Writing Job Applications

Every job ad is a cry for help. “We have a problem,” the employer is saying. “We need someone to fix it.”

This means every job application is an offer to help. It has to prove you’re capable of solving the problem. More than that, it has to explain why you’re the best person to solve the problem.


Every job application goes through an obstacle course.

The first obstacle, especially in large organisations, is a computer system that ranks your application based on keywords. Assume this computer is stupid. It knows nothing about the role you’re applying for. It just looks for keywords.

The second obstacle is HR. The HR person might be excellent, or they might be appalling. It’s safest to bet, though, that they are not experts in the role that you’re applying for. They will read your application and match it against the selection criteria in the ad. Then they make a shortlist and hand it to the supervisor.

The supervisor is down a staff member. Consequently, they are overworked and grumpy. Now they have to read through a pile of job applications. They are looking for reasons to throw yours in the bin. Any reason: you didn’t include a cover letter, there’s an unexplained gap in your CV, you didn’t follow the exact procedure.

What this means for you:

  1. Read the application process carefully. Follow it to the letter.
  2. Make sure your application includes all the keywords from the job advertisement.
  3. Make sure your job application is easy to read, and easy for people to tick-off against the selection criteria.


Copy the selection criteria to a new document. Bold them. Write your response to each one (in normal weight font) underneath.

Make sure each response is concise – about a third of a page is good.

Make sure each response clearly shows you meet the selection criteria, so both an ignorant HR person and a grumpy, overworked supervisor can tick you off.

God, I hate writing responses to selection criteria. It’s repetitive and time-consuming. So I’ve got a three-step plan to avoid every writing them again:

  1. create a template for responses
  2.  create a set of canned responses to generic criteria
  3. write some code to automate the whole damn process


As [my position], I have [X] years experience in [copy-paste the selection criterion].

I also have [qualification X, qualification Y, and experience in Z].

I have [completed X many projects / served Y many customers / made Z amount of money].

My [specialty/focus] is [thing that makes you better than all the other candidates.]

Examples of my experience include:

  • [This person/client/department] [had this problem]. I [did this], which resulted in [measure of improvement].

Here’s a worked example.

Selection Criteria: Experience in project management, including business analysis, stakeholder engagement, problem solving and delivery.

As IT Manager at MUSUL Services, I have 8 years experience in project management, including business analysis, stakeholder engagement, problem solving and delivery.

I am a registered AgilePM® Agile Project Management Practitioner, and have experience using PRINCE2 and Agile project methodologies.

I have successfully completed over 20 major projects for 24 different departments, saving the organisation over $118,000 per year while dramatically improving the range and efficiency of services.

My specialty is in clear communication with all stakeholders, and a strong focus on meeting organisational needs.

Examples of my experience include:

  • The Student Computing Centre was running at an unsustainable loss. I initiated and led the project to combine it with the Rowden White Library, which resulted in savings of $118,000 per year.
  • The Clubs and Societies department was struggling to process the detailed paperwork for grants applications by student clubs. I managed the project to replace the paper-based process with a custom-built software solution, which resulted in grant processing time being reduced from over a week down to two days.

(This is a real example, by the way.)

It’s not perfect yet. And each response will probably need some editing. But hopefully this will reduced my Response to Selection Criteria writing time down from half a day to an hour or so.

I’ll update this as required.