Writing Key Selection Criteria (KSC) responses that get you shortlisted

Writing Key Selection Criteria KSC responses that gets you shortlisted v2

Applying for jobs can be stressful and time consuming – especially when you have to write not just a resume and cover letter, but also responses to Key Selection Criteria (known as KSC). But the ability to address KSC is crucial to being shortlisted for that all important role.

Here is some advice on writing effective KSC responses. With a little practice, you will gain more confidence and the result…. You WILL get shortlisted for more interviews. We have helped government candidates from lower APS roles through to EL1, EL2 and Director level positions.

What are Key Selection Criteria?

Key Selection Criteria (often known simply as KSC) are a list of qualities, knowledge and skills that you need to perform a particular role. The criteria are clearly listed in the job application and/or position description. Generally, you need to write a response to each question/criterion that demonstrates how you fulfil it.

KSC are usually used in job applications for government, council, education, health or similar roles. However, more and more corporate employers now use them as part of their recruitment process (especially in competitive industries such as mining).

Sometimes the criteria are a set of questions that you need to answer when you submit your application. Other times, you need to address or touch on them in your cover letter.

Often, KSC must be answered in a separate document as separate questions. This however does differ. For many senior government roles, employers now ask for a ‘personal statement’ or ‘statement of claims’. They might provide a word limit, such as 750 or 1000 words where you need to clearly demonstrate how you meet the requirements of the role. If a word limit is stipulated, you MUST stick to it.

No matter what format the employer chooses, the key to success is figuring out what they want and being as specific as you can, including providing clear examples – this is paramount.

Do your homework

Before you start applying, make sure you fully understand the job and application requirements. Read the Position Description (PD) carefully and consider whether you are qualified.

KSC are much easier to write when you are confident that you have what it takes to perform the role. If you need to bluff your way through your answers, the recruiters will probably know. The way you answer each question is not indifferent to how you should answer an interview question.

If you are not sure about something in the application package, you can usually call the contact person provided and they will clarify it for you.

You should also do research on the employer if you are not familiar with the department or business unit. Their annual report and website are great resources. This knowledge might give you a better idea about what they need to know about you. If it is a government role, they will often even provide an application guide that provides you with instructions on how to tailor your application and responses.

You then need to read the Key Selection Criteria in detail. We can’t overstate the importance of following instructions in the position description and application guide. If the employer specifically asks for something and you don’t provide it, they won’t read your application any further, or simply disregard you as a candidate.

Responding to KSC

Analysing the criteria

To start, just underline or highlight the key words in each KSC question and consider how each relates to the job. What is the employer really asking for?

For each KSC, write some notes about how you meet it. Include your experiences, results, training and skills that demonstrate your ability to meet the criteria and do the job.

Setting out the responses

Then use these notes to write a response for each criteria. There are a few approaches you can use to set out your responses. These are two common ones:

  • SAO – Situation, Action, Outcome – where you were and when, what you did and how you did it, and the result.
  • STAR – Situation, Task, Action, Result – where you were and when, what your role was in the task, what you did and the result.

Be specific about your role and actions. Just describing what your team achieved does not show the employer your specific skills and experience.

Use strong words like ‘spearheaded’, ‘demonstrated’ and ‘led’. It also helps to use the same words that appear in the criteria or job ad.

For example: ‘I have a proven ability to facilitate inhouse training, having run workshops and seminars for corporate communications staff for 10 years.’ Then go on to provide a specific example and all that was involved.

Don’t forget to check your spelling and grammar. There is nothing more frustrating than spending hours perfecting your application, only to misspell the name of your employer or make a simple typo that we can all do from time to time!

Length of response

The length of a criteria response can vary. For some entry roles, 60–120 words may be enough. For a senior role,  you may need to write 200–400 words for each question, with specific, pointed examples that demonstrate your competency.

Keep it concise, as recruiters probably have to read through many applications. If you can, write simply, and clearly provide the information they need. Recruiters will appreciate it, but they also need evidence and examples – not just broad ranging statements.

Writing these responses can be time consuming, as there are often 5 to 10 or even more questions or criteria. The good news is that they tend to be fairly similar across different roles. So, if you are applying for similar roles, you can usually adjust your previous responses easily or combine them once you have a good set together. It can take a bit of work to get there, but it is worth it.

If you can’t meet all criteria

Sometimes you may have great examples to demonstrate your competency for all but one of the criteria. Is it still worth applying for the job? Probably.

In this case, show how you would gain the skill necessary to meet the criteria, such as attending training to attain a certificate or other qualification. Or show how the skills you gained in previous roles would transfer easily to this role. Even better do a quick online course on a platform like LinkedIn Learning. Many of these can be completed in just a few hours and at little or no cost.


Writing key selection criteria can seem a bit awkward at first. It takes practice to get it right.

Sometimes it’s easier when you can see some successful examples. You will find great examples and more advice on the:

Of course, we have also written hundreds of amazing KSC responses for our clients, but for confidentiality and plagiarism reasons we are not going to share them here.

Getting support

If it all sounds too overwhelming, and you would like some professional help, Alpha Resumes are experts in resume writing, cover letter writing and drafting tactful KSC responses for clients in Melbourne, as well as all across Australia, especially for roles in Canberra.

We have helped hundreds of government clients climb the ladder or move into their dream government job. Reach out if would like us to help you too!

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