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How to Answer Selection Criteria - so you want a Government Job?

Updated on June 5, 2016

I don’t know if it's the same in the rest of the world, but here in Australia, if you want to work for the government, in any role at all from cleaner to microbiologist, you need to be able to answer selection criteria.


Pros and Cons of Government Work

I have worked in the legal industry in both the public service and the private sector and have many friends in both. I can't say what it might be like in other places but I know what it's like here in Australia to work for the government. Here is my list of the advantages and disadvantages of government jobs.


  • Job security

  • Pension Plan or Superannuation

  • Potential to join a public sector union

  • Christmas break

  • Some sort of flex or toil system that allows you to take time off when you have accrued it

  • Ability to take ‘secondments’ to other departments and increase your skills

  • Set hours (this is a myth these days in some departments)


  • Frustration with bureaucracy

  • Endless red tape, security checking etc

  • None of the perks you get in private practice such as a car park, free drinks, free coffee, bonuses, phone, computer etc – although some government departments do provide computers and phones and occasionally a car park

Interview help

Acing the Interview: How to Ask and Answer the Questions That Will Get You the Job
Acing the Interview: How to Ask and Answer the Questions That Will Get You the Job

At some point, most people have been caught off guard by tough interview questions. This book helps readers take charge of the situation! In "Acing the Interview", the employment expert Dr. Phil called "the best of the best" gives job seekers candid advice for answering even the most unexpected questions, including: You really don't have as much experience as we would like - why should we hire you?


Government v Private Sector

I think the best thing about doing government work is the security, and the superannuation (significantly better than the private sector). The hours are not greatly different. But perhaps this is isolated to the legal profession. Lawyers work long hours wherever they are employed. These days governments are hugely accountable and also trying to cut back. There is often a lack of resources - computer systems, support and equipment tend to be better in larger private firms as governments have run out of money to spend. Also in private practice staff get bonuses for work well done, government cannot generally accommodate that. Another factor at the moment in Australia is the recent spate of natural disasters - most governments are (quite correctly) funnelling money into disaster recovery and not into the public service.

What are Selection Criteria?

They are a series of statements (there are usually five or six separate ones) that you have to make claims against. There are also usually a couple of mandatory or essential ones to start with - typically a specific type of driver license or a type of qualification.

To get the job you should be able to answer all the criteria with examples, but if you can only strongly support four out of five, do not let this deter you from applying. Sometimes some criteria are more heavily weighted than others - if the one you can't answer well is valued at 40% you might have a problem, but often it is worth a go as you really don't know how good the competition is or what the employer is looking for. I understand from anecdotal evidence the women will often not apply if they feel they cannot answer all of the criteria whereas men will apply even if they can only support some of the criteria.

Here is an example of a typical selection criterion:

"Highly developed verbal and written communication and interpersonal skills including negotiation, mediation, conflict resolution and conceptual report writing skills on issues that may be sensitive and controversial."


The STAR Method is the Simplest Way

There are many recommended ways to answer selection criteria. I recommend the STAR method because it is so easy to remember. For each criterion come up with one or more examples and describe them using the STAR formula.

S – situation, describe a particular situation relevant to the criteria.

T – task, describe the task you were set with

A – action, describe what actions you took to complete the task

R – result, describe the successful result and say why it worked

Sometimes the particular department you are applying to join will have a publication on how they want you to answer the selection criteria - read this and make sure you do it the way they want you to. The Australian Federal Government has a publication about the values they espouse, this is also essential reading if applying.

Helpful Books

Competency-Based Interviews: Master the Tough New Interview Style And Give Them the Answers That Will Win You the Job
Competency-Based Interviews: Master the Tough New Interview Style And Give Them the Answers That Will Win You the Job

People interviewing for jobs today often fail because they are using yesterday's strategies. They haven’t realized that the best employers have changed the way interviews are done, and it now takes a different strategy to succeed. Competency-Based Interviews shows today's candidates a new, more targeted way to prepare for the tough interviews based on the competencies that the most sophisticated employers are looking for.


Look for the Key Words in each Criteria

They use key words which are clues to what they want. For instance if the criteria says “demonstrated” ability – this means you have to provide an example where you have done it before. If the criteria says “proven” then you have to have done it lots of times and have a proven ability or track record. If the criteria only says ability to acquire knowledge then you just have to show some sort of analogous or similar role or experience to demonstrate that you can easily pick up whatever skill or ability they are looking for. Again, check out the department's website and see if they have a publication telling you what is meant by the key words and make sure you use these words in your application.

Answering Selection Criteria is a Skill

Answering selection criteria and doing well at interview are skills that you must develop to be permanently employed in the government. You must be prepared to put in significant time and effort. However, this time is not lost even if you don't get the job - you can recycle selection criteria answers. Once written they can form the basis of many future applications. Also - the language changes from time to time but don't be fooled - a 'statement of suitability' or anything that involves putting your experience into examples within a series of statements is selection criteria no matter what it's called.  Good luck!


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    • Mel Jay profile image

      Mel Jay 7 years ago from Australia

      You are right about the caps - sometimes the starting wage is higher in government but it soon gets overtaken by private sector roles - but yes there are a lot of positives too and working with great people is always good - thanks for your comment - Mel

    • trimar7 profile image

      trimar7 7 years ago from New York

      Include: The people always resent your income since you are paid out of taxes. The people always resent your perks even though there are caps on your potential income that no private sector individual ever experiences. The positives are that you get to work with great people an in my profession with wonderful children.