How Long Should My Selection Criteria Be?

selection criteria length

Answer: It depends on what the selection documentation says. If it doesn't say anything, my advice is always three-quarters to a full-page PER selection criteria.

You should ALWAYS check the selection documentation, which will often have a suggested length or word limit. If there is a suggested word limit, try and keep it as close to it as possible.

Question: How close to the word limit do I need to be?

Never go over the word limit (some strict selection panel members will discount applications that go over the word limit) and try to stay within 15% of the limit in terms of going under.

For example, if the word limit is 400 words per selection criteria, it would be best to write between 360 to 400 words. The perfect length would be just under 400 words, and anything less than 300 words would definitely not be sufficient.

Just imagine, your competitor for the position has written 395 words with powerful examples that substantiate their claims against the position. And you have only presented three-quarters of what you could. If you want the interview, it's worth the effort.

The only case where a very low word count would be sufficient is if a selection criterion is asking for a qualification or licence, for example, and this just needs to be stated and not expanded upon.

Standard Selection Criteria Without a Word Limit

As stated above, each addressed criterion should be between three quarters to a full page in length. If it is a long criterion covering multiple competencies, it is okay to go slightly over the page.

Just to be clear, each selection criteria should start on a new page and be separate from your cover letter and resume.

Selection Criteria in Cover Letters

Cover letters usually have a one or two-page limit, and if there is a limit it will be stated in the selection documentation.

If there is no limit stated in the selection documentation, two to three pages is usually recommended. One page is not enough.

Question: If I'm asked to address the selection criteria in a cover letter should I still use each selection criterion as a heading and write under each heading?

You can, but don't start each criterion on a new page (as you would when writing traditional selection criteria statements). This document needs to be in a letter format.

I recommend bolding the criterion's competency within your letter. For example, if addressing a criterion relating to leadership values:

I understand that your organisation has articulated six leadership values: professionalism, loyalty, integrity, courage, innovation and teamwork that are consistent with the Public Service Act 1999 and a corporate governance framework that is characterised by a commitment to be a results-focused, values-based organisation.

Or, if the selection criterion is the ability to work in a team-based environment:

Throughout my career and my studies, I have always enjoyed working with cross-functional and interdisciplinary teams. I thrive in ambitious, analytical and goal-driven environments with a strong customer focus, and I strongly believe that this would make me a great fit for the (Government Department’s) culture.

Highlighting or bolding the text in these instances helps the selection panel find important information and confirm that you have addressed the required selection criteria. However, this is not necessary or expected and you can just write your letter without bolding if you want.

Narrative Style

Whether you are writing a traditional selection criteria document or a cover letter, I also recommend writing your document in a narrative style. That means it will read like a story rather than be a list of bullet points.

While there is nothing wrong with bullet points, my experience shows that a narrative style allows you to explore the selection criteria and your examples more fully and lead the reader through your claims at your own pace.

I have also noticed that those who are picked for an interview based on their written application very rarely use bullet points.

If you include bullet points, the reader is more likely to skip over your application and skim over your points, only focussing on the points that stand out.

This is not what you want.

If you think of your selection criteria answers as a sales letter, your job is to take the reader on a journey, create an emotional connection between what they want (in terms of an applicant and their skillset) and what you can deliver and address any objections that they may have to you being the perfect applicant for the job.

The exceptions to avoiding bullet points are if there is a very low and strict word limit. In this instance, bullet points can serve you well as they will reduce the number of words you need to use. They are also perfect for listing courses, qualifications or achievements that don't require additional detail. In some instances, they can also be used in long responses to make information easier to read and digest for selection panels, but when used in this way, the bullet points themselves usually take on a narrative style rather than just being a list.

More Help With Your Job Application:

Writing better selection criteria: what where when why and how

Application templates

Achieves results selection criteria example