Top three application blunders and what to do about them

There are many details that applicants for government jobs may overlook or misinterpret, thereby underselling their case for the job. Three that I often see are:

  • Not knowing what they offer
  • Not matching evidence to the job
  • Not thinking in terms of results.

These traps usually result in writing general, vague responses that make it difficult for selection panels to assess an applicant’s case. Chances are high they won’t make the short list.

There are practical steps you can take to manage your career so as to avoid these traps.

Not knowing what they offer

If you have been doing a job for some time, the work has probably become second nature. You are no longer consciously aware of all the details that you take into account when performing your work. These details include statutory obligations, procedures, processes, subject knowledge, policies, contacts and protocols.

When applying for a job much of this information must re-surface, so that you can write specific, concrete responses that make reference to how you carry out your work.

When choosing examples to include in an application, people are likely to rely on whatever is top-of-mind on the day. Part of managing your career is to keep records of what you do. These records then become your archive for preparing an application, giving access to a much richer store of examples.

Not matching evidence to the job

Generic applications and resumes will be less attractive than ones that are tailored to the job. The first step in applying for a job is to analyse the job so that you can link your evidence to this job.

There are some key details that an applicant needs to understand about a job in order to make a strong match. These details include:

  • What is the purpose of this role? How does it contribute to the goals of the agency?
  • What results is the person expected to produce?
  • Who will the person work with? Who will they report to and manage? Who is in the team, who are the clients and stakeholders?
  • What does the job involve doing?
  • How is this work to be done?

Without this information applicants risk misaligning their application.

Not thinking in terms of results

Regardless of level and what the job is, all public servants need to think in terms of the results they produce. Work is a means to an end. What a person does is important and needs to be done well. Panels are also interested in what your contribution is, particularly if one of the selection criteria is ‘achieves results’.

If your resume consists of long lists of activity for each job listed, consider shortening the list and including a list of key results.

When giving examples to demonstrate your experience against a selection criterion, make sure the stories you tell finish with results. Some agencies recommend using the STAR approach (Situation, Task, Action, Result). Use this model so that your stories are structured and provide the information the selection panel is seeking.

First published in PS News Feb 2011.

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.