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Merit lists and pools: What, why and how?

Merit is important to the way the Australian Public Service (APS) recruits. This is because government wants to attract and select the right people based on sound, evidence-based, decision-making.

APS legislation makes it a legal requirement to engage and promote based on merit. This is specified in the Public Service Act 1999 and the Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 2002, Part 4.

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) has valuable information about the merit principle on its website.

This expert article defines merit selection, merit lists and merit pools. It also answers some of the frequently asked questions our professional recruiters regularly get asked by candidates looking to work in government.

What is merit selection?

Merit selection is designed to be a fair, transparent, and impartial process. It assesses the merit of all applicants and selects the best one for the duties of the role.

‘Selection on merit’, in other words, determines which candidate has the best skills, abilities and knowledge to perform in the position. This is the person who is ultimately offered the position.

What does it mean to hire or promote someone on merit?

When the APSC hires or promotes someone on merit it ensures that:

  • everyone eligible for a position is given a reasonable chance to apply
  • candidates are assessed for suitability through competitive selection
  • assessments are based on the relationship between a candidate’s work-related and other qualities required to do the job
  • assessment focuses on each candidate’s capacity to achieve the outcomes the job requires
  • assessment is the primary factor in deciding whom to offer the job to.

Why does government create merit lists and merit pools?

The APS has centralised merit lists and merit pools to streamline recruitment, save money and make the process quicker and more efficient. So, when a government department or agency finishes recruiting and picks the best candidate for their immediate needs, they then keep track of other quality candidates by placing them on a merit list or in a merit pool. These are used for future needs and are shared with other departments or agencies who want to source talent quickly.

Example: xx government department is looking for a policy expert. They can ask yy government department for the policy experts they considered strong enough to place on a list or in a pool.

What is a merit list?

Merit lists rank candidates from the best down. Government departments filling a vacancy from such a list must start from the top, offering the position to the person who ranks highest. If they don’t take the job, then departments must offer the position to the second highest person on the list and so on.

What is a merit pool?

Merit pools don’t rank candidates in order of priority. Everyone considered suitable for a position is placed into one talent pool. Government departments are free to tap into these pools and select anyone from them to fill a position.

Does being on a merit list or in a merit pool guarantee I will get a government position?

No, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a government position, but being on a merit list or in a merit pool keeps your name out there and increases your chances of being considered.

If I’m on a merit list, am I eligible to be selected for any APS position?

No, you’re not eligible for any APS position but you are eligible for what is called a ‘similar vacancy’. See the APSC website for more information, under ‘Similar vacancy’.

How long do merit lists and pools last?

Agencies can use an existing merit list or pool to fill a vacancy, or a similar vacancy, provided the written decision to engage or promote a person is made within 18 months of the original vacancy being published in the Public Service Gazette.

How do I get in a merit pool or on a merit list?

The only way to get on a merit list or in a merit pool is to apply for government positions advertised on SEEK or in the Public Service Gazette. You need to submit your resume and either a written response to the selection criteria provided (usually three pages) or submitting a one-page response that covers your experience against all the criteria.

The government department will let you know which version is needed for the position.

Another way is to use a recruitment agency, seeking their support to be placed in a merit pool. Agencies more frequently support government departments by working in partnership with them, keeping merit pools ready for departments to access.

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