Jobs department’s advice on writing a 1000 word summary

The Commonwealth Department of Jobs and Small Business has adopted a version of the pitch approach to applications. Applicants are asked to provide a 1000 word summary outlining their skills, knowledge and experience and why they should be considered for the vacancy. Plus a two-page resume and referee contact details are also required.

In order to write this summary applicants need to take into account:

To be helpful, the department provides several documents for applicants:

  • Tips on writing a 1000 word summary.
  • Applicant User Guide. This document accompanies each job listing. It explains how to use the e-recruitment system.
  • Job Description. Gives information about what the section does and a list of position skill requirements. This information is brief so further research is needed to write an informed summary.
  • Preview application form. Essential to check the wording of the requirements matches what is in the Job Description.

A link is provided to the APS work level standards. The standards are described as clearly differentiating ‘between the work expected (i.e. responsibilities and duties) at each classification level’. As such, they save a detailed duties list in the Job Description and keep duties generic.

Tips on the 1000 word summary

The Tips document tells applicants that: ‘A 1000 word summary is your chance to tell us why you are the right person for the job. We want to know why you want to work at the Department of Employment [the document was likely written pre-name change], why you are interested in the role, what you can contribute, and how your attributes, skills, knowledge, experience and qualifications will ensure your success in the role.’

This wording is consistent with the pitch approach initiated by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Useful details included are:

  • Study or personal examples are accepted for the STAR method.
  • Examples can demonstrate ability or potential to develop the skills required.
  • Applicants ‘do not need to use a different example to demonstrate each of the skills required in the position overview. For example, if the position overview states we are looking for a confident communicator, the ability to problem solve and work as part of a team, you could use one example that demonstrates all of these skills. You could then use another example that demonstrates the remainder of the skills required.’

The Tips document suggests using the STAR approach to writing about examples. While I have pointed to the limitations of the STAR approach, there is sufficient detail in the Tips document to be useful to applicants. Here are some observations about the suggestions offered.

Situation: Applicants are advised to write about a specific event or situation, not a generalised description. This is an important point as applicants can describe in general terms how they go about a task without referring to a specific instance. As pointed out in the document, the panel of assessors needs enough detail to understand the context of the example. What is not explained is the need to make clear relevance, complexity, risks or challenges.

Task: Here the panel wants to know what goal or objective you were working towards. This is about the strategic context of the task. This information distinguishes between the person who focuses on getting the job done and the person who is aware of why they are doing the job.

Action: Applicants are advised to describe the actions you took, focusing on you rather than the team. While you don’t want to describe the actions of the team, you may need to explain under Situation that you were contributing to a group or team effort. The actions selected should be related to what is written under Situation and Task and should reflect the relevant level of responsibility or seniority of the role.

Result: Applicants are advised to describe the outcome of their actions. Suggestions include: ‘What happened? How was the issue resolved or how did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn and what would you do differently next time? How did the end result impact on the objective of the organisation or team?’ Any STAR-based example needs to include results. However, whether it is essential to include what was learnt and what you would do differently next time is questionable. Word limitations may not allow such detail. Some examples may not lend themselves to this information. What is important is the impact of the actions.

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.