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Interview with a Government Recruiter

Below is an article written by a government recruiter. If you want to know how to suceed at a government interview, go to this article instead.

Have you ever wondered what government selection panels complain most about when it comes to applicants?  What are their biggest interview gripes? Or what piece of advice a government recruiter would give to an applicant? Find out in our interview with Vanessa Jordan, Government Recruitment Consultant and regular independent member of selection panels

Q.  What do you think is the biggest misconception from applications regarding government job applications?
A.   The biggest misconception I come across is applicants thinking that by just showing that they meet the selection criteria means they will get an interview. I was on a government recruitment panel last month for an APS Level 6 Technical position where 28 out of 30 applicants showed that they met the selection criteria to a good standard.  Unfortunately it is isn’t practical to interview 28 people for one job, so only the top three got a shot. I think that is a perfect example of the importance of a well written application and proves the point that not only do you have to show that you meet the selection criteria, but you met them better than everyone else!

Q.  What is the number one applicant criticism from selection panels?

A.  In general, selection panels are disappointed with the amount of preparation that applicants put into their written applications and their interviews in terms of researching the position.  Most panel members come from the work area where the vacancy exists, enjoy their jobs and are passionate about what they do.  They are looking for people to join their team who have similar drives.  They find nothing worse than asking an applicant what they know about the organisation to be confronted with a blank face.  Or asking the applicant if they have any questions to find the applicant asking “what do you actually do here?”  This does not impress a panel at all!

Q.  If you could give one piece of advice to a job applicant, what would it be?

A.  A job application is a serious investment in your future – it shouldn’t be treated lightly.

Q.  What is the most amusing application you have ever seen?

A.  Two immediately spring to mind. The most memorable was a resume that had been photocopied so many times that it was difficult to make out the text.  There was as brief “cover letter” scribbled on the back of a bank deposit slip and stapled to the front of the resume. There were not any responses to the selection criteria.  I immediately though it was someone submitting their quota of applications for Centrelink benefit purposes who really wasn’t interested in the job, but the gentlemen later called to enquire further about his application and seemed genuinely interested in where he had gone wrong. Needless to say I gave him some advice and examples of what his application should look like.

The second example is more recent.  Only last week I read some statements against key selection criteria where the applicant was obviously struggling to come up with the right words so he just left blank spaces with a row of question marks.  In some cases he would start a sentence and then finish it with a “?”.  It made interesting reading but I really had no idea what the applicant was on about.

There are two lessons that people can take from these examples, always ask for feedback, and always proof read your application before sending it!

Q. After many years of working in government recruitment, is there anything that still shocks you?

A. I am still astounded when people don’t show up for their interview.  This happens really frequently, about one in 20 interviews would be my estimate. Some people call and withdraw their application and some you never hear from … until they submit their next application, which is quite amusing in itself.

Q. Speaking of interviews, what is your biggest interview “gripe”?

A. Applicants who interrupt the interviewer or start to answer the interview question before the interviewer has finished speaking.  I think it not only shows a lack of professionalism and interpersonal skills, but I also feel for these applicants who are usually so nervous that they are just not listening and thinking properly.  In most cases they end up blowing the interview because they have not heard and comprehended the question properly and given themselves the chance to think of the most appropriate response.

Q. What is the most frustrating thing about working with government selection panels?

A. A lot of government panel members are so entrenched in processes and used to being governed by guidelines that they take a very inflexible approach to the task of recruitment.  For example, panel members who insist that every applicant is asked exactly the same question and mark them strictly against their responses to these questions.  These panels start using interview questions as selection criteria in their own right and forget that the purpose of the interview question is to gather evidence to assess the applicant against the advertised selection criteria.  Smart applicants know how to overcome this, but most applicants don’t even know that it is happening.

Q.  There is some talk in government circles about abolishing selection criteria, what are your thoughts?

A. I think the people who are proposing these ideas forget the actual purpose of selection criteria.  Selection criteria are just a framework for assessing an application. They tell the panel how to assess the applicant and ensure that the applicant knows what they are being measured against. If you were to abolish the use of traditional “selection criteria” and replace them with an assessment against the job description for example, which is what is being proposed, the job description just becomes the replacement “selection criteria”  so to speak. I personally think it is a lot easier to demonstrate skills against a set of say five selection criteria than a two page job description.  That said, some forward thinking panels are now removing the need for applicants to write statements addressing the selection criteria as a response to the war on talent with private industry. In this case, selection criteria still exist but it is the panel’s job to assess the resume based on the criteria, not the applicant’s job to write an essay.  I am fully supportive of this approach and think more panels should be doing it. Some of the best candidates for a job never apply because they just don’t have the time to prepare their application and this approach almost eliminates this problem.