Twelve mistakes in responding to selection criteria

Monday, October 19, 2020

It is very disappointing not to get an interview after putting a lot of effort into your job application. Apart from the obvious reasons, like not having the required qualifications or experience, there may have been problems with your written application. Here are some common mistakes applicants make:

  1. You didn’t read the information pack or instructions that told you the maximum number of pages to write or which of the selection criteria to respond to, or that they required you to respond in a letter or in a résumé instead of submitting a separate response to the criteria. Always read the instructions very carefully and if in doubt contact the HR person for more details.
  2. You ignored the duty statement and just gave examples that prove you were good at your past jobs. They need to be shown that you can do their job, so read the duty statement, responsibilities, outcome statement or however they describe the duties, very carefully. In providing examples that prove your skills try to make those examples as close as possible to the duties of your target job. Finish every response with a link to at least one of the duties they want you to perform. It is no good simply talking about your past positions – convince them that these skills can be transferred to the new job.
  3. You didn’t tweak your résumé so that it was targeted on the new job. It just gave a list of all your past positions. Résumés are more than just historical documents; they are your sales brochures for the next job. For each application you must look at the skills you need to do it and tweak your résumé so that it is relevant to the target job. Your list of competencies should reflect the skills the new job would require.
  4. You tried to cut corners and simply copied and pasted examples from past (and presumably failed) applications. If previous applications were not successful try a new approach. The duty statement will tell you what examples the panel will find relevant so come up with examples as close as possible to those. There are no short-cuts.
  5. You wrote too much or too little. No one wants to read pages and pages of application. Concise communication is good communication. You may be told the maximum number of pages to use. If so don’t exceed that and don’t try to cheat with narrow margins and miniscule fonts to get more words in. If they stipulate three pages it is because that is all the want to read and if you squeeze in more words your application is trashed.  Writing too little is also a problem. You need to give detailed examples and you can’t do that in three lines. Aim for a third or half a page for each response.
  6. You used the same example several times because it had the similar skills demonstrated in it. That won’t work. Tell the story again but with a different focus. Each criterion has a specific focus; it is really about how you tell the story. Different examples show a wide experience.
  7. You said “see above” or “see my résumé”, making them do the work instead of you doing it yourself. They won’t. You must provide the required information under for each criterion. Don’t just copy and paste, summarise or rewrite it.
  8. You claimed to have the skills and told them where you worked and when you used the skills, but did not give specific examples that actually demonstrate how you used the skill. When you make a claim it must be followed by an example. E.g. “I have solved many accounting problems” must be followed by “For example, I had a problem with X and solved it by…”
  9. You relied on quotes to convince the panel. “Mary Jane is the best  programmer we have ever …”. Everyone knows you are being selective about quotes and you wouldn’t give the negative quotes. Give the panel a good example and let them make the decision about your skills themselves.
  10. You used passive language and mixed your tenses. It may because of modesty that applicants say “A work party was formed” instead of “I formed a work party”. An application is not the place for modesty. Use the word “I” because this is your story about you, what you did and how you did it. When you work in a team you had a part and the panel wants to hear what you did. Don’t say “we researched…”, say “I, working in the team, researched the ….”
  11. Don’t mix tenses.  Keep everything in the past tense. It happened in the past so keep the story in the past tense. Don’t say what you do; say what you did. Avoid phrases like “I am required to …”. Say “I do …”.
  12. You didn’t use the spell checker or grammar checker. The language on your spell checker might be set to English USA, instead of English AUS and so you get lots of spelling errors. If you are using Word, go to Tools and change the Language to English AUS and then use the Spelling and grammar checker on your document.