How to Write Selection Criteria – Everything you need to know
From formatting, to content, language style and structure– it’s all here.
Brace yourself for a long read.
By Jacquie Liversidge
Selection criteria, or ‘Statement of Claims’, are essential questions contained within the position description that require responses that demonstrate your ability to meet the requirements from your qualifications, skills, personal attributes, training and understanding.
Selection criteria responses are valuable for recruiters because they allow you to detail your potential for the role at length, whilst also acting as a vetting process for weak applications.
There is no clear-cut approach to how selection criteria are graded, and largely, your potential for the role is decided by the interpretation of the personnel responsible for hiring staff.
However, there is a sound approach to the structure and content which will maximise your chances of getting your application to interview stage.
In this article, you’ll find information on:
- Structuring your responses
- How to pick the best stories
- How to plan your responses
- How to develop your content
- Proofing and editing
- Using the right language
- The right length of responses
- How to format the document
- Desirable requirements
- One page pitches, 2 page cover letters and word-limited selection criteria
- Example: 300 word response
- Further reading
1. Structuring your responses:
The standard for structuring responses to the selection criteria is STAR: Situation, Task, Approach/Action and Result.
This structure allows you to frame responses which outline the context of the situation, demonstrate the decisions you have made and the result of these decisions in relation to the criteria.
The emphasis of your selection criteria, and the part which will set you apart from other candidates, will be your approach to the challenge.
Was there a particular methodology you adopted for the situation?
Were there challenges you anticipated early and remedied?
What technical skills did you employ, and what personal attributes?
These are things to keep at the forefront of your mind when writing your approach.
2. How to pick the best examples
Think carefully about the example you might like to use to address the question.
If you are going for a management position and responding to a selection criteria asking for conflict resolution, should you talk about the time you resolved a minor customer complaint, or the time you resolved a conflict between two staff?
Hint: Definitely the time you resolved conflict between staff– mediation is an important staff management skill, whereas the resolution of a minor customer complaint does not demonstrate leadership.
Once you have decided on a story, plan your response by splitting it in to STAR sections.
Here’s an example of a question and plan:
Question: “Demonstrated customer service focus and verbal communication skills.”
3. Developing the content:
Once you have identified the appropriate story to use to address the selection criteria, the next step is to begin to develop the response.
1. In the first sentence of the paragraph, make sure to include the question
2. Use your STAR structured example.
Here’s a break down of a selection criteria example:
Q. “Demonstrated customer service focus and verbal communication skills.“
(Topic included in the first sentence) I am confident of my ability to leverage excellent customer service skills and verbal communication skills to meet the needs of customers.
(Situation) Within my previous position as an Accountant with (EMPLOYER), I was faced with a call from a customer with a non-English speaking background.
(Task) The customer had called requiring information about his account and was unsure of the accuracy of the figures. I ascertained that after providing my initial response the customer did not have a firm grasp on my explanation.
(Approach) I elicited more information from the customer to determine the root behind his questions. He explained that he was having some difficulty understanding the language I used and asked me to explain the figures in a row by row basis. Given that this approach would not empower him with a whole understanding and would be difficult to manage over the phone, I offered the customer a written explanation of the report in which I would detail my approach and justifications. I also explained that this would enable him to utilise Google Translate for the written content by copying and pasting the content into the browser. I provided the customer with an expected time frame to receive the report, thereby managing his expectations in receiving the document. I then organised a time for another phone appointment the following day to review the report and answer any additional questions he had.
After sending the report, the customer emailed me thanking for the time I had taken in providing an explanation and that I had answered his questions. He requested that we cancel the follow up appointment. The customer then sent an email commending my work to my manager. I value the importance of an adaptive, equitable approach to customer service.
Make emphasis of the results—without sound results reinforcing your approach, your approach could be interpreted as meaningless.
Here’s a full example of a more senior and technical response:
**This question does not use STAR as we have used it in the previous example. The question is not asking for a behavioural response, but asks for ‘substantial knowledge and experience’. This response is a bit of a hybrid– I’ve included a result to verify the knowledge, without launching into an out and out STAR response.
Q. Substantial knowledge and experience in the application of information communication and technology security policy, standards, processes and practices within a large organisation
A. I possess substantial knowledge and experience in the application of information communication and technology security policy, standards, processes and practices within a large organisation. Within my present role as the Principal ICT Security Officer with the NSW Government, I play a key role in the provisioning of expert ICT advice and the implementation of policy and development of security policies and mitigation strategies serving the Department. I have adopted the accountability for cyber security for the Department, implementing key security policies in response to recommendations made following an audit by the Auditor General. This has involved developing the cybersecurity policy and the associated processes, including the ICT Acceptable Use policy, password standards and password auditing procedures, account compromise procedures, privileged account audit procedures, log-in standards and the ongoing review of these processes. In the interest of a robust and resilient ICT environment, I have developed a cybersecurity awareness program to embed an individual approach to detecting fraudulent activities. As a result of implementing the processes and policies, the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) rating increased significantly. I undertake ongoing review into the policies and processes, reflecting staff feedback and comments as these arise as part of a flexible approach to continuous improvement built on best practice.
Additionally, as the Senior Systems Administrator prior to my current role, I was involved with the development of policies. As the Project Manager role for the Disaster Recover Planning procedures, I identified key systems and servers, leading the team to develop a deployable plan to ensure that systems were recoverable and operational following any potential disaster. I ensured that key stakeholders were informed on the approach for execution and equipped with the tools and understanding to enact the planning procedures. I review this annually to ensure the procedures are contemporary.
4. Proof reading and editing
At this stage, we have a good response which addresses the question and we can now start editing and proofing it for language, grammar and punctuation.
This is also an opportunity for you to make sure that you have referenced any key duties from the position description to further support your candidacy, included the organisational values where possible and for government roles, checked the Capability Development Framework for your state, or the APS Work Level Standards for your level (federal government only) to ensure your responses are satisfactory.
5. Using the right language
Within selection criteria responses it is easy to use passive language, rather than active language, which is preferred.
To break it down, passive language is where you remove yourself of the responsibility, and it is an easy mistake to make.
An example of passive language is:
“I was required to archive files on a monthly basis.”
An example of active language is:
“I archived files on a monthly basis.”
There is a big difference to note here: when you say that something is required of you, you have not demonstrated whether you actually performed the task.
Something can be required—you might not have completed it! When you place yourself at the centre of the action, you are confidently able to demonstrate your ability to action the task.
6. When not to use STAR for selection criteria:
The position description will likely not provide you with any information about how you should structure your responses—you will need to demonstrate your sound judgement in finding that out for yourself.
Above, I’ve included an example of a hybrid response. It isn’t quite STAR, but it does have a result.
Here is an example of a question that won’t require a STAR response.
Q. “Proficiency in a range of software packages, particularly web development environments.”
This question isn’t for a tale, and providing long responses when they are not necessary will harm your application.
Here, you include the topic in the start of the paragraph and then you provide a short overview or list.
A.I am proficient in a range of software packages and web development environments. These include:
- Audio software
- Ableton Live
- Microsoft Office 365 Suite
7. The right length of responses:
Brevity is particularly valuable in your selection criteria.
As a general rule, try to keep responses under 400 words unless longer responses have been specifically asked for.
Length is not the ultimate measure of selection criteria—but content is. Having an 8 page selection criteria which can be addressed in 4 pages will harm your application.
Providing too much content, or ‘padding’, means that good content can be overlooked.
Use dot points in your final application only where necessary and where listing is required (eg. the programs you can use)—don’t rely heavily on dot points in your final responses.
8. How to format the document:
The formatting will depend on the organisation, and there is generally an accompanying applicant kit or guide which will provide information on this. In the absence of information relating to specific formatting, use a common sense approach to the documents.
You should include:
- Your contact details and name at the top, preferably in the header
- A page number
- Size 11 or 12 font
- Justified alignment of the text
In place of a specified guide, explore the website and make sure that you have accessed and incorporated any and all directions the website might outline in regards to how they want you to submit your application.
Generally, the cover letter will be separate from the selection criteria unless otherwise specified.
For the selection criteria document, include a page number on the footer of the page and the position description, as below.
Title the document, and include the position title and job number once on the first page.
You won’t need to provide an introductory statement—just include questions and the responses below them as we have done here:
We prefer to include your name and contact details on all pages in the header.
This gives the appearance of a well thought out and neatly presented document, and won’t penalise your application or add to the word count.
9. Desirable Requirements:
These are questions that give you the opportunity of advantage if you can respond to them.
You won’t be penalised for not including them, but if you are up against candidates who do include them, you may miss out on shortlisting.
Generally speaking, the desirable requirements won’t beg for long responses.
10. One page pitches, 2 page cover letters and word-limited selection criteria.
Due to a high volume of applications for advertised positions and overwhelmingly lengthy responses, there has been a shift away from long selection criteria responses and a shift towards shorter applications.
To structure your one-page pitch, 2 page cover letter or other similarly directed applications, you want to include:
An introduction outlining what you are applying for and why you would be a good candidate.
Paragraphs in the body with examples from your work history structured using STAR.
A closing statement in place of a traditional call-to-action statement.
This is similar to the structure for a general cover letter.
More information on that is included here.
11. 300 word statement example
I submit my application to the _________ with interest in strategic planning, project and program management, corporate functions, emergency management and disaster at the EL1 and 2 capability. In my current role as Policy Officer (EL1) for the _______, I leverage an in depth understanding of the Australian government security police framework to provision authoritative advice to SES senior executives in our area. I have presented to government on security risk management and minimisation, contributing to the Australian Public Service Commission’s review into learning from failure in large government policy initiatives. My role is responsible for emergency management and works in tandem with state and national emergency response organisations. During the Cyclone Tracey National Disaster, I led the crisis management and recovery process key in ensuring that our site, which was affected, maintained seamless operation and support to base staff during the recovery of the storm of the event. Subsequently, all critical business systems were functioning within a rapid timeframe with minimal negative impact to key stakeholders.
I chair the Emergency Group, in which I work to produce outcomes to support strategic objectives. I produced a strategic plan with ten projects aimed at contemporising the Group’s digital capabilities to reflect greater digital needs. I was effective in managing the project across a number of Australian sites remotely, influencing managers to take on this task as part of their existing workload by investing in relationships and aligning the needs of each site with the overall strategic aims. I bring the capacity to overcome resistance and build effective working relationships with government and a pragmatic, proactive approach to emergency and risk management.
Other things to note:
Some councils, universities and state services require the file name to include your name, position number and the job title. This is good practice to adopt for all of your applications where there are selection criteria.
Submit in Word (doc, docx) format unless otherwise directed.
Here’s a link to the Australian Public Service Commission’s advice for Addressing the Selection Criteria
Feel free to get in touch with us if you have any other questions… And good luck!