Getting the Most out of the Position Description

Studying the position description (PD) and addressing the selection criteria are among the most dreaded tasks facing a job seeker. And it's not easy. It's a fairly long, hard slog - but it can be very satisfying when you read over your completed statement and see that you have created a convincing document describing your skills and achievements in a really interesting and effective way. Yes, it's a long, hard job but if you break it down into the smaller steps suggested here, you will create a marketing document that you are proud of.

Position descriptions are an extremely valuable source of information for the job seeker but they need to be studied carefully to get the most out of them. This study takes a lot of time and you may well be thinking halfway through the process that you want to get stuck straight into writing the statement. Please don't. If you do, you may find yourself in all sorts of difficulty or you may end up with a statement that is not effective in conveying your skills to do the job. And it is less work to produce one really successful application and, as a result, get the job than to slave away over dozens and not get anything.

To be able to develop an effective application, you need to know what the job is all about. Ideally the position description should give you sufficient understanding of the job to be able to plan your first few weeks in the position. In practice this is often not the case. Often you will only be able to create an accurate picture of the job after you have had some face-to-face meetings with people who work there or at least extensive conversations with them over the phone or by email. However, the PD is still a very useful document and it is essential to squeeze out all the information it can give you.

Position descriptions generally have two main parts. The first part outlines the key tasks and responsibilities of the position and the second part, the knowledge, skills and experience required of applicants, the selection criteria. Many applicants go straight to the selection criteria part and start addressing this section without carefully studying the key tasks section. This is a serious mistake. Surprisingly there are quite often key tasks and responsibilities that are not reflected in the selection criteria. Unless you make a thorough examination of the key tasks first, you could well leave out of your application any mention of your skills to carry out this key task and responsibility.

Why this sort of omission happens is that many of the people who write position descriptions are not trained in how to do it. They know what they want in the applicant; they just don't know how best to explain their requirements in a PD. As an applicant therefore, your first task is to match the elements of these two sections together so as to be better able to see how the selection criteria are relevant to the position.
To do this, let us first look at a typical PD. This one is for a building maintenance foreperson. This is an excerpt from the PD for a real position and it is fairly typical of all PDs.

Match Key Tasks to the Selection Criteria

The first step in this process is to match the key tasks to the selection criteria. The way that I have found to be the easiest to do this is to take one sheet of paper for each of the selection criteria - in this case, 4 criteria so 4 sheets of paper. Write the criterion in full across the top of the page. Then rule a line down the page, slightly to the left of centre, like this:

The next step is to identify the key tasks and responsibilities that are relevant to this criterion and to write them into the left hand column like this:

You will find that many of the key tasks are relevant to more than one criterion. In such cases, only write the part of the key task that is relevant to the criterion being looked at.

The third step is, in the right hand column, to identify events and achievements from your experience that show that you have the ability to carry out the tasks and do it well. I have put a complete achievement statement in the right hand column. You might prefer to put only key words such as "contract maintenance, Port Nelson". However, it is essential that you can write a full achievement statement for each example when you come to writing up the final document. (For a full explanation on how to write achievement statements that will convince an employer of your skills without your sounding boastful, see Chapter 6 in The Job Winners Guide to Rsums.)

Your final Statement Addressing the Selection criteria should be full of achievement statements.

Writing an Effective Statement Addressing the Selection Criteria

Once you have completed this step for all of the selection criteria, the next step is start preparing the final document.

Copy across the masthead of your rsum into a new document. Write the position title underneath in the same style that you have used for your name. The visual similarity between your name and the position gives an impression of connectedness, an impression that you are right for the job. This is how Mick Field did it:

Underneath this, write the first criterion in full:

To address this criterion, start with a positive claim that you do have the knowledge, skill and experience to meet the criterion.

Expand this claim with a little more detail.

Give sufficient information to allow the employer to form a general impression of your skill level but do not make this paragraph too long.

The next step is to back up this information with specific achievement statements. (See, The Job Winners Guide to Rsums, Chapter 6.) Here is an example from Mick Field's application:

To make sure that you cover all the key tasks, you may need to write three or more achievement statements under each criterion.

Then repeat the process for all the remaining criteria.