4 surefire ways to create a winning graduate application for the government sector

Get your graduate application right by using GradAustralia's 4 surefire tips to succeed in a government recruitment program.
Team GradAustralia
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First impressions count. The written application for a graduate role is your first chance to make a good impression – and if you don’t manage to do that, you may not get another chance!

Applications for roles in government grad programs differ from a lot of private sector applications in that they don’t really follow the typical CV and cover letter format. You will of course have to provide your CV (as well as any academic transcripts or other supporting documents you might have), but the idea of a traditional cover letter spruiking yourself for the role is rarely used.

Instead, you’ll usually be asked to prepare a personal statement that answers a couple of ‘targeted questions’ which are in the style of questions you would normally find in a job interview. These questions will point towards specific skills and selection criteria that the department is prioritising, and will ask you to discuss examples in which you have demonstrated those skills. You might see this referred to as a ‘selection criteria’ statement, and nailing this is the first step towards your dream job in the public service.

Address the selection critiera

If your government application states that you must address the selection critera, then take a few minutes to make sure you actually do this. So here are GradAustralia’s tips to make sure that your application doesn’t go straight in the bin:

As a general rule: don’t be general

Submissions with generic language that could be sent to any department are some of the easiest to bin. Tailor your language to the department and its priorities, and avoid falling into the trap of sending out one application for all. You’re better off submitting a thoughtful, tailored application to one department than submitting a generic ‘send to all’ application to ten departments.

This is true of all job applications, but particularly in government when there can be a temptation to see government departments as the same. In reality, each department operates independently and has different goals, outcomes and priorities and you’ll need to make sure that your application reflects their individual identity.

Most government graduate positions will have a role description document detailing the key accountabilities (work you’ll be responsible for) and capabilities (skills) that will be expected of you. Make sure that you read this document and focus your application on the specific accountabilities and capabilities that are prioritised by the department you are applying for.

Be a STAR

No, we don’t mean you need to go out and become famous before applying for a grad role in government. Government job applications are all about providing evidence of how you meet their selection criteria, giving specific details, and including an indicator of success or a positive result.

In other words, use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) model:

  • Situation – provide a brief outline of the situation or setting in which you worked.
  • Task – describe what you did.
  • Action – explain how you did it.
  • Result – list the outcomes.

By following this method, you’ll be able to make sure that each and every one of your examples will cover all the points that government departments are looking for. It helps to demonstrate that you recognise exactly what you did that helped resolve a situation, and why it worked. This is important as it shows that you’re not just able to respond to a situation, but also that you have the ability to reflect on your actions, which is a good indicator that you’ll continue to develop within a government grad program.

Pay attention

One of the easiest ways of finding yourself with a first class ticket to the reject pile is to not read the target questions properly.

The targeted questions will usually be based on real-world situations that you will find yourself in on the job and the skills that you will need in these situations. The questions will very clearly reflect certain selection criteria and it’s important that you first identify which criteria each question is asking you about. You can usually find these criteria within the job ad itself or in the position description document.

Once you’ve worked out which criteria the questions focus on, read the questions again very carefully. While it might be tempting to focus on the beginning of each criterion, make sure to pay attention to the end too – lots of people get tripped up because they respond to one part and not the other.

If a criterion says: ‘Ability to file, retrieve, shelve and physically organise materials in a high-volume environment’, there are six aspects you need to respond to.

  1. Ability,
  2. File,
  3. Retrieve,
  4. Shelve, and
  5. Physically organise materials.
  6. High-volume environment.
  7. Make sure to respond to each part of the criterion and demonstrate your experience for each.

In this example, you’d need to address your specific examples of experience filing, retrieving, shelving and physically organising materials, and your work inside a high-volume environment. If you miss a part of this question you won’t have satisfactorily answered it, which may mean no interview.

Know the jargon

HR speak can be cliche at best, and frustratingly confusing at worst. Luckily we are here to decode some of the common phrases you’ll find in government grad job ads so that you will know how to best frame your experience to suit exactly what you are being asked.

Not all knowledge is equal. Here are some of the phrases that we see pop up the most, and what they actually mean:

  • General knowledge/awareness of – a basic understanding
  • Knowledge of – knowledge gained from experience
  • Sound knowledge of – a good working knowledge, limited experience
  • Thorough knowledge of – robust grasp of information and application
  • Demonstrated ability – provide specific examples of flexing this skill
  • Ability to rapidly acquire – demonstrate you have the capacity to learn

If you pay close attention to what the criterion is asking of you, use our HR jargon decoder and prove your experience using the STAR method, you’ll be well on your way to getting an interview.

Though the process may seem daunting, you can breathe easy as we will go into detail about assessment centres next!