Securing a new job in a saturated market is tricky at the best of times. Add to this, the complication of moving from the private to the public sector where you will notice a very different recruitment process exists. Your CV, which has served you well in the past, no longer has a place in the procedure. And you’re possibly left wondering why your application forms don’t seem to be hitting the mark despite knowing that you could do the job standing on your head.
The truth is that in order to conduct a successful job search within the public sector, it is hugely beneficial to have a good understanding of how the system works. Without this, skills and experience alone may not be enough.
How is shortlisting done?
The deciding part of your application lies not with the detail of the form itself, or your accompanying covering letter, but with the ‘supporting statement’ - the document where you are asked to evidence the skills, experience and knowledge needed for the role. To do this correctly you need to address how you meet each and every point on the ‘Person Specification’, giving examples to back this up. Applicants will receive a tick, cross or perhaps a question mark against each of the criteria points, according to what your supporting statement contains. The more ticks you receive, the higher your chances of getting an interview. So this means addressing ALL the points mentioned (yes, even that ubiquitous - but vastly overlooked - point about equal opportunities that public sector recruiters love to throw in).
How should I format my Supporting Statement?
Ultimately this is up to you, but consider a layout which makes it crystal clear which criteria you are addressing, using an order which mirrors theirs. Shortlisters will thank you for this. Information will be easy to locate, thus saving time and reducing the risk of human error - under time pressure it can be easy to overlooking a point made because it is hidden in the midst of a wordy paragraph. Bear in mind that you will receive no credit for information given above and beyond the shortlisting criteria. Nor will you benefit directly from an essay layout or chronological structure - it is safer to dedicate a paragraph to each point, and work through them systematically.
Learning to evidence competencies
As well as some criteria points on experience and knowledge, you are likely to need to use your supporting statement to prove evidence of certain ‘competencies’ or skills. Team work, using initiative and client-focus are common ones but there are many others. This is where you need to think back to the STAR technique (Describe the Situation. What was the Task? What Actions did you take? What was the Result?) Your evidence should focus on one specific example that you are able to break down into detail, rather than talking more generally about a range of situations. It is not enough, for example, to respond to a competency requirement such as flexibility by saying “I take an adaptable and pragmatic approach to my work”. You need to prove it through a real life example.
And finally the good news….
Completing applications of this format may seem frustratingly time-consuming but it does come with its benefits. Whilst you may not realise it, completing your supporting statement has already helped you prepare for the next stage of the process as the interview itself is likely to focus on many of the same criteria points. It is essential, therefore, that you keep a copy of both your supporting statement and the person specification and use them as tools in your interview preparation. Topics that come up for discussion should be reasonable easy to predict and the interview should be structured so that the same questions are asked to all candidates.
So often in this type of recruitment process, it’s not about what you know or even what you’ve done, but about how you prove it. Once this technique has been mastered, and provided you are applying to realistic opportunities, you should see your application-to-interview ratio start to improve.
Momentum Careers Advice offers an application form review service that costs just £60. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information