Key expressions used in selection criteria

Background in

Often used in reference to educational qualifications or areas of specialisation (eg accounting, human resources, administration)

Experience in

The candidate must have actually the done the work as opposed to having observed it. For example 'experience in analysing data' means the candidate must show that they have analysed data in another role or position.

Proven record of

The candidate must be able to substantiate any claims to the experience or skill, preferably with outcomes that have been documented. For example, 'a proven record of planning, implementing and managing projects' means that that the candidate must document what they have specifically done and achieved in these areas.

Knowledge of, understanding of, awareness of

These expressions are often used in reference to policies, practices or the specific responsibilities of a work area. Subtle differences distinguish these terms.

'Awareness' involves the least amount of familiarity with a subject. Perhaps the candidate is aware that a concept or policy exists but does not know the details or understand the significance/implications of the subject.

'Knowledge of' refers to familiarity gained from actual experience or from learning/study. For example, 'knowledge of recent legislative changes affecting the higher education sector'

'Understanding' is more than knowledge. A candidate may have knowledge of a policy in so far as they have read it but understanding requires that the candidate knows why the policy was developed, who it is relevant to, why it is important and what the implications are for related policies.

Ability to, aptitude for, capacity to

These words suggest degrees of ability.

'Aptitude' suggests suitability or fitness for a task, or a talent or flair for a particular skill or quality.

'Capacity' generally means that a candidate is qualified to perform a particular task however they are not expected to have actual experience. For example, 'capacity to seek and attract research funding'. The candidate would need to demonstrate that they have the necessary skills or qualities and that these could be transferred to the position.

'Ability' means having the skills, knowledge or competency to do the task required.

Qualifiers in selection criteria

In addition to the key expressions used in selection criteria, qualifiers are commonly added to distinguish the level to which they are needed. For example:

Well developed - eg 'well developed interpersonal skills'

Demonstrated - eg 'demonstrated ability to prepare budget reports'

Extensive - eg 'extensive management experience'

High level of - eg 'high level of understanding of equal opportunity principles', 'high level experience in implementing change'

These terms tend to be used in selection criteria for higher level positions. They indicate that claims from candidates should be supported with specific examples that demonstrate their knowledge, experience and skills.

The following qualifiers are also commonly used in selection criteria however they are much harder to define:

Excellent - eg 'excellent administration skills'

Good - eg 'good oral and written communication skills'

Outstanding - eg 'out standing interpersonal skills'

Strong - eg 'strong research and analytical skills'

If using these qualifiers it is important that the selection committee agrees from the outset of the recruitment process exactly what evidence will demonstrate these skills. For example, what behaviours will distinguish a candidate with 'excellent' interpersonal skills from one with 'good' interpersonal skills. What constitutes extensive experience as opposed to experience.

You need to be prepared to explain the meaning of these terms to candidates who may make enquiries during the recruitment and selection process.

Source: Dr Ann Villiers, How to Write and Talk to Selection Criteria, 4th ed., Mental Nutrition 2005

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