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Applying for a Graduate Position in the Public Sector? Put your best CV forward.

Kate Neser

If this is your final year of study, and you are hoping to join the public service, then the time to start applying for graduate positions is NOW!

It may be hard to turn your mind to job applications while just starting at your final year of university, but if you want to be a part of a graduate program, applications may already be too late.  Some departments have already closed the application process for the 2014 intake, with others starting a process very soon.

And I have to say, if I was a graduate looking for a job now, I don’t think I would get a look-in to the recruitment process.  It is an incredibly competitive process, and it is important to make sure that you put your best CV forward.  And when you consider that departments may get hundreds of applications, anything that you can do to make yours stand out (in a good way) will be important.

And standing out in the wrong way is the quickest way to have your application hit the ‘no’ pile.  In this sense, it is crucial to get the basics right.  The application process can be different for each department, so it is important to make sure that you fill in the particular forms required, and check for any word or page limits.  If they have asked for something to be included, such as written referee reports, make sure they are included.  Do not assume that stating these will be provided upon request will be acceptable.  Don’t give them an excuse to put your application in the ‘no’ pile.

Also, one of my pet hates – make sure that you have proof-read your application.  Don’t rely on spellchecker to get it write, oops I mean, right for you.  If you struggle with grammar or sentence construction, get someone to help you with correcting any errors.

To make sure yours hits the ‘yes’ pile, pay attention to each and every application.  While each application is a lot of work to put together, it is important that each one is tailored specifically to the department you are applying for, and meets the relevant application process requirements.  If you are cutting and pasting from one application to another, I recommend putting the application together, and then letting it sit for a day before re-reading with a fresh pair of eyes.  Take this opportunity to read each part and make sure it is tailored to the relevant department/application process.  I know this can seem onerous, but if you don’t take this extra time, then you may have wasted the whole application process.

If you have time, especially if you want a position with a particular department, it is worth taking a look at their website and their latest annual report.  You don’t have to read it in detail – just enough to know what their ‘headline’ items are for the coming year.  If you can understand their priorities, then you will sound more informed, and worth a second look.  And if you don’t, you will look underprepared.

It may be worth applying for fewer positions, allowing yourself to take more time on each individual application.  Choose the departments that you think you match best.  Be clear about why you match them best.  Resist the temptation to apply for the department that looks after sport just because you enjoy playing soccer, or the department that looks after the arts because you like to play the flute.  What do you know about the Government’s policies and priorities in these areas?  What value can you bring to the policy or service delivery in these areas?

And lastly, check your online reputation.  If a potential employer googled you, what would come up in their search engine?  Are there inappropriate photos or comments that will come up?  Again, don’t give anyone an easy reason to put you in the ‘no’ pile.  Clean up whatever you can.  Make yourself marketable.

Give your future employer every reason to say ‘yes’.

And good luck!


Kate Neser

Kate Neser is a Professional Certified Coach who loves to work with people to find the pathway to fulfil on their full potential in any area of work, whether it be developing their leadership potential, managing people or seeking the elusive work-life balance. As a former senior executive who managed the role working part-time with young kids, she is passionate about challenging some of the beliefs held in workplaces that get in the way of people living the life they dream about. More about the Author

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