Check application requirements carefully

Since the introduction of pitch approaches to APS applications various forms of this approach are now in use. Applicants need to read the wording of application requirements carefully. While they seem the same, minor differences in wording can make the difference between an application that does, or doesn’t, deliver what is asked for.

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet introduced the pitch. Their ‘Opportunity’ documents tell applicants what they want in a pitch: “A ‘one page pitch’ telling us how your skills, knowledge, experience and qualifications makes you the best person for the job.”

“Your one page pitch is a chance to tell us why you are the right person for the job. We want to know why you want to work at PM&C, why you are interested in the role, what you can offer us, and how your skills, knowledge, experience and qualifications are applicable to the role. In a nutshell – why should we hire you?”

Other departments and agencies have adopted the pitch but don’t necessarily provide any guidance on how to respond.

Here are some variations and their accompanying traps.

‘Submit a 1 page pitch demonstrating your suitability for the role using the selection criteria as a guide to the capabilities required for the position.’

Comments: The Job Description Form that this request comes from includes a set of selection criteria which are job specific They cover skills, experience and qualifications. By suggesting they be used as a ‘guide’ it is left unclear as to whether an applicant needs to address them all or use them to inform their application.

‘Please upload a statement of claims [no more than 2 pages long] describing how your skills, knowledge, experience and qualifications would make you suitable for this role. In preparing your statement of claims, please take into account the Executive Level Leadership Capabilities with particular reference to skill requirements and listed duties of the position.’

Comments: The Job Description for this request includes a list of seven skills/attributes that ‘successful applicants will demonstrate’. Applicants would need to seek out the relevant Capability Development Framework and balance these requirements against the listed skill requirements and duties. The statement would need to provide a case for how you would be able to do the role and make a contribution, i.e. be suitable for the role.

‘Submit a singe 1000 word response that briefly outlines your interest in this role and specifically addresses the selection criteria below, providing examples that demonstrate your ability to perform the duties of the position, and noting any relevant experience.’

Comments: The Information Pack for this role includes four of the Integrated Leadership System capabilities as selection criteria, with three relevant to the application. This statement needs an answer to ‘why you are interested in this role’ as well as examples to support the three criteria that are relevant to the role, which is a specialist role. Given the specialised nature of the role, an applicant would also need to refer to relevant experience.

‘As part of your application, please indicate which level and any particular role you are interested in and provide a one page pitch [maximum 6000 characters – approximately 1000 words] telling us how your skills, knowledge, experience and qualifications make you well suited to the division.’

Comments: This request relates to a bulk round with several positions available at different levels and various places within the department. In explaining how to apply, applicants are referred to the department’s Capability Development Framework with a link. Reference is also made to the ILS, which is not exactly the same as the department’s capability framework. A key trap here is that the limit is in characters, not words. An applicant needs to make a short case for both level and role plus explain how what they offer is well suited to a particular division. To achieve such a pitch, some research is needed to understand the context.

‘Please provide a maximum 6000 character [approximately 1000 words] response addressing your suitability for the position and describing how you have the relevant experience and skills required to perform the role.’

Comments: This example is from the same department as the previous one, yet the wording is not the same. Applicants are referred to the department’s capability framework. The Job Description includes a list of role requirements [capabilities, skills and knowledge].

‘In one combined word document include: your responses addressing [sic] outlining what you could bring to this position including your skills, experience and knowledge relevant to the job specific capabilities [maximum 2 pages].’ [a cover sheet and resume are also included in this document].

Comments: Further advice is given on how to apply – ‘Your statement of claims against the job specific capabilities is your opportunity to demonstrate your competency and is the most important factor in determining whether your application will be short-listed. Please address each specific capability and provide evidence of your suitability with examples from your current or past roles which demonstrate how you meet the capability. The STAR approach is one way of presenting information…’ The job description lists five Job Specific Capabilities, five areas of desirable experience or qualifications, and a healthy list of twelve primary responsibilities. ‘Outlining’ is not the same as STAR-based evidence.

Lessons: 

  • No two pitches are the same. The wording of what is asked for subtly differs making what you write different for each one.
  • Sometimes the requirements are poorly written and can be confusing. Make a call to the contact person to clarify anything that is unclear.
  • Even within the same department, the requirements may vary, so don’t assume past requirements will be the same for any new application.
  • Word, page or character limits may make it impossible to directly cover everything required of applicants.

A structured, coherent, evidence-based statement is needed for these applications. A broad approach to try is this three-part structure:

Section 1: An opening paragraph that makes a succinct case for why you should be considered for the vacancy, based on motivation, portfolio of skills, knowledge and experience relevant to the role, value.

Section 2: Several example-based paragraphs which tell CAR-stories about how you have used your role-related skills to deliver results. Select examples that combine criteria. Dot-point summaries reflect the scope of your experience. Where possible link the experience to the value it will provide in the new role.

  • Context— strategic context [goals, policies, strategies], complexity, risks, difficulties/challenges, players, role.
  • Actions— most critical, relevant, senior; reasoning/decisions behind actions.
  • Results—the end result of actions, both intended and unintended, feedback about efforts, lessons/future application.

Section 3: A short closing paragraph that could indicate the contribution you wish to make and your enthusiasm for this opportunity.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer 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.