I have been sitting on government selection panels since 2003. This has not been an every now and then occurrence – it is my job to sit on selection panels, it’s all I do!
Not only has this given me a great insight into how applicants approach their job applications, but also how selection panels assess these applications.
I have also been involved in training selection panel members and recruitment delegates, and this has lead to some very interesting discoveries.
Panels want to put you in the 'no' pile
A recruitment exercise is about finding the best person for the job, and selection panels want to do this as quickly and as easily as possible.
One piece of insider information you may not know, is that seasoned panels are are looking for reasons to eliminate you.
They are placing every application in a yes, no or maybe pile, and getting the 'yes' pile nice and low (ideally down to 3 applicants) means a whole lot of culling has to happen.
If I am reading through a stack of applications and one of them causes a little doubt in my mind, it is going to be a lot easier to put it straight in the ‘no’ pile that it is to look further and try to alleviate my doubt. Especially if there are already a couple of stronger contenders.
And, if I am forming an opinion that is more negative than positive, even before I’ve read the application, my hand is automatically going to be hovering over the ‘no pile’ and you are going to have to do a lot of work to bring it back.
I’m not trying to be mean, or a bully. It’s how the human mind works and all people involved in a recruitment exercise do it.
Every single little thing is either batting for you, or against you.
Everything you write in your selection criteria statements is creating an opinion
Human beings are assessing your application, not computers. A computer would look for technical details. But humans form opinions based on everything they encounter.
Sloppy formatting? Obviously a previously used application that you’ve just cut and paste? Cover letter addressed to the wrong person? A ‘resume objective’ that’s not related to the job?
There are a few things that will create large opinions in the mind of the reader.
And that’s before they’ve even started reading what you actually have to say.
If there is anything in your application that isn't clear, the selection panel will probably not seek clarification. Especially if you are not obviously a top contender.
For example, if the panel are not sure about things such as:
- Any gaps in employment history
- Dates that don’t make sense
- Organisations you have never heard of, the size of the organisation and the reporting structure
- Courses or education
- Any other information that needs clarification.
They are not going to call you to find out. You will probably just go straight to the maybe or no pile. (And another little insider tip, most people who are put into the maybe pile, just end up in the no pile, because the yes pile usually fills up).
You are a product
In his book “Employer Secrets” Phil Baker outlines the one key thing you need to keep in mind when you’re applying for a job.
- You are the service or product.
- The employer is the customer.
- You are selling
- The employer is buying.
Your cover letter, resume and selection criteria are your advertising, you are the product, the interview is your product demonstration and the employer is going to buy (pay for) your product. However, the employer has lots of products to choose from and you have lots of other advertising messages to compete with.
The ultimate goal of your selection criteria (advertising) is to get an appointment to demonstrate your product – get an interview.
Imagine if you’re buying a new vacuum cleaner. You put out the word that you’re ready to buy, and a whole heap of vacuum cleaner salesmen offer to come and do an in-home demonstration for you. Of course you’re not going to let 20 random salesmen into your home, you’re going to pick the vacuum cleaners that you think are most likely going to meet your needs. You’ll look at their features and benefits and technical specifications, and based on your research, maybe pick two or three to have an in-home demonstration. The one that appear to perform the best on the day is probably the vacuum cleaner that you will buy.
Applying for a job is exactly the same.
You are a product.
The employer is the customer.
Most applicants get this wrong by focusing in the written application and in their interview on themselves and not knowing what the employer wants or needs.
Yes, it is important to make sure you get the right job for you, that you are getting paid what your skills and abilities deserve, that you have opportunities to learn and advance and that you find pleasure in what you do.
However, the employer, in a recruitment situation, does not care about any of this.
Keep the focus on the employer.
More help with your job application:
How to make sure your selection criteria are pitched at the right level
Are you following any of these selection criteria myths?
Questions you should ask before applying for a government job