The Great Resignation

The Great Resignation

And how employer expectations and obfuscation fails to attract the right candidates.

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By Joel Smith

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The Great Resignation: What is it?

The great resignation, or the big quit, is a colloquial term. It refers to a large scale resignation of workers around the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is ongoing.

Economists, political commentators, social media influencers, and journalists have had a field day writing about the topic. A few key themes have emerged.

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What they're saying about the great resignation

Apparently, companies are feeling the effects. They are struggling to attract good employees. Employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged from their jobs. Employers can examine standard metrics like promotion rates to identify why people are unhappy.  

What we're hearing about the great resignation

From our perspective, this consideration from an organisational perspective misses the mark. We help people with many actual barriers to employment. 

So maybe, just maybe, there is an easy link here. How can we make it easier to attract candidates, while cutting out at least some of the nonsense people find so annoying?  

The reason our business exists is because of deliberately designed barriers to entry. These are meant to stop the wrong person from getting the job. But they’ve morphed. Now, they stop the right people from getting the job, too. 

"Good" employees are expected to be "good" at everything

The issue with attracting “good” employees is dependent on your definition of “good”. 

The average wage in Australia is just over $90,000 per annum. Starting at $76,000, this apparently less-than-average Ranger Workforce Development Officer role gives us some insight into what is considered “good.”

The right person for this role is defined using a three-page position description (their scanning work, not ours). The new incumbent, apparently, needs to be across their obligations outlined in five pieces of legislation. I doubt whether any applicant will have read and fully understood even one of these, especially in the context of the job they haven’t started.

They also need to be across their responsibilities in several undefined legislative frameworks. Apparently, the employer could not find the relevant legislation for their jurisdiction. Instead, they have blanket covered anything related to “Workers Compensation,” “Privacy,” “Industrial Relations,” and more.

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What’s more, they will need to understand organisation-wide strategies and policies and the implication of those on their work. This includes the tragically elusive topic of “risk management.”

And we haven’t even got to their duties.

The duties

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Their duties will span across thirteen domains. These range from maintaining a safe working environment (now everyone’s responsibility) to representing the organisation at forums. There are also, of course, three duties that say almost exactly the same thing (see 2-4). But you’d better spend time finding the distinction before you apply, or you might leave something out.

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And of course, there is a caveat to all this. The dreaded “other duties as required.” What could possibly be outside the scope of this word salad description isn’t clear.

And then, of course, we have the selection criteria. 

All sixteen of them.


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Great Resignation Desirable Selection Criteria

Not only is sixteen criteria an absurd amount, but some of them are qualifications and licences, not capabilities. 

Additionally, there is no specification on how to respond. Do they want a response to each one? Should it be a cover letter that addresses all 16? Are we meant to mention all 16? Is our application enough to demonstrate written communication skills, or do we also need to write about a time we’ve done a good job writing something? We will never know the answers.


So what is the solution?

There are 10 criteria in the “essential” category. But they boil down to four that could be so much more clearly communicated:

– Technical skills relevant to the job, including natural resource management, an understanding of aboriginal culture, and computer usage.

– Project management skills relevant to the job.

– Communication skills, written and oral, that is culturally sensitive.

– Relationship skills, including community-based engagement, relevant to the job.

If you’ve written thirteen detailed domains of work, why do you need to repeat these in the criteria? This just obscures the point. If the candidate has read the job description, and the above four dot points, they should be able to put together a good application.  If they haven’t then their application will be bad – and you can rightly rule them out.

Ask them to write a two page cover letter, providing relevant examples of times they’ve demonstrated the four main capabilities. Simple.

Only people with some relevant experience and interest will be clicking on your job ad anyway. Why make it hard for those people?

And then, there is one thing that is not really a capability, but a licence and ability. That is, a current drivers licence and ability to drive and maintain a 4WD over long distances. These don’t need a written response; it should be a check box on the application form.


Honourable mention

We couldn’t publish this post without an honourable mention to the worst selection criteria we’ve ever seen. It is, of course, for a teaching role in Victoria.

Great Resignation Desirable Selection Criteria Teaching

Why are these so bad?

Because they’re all the same! Ten criteria, with each response requiring at least a half a page. But almost all of them ask essentially the same thing. Which recruiter is reading five pages of repetition, and still be excited about the candidate?

Again, this is really three criteria.

We can boil it down to these three:

SC1: Implement good literacy and numeracy programs, including evaluation and resource management (NOTE: by definition, all good program management includes program evaluation and resource management).

SC2: Work alongside educators, teachers, students, and parents to implement programs. 

SC3: Design and deliver good learning and development for teachers.

What about the rest of those words?

Everything beyond those three criteria is repetitive or self-evident. How five pages of selection criteria repeating the same content would help with assessment is beyond us, and no doubt beyond the recruiters.

There is one final criteria we missed, which the keen-eyed among you may have spotted.

SC5: Knowledge of and commitment to the Department’s Aboriginal education policies.

This, simply, is a bad criteria. 

Government entities are not supposed to exclude people from outside the public sector. However, this criteria refers to an internal policy. The Department has not included a link to in the job ad. Maybe you could go and find it. But regardless, external candidates cannot possibly know how this policy has been operationalised in the Department. They cannot provide examples of times they have complied with the policy in the past. How can a non-Departmental candidate compete against this criteria?

All they can say is that they’ve read the policy. HR should make candidates do this as part of the induction anyway. Therefore, the criteria is useless. 

Our final advice...

In light of the great resignation, employers should have realised that human resources are not limitless. 

While considering the next job ad they put together, they should ask themselves:

What do I really need from this applicant, in writing, to assess their suitability? Can I make this easier for the applicant? How do I know that my interviews, work assessments, induction process, and probationary periods are minimising the risk of hiring the wrong person? Am I using confusing language and poorly written ads as the first basis for screening candidates? What ads and application processes will actually attract the best candidate, who is no doubt busily supporting their current employer?   

And when you ask these questions, remember how long you spent actually reading your last batch of written applications.

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