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10 Rules for Responding to Key Selection Criteria

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For an employer faced with hundreds of job applications, one of the easiest ways to weed out unlikely candidates – and discover possible stars – is by using key selection criteria.

In plain English, this is the company’s way of checking that you have the skills and experience to do the job. The selection criteria is usually a list of requirements, either in the job advertisement itself or on a downloadable document. You might be asked specific questions about how you fit these requirements, or just to respond to the list in general.

It’s worth reading through them several times, and taking your responses seriously. The key selection criteria is not just a tool for employers. Used correctly, it can help you secure an interview for your dream job – or discover that the position isn’t right for you after all.

Here’s how to make a company’s selection criteria work for you.

1. Check the job fits

Go through the list and make sure you meet enough of the basic requirements for the job.  Your qualifications and experience don’t need to be an exact fit, but if you’re crossing more boxes than ticking them, you may be unlikely to called in for an interview.   

Similarly, check that you’re comfortable with the kind of job they’re describing. The words used in selection criteria are a good clue to what the day-to-day role will entail. If you don’t like making decisions, dealing with customers or working in a team, then a job that calls for those skills probably won’t make you happy.

2. Play detective

Ask yourself – what are they really after? Employers seeking new employees are really looking to solve an internal problem. They are missing something in their organisation, and need to fill that gap. Again, the words used in the selection criteria can tip you off as to what that skills gap is – and help you present yourself as the solution.  

3. Be creative

Where you don’t have an exact qualification or skill required, explain how the experience you do have is applicable. Do you have a strong history in a similar industry, or proven transferrable skills? Are you quick to pick up new concepts or technology? Give examples of where you’ve successfully filled gaps in your knowledge base or made a transition before. 

4. Adapt to fit

Responding to key criteria is not just about giving answers to specific questions. Go through your CV and make sure it reflects the qualities and experience the company is looking for. Rewrite sections and reposition experience if necessary, highlighting the exact skills the company says it is looking for.

5. Use their language

Pull out keywords from the selection criteria – such as team player, self-starter, responsible – and make sure you use them when speaking about your own experience. Do this in your CV and cover letter, as well as in answer to any specific questions.

6. Give complete examples

Companies will often ask for examples of how you fit their selection criteria. For instance, they might ask you to explain a situation when you had to show leadership. Make sure you tell the whole story: not just the situation, but what your role was, what you did, and what the outcome was. This is known in recruiting circles as STAR – situation, task, action, result.

Even if a written application doesn’t ask for examples, it’s worth thinking of a few – they often come up at the interview stage. If you write them down ahead of time, then you’ll be ready to give a polished answer and less likely to get flustered.

7. Think 360

When responding to key criteria, consider how you meet the requirements from all angles. Include your practical experience, qualifications, soft skills, personal traits, previous on-the-job training and any awards or formal recognition that might be relevant.

8. Tick all the boxes

If you’re asked to respond to a list of requirements, make sure your answer covers them all. Don’t be tempted to skip any areas where you feel under qualified. If there’s a skill or qualification you don’t have, explain how you would go about gaining it, or what you do have or can do that’s similar. Being upfront about a ‘weakness’ in your application, and addressing it head-on, sends a great message to employers.

9. Follow the instructions

If the company asks for three examples, give them three examples. Your completing the task is an example in itself – it shows how well you comprehend and follow instructions.

10. And think outside them

Your skills don’t only come from your professional life. You can – and should – refer to experience gained in voluntary work, sport, music, or participation in different groups and organisations. The right example can demonstrate a host of transferable skills, and help you stand out from the crowd.

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