Signs you’ve under-pitched your application

When applying for a government promotion it’s essential to pitch to the level of the role rather than the level you are at. This can be difficult if your examples don’t reflect the complexity and challenges of the more senior level.

There are however some points to watch out for when writing so as to avoid under-pitching your application.

Take the following fictitious example. It is a response about strategic thinking and is pitched at the equivalent of an EL1.

‘Between 2006 and 2015 I worked as a member of a team working on the Red Tape Reduction Taskforce where I performed various roles that show I am capable of strategic thinking.

As a member of the project team that focused on small business I have been involved in various project elements where I focused on the strategic purpose of our work and considered some of the risks we faced. During one of these elements when I was acting in the role of Assistant Director I took advantage of an opportunity that presented itself to gather information about the impact of regulation on the financial sector. In this situation I found that peak bodies were the best source of information on key issues. Representatives met with the team, worked through an informed agenda, and identified six areas where regulation was regarded as a serious issue. We then analysed these six areas to identify possible actions. A proposal was submitted to the branch manager. Overall, this project was highly successful in building relationships with key stakeholders.

Throughout the next six months we analysed data in relation to these six areas. Information was drawn from various regulatory agencies, as well as academics with a known reputation in the field, recent conferences, and state-based authorities. Material was workshopped in the team and we determined the most critical issues. These have become important drivers for the taskforce.’ [232 words]

What are the specific signs that this material is under-pitched? Here are six key points to note:

  • Lacks complexity: due to the language and content of this material, it fails to convey the appropriate level of complexity for this issue.
  • Lower level detail: the second paragraph contains actions that focus on lower-level behaviours and say little about strategic thinking.
  • Passive voice: sentences where it’s not clear who the main actor is, such as when representatives met with the team.
  • Excessive words: material is included that could be gleaned from a resume, such as how long the person worked on the taskforce, plus verbose expressions are used which could be edited.
  • Non-assertive: verbosity and vagueness reduce the authority behind these claims.
  • Off-target information: while building relationships with stakeholders is important, the content and focus need to be aligned with strategic thinking.

When there is a word or page limit, every word must count towards supporting your claims. The above six points not only chew up words, they diminish the claims being made.

Here is what a re-write might look like:

‘I have demonstrated my strategic thinking during three recent major projects that were part of the Red Tape Reduction Taskforce. Specifically, I led a team to deliver an approved approach to regulation reduction for the financial sector, undertook an analysis of regulatory issues for regional small businesses, and provided advisory papers on duplication of functions across government agencies.

While leading the financial sector team I regularly met with team members to ensure they understood the significance of their work, exploring the sensitivities and risks, and the links with other Taskforce components. As a result of team collaboration, we identified the need to consult with sector peak bodies. I invited selected representatives to attend a joint consultation which I designed to identify the most critical red tape issues. I contracted a skilled facilitator to ensure objectivity and transparency. This process resulted in six critical issues being identified, which formed the basis of a proposal I wrote, with recommendations for further action. These recommendations were approved by the branch head, and now direct our work. The process resulted not only in providing an agreed focus, but also improved relationships with the sector.

I am now overseeing extensive research on these issues, drawing on multi-jurisdictional material and reputable academics.’ [206]

Even with the additional opening paragraph, this version is still shorter. Details to note include:

  • An opening paragraph that makes a supported claim for the capability.
  • Material is relevant to the capability and uses relevant language.
  • It is tightly written and assertive.
  • It is clear what role the writer played and what actions they took.
  • The focus is on higher-level skills and actions. Results are clearly stated.
  • Complexities are mentioned – sensitivities, risks.
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.