APS Officer Level 3 + 4 (APS3 and APS4)
Equivalent State Government Level:
If you are looking at entry level government jobs, you will typically be seeking an APS3 level position. At the mid-level officer levels, responsibilities can become a little more specialised as individuals pursue a specific career path. Generally speaking, officers at these levels are still expected to work under close supervision, while contributing to tactical discussions about policies, programs or initiatives in the development of which they are involved.
Officers at this level will not typically supervise staff, but may be expected to assist and mentor junior staff from time to time.
At the APS4 work level standards they will be expected to possess or develop strong subject matter knowledge and actively contribute to internal discussions, including with senior management.
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 for APS3 Selection Criteria and APS4 Selection Criteria are very similar. The below selection criteria and accompanying guidance relate to the ASP4 level. If you are seeking a job at the APS3 level, we recommend catering to the APS4 selection criteria, for three reasons: they are very similar (and in some agencies, broadbanded so there is no practical difference other than length of service), there is no risk of overshooting, and you should not desire to remain at the APS3 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. Communicates and follows direction provided by supervisor.
Recognises how own work contributes to the achievement of organisational goals. Understands the reasons for decisions and recommendations.
Understands the work environment and contributes to the development of plans, strategies and team goals. Identifies issues and problems that may impact on own work objectives.
Demonstrates an awareness of the implications of issues for own work.
Harnesses information and opportunities
Draws on information from multiple sources and uses agreed guidelines to analyse what information is important and how it should be used. Keeps self and others well informed on work progress.
Shows judgement, intelligence and commonsense
Undertakes analysis and draws accurate conclusions based on evidence. Thinks laterally, identifies and implements improved work practices.
At the APS3/4 level, officers are expected to work at a more tactical level than the foundational APS1/2 bands. While they are not directly involved in setting strategy (i.e. high-level directions) for their policy areas, they are responsible for interpreting the directions of senior management and implementing those directives in the most efficient and comprehensive manner in all the circumstances.
These are the levels where officers are expected to develop a strong foundation of subject-matter expertise, which they can use to contribute to discussions about work within their teams. They are also expected to develop their knowledge of the broader context to their work, including points at which it intersects with work in other areas of their Agency and outside – and identify opportunities for cooperation or improvement to work practices.
Think about examples of where you have made suggestions for improvement (to anything) at work, which have been implemented and let to a good outcome. If you’re able to express what the idea was, how it was different, and its impact, that’s going to be a very example to use.
At its core, the ability to think ‘strategically’ at this level really means foreseeing what is likely to happen if a particular action is taken, and plan accordingly. At the same time, it’s about anticipating challenges and preparing ahead to mitigate their impact. This is especially the case when you have a large work task which might require additional resourcing at various points in its timeline.
Identifies and uses resources wisely
Reviews task performance and communicates outcomes to supervisor. Makes effective use of individual and team capabilities. Is responsive to changes in requirements.
Applies and builds professional expertise
Contributes own expertise to achieve outcomes for the business unit.
Responds positively to change
Establishes task plans and simple project plans with measurable milestones to deliver objectives. Responds in a positive and flexible manner to change. Shares information with others and adapts to a changing environment.
Takes responsibility for managing work projects to achieve results
Sees tasks through to completion. Works within agreed priorities. Commits to achieving quality outcomes and adheres to documentation procedures.
Seeks feedback from supervisor to gauge satisfaction and seeks guidance when required.
Achieving results at the ASP3/4 levels comes down to the volume and quality of the work you produce. APS3 and 4 officers are workhorses, who generate significant volumes of output under close supervision. So while it’s important to keep in mind the strategic context to your work (see the previous part), within that context the work you undertake – and its contribution to the broader organisation goals – will be of great value to your organisation.
Those that get ahead at this level are dependable; they put their heads down and do what is asked of them without error or complaint.
More so than at the APS1/2 levels, it is essential that you work hard to develop your own subject matter expertise. If you don’t know something that’s important to doing your job, research it, ask your colleagues and understand that thing as quickly as possible. A large part of performing highly at this level is your willingness to continue to learn, your commitment to constant improvement as a subject-matter expert and your use of knowledge to make effective contributions to the work of the team.
You will be shouldered with more responsibility, including carriage of individual projects or small policy areas; to this end you should be able to show that you are capable of allocating resources appropriately to tasks, of undertaking planning and carrying out those plans from start to finish to deliver a high-quality product (whatever that product is).
Don’t forget you can analogise here; planning and delivering a brief, for example, is the same as making any other product in any work context – it still requires inputs, finessing and leads to a single, identifiable output at the end that is intended to be valuable to the end user.
Supports productive working relationships
Nurtures internal and external relationships
Builds and sustains positive relationship with team members and clients. Is responsive 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 ensures others are kept informed of issues. Works collaboratively and operates as an effective team member.
Values individual differences and diversity
Recognises the positive benefits that can be gained from diversity. Recognises the different working styles of individuals, and factors this into the management of tasks. Tries to see things from different perspectives. Treats people with respect and courtesy.
Shares learning and supports others
Identifies learning opportunities. Makes time for people and supports the contribution of others. Understands and acts on constructive feedback.
Effective relationship building is a crucial skill to demonstrate at the APS3/4 level. At its core, this skill is about demonstrating that you know how to nurture professional relationships, both within and outside your Department, that assists you in producing high-quality work products.
But it isn’t all about you. Where a lot of people get caught up here is failing to demonstrate that you are also a ‘team player’ – that you want to assist others to succeed as well, as so make contributions that extend outside of your own team, and even outside your own Department.
Breaking this down, it’s absolutely essential that you articulate how you develop productive, and long lasting, work relationships and how those relationships lead to better work outcomes. These skills become only more important as you become more senior (to the point where many senior SES officers are almost exclusively relationship managers) so if you want to focus your energy on improving just one skill, this would be a good place to focus.
There are direct links into good communication skills here, as well, since so much of relationship building is listening to other people and engaging positively in a way that not only shows you understand the value of outside influences on your work, but how you can add value to them and support their understanding of what you do.
The most successful officers are happy to share their knowledge and are not protective of information. It is immensely more valuable to be known as someone who shares their secrets gladly and openly than to be a closed silo who knows everything but doesn’t know how to share.
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. Operates as an effective representative of the work area in internal forums.
Engages with risk and shows personal courage
Provides accurate advice on 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 guidance when required. Shows initiative and does what is required.
Commits energy and drive to see that goals are achieved.
Promotes and adopts a positive and balanced approach to work
Focuses on achieving 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. Communicates areas of strengths and works with supervisor to identify development needs.
Reflects on own behaviour and recognises the impact on others. Seeks self-development opportunities.
For an officer at the APS3/4 levels, personal drive and integrity is really about self-awareness. Firstly, you need to have the self-awareness to understand your own weaknesses, and demonstrate consistent efforts to improve in those areas by identifying, and undertaking, appropriate training or seeking out new work challenges. Actively seeking feedback on your own work and perceived strengths (and especially weaknesses) is a key part of this.
From the perspective of your own work, you should have a ‘no excuses’ approach. If something goes wrong, don’t try and explain it away – take responsibility and try and fix it. If you can’t fix it, by all means bring it to the attention of your supervisor. You can’t be right all the time (you are still a relatively junior officer), but you will get points for trying (within reason).
Having said that, where you have made a mistake, use it as a case study to demonstrate how you learn from your mistakes to do it better the second time around. Often, these examples are far more valuable as they give insight into how you respond when things are going against you and the pressure is on.
Finally, all APS officers need to have a working knowledge of their responsibilities under the APS Values and Code of Conduct. This is easy marks for you if you’re asked a question, so read up on what is expected of you.
Communicates with influence
Confidently presents messages in a clear, concise manner. Focuses on key points and uses appropriate language. Structures written and oral communication to ensure clarity.
Listens, understands and adapts to audience
Seeks to understand the audience and tailors communication style and message accordingly. Listens carefully to others and checks to ensure their views have been understood. Checks own understanding of others’ comments.
Listens to, and considers different ideas and discusses issues credibly and thoughtfully. Identifies other people’s expectations and concerns.
As an APS3/4 level officer, you will likely represent your team in internal and possibly external meetings. You will need strong presentation skills and a demonstrated ability to think on your feet. Senior officers do not have the time to listen to rambling responses to simple questions, so practice providing short, concise answers to questions in the process of your everyday work life.
Of course, answering your selection criteria, with strict word limits, is a great opportunity to practice, this skill. As is your interview. You will not be expected to know everything; your job is to know a lot about a few topic areas, and to provide input to your supervisors, colleagues and stakeholders when required.
Think of this when you’re framing your responses here – demonstrate that you have not only the capacity, but the desire, to go deep on your work subject matter.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, it can be better to say “I’ll find that out for you” than to beat around the bush or give a non-answer to a question. Being honest and direct will win you respect, but faking invulnerability can work against you.
Finally, remember that Government produces material everyday for a huge variety of stakeholders. Demonstrate that you understand different communication styles are appropriate for connecting with different audiences, and be ready to discuss a time when you have had to change your communication style to ensure that a message is completely, and appropriately, communicated to your target audience. For example, writing for the web is a lot different to writing a complex policy paper for your Minister.
As the key attributes for officers at the APS3 and 4 levels revolve around the capacity to make a meaningful contribution to the work of the team including by taking the lead on discrete projects. Officers at the mid-APS tiers are expected, therefore, to demonstrate by way of example exactly how they work in the team environment, while demonstrating a high level of initiative and problem solving ability.
As employees at these levels are generally relied upon to prepare all manner of briefing and other written materials, as well as participate in officer-level meetings, you should use the interview as an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to adapt and synthesise information catered to a specific audience. In this case, your audience is your selection panel and your job is to demonstrate your suitability for the role.
To this end, you must convey a clear understanding of the role itself, where it fits in the overall structure of the organisation, your reporting lines and levels of management. In so doing, you’ll have some great opportunities to explain how it is you currently add value well about your position, such that to promote you would be the only logical outcome of your interview.
Advancing to the Next Level:
Progressing to the higher officer levels will require an APS4 employee to demonstrate not only a high level of mastery over their policy, program or administrative area, but also strong self-motivation and initiative to improve the way things are done.
This necessarily implies the ability to see ahead and anticipate future problems, to work in a cross-disciplinary fashion to achieve results within the organisation and with external stakeholders and, crucially, to communicate with clarity, alacrity and a high degree of confidence.