Eleven tips on writing APS short-form applications

Many APS jobs now ask applicants to write a pitch or short statement of your claims for that job. Such applications usually have a word or page limit, typically 1-2 pages.

There are traps for those unfamiliar with these requirements or accustomed to writing responses to selection criteria. To avoid these traps and save time on tacking your pitch, here are eleven tips to guide your approach.

1. Find the exact wording of application requirements

APS jobs may come with an advertisement, a role description, and an online system, as well as links to corporate documents, the Integrated Leadership System, or Work Level Standards. The role description and advertisement may not tell you what the application requirements are. You may need to look at the online recruitment system to see the exact wording. This information can be found in ‘Preview application form’. In some cases, you may need to open an account to access this information. It’s essential to check the wording, as assumptions can be made that result in being excluded from further consideration.

2. Notice what is asked for in the pitch

The wording may vary across departments, but these examples reflect typical wording.

Provide an outline of:

  • “how your skills, knowledge and experience will be relevant to this role
  • why you are interested in the role and what you can offer us
  • any specific examples or achievements that demonstrate your ability to perform the role.”

“Your application will be assessed on your ability to demonstrate that you possess, or have the real potential to develop, the required skills, knowledge, experience and qualifications to perform the role. These requirements are based on the information provided to you as part of the job advertisement, in line with the APS Work Level Standards. Applicants are required to provide a statement of claims framed around the key duties and key capabilities.”

“An explanation of how your skills, knowledge and experience will be relevant to this role.”

What is important to notice is that while you include examples demonstrating the role requirements (skills, knowledge, experience and qualifications), otherwise called writing selection criteria responses, this is often only one part of the application contents. In many cases you have to say why you are interested in the role, sometimes the department, and what you offer. If these are not covered you are unlikely to receive favourable consideration.

3. Don’t rely on Cracking the Code

Cracking the Code is a document produced by the Australian Public Service Commission to help applicants to understand what is involved in applying for APS jobs. The document has at last been updated to include pitches and short statements, but the brevity of the information means it is of little real help.

What we learn is:

“Your pitch is a chance to tell the agency why you are the right person for the job. They might want to know why you want to work for them, why you are interested in that particular role, what you can offer, and how your skills, knowledge, experience and qualifications are applicable to the job. In a nutshell—why they should hire you.”

This paragraph simply repeats what you’ll learn from the advertisement or role description.

4. Avoid duplicating CV information

The only useful detail on offer in Cracking the Code is:

“Try not to duplicate information that can already be found in your CV, but do highlight any specific examples or achievements that will demonstrate your ability to perform the role.”

Applicants may consume much of their word or page space by giving details that can be found in their CV.

5. A holistic approach to a role is essential

The page or word limit means it can be impossible to cover everything that you might want to say, in the detail you wish to say it. In considering ‘what you have to offer’ you need to think about the context of the role, what the duties are, what the requirements are, which can be expressed in several ways, such as an ideal candidate, selection criteria, essential capabilities, and what the level of responsibility is. Plus, if you can make contact with the contact person, gaining a feel for what is really important, urgent, challenging. Considering this information helps you to focus on the most important and relevant details of what you offer.

6. Relevance is essential

The application requirements often refer to providing information that is ‘relevant to the role’. Taking an holistic approach helps to sift through what is relevant and what is not, or is less important.

For applicants who lack direct experience, the challenge becomes explaining the value of transferable skills and experience.

7. Use a coherent structure

A pitch is essentially a marketing document, grabbing your reader’s attention. The first paragraph becomes critical, as does every word that supports your case.

One way to structure your pitch is to open with a paragraph that summarises the essential  and relevant skills, experience, knowledge and qualifications, your strengths, why you are interested, and what your value to the area, division, department is.

The bulk of the statement provides examples supporting the opening paragraph, and finishes with a short statement confirming your interest or value, or ‘why we should hire you’.

8. Explaining your value is essential

While you may have stated what you offer, explaining its value could be missing.

To explain your value, think about what you offer and what it means for the role, the area, the division or the department. For example, if the role involves leadership and/or managing staff, what you offer may have value in terms of leading staff through change, ensuring the integrity of the results delivered, building capability, fostering a respectful culture. In other words, what is the effect, the impact, the results you will deliver, by being in this role? Do you have such an eye for detail that accuracy is assured? Are your interpersonal skills so nuanced and sophisticated that even the most difficult person can be won over?

9. Use examples demonstrating multiple skills

Pitch length does not allow for examples that demonstrate individual skills and capabilities. Well-written examples need to cover two or more skills, in the context of relevant experience, applying relevant knowledge, and reflecting the appropriate level of seniority.

10. Edit to meet word or page limits

If editing is not your strength, or you just can’t see how to reduce the text to the allowable limit, ask someone to identify ways to express material more succinctly and remove unnecessary words. Editing can remove unnecessary words and make the text more direct, such as deleting expressions like ‘I needed to …’, ‘I was required to …’, ‘I was able to …’ Or removing expressions such as ‘going forward’, ‘at the end of the day’, ‘all things considered’. Paragraphs made up of multiple, similarly structured sentences can be shortened to remove the duplication. For example: ‘I progressed this project by preparing a project plan. I then consulted with staff to improve and gain agreement to the plan. I monitored progress and held regular meetings…’ This can be edited to: ‘I progressed this project with a prepared project plan agreed to by staff, which I monitored with regular meetings …’

11. Provide evidence rather than description

A pitch needs to provide strong evidence of what you offer. This means providing relevant examples written in the STAR format. A trap is to write descriptively, which on the surface may look like evidence, but lacks the appropriate structure and content. Descriptive text is often written in the present rather than the past tense, and lists actions without mentioning their impact and the results delivered.

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.