Getting That Public Service Job – APS1 / APS2

APS Officer Level 1 + 2 (APS1 and APS2)

Equivalent State Government Level:

Position Profile:

The bottom of the seniority pyramid, officers at this level typically have little experience and are just entering the workforce or employed through an internship or traineeship program. A number of organisation support roles, such as mail room employees, are also designated at these levels.

Employees at this level would generally be expected to carry out less complicated administrative and support duties under close supervision.

For most of the 20th century, employees of the Australian Public Service commenced at APS Officer Level 1 after passing the Public Service Examination. Thankfully, this pathway was abolished around 20 years ago and movement into the Public Service can occur at all levels.

These days, there are far fewer positions at the APS Officer 1 (APS1) and 2 Levels (APS2), with most administrative, policy and program roles commencing at APS3 and higher.

 

Selection Criteria:

The information below is taken from the ‘Integrated Leadership System’, published by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) and common to all Federal Government Departments, Agencies and Statutory Corporations. Most State and Local Governments have adopted these criteria (or criteria close to them).

Accordingly, whichever Government job you are pursuing, you should find this guidance to be an excellent place to start.

The requirements at the APS1 and APS2 level are very similar. The below selection criteria and accompanying guidance relate to the ASP2 level. If you are seeking a job at the APS1 level, we recommend catering to the APS2 selection criteria, for three reasons: they are almost identical, there is no risk of overshooting, and you should not desire to remain at the APS1 level for long before moving up in any case.

 

Supports strategic direction

Supports shared purpose and direction

Understands and supports the organisation’s vision, mission and business objectives. Follows direction provided by supervisor. Recognises how own work contributes to the achievement of team and section goals. Understands the reasons for decisions and recommendations.

Thinks strategically

Understands the work environment and contributes to the development of work plans and team goals. Demonstrates an awareness of issues that may impact on designated work tasks.

Harnesses information and opportunities

Knows where to find information, and asks questions to ensure a better understanding of issues. Uses established guidelines to determine what information should be conveyed to others. Keeps supervisor informed on work progress.

Shows judgement, intelligence and commonsense

Researches and analyses information relevant to work tasks and responsibilities. Identifies issues that may impact on designated tasks and alerts supervisor. Suggests improvements to work tasks.

 

The role of an APS1 or 2 officer is limited to understanding why decisions are made, and how your work fits within the context of the strategic goals of the organisation.

In practice, this means you will not be expected to come up with ground breaking ideas for new policies or ways of doing things, but rather that your supervisors will be able to leave you to do your work, comfortable in the knowledge that you will stay on the right track and, if necessary, return to them for further guidance or to ask clarifying questions.

This includes demonstrating an ability to undertake research and find information from a range of sources, both internal to your agency and outside.
Knowing when to ask a question, and which is the right question to ask, is a key attribute that you should practice. If an answer is available to you by research, you should try and find it yourself before asking a question.

You should also demonstrate a keenness to learn, including about subjects outside of your day-to-day work but which might impact what you are doing. For example, if you are working on health policy, it might be useful for you to also learn about aspects of aged care policy as there can be clear linkages between the two.

Demonstrating that you are keen to learn more broadly about other areas and bring your knowledge back into your own policy area will impress your supervisors and demonstrate that you are not only proactive, but will work to develop a broader and deeper understanding to improve the quality of your own work.

 

Achieves results

Identifies and uses resources wisely

Monitors task progress against performance expectations. Alerts supervisor early when work is behind schedule and makes alternative arrangements. Makes effective use of own capabilities.

Applies and builds professional expertise

Contributes own expertise to achieve outcomes for the business unit.

Responds positively to change

Creates and maintains schedules. Responds in a positive manner to change. Shares information with others. Is adaptable in approach and willing to be flexible to accommodate the changing needs of the team.

Takes responsibility for managing work projects to achieve results

Sees tasks through to completion. Works within agreed priorities, works independently on routine tasks and accepts more challenging tasks. Maintains accurate records and files. Seeks feedback from supervisor to gauge satisfaction and seeks assistance when required.

 

At the end of the day, it’s important to keep in mind that the work you perform reflects on your supervisors, which in turn reflects on their supervisors. This can work for you if the standard of work you are producing is consistently strong.

Indeed, the surest way to a quick promotion through the ranks is to consistently do (and often exceed) what is asked of you, without complaint and with a high degree of flexibility.

In the public service, change is the only constant. Whether due to a Ministerial decision, corporate imperative or an event beyond anybody’s control (such as a public emergency), you will be tested and you will need to show you are capable of prioritising your work in order to respond to the most important and urgent tasks first.

This does not mean dropping everything to lurch to each new crisis, but instead to keep on top of all your tasks, progressing even less urgent (but often just as important) items alongside the fires that will appear around you on a regular basis.

As an APS1/2, mild expectations will be placed upon you, but it is nonetheless important to demonstrate that you are capable of triaging your own work in line with the expectations of your supervisors. In doing this, it is not only acceptable, but advisable, to engage with your supervisor if things become too overwhelming.

After all, you may manage your own tasks, but you don’t set your own workload.

Maintaining constant contact with your supervisor and ensuring that they are aware of how your work is tracking will pay dividends. Nobody likes a nasty surprise so any news, even bad, will be welcomed early so there is time to plan a response and, if necessary, allocate additional resources to the task.

 

Supports productive working relationships

Nurtures internal and external relationships

Builds and sustains positive relationships with team members and clients. Actively participates in teamwork and activities. Responds under direction to changes in client needs and expectations.

Listens to, understands and recognises the needs of others

Actively listens to colleagues and clients. Shares information and contributes to team discussions. Works closely with team members to achieve results and operates as an effective team member.

Values individual differences and diversity

Understands, values and responds to different personal styles. Tries to see things from different perspectives. Treats people with respect and courtesy.

Shares learning and supports others

Identifies learning opportunities. Supports the contribution of others. Understands and acts on constructive feedback.

 

The key to productive relationships at the ASP1/2 levels is interacting with individuals, both within your agency and outside, with a high degree of respect and professionalism.

Everything else will fall out of this.

This criterion, more than any of the others, is about emotional intelligence. It’s about being a person that others like working with, because you are supportive of their ideas (even if you don’t agree with them), you engage constructively in discussions about work and you are an effective team player.

You must demonstrate that you understand the value of networks, both inside and outside of your own agency, and how those networks can lead to benefits for your own work and the organisation’s priorities.

You should actively seek feedback on your own work, even (especially) when you think you might not like what you hear. Crucially, you implement that feedback in your day-to-day work.

Respect and courtesy are fundamental attributes for all APS officers, and form a core plank of the APS Values. It is important that you demonstrate that you understand how essential these values are to how you operate, and implement them in your interaction with your colleagues.

 

Displays personal drive and integrity

Demonstrates public service professionalism and probity

Adopts a principled approach and adheres to the APS Values and Code of Conduct. Acts professionally at all times and operates within the boundaries of organisational processes and legal and public policy constraints.

Engages with risk and shows personal courage

Provides accurate advice on less complex issues. Acknowledges mistakes and learns from them, and seeks guidance and advice when required.

Commits to action

Takes personal responsibility for accurate completion of work and seeks assistance when required. Commits energy and drive to see that goals are achieved.

Promotes and adopts a positive and balanced approach to work

Works as directed to achieve work objectives, even in difficult circumstances. Remains positive and responds to pressure in a calm manner.

Demonstrates self-awareness and a commitment to personal development

Seeks feedback from others. Understands areas of strengths and works with supervisor to identify development needs. Is aware of the impact of own behaviour on others. Seeks self-development opportunities.

 

‘Personal Drive and Integrity’ is founded in self-awareness and your own commitment to continual improvement. The strongest responses under this heading demonstrate a history of personal development, including undertaking training of a progressively more complex nature, a willingness to solicit constructive feedback and learn from your mistakes.

This is not about doing everything perfectly, but instead aspiring to do things better.

Demonstrated adherence to the APS Values and Code of Conduct are fundamental, but it’s also important for you to be able to articulate why, in your view, these values are important and how you implement them in your own work at a basic level. An example might be identifying a potential conflict of interest in your work, and raising it with your supervisor.

Self-awareness is a key attribute, coupled with your own commitment to personal development. This will usually mean identifying those areas where you are not as strong, and putting into place a plan (with your supervisor) to undertake appropriate training or exposure to new kinds of work to raise your capability level.

You must also be able to demonstrate that you are capable of working under pressure and with competing priorities, without allowing stress to inhibit your performance. This can be a challenge at first, but don’t forget that knowing you have too much is not a sign of weakness, but self-awareness. Accordingly, a situation where you had to hand off work to focus on a more urgent priority can actually work in your favour.

Finally, a high-performer at the APS1/2 level will take ownership of their own work, including adhering to deadlines and delivering work that is of consistently good quality. Where they have questions, they have attempted to find the answers on their own before consulting a supervisor.

 

Communicates with influence

Communicates clearly

Communicates messages clearly and concisely. Focuses on key points and uses appropriate language. Structures written and oral communication so it is easy to follow.

Listens, understands and adapts to audience

Adapts communication style and approach to ensure they address the needs of different people or audiences. Listens carefully to others and checks to ensure their views have been understood. Checks own understanding of others’ comments.

Negotiates confidently

Listens to, and considers different ideas. Discusses issues without getting personal or aggressive.

 

The vast majority of your work at the APS1/2 level is going to be in writing. Therefore, your ability to write for a range of audiences is of key importance.

These audiences can be internal (e.g. emails, memos, research) or external (e.g. Ministerial briefs, brochures, reports, speeches). It is important for you to be able to demonstrate you are competent and both internal and external communications intended for all kinds of audiences (e.g. senior bureaucrats, Ministers, internet users, the public at large).

Don’t forget that your CV and responses to the selection criteria will themselves form a quasi-writing examination; so pay close attention to them and ensure there are no errors!

Spoken communication is of course critical – this means, in practice, your capacity to express your ideas verbally in a concise fashion with a level of detail appropriate to your audience. It also implies an ability to understand the key points and be consistent with the messaging of your colleagues and agency in interactions with external agencies and stakeholders.

Comprehension and listening are key skills at these levels – as you will be listening far more than you are talking. Make sure you understand what information is being conveyed to you, and don’t be afraid to ask questions to ensure you fully understand a task before you go away to do it.

‘Negotiation’ at these levels is not what you might think. It really just comes down to showing that you are capable of listening to other ideas, including ideas with which you disagree, and engaging in thoughtful discussions. If you can demonstrate you are open to learning from others, and implementing those lessons into your own work, you will be in great shape.

Interview Strategy:

Support roles are integral to the smooth functioning of any organisation. For this reason, the key attributes that are being sought for an APS 1-2 or equivalent officer include:

  • The ability to take and follow instruction,
  • The ability to work individually and as part of a team,
  • Punctuality and work ethic,
  • Attention to detail, and
  • Personal Integrity.

The requirements of the APS1-2 levels are relatively straightforward. As these are entry-level jobs, expectations will be realistic. The key is to make sure you are clear and articulate, you maintain eye contact with your interviewers, and you back up all of your assertions with examples.

Advancing to the Next Level:

The key to advancing beyond the APS 1-2 level is adding value to the team. This will require you to work more independently, come up with solutions to problems faced in your team’s work and communicate those solutions to others in the team and begin to develop expertise in specific topic areas.

Additionally, you will increasingly be called upon to understand the links between the work you do and the macro-level goals of your organisation and the Government more generally – and, therefore, how to ensure your work contributes to higher-level strategic objectives.

You will also need to demonstrate a strong understanding of the APS Values and Code of Conduct, as they pertain to your role in the organisation. Naturally, as you are looking to rise in the ranks of your organisation, you will have an opportunity to demonstrate both your commitment to making a greater contribution and your excitement at the challenges that lie ahead at the higher levels.

 

Next Level – APS3/4