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Managing risks when recruiting

Merit-based recruitment is a fundamental element of APS employment. Merit is about getting the best available person, based on their work-related qualities and the requirements of the job.

2.1 What risk factors should I look out for?

The recruitment process includes identifying the job's requirements, attracting and screening applicants, offering employment to the best applicant and getting them on board. Each stage of this process has its own opportunities, but also its own risks.1

2.1.1 Before advertising a vacancy

  • Be sure that the job description or advertisement hasn't been written with a particular person in mind.
  • The more broadly you advertise a position the broader the potential pool of applicants. This can be a positive by attracting applications from a broader pool of the community. But it can also attract applications from undesirable or even malicious applicants. What factors have affected your decision about where and how you have advertised?

2.1.2 Selecting panel members and decision-makers

  • Have they had recent recruitment experience or training?
  • Do they understand their practical and legal obligations?
  • Are there any conflicts of interest for the decision-maker or the selection panel? If so, how can these be addressed?2
  • Is the decision-maker independent and unbiased?

2.1.3 Assessing candidates

  • Short cuts shouldn't be taken to recruit someone quickly at the expense of prudent checks.
  • Don't assume that an applicant from an organisation with a good reputation will have a good employment history or a good character.
  • Check the credentials and work history of an applicant carefully with third parties. This will be especially important if they will be working in a sensitive or strategically important area.
  • Ask candidates about criminal records or personal associations that have the potential to conflict with the job.
  • Ask candidates whether they have any potential conflicts of interest, such as another job.

2.1.4 Obtaining references

  • It's important that agencies share information properly to avoid the re-employment of people with bad work histories. One way to do this is through the provision of referee reports.
  • Selection panels should remind referees of the need to give an honest assessment of work performance, attendance and behaviour.
  • It's advisable in most cases to seek a reference from the applicant's current supervisor. It may also be a good idea to seek references from people who know the applicant but have not been nominated as a referee, letting the applicant know who you contact.
  • Remember to check that the applicant's referee has accurately described their role or their relationship to the applicant.

2.2 Provision of false or misleading information prior to employment

Section 15(2A) of the Public Service Act 1999 (the Act) helps agencies to deal with situations where an employee has been dishonest when applying for APS employment.

Misconduct action can be taken if an employee is found to have:

  • knowingly given false or misleading information, or
  • wilfully withheld relevant information

about their background, qualifications, previous employment or other matters in connection with their engagement. This action can include termination of employment. See Section 3.5 of the guide APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice for more information.

Case study A

explores what happened in a State government department when an applicant withheld information about his criminal past and insufficient pre-employment screening was conducted.

Read more.

2.3 Dealing with historical Code of Conduct matters

An employee's previous misconduct may be relevant to their suitability for employment.

Agencies should consider asking specific questions about misconduct history in their job application processes—see box below for a recommended question.

Section 8.4 of the Australian Public Service Commission's guide Handling Misconduct provides information on considering misconduct history in the selection process. It discusses relevant factors such as the nature of the breach, the sanction imposed and how long ago the breach occurred.

The guide also explains the provisions that apply when an employee who is being investigated for a suspected breach of the Code of Conduct in another APS agency seeks to move to your agency, including on promotion.

Example misconduct history question

Are you currently being investigated for a suspected breach of the APS Code of Conduct? Yes / No

Have you ever been investigated for a suspected breach of the APS Code of Conduct or faced formal disciplinary or administrative action with any employer? Yes / No

If yes, what was the finding?

Date of breach determination/discipline action: __/__/____

Sanction imposed (termination of employment, demotion etc.)

A finding of misconduct will not necessarily exclude you from consideration for this vacancy.

2.4 Dealing with prior criminal history

A criminal conviction or pending charge does not necessarily exclude a person from APS employment. Nonetheless, a manager may be concerned that a conviction reflects on the person's fitness to perform particular duties, or affects the integrity and reputation of the APS or the safety of other employees.

Dealing with prior criminal histories will also be affected by any 'spent conviction' scheme that applies. It may be that after a specified period of time without reoffending a person convicted of a minor matter is able to present a 'clean slate'. In most cases a conviction that has been 'spent' does not need to be disclosed.

Refusing to employ a person on the basis of a criminal record that is not relevant to the proposed employment might be a basis for a complaint under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986.3

2.5 Mitigating the recruitment risks

Applicants should be asked direct questions about their suitability for employment. Such questions might include their reasons for leaving a former employer, proof of qualifications and anything that could limit their ability to undertake a role, such as a relevant criminal record or a history of misconduct.

The recruitment process should explore any unexplained gaps in the applicant's employment history. There may be perfectly good reasons for such gaps. On the other hand, they might indicate that the applicant was dismissed by a previous employer or resigned while under investigation for misconduct.

Employees involved in assessing candidates in recruitment rounds should make sure that they understand the nature of the role and their responsibilities. Most agencies will have policies and advice about recruitment processes. Training is also often available to help managers identify and deal with issues in selection processes.

2.6 Pre-employment screening

Pre-employment screening, or background checking, is an integral part of managing recruitment risks.

Agencies should screen all new APS recruits to check their past employment and other background details. It's important that the claims made by applicants about their identity and achievements are accurate.

Offers of engagement, whether for ongoing or non-ongoing roles, should be clearly conditional on the applicant meeting specified conditions and requirements.

Tools and resources

  • Using conditions of engagement to mitigate risks
  • Template—integrity statement for letter of offer of engagement

Thoughtful and proportionate pre-employment screening for the preferred applicant before their engagement can have benefits. For example, if a pre-employment check reveals that a prospective employee will not meet the agency's citizenship requirements, the agency can decide not to engage that person.

Informing potential applicants in the job advertisement and information pack about pre-employment checks and conditions of engagement will help them decide whether or not to apply.

2.6.1 What should I look out for?

Pre-employment checks may include any of the following components:

  • identity verification
    • gold standard identity verification—the 100 points system
  • eligibility
    • Australian citizenship or valid visa with work rights
    • eligible and suitable to access Australian Government resources (see below for more information)
  • qualification checks
    • verify mandatory qualifications by contacting the relevant institution rather than relying on documentation provided by the applicant
    • sight original academic records and other professional credentials
    • obtain evidence of any mandatory licences or registrations
  • previous employment checks
    • verify employment history with previous employers, including roles and dates
    • undertake reference checks for previous work performance and conduct
    • review significant employment history gaps and reasons for those gaps
  • criminal record checks
    • conduct national police checks
    • conduct working with vulnerable people checks if needed
  • agency-specific checks will depend on the circumstances, but might include
    • character checks
    • credit checks
    • personal associations that could present a risk for the agency
    • any secondary employment that could present a conflict of interest with the role.

2.6.2 Access to Government resources

It is a requirement of the Australian Government Protective Security Policy Framework that agencies ensure that personnel who access Australian Government resources i.e. people, information and assets:

  • are eligible to have access
  • have had their identity established
  • are suitable to have access
  • agree to comply with the government's arrangements that safeguard the agency's resources from harm.

This requirement applies to all employees. Agencies may apply additional agency-specific suitability requirements for personnel. However, at a minimum, agencies are required to assess whether personnel are of good character.

2.6.3 Mitigating pre-employment screening risks

The Australian Government Protective Security Policy Framework recommends that all agencies undertake employment screening to Australian Standard AS 4811:2006–Employment Screening.

See Tools and Resources for links to more pre-employment checking information.


1. Drawn from Victorian Public Service Commission (2015), Integrity in Recruitment Guidance Note.

2. Section 5.6 of APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice provides guidance on managing the situation where an employee involved in a recruitment decision, for example as a panel member, has a relationship with an applicant.

3. Australian Human Rights Commission (2012). On the record: Guidelines for the prevention of discrimination in employment on the basis of criminal record.