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what I wish I knew about the public sector recruitment process before applying for a PUBLIC SECTOR job!


Before applying for a public sector job, I had yet to learn what I was getting myself into regarding the government recruitment process.

As someone who had only ever worked in the private sector, I knew nothing about the public sector other than what other people had told me about what they thought about the public sector, which was generally very negative.

I kept hearing “you’re going to be one of those lazy public servants doing nothing all day” and that this was going to be my experience when I applied for a public sector role too.

No one really told me what it was like to apply for a role to get into the public sector, or what it was like to work in the public sector.

So this blog is about what I wish I knew before I applied for a public sector job, and I’m writing this for you so that you are not surprised or shocked before you apply.

Work level standards

You need to understand the level of authority and work level standards in the job you’re applying for. These levels are developed to provide a consistent platform for classifying jobs and pay scales.

The problem with these scales and work level standards is that you have to know how to write your application to the level of the role you are applying to. You also need to know if you have the right level skills to apply for the role you want.

If you cannot meet them at the level they are seeking you will not land an interview or the job.

The importance of transferable skills

Have you ever applied for senior public sector roles and heard the excuse that you didn’t have any skills in the public sector and that is why you didn’t land an interview or the job? Or you’ve wanted to apply, but you think you don’t have the exact experience they need or don’t think you meet the criteria for the role?

When you’ve never worked in the public sector before, transferable skills are the way you get around having the exact government experience they are looking for.

I didn’t work in government, nor have some of my clients, and we got our foot in the door.

So I know it can be done and we did it with transferable skills.

You need to know how to market these skills and how to tailor them specifically to the role in order to send a government job application that hits the mark and lands you an interview or the job.

Addressing Key Selection Criteria

Most people who apply for public sector roles initially don’t understand the importance of addressing key selection criteria in their public sector job application.

You must respond to the criteria whether they ask you to or not. It is not optional.

It may not be a requirement to respond to key selection criteria in a separate document or a long 3 page cover letter, but you still have to respond to that criteria in your resume or your short introductory cover letter.

They are fundamental to your public sector job application and not addressing them at all means you’ll likely remain at the bottom of the pile, or be thrown into the virtual trash can.

Merit pools and merit lists

You need to know that sometimes and particularly in the Australian Public Service (APS) the recruitment process includes merit pools or merit lists.

When you see one job advertisement for multiple similar positions, this is usually a sign that the APS is using the merit pool process.

Sometimes they let you know they will use this recruitment process and sometimes they don’t specify it.

If you’ve ever applied for a role, been through the whole process, and then don’t hear anything after the interview, it could be that you have been placed in the merit pool.

What this means is that when you apply for a role that goes through the merit pool process, is that after they go through the selection process for interviews and then interviewed candidates, they will place you in the merit pool.

Successful candidates go into the pool with no relative ranking and means you could be offered the role you applied for, or offered a similar position if one is available.

You also need to know that you could be in that pool for up to 18 months which can be frustrating if you want to leave your current role, yesterday!

Patience is a virtue here if you have applied for a role that puts you in the merit pool and there’s no guarantee you will be selected.

The recruitment process is long

Something that can shock people trying to get a foot in the door to the public sector is not hearing back for a long time and then one day out of the blue getting a call to come in for an interview. This happened to me!

When I didn’t hear anything a week after the closing date, I assumed that I hadn’t been selected for an interview.

Lo and behold one lunchtime sitting with a friend at a cafe I received a call. I was shocked when I heard it was the Director of the department that advertised the role I applied for a month ago!

Not only that but at the interview, I was told I would likely get the job but had to wait another week to allow the “grievance process” to commence.

Any Victorian Public Sector employee can lodge a grievance if they don’t think the recruitment process was fair and have it reviewed within 7 days. If someone had applied for a selection grievance review, then I would have to wait until the whole process had finished (that could take another month or so). Check what this is in each state or territory.

Requesting your current supervisor as a reference

Now, this is confronting and off-putting for private sector people because most of us want to get away from our current boss not ask for a favour!

Of if you do get along with your boss, you don’t want to let them know you’re leaving and risk being given notice before you even know whether you have landed the job!

I remember being asked and panicking because it wasn’t the done thing to do in the private sector recruitment process. Usually, it’s “referees upon request” but then I got that request.

In my case, I knew I’d get a glowing reference because I loved my current job, and my boss thought I was the bee’s knees.

But I thought, “what if he wasn’t supportive?”

So be prepared for them to ask for your current boss or supervisor as a referee in your job application documents and be prepared to tell them why you can’t give that person as a reference or under what circumstances you want to give that information to them.

So my biggest tips on the things I wished I knew about the government recruitment process is that you need to be prepared.

Be prepared that the public sector recruitment process isn’t the same as the private sector recruitment process. You need to be prepared for that.

If you can’t wait for them to make a decision or don’t like the process at all, you may have to reconsider whether the sector is for you or not.

But geez it’s rewarding once you’re in the sector!

If you’ve been applying for senior public sector roles and

  • are being ignored or
  • being told you didn’t have as much government experience as the person who landed an interview or the job, and
  • you’re struggling to articulate your brilliance, or
  • you think you’re not a writer,

Then you need to learn how to get your foot in the door and stop coming second best!

If you can relate to this, then you’re invited to my

Free Masterclass

Get Your Foot in the Door and Land a Senior Public Sector Job
(even if you’ve never worked in the public service before!)

Tuesday 29 November 2022 at 8.00pm AEDT
(Sydney/Melb/Canberra/Tas 8.00pm, Perth 5.00pm, Adelaide/NT 7.30pm, Brisbane 7.00pm)

In this live training you’ll learn:

  • The number 1 reason you are being overlooked for senior public sector roles (and it’s not because you don’t have government experience)
  • The 3 mistakes you’re making and how to fix them right now
  • How my proven 5-step process worked for my clients, the first time they applied and how it can work for you too!

Fast-Track Your Public Service Career and STOP getting knock backs or excuses as to why you didn’t land an interview or the job.

This Masterclass will help you find the missing links and position you as their next stellar hire.

You can find out more and register here 


Hi, I’m Athena Ali

The Founder of The Get Noticed Coach.

I help public servants and aspiring public servants

– articulate their brilliance in resumes and CVs that get hiring managers excited to see them,

– write key selection criteria that prove you’re the right person for the job quickly,

– create a personal brand that sells for you so that you are headhunted for 6 figure roles effortlessly, and

– arm you with confidence-boosting strategies for your next interview so that you impress the recruiters and hiring managers and get hired in a senior public service job.

I’m for people who want to make a difference in the community and work with purpose in a senior public service role.

I use my unique marketing approach to help you get clear, get confident, get visible, and advance your career with my unique and Award-Winning frameworks.

With over 13 years in the public service and landing every government role I applied for and wanted I am well placed to show you how I did it and how you can do it too!

I believe in you.