promotion, applicants need to understand the demands of working at the level of the job. This means examples need to be appropriate and couched in the ‘right’ language.
Some ways applicants undersell themselves with poor language choices:
- Strategic vs operational When applying for APS6 and above positions you need to talk strategic language. This is the language of advice, big picture, the future, wider impacts. Operational language is tasks, activities, duties.
- Not putting yourself in the picture Your application is about you so you need to talk about you. Talking in the third person takes you out. For example: ‘It (the job) involved defining the options.’ Surely what you mean is ‘I defined the options.’
- Also not helpful is saying ‘I was responsible for ...’. This creates a doubt. Did you actually do it? ‘I was responsible for negotiating the deal’ can become ‘I negotiated the deal.’
- Using initiative Referring to the times when you were ‘required’ to do something sends signals that you need to be told what to do and supervised closely. As you go up the agency ladder, you are expected to use your initiative or at least get on with the job with little supervision. ‘I was required to solve the problem’ can usually be changed to ‘I solved the problem.’
- Relevant examples If a criterion is about analytical skills it’s not the best approach to write about something else, such as problem solving. While solving problems may use analytical skills, not mentioning it creates doubt. It also puts a burden on the selection panel to figure out whether your problem solving did involve analysis. So talk about what’s in the criteria.
- Manage your acting experience
To set yourself up for a promotion you need to pay more attention to how you manage your acting experience, particularly if you are applying for a bulk round.
When invited to act at a higher level, determine if you are warming a seat or really likely to gain value from the experience.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Does my manager understand the difference between the job level I’m doing and the one I’ll be acting in?
- What is different about working at this level?
- What am I going to do during this period of acting and how does this work reflect the higher level of the job?
- What can I learn that I don’t already know?
- What guidance and feedback will I receive?
- What records will I keep?
And when you apply for a job, make sure your referees understand the level of the job and write their reference based on those requirements, not on the job you are doing.
- Manage your mental pantry
Both of my books (also see Gorgeous Daring Dames) are written from a Mental Nutrition perspective, explaining how we are stocking our mental pantry can undermine our ability to achieve fruitful results.
The applicant who is mindful of what is stocked in their mental pantry is likely to perform better, particularly at interview. Being mindful means paying attention to the thoughts that you ruminate on in the lead up to the interview. What assumptions are you making about yourself, the job, the panel, the agency? What are your expectations? What memories are affecting your now?
For confidence-building tips see both How to Write and Talk to Selection Criteria (chapters 1, 12) and Gorgeous Daring Dames (chapters 1-3, 7, 9-10).
The Daring Dames I interviewed (chapter 19) offer these four tips:
- Take tiny steps – break big jobs like writing an application, into smaller steps.
- Learn your lessons – when things don’t go according to plan, reflect on what the lesson is. Learn the lesson. Take another step.
- Find out what you love doing – it’s easier to be enthusiastic about a job that entices you.
- Go for your strong points – you must know and sell your strengths.
- Use language boldly
You could be sabotaging yourself through what you say?
In Gorgeous Daring Dames I encourage readers to choose words wisely and use language boldly (chapters 13-14). When applying for jobs, people need to learn self-promotion talk (chapters 14 How to Write and Talk to Selection Criteria). This means talking the language of:
- Results – offering examples that show how your behaviour produced a result (preferably positive).
- Achievements – something you’ve succeeded in doing, especially after effort.
- ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ or ‘it’ – learn to talk in the first person.
- Benefits and value of what you are offering – you are engaged in a marketing exercise. What’s in it for the organisation (represented by the panel) to ‘buy’ you rather than someone else? Think of the blurb on the back of a book. It’s designed to entice you to take it to the cash register. What’s the blurb you are offering?
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Dr Ann Villiers, learning guide, professional speaker and author, is Australia's only Mental Nutritionist® specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people. Visit www.mentalnutrition.com to learn more about Mental Nutrition. Visit www.selectioncriteria.com.au for free resources unlocking the mysteries of public service jobs.