Help! How to apply for the Australian Public Service

Help! How to apply for the Australian Public Service

Some tips for navigating a complicated system.

Jacquie Liversidge

By Jacquie Liversidge

If you’re applying for the Australian Public Service (APS) for the first time, it can feel like the biggest application you have ever done in your life. 

There is a lot that needs to be taken into consideration for your application. It is the very finest details that will either hinder or progress your application, give you a competitive edge over other candidates, or rule you out from the race completely.

Where to start?

The APS is split into grades. These consists of APS 1-6, Executive Level (EL) 1 & 2, and Senior Executive Service (SES) 1, 2 & 3. 

These three levels ascend from 1-6 in responsibility and seniority.

Because the APS wield tax-payers money, recruitment into the APS is taken very seriously.

For this reason, it is in the public interest that applications be difficult.

But also for this reason, selection criteria is taken to a whole new level.

Selection criteria in the APS

There are two groups of selection criteria that you will see in the position description.

The questions labelled “Essential” must be comprehensively and irrefutably addressed.

The questions labelled “Desirable” are not essential, but are advantageous to address.

Each of the questions that you will see in your selection criteria reference the Capability Development Framework for your level. In your responses for these questions, you should be referencing the Capability Development Framework sub points in your answers.

For reference, below is the APS Capability Development Framework for Level 1.

Though each of the 6 core points do not change from APS levels 1-6, the sub-points for your level do change and you need to be aware of the level you are applying for before you do so.

1. Contributes to strategic thinking


1. Contributes to Strategic Thinking

1.1 Supports shared purpose and direction:

Demonstrates a basic understanding of the Australian Public Service (APS) environment and of the department’s role and functions. Demonstrates a basic understanding of the outputs of the work area.

1.2 Thinks strategically:

Works in a manner that is consistent with the long-term goals of the work area.

1.3 Harnesses information and opportunities:

Locates routine information that is relevant to own work as needed. Keeps colleagues informed of own work activities. Is open to new and revised practices and makes suggestions for improvement.

1.4 Shows judgment, intelligence and common sense:

Is able to resolve basic problems, apply rules to tasks and to exercise some judgment in routine situations. Demonstrates a logical approach to problem solving. Seeks relevant information and refers problems to others where appropriate.


2. Achieves results


2.1 Identifies and uses resources wisely:

Is committed to using department resources, including technology, effectively, efficiently and lawfully. Is open to ideas to improve efficiency in the workplace and is willing to participate in continuous workplace improvement.

2.2 Applies and builds professional expertise:

Develops own skills to a level appropriate for work demands. Accepts and applies professional input and suggestions from others.

2.3 Responds positively to change:

Is able to respond flexibly to changing demands in the workplace. Supports and works consistently with change initiatives.

2.4 Takes responsibility for managing work projects to achieve results:

Organises work and completes tasks within set timeframes. Monitors own performance and commits to achieving specified results.


3. Supports productive working relationships


3.1 Nurtures internal and external relationships:

Deals sensitively, courteously and equitably with clients and stakeholders. Develops positive relationships with team members.

3.2 Listens to, understands and recognises the needs of others:

Works co-operatively with team members and clients. Demonstrates supportive and inclusive team behaviour. Attempts to understand the needs and perspectives of others.

3.3 Values individual differences and diversity:

Appears respectful of others. Demonstrates trust and understanding towards others. Has a basic awareness of the benefits of workplace diversity.

3.4 Shares learning and supports others:

When appropriate, provides limited feedback to support the development of others.

3.5 Strives for service excellence:

Shows an awareness of culturally and linguistically diverse client groups and makes efforts to understand client needs. Provides accurate, timely, consistent and appropriate service to clients.


4. Displays personal drive and integrity

4.1 Demonstrates public service professionalism and probity:

Provides a professional service, applies ethical work practices and demonstrates integrity in all aspects of work. Knows and upholds What We Value, the APS values, the APS Code of Conduct and other relevant professional codes of ethics and practice and OH&S requirements. Is aware of the principles of the Charter of Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society. Is accountable for actions.

4.2 Engages with risk and shows personal courage:

Accepts responsibility for mistakes and tries to learn from the situations. Demonstrates willingness to seek advice and assistance from others if needed.

4.3 Commits to action:

Shows action orientation and commitment to following instructions and direction from others. Demonstrates personal drive and enthusiasm towards work.

4.4 Promotes and adopts a positive and balanced approach to work:

Maintains a balanced perspective on issues and supports others in times of crisis. Balances work and life and acts to maintain personal health and wellbeing.

4.5 Demonstrates self-awareness and a commitment to personal development:

Is willing to develop work related skills and pursue developmental opportunities. Participates in performance management processes including seeking, receiving and acting on feedback. Shows understanding of own strengths and limitations


5. Communicates with influence

5.1 Communicates clearly:

Communicates clearly, concisely and unambiguously. Prepares basic written material following close instruction.

5.2 Listens, understands and adapts to audience:

Demonstrates basic ability to interpret written work and follow instructions. Responds appropriately to communication and listens to others.

5.3 Negotiates to reconcile diverse views:

Consults effectively with relevant others. Responds to conflict and challenging interactions without escalating situation. Is appropriately respectful when liaising with colleagues and clients from a diverse range of backgrounds and cultures.

6. Demonstrates professional or technical proficiency


6.1 Demonstrates technical, professional or specialist knowledge and expertise:

Has a basic understanding of the procedures and guidelines relevant to the work area and the ability to apply these to work tasks. Shows awareness of professional or technical standards that are relevant to the work performed. Has a basic ability to use the tools, systems and technology needed to complete work tasks.

We know it’s a bit overwhelming, but approaching the criteria armed with knowledge of the Capability Development Framework will really improve your chances of creating a purposeful, relevant and targeted selection criteria as a whole.

Good luck!