Common Errors in Writing a Government Pitch (And How to Avoid Them)

Most advertised positions in the public sector now require applicants to submit a short pitch or statement of claims. These applications typically have a word (500-1,000 words) or page limit (1-2 pages). 

There are common mistakes unintentionally committed by applicants who are unfamiliar with the Australian Public Service (APS) application process.

Having 10+ years of experience assisting clients with their Government applications, we’ve identified seven common mistakes in preparing an APS pitch. We’ve also included our advice on how to avoid these mistakes.

1. Not understanding what is required 

Government job applications used to require individual responses to selection criteria. However, most Government Agencies and Departments are now requiring short form applications such as a:

  • Pitch: This usually has a word or page limit where you have to describe how your skills and experience could contribute to the role, and why you’re interested in the role and the Department.
  • Statement of Claims: A variation of a pitch that explains why you are the right fit for the job. It also explains what got you interested to work in the Department, and how your skills could contribute to its success.
  • Cover Letter: A 1-2 page document that introduces you to the selection panel, describing your skills, experience, abilities, knowledge and qualifications aligned with the role. 
  • Expression of Interest (EOI): A short document of 1-2 pages, which is often used for internal applications. 
  • Application Questions: These are often situational or scenario-based questions that require you to provide short responses (200-300 words). 
  • Traditional Selection Criteria: Individual responses to the each criterion (around 300 words per response) are still being used, mainly by Universities and Local Government. 

It’s important for applicants to understand what is required from them. Often, these requirements are available in the ‘How to Apply’ section under ‘Preview Application Form.’ 

Regardless of the required document, you still have to make reference to the APS Capability Framework (called Integrated Leadership System or ILS) and the Work Level Standards. These vary per State or Agency. For example, the AFP uses their own ILS version. The NSW Public Service Commission and the Queensland Government also use the NSW Public Sector Capability Framework and Leadership Competencies, respectively. 

2) Not pitching to the role and appropriate level 

When preparing your application, you have to refer to the role responsibilities and organisational context. One common mistake is when applicants write a generic document and submit this to different roles. 

To avoid this mistake, create a targeted application for each position and always cross-reference the required skills, experience and knowledge. If you are transitioning from the private sector and lack the necessary experience, try to focus on the transferrable skills that would allow you to effectively carry out the list of responsibilities. 

Applicants also need to understand the hierarchy (APS 1 to SES B2) and expectations at each level. Otherwise, the application may fit a lower level or unintentionally target higher level than the one being applied for. 

To pitch to the right level, use examples that are aligned with the language of the specific level by referring to the ILS and Work Level Standards. For example, in terms of effective communication, a subtle difference between APS 5 and APS 6 levels is that the latter requires the ability to negotiate persuasively (not just clearly) and this has to be demonstrated through concrete examples. Failing to showcase the ability to negotiate persuasively when applying for an APS 6 role might prevent you from being shortlisted as you’re not pitching to the right level. 

3) Providing a specific example for each criterion 

It would be impossible for you to meet the page or word limit if you’re writing a separate response to all requirements listed in the job ad. 

Try to find achievement examples that already capture 2-3 role requirements. For example, if there are 6 requirements, you should be able to condense your pitch or statement to just 2 examples, with each example already tackling 3 requirements. 

4) Writing wordy sentences 

Writing concisely is a must as most Government applications have page or word limitations. Use valuable word or page space by: 

  • Excluding any information that’s already on your resume (for example: ‘In my current role as a Policy Officer at ABC…’)
  • Avoiding indirect speech (for example, instead of writing ‘I was required to engage with counterparts from other Government Departments,’ you can write ‘I engage with other Government Departments.’
  • Excluding skills that are not mentioned in the role description (for example, if you’re applying for an EL 1 role that does not require specific software skills or programming proficiency, you don’t have to mention these)
  • Removing fillers and fluffs (for example, phrases like ‘going forward,’ ‘on the other hand,’ ‘all things considered’

5) Lacking flow or using an incoherent structure 

Consider your pitch as your marketing document that should grab the selection panel’s attention. Your opening paragraph is very critical, as does each word that supports your case. 

To structure your pitch: 

  • Use the first paragraph to summarise your relevant skills and experience, explain why you’re interested in the position, and communicate the value you can bring to the Department. 
  • Use the body of your pitch to provide achievement examples that support your claim in the opening paragraph. 
  • Finish with a strong closing paragraph confirming your interest or value, or responding to the question ‘Why should we hire you.’

7) Using weak examples and/or generic statements 

Your pitch has to provide strong evidence of what you can potentially contribute. This means you have to provide examples in CAR (Challenge, Action, Result) format. 

A critical mistake is to write descriptively, which some applicants may already consider as evidence. Descriptive texts are usually written in the present tense and only list actions (or in worse cases, job responsibilities) without mentioning their impact and the outcomes delivered. 

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