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As a human resources specialist for many years, I've seen it all when it comes to job applications. Most disheartening were those applications in which applicants had not addressed the specified selection criteria ... they went straight into the 'no' pile. In many cases, it was obvious from accompanying documents like the cover letter and resume, that the applicants were intelligent, experienced people who may have been good hires. However, as they hadn't addressed the selection criteria, they had disqualified themselves from further processing. In fact, an applicant has only to miss one selection criterion to be disqualified from a recruitment process.
When an application arrived well before the vacancy closing date and it was clear that it didn't address the selection criteria, I would always write to the applicants asking them to rewrite their applications and resubmit. I attached a short brochure advising them how to go about it. Some resubmitted, most didn't.
Why Have Selection Criteria?
All job selection techniques ultimately follow the same premise: that if you did something well previously for an employer, you will most likely be able to do it again for another employer. Organisations that use selection criteria use them to focus the knowledge, skills and attitudes applicants posess, to those required to successfully carry out a job. Take for example, a selection criterion, 'Demonstrated ability to use the Microsoft Office suite of software programs'. Applicants would demonstrate such ability either by giving details of a course of study they had completed that covered all MS Office programs or describing where and when they had used the programs and what they did (or a combination of both). If they had used only a few of the MS Office programs, then perhaps they wouldn't meet the criterion.
The Challenges of Responding to Selection Criteria
The criterion above is nebulous because it doesn't say to what extent you have to 'use' the software. Does it mean you've loaded it a few times and created a small spreadsheet, document, project outline, email, or slide show? Or does it mean that you must have mastered each program at an advanced level? In trying to create a criterion that is objective, the writer has in fact created subjectivity ie, the degree to which use is expected/required.
This highlights the first challenge of selection criteria; determining what the writer intended. Unfortunately, not all criteria writers are good at English expression. The solution is to try to 'over qualify' the selection criterion. In the above example, what you would do is provide examples of the type of use to which you put MS Office programs, which programs they were, and what the outcome was eg, 'I produced a spreadsheet to calculate break-even point which used seven different formulae including sum, average,' etc. Does this make sense?
If other applicants simply state that they use MS Office, your response has to be better because the degree of use is evident. An applicant showing a higher degree of use should beat an applicant showing a lesser degree of use, but it doesn't say that in the criterion.
Another challenge is actually meeting selection criteria. Say the above example said, 'Demonstrated ability to use the MS Office Suite of software programs in an accounting office. What difference do you think that would make? Heaps. It would automatically disqualify any applicant who hadn't used the software in an accounting office. (But that's not a good reason to chuck in the towel).
When you analyse selection criteria you need to know that you can not only meet all criteria, but each element within every criterion. If you miss one element within any criterion or all the elements of any criteria, you're in trouble. This means that you must carefully analyse every criterion to determine how many elements it contains and respond to each element. In our previous example, we know that MS Office Suite consists of MS Word, MS Excel, MS Outlook, MS Powerpoint etc. If you miss one of those programs, you haven't met the criterion.
Knowing when to stop writing is a good thing. Once you have written sufficient to meet the criterion, you need to stop. Giving 23 examples of how you used MS Office is superfluous and will drive the assessor nuts.
Try to intuit (guess) what criteria really want you to do and frame your answer accordingly. For example, if you were answering the above criterion for a reception job at an accounting firm, ask yourself what types of things you'd be doing. I would expect a receptionist to perhaps use email a lot, produce letters, maybe run an address book or appointments calendars. In your reply highlight the topics you feel are most related to the job. But don't lose sight of the other elements either ... remember you must address all of the criterion.
Responding to the Challenges
You can improve your responses by studying some of the written materials available that address selection criteria. Discover the secrets for yourself and practise improving your responses every time you apply. Ask those who are successful job applicants if you can read their response to see if there is anything you can learn from it. Find someone in your group of friends or colleagues who you know is excellent with the written language and ask him or her to help you by proofreading your applications.
At the end of the day, writing selection criteria isn't rocket science. Like anything else, you can learn how to do it and master the art within a fairly short time. If you are spending time writing job applications addressing selection criteria and aren't getting interviews, you need to ask whether you are doing the best job possible. If not, make a conscious effort to get your act together.
Copyright Robin Henry 2005
Robin Henry is an educator, human resources specialist and Internet marketer whose firm, Desert Wave Enterprises, helps individuals and businesses improve their performance by using smart processes, smart technology and personal development. He has a number of tertiary qualifications including a Bachelor of Business degree majoring in Human Resources and Development. He lives at Alice Springs In Central Australia. Visit his site at Win a Government Job
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