Answering selection criteria: The hidden rules

Selection Criteria

Following on from our post ‘Selection criteria – an overview’, we dig deeper into the hidden rules to help you prepare more effective selection criteria.

How do I answer selection criteria?

“I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know what selection criteria were.  I wished I could have seen an example of how to answer them.”    Ruth

You may be feeling uncertain at the moment.  Things have changed since you first got a job many years ago.  At that time you had a quick interview – nothing had to be written.  But now you want to apply for a job in the public sector and you have to answer selection criteria.  But what are they?

 Selection criteria

Selection criteria are defined as describing:

“the particular skills, abilities, knowledge and qualifications (if any) required to achieve the outcomes of a position and form the basis for selecting the most meritorious applicant.”

Dept. Employment, Vocational Ed, Training and Industrial Relations – HRM Recruitment and selection handbook.

Written answers to selection criteria are used to select the best applicant on merit (to get to the interview stage).  The abilities, skills knowledge and qualifications are judged against the selection criteria which relate to effective performance in the vacancy.  The measures of the applicant are also compared to those of the other applicants.  In other words, selection criteria are used to find the person who can best do the job.

 The hidden rules

“Knowing what I want to write and wording it correctly is hard.  This process made it easier for me.          Debbie

That was the first time that Debbie had to go through the process of writing in for a job in this way.  Some of you would have done this before but may be wondering what to do to strengthen your application.  You may feel you have the relevant experience or transferable skills, to apply for the position, but are wondering why you are not getting to the interview stage.  The following process is an aid to, but not a guarantee of, getting that job.

The writing process which follows may help to get you to the interview stage:

  1. organise your information to make it easier for you to write
  2. provide a logical flow of ideas
  3. make your application stand out from the others
  4. make it easy for the Selection Panel to understand and assess

The writing process

For each selection criterion, cover each of these points in the order shown.

  • Your viewpoint on why the selection criterion is important to the job.
  • Give an example to demonstrate how you have applied (or would apply) the selection criterion.
  • Describe the process you used in the example step by step.
  • Say how you knew you were successful.

Sample answers

Let’s have a look at a selection criterion common to all public sector positions.  The wording of this criterion changes depending on the level of the position applied for.  This criterion comes from an AO3 position:

“Well developed interpersonal and communication skills as evidenced by the ability to liaise with employers, community groups and agencies on employment and labour market issues.”

Dept. Empt., Voc. Edu. & Indust.Rel. Qld – Position Description, Job Placement Officer

Most applicants answer selection criteria poorly.  They typically answer in a brief paragraph, for example:

My interpersonal and communication skills have been well-developed through my work in the industry and the public sector.  As a Secretary I have worked for senior management and in typing pools.  I have been a member of two Schools Councils and travelled to state wide conferences.  I had to speak publicly.

Let’s work on improving this answer.  Ask yourself;

  • does my answer relate to the selection criterion or am I telling them about quite a different job?
  • can I expand on what I have written without unnecessary padding?
  • is my language positive?
  • have I supplied evidence to back up my claim?

Using the writing process we have defined, let’s rewrite the sample answer above.  Headings are only shown so you can see how they help to write the answer.  Don’t show them in your written application.

Tip:  Think of a challenging situation you have faced and use that as your example. Draw up a table like this to pre-plan the examples to be used in your written answers and at the interview:

Selection criteria numberWritten answerInterview
6.3 Interpersonal and communication skillsHeadHunters Personnel agency exampleOffice team example



Well developed interpersonal and communication skilled are important so that one can relate to others at all levels, verbally and non-verbally.  Interpersonal and communication skills include the use of active listening and questioning.  Feedback must be given and mediation used.  Being able to negotiate with clients, both inside and outside the organisation is vital. Being able to communicate within a team structure is also important.


As a Secretary I have worked for senior management.  This put me in contact with many employers and employment agencies.  For example, I had to help arrange the employment of new staff for our Front Counter at ABC Pty Ltd.  This made me aware of the plight of people looking for work and also the processes to be used to recruit employees.

Step by Step Process

I was asked to contact the Head Hunters Personnel Agency and list the job vacancy with them.  I had to have a Job Description so that I could answer any questions asked of me.  I used active listening skills as I knew how important it was to get the right person.  I gave feedback to clarify the information the personnel agency wanted.  When the interviews were held I was on the Selection Panel.  My role in the team was to ask questions applicable to that job, and to assess how the applicant might fit into the Front Office team.  I looked at the type of body language the interviewee showed so I could put them at ease.  When the interviews were over, I composed a letter thanking all the applicants for their interest.  This letter is shown in Appendix A.

Evidence of Success

I knew I was successful because I clarified very carefully the needs of the position.  This resulted in several people with the right skills being referred to the Company for interview.  My boss congratulated me on the way I handled the liaison and kept to the deadlines needed.  She complimented me on the wording of the final letter to all applicants.  Head Hunters Personnel Agency were always able to get the information they needed when necessary.  The Front Office team were happy with the choice of their new team member.


What a difference between the first version and second! The first version shows that the person is stumped for ideas on what to write. The second is much more interesting to read. It’s the way you tell your story that can make a difference in getting to the interview stage.