Thousands of applicants for dozens of jobs - how do you stand out from the crowd?

Thousands of applicants for dozens of jobs - how do you stand out from the crowd? Photo: erin jonasson

As Tony Abbott prepares to unleash his razor gang on the public service, final-year university students and unemployed job hunters are preparing to battle with thousands of their peers to secure a gig serving the Australian people.

Multiple government departments are now accepting applications for positions in their graduate programs starting in 2015.

If the highly competitive process was likened to a sport it would be a marathon, with an eight-month wait before applicants discover if they have the job, but if Joe Hockey's expected cuts come to fruition it could be more like The Hunger Games, with participants fighting to put bread on the table in the face of unexpected challenges.

''One wrong answer may see them crossed off the list,'' said the national public service manager for recruitment company Hays, Kathy Kostyrko.

The biggest recruitment firms in the country are at the moment writing tenders to win lucrative contracts which will put them in the position of sorting and turfing applications.

These people - and even one of the public service's biggest employers - have 10 valuable tips for budding bureaucrats.

1. It's not an average job application

Be aware the process may involve psychometric tests and role-playing.

In the words of Kathy Kostyrko from Hays, psychometric tests are not, as some people think, about weeding out ''psychos'' but about finding peoples' abilities.

The tests gauge the applicant's ability to influence and negotiate with others, preferred working style, leadership and decision-making style, interpersonal relations and motivations.

Tests for applicants can also assess verbal reasoning, numerical skills, comprehension and grammar, spatial reasoning, information processing and problem solving.

2. Don't wear crazy clothes

Leave the colourful hair in the bathroom basin when you front up to meet the assessment team and the interviewers, said Ms Kostyrko.

And while workplace fashion may be more liberal in some workplaces than in past eras, Ms Kostyrko said rings should only go on fingers and in ears.

The assessment team part of the process is when about a dozen applicants are brought together to role-play hypothetical situations so their personality and leadership qualities can be analysed.

This is usually the second-last stage with the final part being the interview.

3. Create a point of difference

Some of the bigger departments will receive 2000 applications for 30 positions.

Ms Kostyrko said hopefuls should apply for more than one graduate program due to the competitiveness.

They should demonstrate leadership skills, whether it is managing staff at McDonald's or captaining a football team.

4. Bullet points are great and remember the basics

A consultant at boutique Canberra recruitment firm Face2Face, Alina Molchanova, says resumes should have bullet points in the initial overview section to entice employers to read more detailed sections further on in the application.

She also says applicants should proofread their applications. Even better, get a friend to read it as well before the ''submit'' button is pressed to correct spelling mistakes and grammatical clangers.

5. No generic applications

Submissions with generic language that could be sent to any department are some of the easiest to bin. Tailor the language.

6. Collect intelligence about the organisation and be confident

Ms Molchanova says phone calls and internet searches help people gather crucial information about departments they want to work for.

This is particularly valuable in interviews where applicants think they lack experience.

Ms Molchanova tells clients about how she secured her job - by approaching her future employer on the street (she noticed a car sticker advertising the recruitment firm) - and says aid networking, especially on LinkedIn, can be vital.

7. Be humble at the same time

Even applicants with several masters degrees should be prepared to show they are willing start at the bottom, show initiative and be proactive, according to the manager of the public service unit at recruitment and talent management company Hudson, Claire Sullivan.

8. If you fail first time around, keep trying

''There are so many ways around it (the graduate program) if people want to get into the public service,'' said Hudson's Claire Sullivan.

''If students seek employment in the public service they might like to consider applying for entry level, temporary roles while they're at university.

''Then when positions come up in the future they can go for those.''

9. Obtain a character reference

Nobody reads a reference from a colleague at a fast-food job or your mum's friend.

It should be from someone senior already in the public service, which is why getting part-time work with a department can be so valuable.

10. Start early and think outside the box to demonstrate highly-specialist skills

Specialist skills cannot only be a ticket to breaking into the public service, but also the key to rising through the ranks.

Defence Materiel Organisation chief executive Warren King, who oversees 6500 staff and spends $9.5 billion of taxpayer money each year, has revealed he takes great interest in a little-known competition in Australian schools to seek out the best future talent.

The F1 in Schools competition encourages high school students to design, build and race model formula one race cars.

"Australia needs engineers and other technical specialists in many sectors of the economy, but particularly in the defence sector," Mr King said.

"It's also why we have extended our sponsorship to include the Future Submarine Technology Challenge, a pilot program in 2014 focused on the future submarine program.''