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This blog examines the issues of planning your time to complete your selection criteria response.

How Long Should it Take to Write a Selection Criteria Response?

There is no easy answer on how long it should take to write a selection criteria response. It’ll depend on a lot of factors like:

  • Have you written many selection criteria responses before, and,
  • How closely aligned to the selection criteria are your skills and prior experience, and,
  • Do you have long to write it?

What I will say is the day or night before is not the time to start trying to write a selection criteria response. There is simply not enough time to write it well, proof read it – preferably having someone else do that. You can’t proof read your own work well.

Applying for a job is competitive so you need to be at your best. To get an interview you have to be in the best few of possibly 30 or 50 or 100+ applicants, and, to get the job you need to be the best. There are no participation ribbons and you need to approach your selection criteria response in that mind. Olympic athletes train for years and years for sometimes a few seconds of performance. They plan, everything from training to diet to travel to rest to sleep to caffeine intake to medications. If you think anyone has ever won an Olympic medal turning up the day before with one shoe and having a burger and fries as a diet, you’re sadly wrong. And at the Olympics there are prizes for runners up, job applicants there aren’t.

It Takes Planning

You need to have prepared and presented yourself at your best, to be competitive when your selection criteria response is read.

Some people are naturally gifted at and suited to planning. I am not one of them. I have no to do lists, no five-year plan, not just because it’s 2020 and COVID either. For those of you like me, planning takes effort, but it’s a skill you can learn.

Rather than throw it over to you I’m going to outline a couple of high level plans you can consider and apply to your own situation. 

First off though, if you want, have a think about what stops you planning, what stops you setting aside time to prepare this selection criteria response?


Have a Think…

What are you blocks for putting time and energy into the preparation of a selection criteria response?

Things that block your planning?


What helps you plan?

Things that help you plan?

Object of the exercise is to get you to have a quick look to see if you can identify those things, so you can consider them in making a plan.

Working backwards helps you work out how long it will take to complete your selection criteria response?

If you want to just skip to the plans they’re here.

Working backwards from the due date will help you work out both how long it will take, and, when you need to have things done by!

Most jobs are advertised with a two-weeks before applications are due.  You should plan to use the full two weeks!

Yes, but what if I only see the job the day before?” I hear you ask. Set up searches and where possible review them daily, so you generally have the two weeks.

Plan 1 – More Time

First Fortnight

  • Fortnight before due date read and understand the position description. Lesson 1 of the Completing A Selection Criteria course covers reading and understanding selection criteria You can watch a free preview here.
  • Week and a half before first draft selection criteria response, and update/customise CV.
    • I don’t specifically deal with or train anything about CV’s or resumes as they are not my area of expertise. I recommend anyone not knowing where to start try a free template, such as those offered by Microsoft here. Pick something minimalist that suits your personality and the role(s) you’re looking at. Lots of white space, pastel colours – it’s hard to go too wrong. If you must insist in using a photo, make it professional, please!
    • On customising your CV I highly recommend you do this. Aside of nothing else it makes it easier for the reader to pick the keywords which they’re looking for.  If for example it is a data analyst role and you’re giving an introductory list of your skills, make sure the first one, the one in the top left, is 100% relevant.  That is critically important due to how human beings read – which is more like scanning than reading word for word.
    • Much like scanning websites, where you have someone’s attention for about 15 seconds to capture it, so too your resume. If it’s a data analyst role and the first skill you tell the reader about is that you’re a great personal trainer, they might read the next skill, but, they might not either.
    • If your amazing data analyst skills are buried as points 11-15 of your CV you used for the last personal trainer job you applied for, the read may not see them at all. Make sure you capture their attention.


Second Fortnight

  • Week before finalise CV, tell your referees and send them an email with the position you’re applying for. Telling your referees is one of the more contentious steps in the process. Your referees should include your current manager/supervisor. If they know and/or are okay with you applying for other roles, or, you’ve been planning for progression and targeting higher level/other roles then this is no biggie. It’s a sign of a healthy supervisor relationship; that they’re invested in your career and progression.
    • If they’re not, then this becomes problematic. You have to tell them at some point – either when you get an interview, or, when you have had the interview and the panel are doing referee checks. Hot tip – gone are the days or just checking the preferred applicant; many now referee check everyone.  
    • If you’re in government this step should be less controversial than in private industry where looking for other jobs could mean the end of your current job, or at the very least loss of opportunities and engagement.  
    • Play it by ear acceding to your situation, and, your manager.  It is if nothing else courteous and where possible you should leave a job on good terms.
  • Five days before, settle on your draft application and send it to someone else to proofread.
    • Do not go back to it in these few days. Just step away from it. You have the time to – you planned remember.
  • Two days before closing date, finalise your selection criteria response and maybe get another colleague or friend to review, just for any obvious errors.
    • You don’t want to be making wholesale content changes at this point.
  • Day before closing date complete and the application
    • This gives you a day slippage too.


Plan 2 – Less Time

  • As soon as possible before the due date read and understand the position description.
    • Lesson 1 of the Completing A Selection Criteria course covers reading and understanding selection criteria You can watch a free preview here.
    • The less time you have the more important it will be you really know what to target in your selection criteria response so if you’re going to invest extra time anywhere, focus on understanding so you can tailor/write your selection criteria response as best as possible to the criteria.
  • A week before, draft your application and update your CV
    • Your first draft application may have to do for your proof-reader if you have very limited time, which you can probably get away with if you know how to write a selection criteria response and have a good basis to quickly put something together. A few revisions before you send it to your proof-reader is nice, otherwise they’re doing a lot of heavy lifting on your behalf.  
    • If you have a CV you generally use and covers your career well, you can get away without customising it but it is one of those things that when you start to trim effort, it starts to reflect in quality. Olympic athletes probably get less likely to win if they start cutting training sessions!
  • Two days before brief referees and send follow up email and do a final check of your CV and application
    • In this scenario, you don’t have the days to step away from it to get it out of your head for a while, so you come back to it refreshed; that’s a function of starting late.


Plan 3 – Even Less Time (e.g. the day before)

Honestly? Do not leave it this late. Be realistic what the quality is going to be and whether you’d be better off working on another application and doing it well.

If you absolutely must do something the day before, be realistic who it is going to read when the panel get it. They are under no obligation to read an application if you have failed to meet the requirements or provide what you were asked to provide. Even if you do meet the minimum submission requirements, there is no accommodation for “I started it late cut me some slack”. Like many things, how you approach the application reflects what you might be like as an employee. It is not just the words you write that are being considered!

If you miss little details, like for example not updating the header from the last application you did a file/save as for and the position title in the header is the old one because you missed it; the reader will notice.

If you have lots of spelling and grammatical mistakes; the reader will notice.

If you get the contact persons name wrong, including misspelling it; the reader will notice. None of those things is going to help you get an interview; details matter!  They also reflect how you will likely approach your work. That’s a possibly stronger signal than your application.

Nobody cares more than you

It requires hours to do a criteria response well, you can see that from the outline above. Do you think anyone is going to devote the hours it needs to get it to the competitive level it needs to be at, when they’re getting paid anyway. The person who cares most about the outcome is you!

You can potentially outsource your application, which will be covered in another blog in more detail. This is an option, but if you’re doing it at the last minute, do you actually expect the writer to care more about getting the interview than you do (should)? They’re getting paid for a task, to write a selection criteria response; not on results.

If you do decide to outsource it, definitely don’t tell the person you will only pay them if you get an interview! Seriously, it’s your job application, own some responsibility for the outcome!  Preferably, learn and do it yourself well.  

The Takeaways

Plan plan plan.

Give yourself time.

It will reflect in the quality of what you submit, and, it will be obvious to the reader.


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