How To Write Selection Criteria Responses
“….applications without Selection Criteria Responses will not be considered…”

Key selection criteria are used widely as a recruitment tool throughout the public, not-for-profit (NFP) and academic sector in Australia. When employers set key selection criteria for job applications, they are given very high priority in the application selection process. There are plenty of government and academic web sites that give some guidance on how to write selection criteria responses. You will find percentage weightings given to the various stages of the recruitment process. Selection criteria can count for up to 60% of the entire recruitment application assessment. More than the interview!

In short, where you encounter selection criteria, you cannot afford to take them lightly.

What are selection criteria?

For personal one-to-one help, see our Selection Criteria Service page.

Set by the HR department in consultation with the organisation/department doing the hiring, Selection criteria are carefully worded questions seeking to explore your background, knowledge and skills in areas particularly relevant to the position. You may encounter any number of specific ‘questions’, though six to eight is typical. They may be split into Essential Criteria and Desirable Criteria categories – though not always. Essential Criteria are obviously given more weighting in the marking process.

Do I have to supply selection criteria responses?

…or will my excellent resume and cover letter be enough to get me an interview? We are frequently asked this question by people with private sector backgrounds who are not familiar with the process. Public sector job applicants already know the answer! The answer is that you absolutely must address key selection criteria with full responses if they are asked for. If you do not, your application will be considered incomplete and you are very unlikely to get an interview. If you check the employers’ career pages you may see statements like “…you must address the selection criteria…” and  “…applications without Selection Criteria Responses will not be considered…”.

How are selection criteria assessed?

They are actually ‘marked’, rather like homework! Firstly, note that selection criteria are each assessed separately. Each criterion will have points assigned to it. You ‘score’ the points by demonstrating the skills/experience that they are looking for in that criterion. Your overall response – covering the seven selection criteria, for example – then gets an overall mark. Those that score well across the board ‘pass’ – get to move on to the next stage of the recruitment process (usually the interview).

What format should I use for my selection criteria responses?

Use the format that the employer requests or prefers. Somewhere in the application instructions you will find a ‘How to Apply’ guide. It may be at the foot of the job advert, in the position description or on the employer’s web site careers page. Once you find it, read it carefully and follow it to the letter. They probably set a word count or page limit for your responses. Make sure that you stick to it.

How do you write selection criteria responses?

Addressing selection criteria successfully is quite an intense and structured process: 

  • Identify and study each criterion very carefully. Note the language used and the very specific areas the question covers. You do not want to go off topic – you will miss the ‘marks’ and not get the interview.
  • For each criterion, delve into your career history (not too far back, preferably) and come up with an example that demonstrates the particular skill/experience that you are being asked for.
  • Try to use examples that are complete and that you actually completed. (i.e. something that went from start to finish with a definable result).

The government approved selection criteria response method is called STAR. Situation, Task, Action, Response/Result. So if you can, work through an example using that method to illustrate your skill/experience in the area being questioned.

What do ‘demonstrated’ and ‘proven’ mean in the selection criteria?

Selection criteria statements are often phrased in a particular way. For example: “Demonstrated knowledge of…” or “Extensive relevant experience in…”  The words used give a clue as to how to structure your response. When you see ‘demonstrated’, ‘proven’ or similar, it is simply an explicit instruction to use an example to demonstrate your fit. Note that you should use examples every time – regardless of whether the selection criteria statement uses those words.

How long should my selection criteria responses be?

The simple answer is as long as they ask for. Follow the guideline in the instructions. In short:

  • Keep it succinct and brief. More than 3/4 page per criterion is almost certainly too much.
  • Conversely, you must give enough information to answer the question, so less than 1/3 to 1/2 page is probably too little.
  • Waffle does not cut it. The questions are very specific and they want very specific answers.

Do I have to meet all of the selection criteria?

We recommend the 80% rule here. The purpose of selection criteria is to assess whether you are a good fit to the requirements of the position. To be in with a realistic chance of an interview, you must meet at least 80% of the criteria requirements. Once you have studied the selection criteria and gone through your background for appropriate examples to use, work out honestly whether you meet that minimum requirement. If you do not, you can be pretty sure someone else does - and it probably is not worth the (considerable) effort of applying.

But they said they only wanted a two-page cover letter!

It is increasingly common to see a selection criteria requirement described as something like “…a two page cover letter outlining your fit to the requirements…”. We have a separate article on this topic. Do not be fooled into thinking that is an easier requirement than ‘full-form’ responses. It is not - the employer still wants to see demonstrated examples that prove your fit.

Selection criteria responses sound really difficult!

They are, but they get easier with practice. Writing them really well is also difficult. Certainly harder than writing a good resume, and that is not easy itself.
Nonetheless, if you want to apply for public, NFP or academic sector jobs, you are going to have to address selection criteria. If you do not submit strong selection criteria responses, you will not get an interview – it is that simple.

Are selection criteria responses worth the effort?

This is also a question we are asked all the time once we have explained the process to people. Applying for jobs requiring selection criteria responses is obviously a lot of work. Only you can answer the question of course – but here are a few factors you may consider:

  • Is this a role that you really want that is right for you now?
  • Are you a close match to the position requirements and can you address the selection criteria with strong examples?
  • Do you meet all or most of the selection criteria requirements?

There is another key point to consider that may require a bit of investigation on your part. Public sector employers are required to recruit in an ‘open, transparent and fair’ manner, so every job opportunity is advertised – even if there is an incumbent acting in the role who is also applying.

Advanced selection criteria responses

I will leave you with a thought. If the selection criteria have been set to evaluate (in some considerable detail) your fit to the position and you provide excellent career example-based selection criteria responses demonstrating why you fit the position, what do you think will be discussed at interview?

For more information or help

See our Selection Criteria Service page, email us or give us a call on 1300 97 87 66. We will be pleased to help.