Description is not evidence

Applicants can be asked to provide evidence that demonstrates their skills and knowledge. In response to this request applicants may write paragraphs in the present tense describing what they do in general terms. This material does not provide evidence of past, demonstrated experience. It may sound like it does, but it doesn’t.

For example someone might write about the communication skills:

During my career I have always displayed effective communication skills. I always practice an open door policy, listen carefully to what people say, adjust my message to the person, and carefully negotiate a win-win outcome. I have the skills and experience to make presentations, brief my manager and colleagues, write informative reports, and keep my team informed. I believe that my communication skills will enable me to effectively perform in this new role.

On the face of it this paragraph looks like it is providing evidence. On closer examination it describes general practice using words and phrases from capability frameworks and management texts. It provides no evidence that the person has actually applied any of these skills and therefore is likely to perform in a similar manner in the future.

What is needed is an actual example that demonstrates the skills referred to. For example a person could write:

During my career I have faced a range of situations where I have applied effective communication skills. For example I was a keynote presenter on public service ethics at the 2014 XYZ conference. Several delegates thanked me for my informative and provocative material. During the last six months I have negotiated four complex contracts with suppliers of employment services, briefed executive staff on the research underpinning the decline in STEM careers, and held fortnightly team meetings to review progress with key projects. Feedback from managers, colleagues and staff confirm that I am approachable, informative, concise, accurate, and can explain technical details in a way that is readily understandable.

This paragraph refers to several specific instances. The application requirements may demand that you give details of one situation, specifying what your role was, what challenges you faced, what actions you took, and what outcome you achieved. In this case a person could write:

During my career I have faced a range of complex situations where I have applied effective communication skills. For example, during the last six months I negotiated four complex contracts with suppliers of employment services. I was the primary contact with these suppliers. Challenges in completing these negotiations included; requests from each supplier for unique clauses to be included in the contract with the potential to make monitoring and evaluation inconsistent and unfair; an aggressive approach by two of the suppliers; a highly legalistic approach by one supplier; and the suppliers being located in four different states. My aim was to achieve maximum consistency while accommodating individual needs. I achieved this by responding to all requests for further information and for consideration of individual clauses; by ensuring my approach was backed by internal legal advice; and providing individual suppliers with timely and informative meetings. As a result contracts were finalised with all four suppliers, to their satisfaction, by the deadline.

The difference between these examples and the general approach is that they are written in the past tense, are about specific situations rather than general description, and relate how behaviours contributed to an outcome.

Next time you are writing responses and think you are providing evidence, stop and ask yourself:

  • Am I writing in the past or present tense?
  • Am I writing about specific examples or am I talking in generalities?
  • And I linking my behaviours to an outcome?

If you are writing generalities in the present tense with no link to an outcome then you need to start again.

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.