APS Officer Level 5 (APS5)
Equivalent State Government Level:
At the APS5 level, officers are expected to not only demonstrate mastery of their own policy, program or corporate area, but also to actively contribute to strategic discussions with a view to making improvements or reducing inefficiencies.
This requires a well-developed ability to anticipate future obstacles and opportunities, to work in a cross-disciplinary fashion to achieve results within the organisation and with external stakeholders and, crucially, to possess highly-developed communication and stakeholder engagement skills, and to represent the organisation to external parties with confidence and self-assurance.
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.
Supports strategic direction
Supports shared purpose and direction
Understands and supports the organisation’s vision, mission and business objectives. Identifies the relationship between organisational goals and operational tasks.
Communicates with others regarding the purpose of their work.
Understands and communicates the reasons for decisions and recommendations to others.
Understands the work environment and contributes to the development of plans, strategies and team goals. Identifies broader influences that may impact on the team’s work objectives.
Demonstrates an awareness of the implications of issues for own work and work area.
Harnesses information and opportunities
Draws on information from diverse sources and uses experience to analyse what information is important and how it should be used.
Maintains an awareness of the organisation and keeps self and others well informed on issues that may affect work progress.
Shows judgement, intelligence and commonsense
Undertakes objective, systematic analysis and draws accurate conclusions based on evidence. Identifies problems and works to resolve them.
Thinks laterally, identifies and implements improved work practices.
APS5 level officers are expected to take a leadership role in relation to the work of the team, as well as taking responsibility for not only discrete work tasks, but entire areas of work.
The key to operating effectively at this level is to understand not only what your work is and how to best approach it, but where it fits in the broader strategic context – this means in your team, your branch/division and at the Departmental level overall.
The most effective APS5 officers understand why they are doing the work they are doing –and that this level of understanding is critical to being in a position to do that work better. If the broader context is not clear, they seek out more information. If the work they have been tasked with does not fit neatly with the goals of the organisation, thy look for ways to improve their approach to ensure they support those broader objectives.
You need to demonstrate your strong ability to suggest new ideas and improvements upon old ones. Something may be as it is simply because it’s always been done the same way – think about when you’ve suggested changes and they’ve been implemented. What was the result?
An effective APS5 officer is a strong researcher and relies on facts and data to make decisions and recommendations to their superiors. All recommendations should be tested for their effectiveness, supported by clearly-defined evidence and presented concisely to decision-makers. You should be able not only to vigorously argue your position, but to adapt it where others provide meaningful input.
Identifies and uses resources wisely
Reviews project performance and identifies opportunities for improvement.
Makes effective use of individual and team capabilities and negotiates responsibility for work outcomes. Is responsive to changes in requirements.
Applies and builds professional expertise
Values specialist expertise and capitalises on the knowledge and skills of others within the organisation.
Contributes own expertise to achieve outcomes for the business unit.
Responds positively to change
Establishes clear plans and timeframes for project implementation. Responds in a positive and flexible manner to change and uncertainty.
Shares information with others and encourages cooperation in coping with change.
Takes responsibility for managing work projects to achieve results
Sees projects through to completion. Monitors project progress and manages priorities.
Commits to achieving quality outcomes and adheres to documentation procedures. Seeks feedback from supervisor to gauge satisfaction.
The big step up from the APS3/4 levels is that you are increasingly working ‘without a net’ – that is, you are expected to be responsible for increasingly important (and high profile) work projects, with expectations that you will deliver on them as agreed.
This necessarily involves a strong ability to plan ahead including key milestones, resourcing and knowledge needs – and then putting that plan into practice to deliver a product on time and to the agreed specifications.
As nothing ever happens exactly as you expect, an equally important attribute is your strong ability to respond constructively to change and not be thrown by obstacles and hurdles placed in front of you. Think about a time you’ve had to deliver a project with rapidly changing needs or with difficult stakeholders you need to please – this could be a really good example for you to use.
In Government, it isn’t always your fault if a project gets derailed; perhaps there was a change of Government and priorities change, or perhaps funds are reallocated to another, newer priority – that doesn’t mean you can’t use this example!
Yes it’s nice when your work is a success and it gets wrapped up neatly in a bow – but this rarely happens in reality; more often than not, we are forced to endure the frustration of shifting sands and adapt as we go. The author of this article once worked on a Bill for 18 months that was shelved at the last minute; this stands as one of his strongest examples of resilience in the face of change – and the 18 months of pushing it through provides a rich vein of experiences to cite in response to a wide range of questions on this topic.
A final attribute that you must demonstrate here is how you identify and use talent in your team to help you deliver on your work priorities. Even if you aren’t formally in a supervisory role, you need to take this opportunity to show how you work with other members of your team – especially more junior officers – to produce meaningful results.
Think about a time you have needed to lead others in a work project with a defined scope – what did you do? How did you work together? What role did you each have? How did they respond to you? Were there any problems? How were these resolved? Sell your leadership capabilities as much as you can!
Supports productive working relationships
Nurtures internal and external relationships
Builds and sustains positive relationships with team members, stakeholders and clients. Is responsive to changes in client and stakeholder needs and expectations.
Listens to, understands and recognises the needs of others
Actively listens to staff, colleagues, clients and stakeholders. Involves others and recognises their contributions.
Consults and 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, and explores diverse views. Recognises the different working styles of individuals, and factors this into the management of people and tasks.
Tries to see things from different perspectives. Treats people with respect and courtesy.
Shares learning and supports others
Identifies learning opportunities for others and delegates tasks effectively. Agrees clear performance standards and gives timely praise and recognition.
Makes time for people and offers full support when required.
Provides constructive feedback.
Recognises and notes under-performance where appropriate.
At the APS5 level, you need to be a leader in playing nice with both your co-workers and external stakeholders. Assessors at this level will want to see you effectively managing both up and down, as well as developing and maintaining strong relationships with a range of internal and external stakeholders.
You should demonstrate that you provide strong support to your co-workers, including pitching in to help if they find themselves drowning in work.
Additionally, think about examples where you have provided on-the-job learning and experience to others. This could include, for example, providing information sessions (e.g. at a section meeting) or simply providing management direction on a task you lead.
The important thing is that you show not only that you achieved a strong outcome on the task itself, but that you cared about providing a personal development opportunity to more junior officers who were supporting you. This would usually entail teaching them a new skill or subject area and helping them become competent at the new function.
Finally, it’s important to show you are good at working with people of all backgrounds, and that you understand everybody has a different approach to work (and preferred way of working). The key is to demonstrate, by way of examples in your work, how you have navigated people’s different approaches to work and communication styles (both people you have directed at work and your own managers), including where those interactions were especially challenging, but nonetheless worked with them positively and productively towards solid work outcomes.
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 organisation in internal forums.
Engages with risk and shows personal courage
Provides impartial and forthright advice. Justifies own position when challenged.
Acknowledges mistakes and learns from them, and seeks guidance and advice when required.
Commits to action
Takes personal responsibility for meeting objectives and progressing work. 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
Persists with, and 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 acknowledges development needs.
Reflects on own behaviour and recognises the impact on others.
Shows commitment to learning and self-development.
There are three main things you need to strongly demonstrate under this criterion as an APS5 officer. First, you need to have a good working knowledge of the code of conduct and values, as they apply to your organisation. This should not be challenging, but you should at least have thought about how you can model these values in your own team and have a good answer for a question along those lines.
Second, you need to show that you have a strong commitment to your work, and care about not only your own output but the achievement of team goals and objectives (as they support the high-level strategy of your organisation).
This is a good opportunity to also show, by way of example, that you respond positively to pressure, maintaining a cool head and not melting down under pressure. This will set you apart from many other applicants, if you have a good example of a stressful situation and how you responded; the steps you took, and how you directly contributed to a good resolution of the situation.
Finally, and equally as important, assessors at this level want to see that you are committed to self-improvement; this doesn’t mean, necessarily, that you want to run the show one day – but it should mean that you have a history of commitment to continuous improvement.
The very best performers at the APS5 level have not only awareness of the gaps in their own knowledge (and take active steps to remediate them), but also an awareness of how their behaviour in the workplace impacts on those around them. They constantly seek feedback and positively respond to that feedback, including by undertaking training where it is available. As you are beginning to manage staff at this level, you might have undertaken management training, for example – this is a prime example that you can highlight here.
Communicates with influence
Confidently presents messages in a clear, concise and articulate manner.
Focuses on key points and uses appropriate, unambiguous language.
Selects the most appropriate medium for conveying information and 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 and does not allow misunderstandings to linger.
Approaches negotiations with a clear understanding of key issues.
Understands the desired outcomes. Identifies relevant stakeholders’ expectations and concerns.
Discusses issues credibly and thoughtfully. Encourages the support of relevant stakeholders.
By the time you have reached the APS5 level, you should have a minimum of several years’ experience communicating at a high level. This would include a wide variety of written materials (prepared for a range of audiences) and various opportunities to present and negotiate in a professional context.
The primary documents most APS5 officers will be preparing include briefs, submissions (e.g. to the Minister), minutes, speeches, presentations, Ministerial letters and documents for external publication (e.g. reports). Depending on the audience, the style you adopt (or must adopt) will necessarily change.
Think about your range of experience and try to demonstrate the breadth of tasks you’ve successfully completed that can show off your full range.
In terms of your presentation skills, it’s not enough to assert that you are a strong verbal communicator – you need to provide examples and evidence to support this claim as well. Think about negotiations you’ve led, speeches you’ve delivered, meetings you’ve chaired – if you have limited experience, go join a Toastmasters club now and get some; there are plenty of opportunities for public speaking, and you will sharpen your skills very fast.
The final plank here is your capacity to understand your audience and how to connect with them. This is touched upon above, but a demonstrated capacity to, for example, turn ‘Government speak’ into ordinary language (e.g. for a website or Ministerial speech) is an extremely valuable asset that you must accentuate. A lot of people struggle to get this!
The APS5 level is the band at which your ability to focus on the bigger strategic picture becomes very relevant. You will be increasingly responsible for leading the delivery of high-quality work, including with the assistance of more junior officers.
Necessarily, therefore, your panel will be looking for hints in what you say and how you act that will give them an idea of your capacity to deliver results in a collaborative way, to test old paradigms for how tasks are done (and improve upon them) and to work at a high standard under pressure.
As you will be responsible for taking carriage of particular pieces of work, including working alongside officers from other agencies (and potentially undertaking public consultations or other external meetings), high-quality presentation skills are absolutely critical.
This means not only answering your interview questions in a way that is clear, concise and en pointe, but just as importantly anticipating what areas might require more explanation or examples (e.g. if you infer that your interviewers are concerned you might not measure up on one of the key selection criteria).
Your ability to work on the fly and not only respond to, but anticipate, future challenges and roadblocks is a key skill at the APS5-6 level, and your interview is the ideal opportunity for you to demonstrate how comfortable you are responding to these challenges.
Often at the APS5-6 interview, you will be asked a question about how you might prioritise a number of theoretical tasks that get thrown at you all at the same time. For these kinds of questions, it’s important to think through the different factors that go into your decision-making and explain these in as much detail as possible. There is not usually a ‘correct’ answer, and only by explaining all the factors that go into your own prioritisation are you able to give the interviewers an idea of how you work.
Advancing to the Next Level:
Progressing to the top of the officer level ranks will require an APS5 officer to have demonstrated that they not only perform highly on all the requisite criteria outlined above, but operate at a highly level of strategic understanding.
In practice, this means the demonstrated ability to analyse and synthesise information from a wide range of sources, identify links between disparate pieces of information, identify best practices and make recommendations for improvements. This would also encompass drawing lessons from unrelated fields in order to achieve more effective strategic outcomes in the policy, program or corporate area in which you are engaged.
It also means you have demonstrated the capacity to critically analyse issues and provide persuasive arguments on both sides, in order to anticipate potential expectations and concerns.
In addition, you will be expected to demonstrate a capacity to adapt to change and adjust your approach in order to keep work on track and achieve meaningful outcomes.
The final aspect that a selection panel would like to see above the expectations of an APS5 is the demonstrated willingness to assist others in the workplace and build strong, productive stakeholder relationships with a view to advancing key corporate objectives. At the APS6 level, you will be expected to be adopting a supervisory role, which will entail the provision of both support and team-building and constructive feedback in one-on-one meetings with staff.