Smart Selection Criteria

In my time as a government selection panel member (I am a government recruiter by occupation, you can read more about that here) I have seen more than more share of dubious selection criteria. Selection criteria that are the opposite of SMART.

If you have struggled with your selection criteria in the past, it is possible to flip the tables. It is possible for you to have SMART selection criteria, and let me show you what I mean.

What Applicants Do Wrong.

Before we get onto how to do it smart, I think it’s important to talk about what applicants do wrong. I'm 99% positive that you are doing this wrong too, without even knowing it.

Let's diagnose the problem first, and then we can work on the solution. As you keep reading (please don't give up yet, the good stuff is coming!) a few lights will turn on. And then we’ll get to the real punch and I’ll give you some specific practical things you can do to turn your selection criteria around.

Selection criteria as a general rule are full of three things:

1. Facts ("I am currently a data analyst for Organisation ABC")
2. Opinions ("I am an excellent communicator")
3. Inferences ("I have been involved in complex negotiations")

Most statements addressing selection criteria contain a lot of inferences (make a blanket statement and leave the selection panel to read between the lines or put the dots together), a moderate amount of opinions (sentences or paragraphs without any evidence to back them up, or someone’s general knowledge), and few facts.

Good statements addressing selection criteria are the exact opposite. They have lots of facts and barely any opinions or inferences.

To get smart, you need to eliminate as many opinions and inferences as possible.

What are SMART Selection Criteria?

You may have come across the acronym SMART before. It is usually applied to time management. However, we can use it for selection criteria as well. When applied to selection criteria, it tells us that any examples or proof that we use, should be:


1. Structured

Your statements should be structured logically, with a beginning (introduction), middle (concrete, and specific examples as evidence) and end (conclusion). Do you remember writing high school essays? Selection criteria statements are much the same.

Introduce your argument.
Present the evidence.
Conclude your argument.

Structure helps you write logically and provides a platform for easy reading (for the selection panel).

2. Measured

The examples, outcomes and achievements that you write about in your selection criteria answers need to be so specific that they can be measured. This is where you insert as many facts and figures as possible.

Measured results eliminate opinion.

3. Attributable

If you have attributed success and outcomes to yourself by using the word “I” and not “we”, you have successfully eliminated inference.

The problem with writing statements like "we were involved in complex negotiations" is that you are leaving the selection panel to decide what kind of involvement you had. Who is "we"? Did you do the negotiations? Were you the one that was negotiated with? Were you just present in the room? Or did you only set up the meeting?

You are much better off saying "I was responsible for negotiating the successful outcome X which I did by...."

4. Relevant

I read an application for a customer service officer the other day where the applicant stated they have excellent communication skills in a team setting because they are always clear and concise when they shout instructions to team members across the field in a football game. Not really relevant to a customer service environment. And while that example may seem a bit out there and exaggerated, it's not. All the time applicants include what may seems like great demonstrations of their skills in their written applications, when in fact they are totally unrelated to the abilities required in the role. If you're not sure what abilities are required in the role or how to be really specific, read the job description or call the contact officer. It's what they're there for!

The evidence that you provide must be relevant and specific to the position and duty statement, without generalisations.

5. Timely

Even worse that reading about communication skills on the football field, is when the example is from 7 years ago.

The evidence you provide should not span back more than 5 years and most of it should be less than 2 years old. Example from your current role are going to be your strongest.

And there you have it, my formula for targeted selection criteria minus the fluff! If you use the SMART acronym when writing and editing your selection criteria, I can guarantee that you will have stronger selection criteria that the panel will find easier to read and remember - which is exactly what you want to secure an interview.

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Free selection criteria examples

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