Applying for a job that requires a response to Key Selection Criteria? Follow this guide on what it is, how to respond and the top mistakes to avoid.
Key Selection Criteria are used as a recruitment tool throughout the public, not-for-profit (NFP) and academic sectors but are becoming increasingly common in the private sector too.
If this is the first time you have encountered it you may be tempted to bypass the request, especially if you feel that you are a really strong candidate and have a comprehensive resume and cover letter ready to send.
But before you opt for the easy route and hit submit, you need to know that if you do this you are very unlikely to be considered for the position because your application will be seen as incomplete – even if you are the perfect fit for the role.
Undeniably this is going to take some work on your part but if you follow this guide it will be easier than you think, plus it will give you invaluable preparation for your interview
What is Key Selection Criteria?
Key selection criteria are the skills, attributes, knowledge and qualifications that the employer has defined as being essential for satisfying the requirements of the job you are applying for.
You will need to clearly show how your personal values, knowledge, skills and experience meet this criteria through examples from other jobs, experience gained outside or work, or from your formal studies.
The words used in selection criteria statements will give you a clue as to how to structure your response. When you see ‘demonstrated’, ‘proven’ or similar, it is an explicit instruction to use an example to demonstrate your suitably.
How are selection criteria assessed?
Selection criteria are each assessed separately and will have points assigned to it. You will score higher points by successfully demonstrating the skills/experience that they are looking for in that criterion. Your overall response – covering all questions within the selection criteria – then gets an overall mark. Those that score well across the board move on to the next stage of the recruitment process which is typically a first interview.
How long should a response to Key Skills Criteria be?
The simple answer is as long as they ask for.
Somewhere in the application instructions there will be a ‘How to Apply’ guide or similarly worded document. You might find it at the foot of the job advert, in the job description or on the company’s careers page. Once you find it, read it carefully and comply with their exact instructions. They most probably will also have set a word count or page limit for your responses too so make sure you strictly adhere to that as well.
If there are no limits set, approximately 250 words is generally an appropriate length for each criterion. However, this will depend upon factors such as the complexity and seniority of the role in question.
Regarding the layout, where possible dot points should be used rather than long paragraphs of text. This will make it easier for the selection team to read your application and will also positively demonstrate your written communication skills.
There should be no errors anywhere in the document, it should use a clean and clear format and the sentences should be grammatically correct and concise.
What if I don’t meet all of the Key Skills Criteria?
This is dependent on how specialised the role is.
For example, if you have only 3 years’ experience and they have set a minimum of 5 but there are very few people with your particular skills and experience, then it may well be still worth applying.
However, if you can be sure that there will be many candidates with the same skills applying for this role then I suggest you adopt the 80% rule. If you cannot satisfy at least 80% of the requirements then it probably is not worth the considerable time and effort of applying.
To help you decide whether you reach that 80% threshold, take a look at the Job Description and ask yourself these questions:
- Do I meet all or most of the Knowledge, Experience, Skills and Qualifications of the job?
- Could I do the job with some training - formal or on-the-job?
- Do I have skills gained in other fields of work that may be transferable?
If the answer is yes, then you are ready to start your response and that starts with a with little bit of research.
How to prepare a response to Key Skills Criteria
From our experience, people who do some basic research about the job before answering the Key Selection Criteria and submitting their applications achieve the best results.
So before compiling your response, research the company and learn about projects, key personnel and events. This will help you to focus your application better.
Now you are ready to prepare your response.
Read and re-read the advertisement, KSC and Position Description.
It is really important that you clearly understand what is meant by each selection criterion before putting pen to paper.
If you don't fully understand the job requirements you may have difficulty demonstrating that you are the best person for the job.
If you are unsure about any aspects of the job, call the Recruitment Officer (the name and telephone number will be in the job details) during normal business hours.
Print or Save
Print or save the Job Details, Position Description, and KSC so you can easily refer to it as you go through this process.
Highlight key words in the first KSC and think about what they are really asking for.
Now brainstorm a list examples of how you meet the KSC.
Describe relevant skills, experience, incidents, training, personal qualities, expertise and things you couldn’t have done without all these.
Ideally these should be from the last 3-4 years.
Use the STAR method to review your list and summarise, in 50-120 words, how you demonstrated this KSC.
Star stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result.
The situation will highlight a duty, problem or challenge.
The task will be what was needed to be achieved or resolved.
The action will be what you actually did and how you did it.
The outcome will be the positive result you were responsible for.
Repeat Steps 3 to 5 for the remaining KSC.
Examples of KSC responses
Here are a few examples to help you see how they work out in a real paragraph plus the sort of length you should be aiming for.
Seeks all relevant facts. Liaises with stakeholders. Analyses issues from different perspectives and draws sound inferences from available data. Identifies and proposes workable solutions.
"Problem solving has been a critical part of my roles over the past five years. While working as the Project Manager at XYZ Company, I dealt with a variety of urgent and non urgent issues. While many could be resolved easily, 2-3 per week were more complex and required a detailed process to resolve. I had to investigate what had happened from the staff and customer’s points of view, clarify the facts and work out what had gone wrong and why. I then had to propose suitable solutions and negotiate a mutually satisfactory outcome. I was often commended by my manager for my sensitive handling and speedy resolution of these problems. Less than 1% of complaints had to be escalated."
Uses a wide range of software features for word processing,spreadsheets, etc. Helps others solve problems with software.
"As an Administration Assistant to the Manager at XYZ Company, about half my time was spent preparing letters and reports using Word. I used detailed information in Excel spreadsheets to prepare graphs and tables to demonstrate the results of our budget analysis and to analyse Departmental performance. I often prepared major PowerPoint presentations for my Manager and maintained a database of her contacts. I also managed many daily emails and searched for information on the Internet to answer questions."
Sound communication including interpersonal and negotiating skills, along with well-developed written and oral skills.
"In my 5 years as a Foreman for XYZ Company, strong communication, negotiation and interpersonal skills have been essential. I have dealt with a wide range of people, including workers, colleagues, the public and Contractors. I was involved in a community project where I had to build new pedestrian road crossings. As part of this project, I successfully negotiated with the three local schools in the area who agreed to use additional staff to ensure kids could cross the roads safely. This agreement required me to update my written JSA clearly outlining the safety measures to be used."
Demonstrated ability to safely operate and maintain road construction plant.
"In my 7 years as a Plant Operator I have operated backhoes, loaders and bobcats. I have recognised certificates of competencies for each of these plants. I have never had an accident whilst operating plant. Whilst I was working at XYZ Company I was used as an official tester to assess applicants’ knowledge of plant maintenance and their competency to operate loaders and bobcats.”
10 mistakes to avoid with Key Selection Criteria responses
There are many areas that can trip you up but here are the 10 most common to avoid.
01 Choose recent
If possible, select examples that have taken place in the last twelve months to provide fresh experience.
02 Choose relevant
For example, if it is HR then it needs to be an HR related example. If you don’t have one, then pick ones that prove transferable skills.
03 Match seniority
The more senior you are, the more responsibility and accountability you have. Take care to choose an example at the appropriate level.
04 Don't make things up
Do not twist the question to suit an example – really think about the question and find an example that answers it naturally.
05 Always support
Remember to support your claim. Your examples must be detailed and be very clear about the process of the task and the action.
06 Stay on track
Responses to criteria can easily go off track ad include irrelevant information. Start your first sentence using the language of the criterion. If it’s about solving problems, then start by saying something like ‘I have demonstrated my problem solving skills in my roles as xxx, yyy and zzz.’
07 Recognise levels
If there are several jobs at different levels on offer that you wish to apply for, make sure you understand the differences between them. Read the job descriptions carefully for the word changes as you may need to make some adjustments to cater for these subtle differences.
08 No abstract nouns
Responses to criteria need to be written in strong, direct language that puts you centre stage as the main actor. For example, ‘During the meeting I negotiated an agreement with all stakeholders to appoint a new project leader.’
09 Use past tense
Always use past tense because it works better to convey that you have demonstrated a skill.
10 Positive outcomes
This is the most important element of key selection criteria. For example, you could have saved money, improved efficiency, or provided fantastic customer service. Many people are afraid of blowing their own trumpet and can dilute this section by being too humble. Do not be – this is your chance to really shine and put yourself above your competition.
Don't let this hard work put you off. A great application sets you up for a great interview. Plus, keep a record of your responses because they can provide the foundation for other applications should you need them.
So many people never apply when they see the words Key Selection Criteria so if you put the effort in, you stand a higher chance of making it through to the interview stage.