There are some exciting government jobs (and not so exciting government jobs). But if you are not currently in a government role (Federal, State, or Local Level), you need to understand some of the key principles and pitfalls before you apply for a government job.
CHECK YOUR ELIGIBILITY FIRST
Many jobs within the public service sector are restricted to candidates that are Australian citizens, or Australian citizenship is pending. Other agencies limit applications to Australian citizens and Australian residents.
Unfortunately, some application packs I encounter don’t specify these eligibility requirements relating to citizenship. If this information is not contained on the agency’s web site or in the application pack and you are not an Australian citizen, check with the relevant contact officer to ensure that you are eligible to apply for the role in question.
Other eligibility criteria include having the appropriate level of security clearance, health checks, COVID-19 vaccine, or relevant qualifications, such as a bachelor’s degree.
If you don’t meet the eligibility requirement relating to citizenship/residency, then an agency head is able to appoint an APS employee if it is considered appropriate to do so.
What this means in reality, is that unless you are an outstanding applicant, and a suitable candidate could not be found amongst the band of Australian citizens (due to skills shortages) then you will not be eligible for appointment.
GET YOUR APPLICATION IN ON TIME
It is imperative that you get your application in on time – both day and designated time e.g. 5pm Eastern Standard Time.
Late applications are accepted entirely at the discretion of the selection panel and acceptance will depend on several factors, including the number of quality candidates that apply for the position, whether your application is outstanding or borderline, and whether there is a shortage of qualified candidates for the position you are applying for.
These days, most applications are processed online, and the job form disappears after the deadline.
MAKE SURE YOU ARE SUFFICIENTLY QUALIFIED FOR THE POSITION
Although this has nothing to do with writing selection criteria, this is one of the most important aspects to the process. That is ensuring that you are sufficiently qualified for the position in question, before dedicating endless hours applying.
To understand how essential this is, it is important to go back to the role of selection criteria, which is to assess and grade suitable candidates, based on MERIT, pursuant to Public Service Act 1999 (and equivalent legislation at state level). This means, if you don’t meet the agency’s requirements’ relating to knowledge, experience, and qualifications you won’t be invited to interview. Even if you end up being the only candidate applying for the position, which is highly unlikely, if you don’t meet the agency’s requirements, the job will simply be re-advertised.
The merit process is by its very nature competitive, and your application will be assessed against other candidates, many of whom will be more suitably qualified than you. Depending on the role, panel members will assess anything from half a dozen candidates for complex technical roles, through to 1,600 candidates or more.
Now I have lost count of the number of borderline candidates I have got through to interview. However, even as a professional writer, with all the tricks of the trade, I still won’t accept a commission, when I strongly believe that my client has not got a ‘chance in hell’ of getting through, as they are clearly not qualified for the role.
To ensure that you are sufficiently qualified for the role, you need to understand:
- The classification of the position
- Your suitability against the selection criteria
All agency positions are hierarchically organised from entry level all the way through to the agency head. As you progress up the levels of government you will take on more responsibility with roles becoming increasingly more complex, challenging, and demanding the higher you go.
All positions advertised are provided with a classification level, which in turn will determine the salary or remuneration.
As a general summary, lower-level positions are operational roles – that is, they deal with day-to-day operational matters of the agency, such as administration processes and providing front line services to clients. These roles also include managing more junior operational staff and managing operational processes, such as the delivery of client services.
High-level positions deal with the ‘big picture’ and include overseeing managers and shaping the overall strategy of the agency. They can also involve direct contact with ministers and other senior stakeholders within government.
If you are coming from the private to the public sector, you need to understand the various classifications, so that you apply for a role that is suited to your level of experience and qualifications. To assist you in this process, I have provided you with an overview of the classification level for the APS (Federal roles) below, which will help you to determine the appropriate level to apply for.
If the classification provided in the advertisement is not listed below, (state, territory, and local government applications) another method to determine whether you are pitching at the right level is to review the salary. This method will give you a rough guideline of the level in question. But be warned:
- What you receive by way of remuneration in the private sector, might be higher than what you will receive in the public sector for an equivalent role, so rather than focusing just on salary, take a close look at the level of responsibility of the position in question and obtain clarification from the contact officer.
- To meet budget targets some organisations (in particular in the area of social work) will advertise a position at a lower classification level, even though the demands of the role are at a higher classification level.
| Classification Levels for the Australian Public Sector (Entry level to Agency Head for federal applications and agencies such as Customs, Australian Federal Police) |
APS 1 – 2 (General entry level positions, cadetships and traineeships)
APS 3 – 4 (General administrative, technical, project & service positions / graduate positions)
APS 5 – 6 (Senior Administrators, technical, project and service positions)
Executive Level 1 – 2 (Senior management positions)Senior Executive Level (Executive positions)
Suitability against the selection criteria / assessment criteria
If you don’t meet the mandatory requirements of the agency, such as possessing a relevant qualification, you will not be selected for interview.
You also need to gauge your suitability against the selection criteria, work related requirements, or assessment criteria.
Ways to gauge your suitability include:
- Have you got demonstrable experience and knowledge relating to most duties and responsibilities listed in the position description?
- If the selection criteria/assessment criteria are specific, are you confident that you can meet all of them?
- If you don’t meet all the requirements, then do you have transferable skills at an equal or more senior level to the role in question?
- If the criteria are generic – e.g., Achieves Results, Communicates with Influence, are you confident you can answer these within the context of the role in question?
- Are you applying for a position far more senior than your present role?
- Are you weak in more than one criterion?
If you answered NO to the first four points and YES to the last two points, then before you spend countless hours preparing your application, make sure you get more clarification from the agency, to determine your suitability.
I would also recommend not applying for a position, if you are weak in more than one criterion, as this will more than likely knock you out of contention. Remember, the whole process is based on competitive merit-based assessment, and it is probable that candidates that meet all the job requirements will be applying for the position.
INTERNALS WILL BE APPLYING
In the public service sector, many vacancies are temporarily filled by a person from a lower classification level. This allows them to gain valuable experience in a higher position. Unfortunately, some people are left to act in a role for long periods of time (months, sometimes years), so there is a sense that they have a legitimate claim to the role in question.
What this means to you as a candidate, is that you will be competing against another candidate, who already has experience in the position. This often results in the person being appointed to the position, as he or she can demonstrate experience, knowledge, and success in the position.
However, just because someone is acting in the position, does not mean they are effective in the role. Many managers, while not completely dissatisfied, are still open to ‘new candidates’, to improve the overall performance of the work area. However, just don’t be surprised if the person acting in the role is appointed.
In summary, make sure you are eligible, that you get your application in on time, be aware that internals will be applying and that due to the highly competitive nature of government recruitment, don’t apply for jobs, unless you are confident that you have the right qualifications and skills.