Have you been invited to attend a public sector interview?
Have you been invited to a public sector interview?
It’s one of the toughest interviews you are likely to experience. Therefore, you know you need to prepare as much as possible. And, that’s probably why you’re reading this post.
Thankfully, I’ll be sharing lots of guidance and information. In other words, I’ll give you some guidance on how to prepare and what to consider. And, I’ll be explaining how interviewers in the public sector make hiring decisions.
I’d suggest taking some quality time to read through all the information. However, not just in this post but all the information you receive when invited to interview.
In the public sector, interviewers are trained well. Hopefully, this gives you some reassurance that it’s a fair selection process.
Public Sector Interviews
Public sector interviews are the most structured.
The main reason the public sector interviews are structured is to eliminate bias and unconscious bias. Consequently, this aims to make the process objective, fair, and consistent. So, every candidate should get the same opportunity to demonstrate their capability.
The public sector uses a framework called, Success Profiles. I’ll cover this later in the article.
Types of Questions
What type of questions do public sector interviewers ask?
It’s likely you will be asked behavioural competency questions. These are the questions you will need to provide specific examples.
I’ll explain how you prepare for these behavioural competency questions.
Firstly, I’d suggest using a process to help you prepare. The most common process used is the S.T.A.R. process; Situation, Task, Action, and Results.
Secondly, the interviewers will be looking for you to talk through specific examples. When you prepare these specific examples be sure to include the relevant behaviours.
I’ve recently coached a number of people through the public sector interview process. I’ve even helped a couple land their dream jobs! Sean from London for example, approached me to guide him through a challenging public sector interview. As a result, he landed his dream job!
“Dawn’s expertise and guidance helped me through an extremely challenging interview process to land a high profile, life-changing job. This change and her advice throughout the process helped me deliver my best performance on the day, and I got my 𝗗𝗥𝗘𝗔𝗠 𝗝𝗢𝗕.” Sean, London.
Why do interviewers need specific examples?
Let me explain.
I’ve coached hundreds if not, thousands of clients through behavioural competency interviews. In fact, one of the most important factors of this type of interview is to provide specific examples.
Therefore, I’d recommend you take the time to prepare several specific occasions when you’ve demonstrated the relevant behaviours. As a result, this gives the recruiters evidence of your capability.
Past behaviour is a good indicator of future behaviour
Whereas if you talk through a process it tends to be the best-case scenario. It only demonstrates your knowledge of a process not necessarily your ability to implement. Consequently, we sometimes refer to these examples as a ‘textbook’ answer.
To illustrate this point further, the real world doesn’t always follow a textbook scenario. So, for this reason, it’s not giving the recruiter a good idea of how you would deal with potential problems or challenges.
How are my answers assessed?
The public sector has two scoring systems available: A consensus or an arithmetic method of scoring.
The consensus system is the panel members having a discussion or sometimes called ‘wash-up’. The public sector recognizes that there could be some disadvantages to this method. For example, if there is a senior manager on the panel, they could influence the other members to give higher or lower scores in support.
An arithmetic scoring system increases the objectiveness of the process. Each panel member scores individually. Then following this process, each individual score is summed and an average score is given.
Here are the descriptors:
Behaviours have a scoring system from 1-7. A score of 1 demonstrates no evidence of this behaviour and a score of 7 is an outstanding demonstration and exceeds expectations.
1. Not demonstrated
2. Minimal demonstration
3. Moderate demonstration
4. Acceptable demonstration
5. Good demonstration
6. Strong demonstration
7. Outstanding demonstration
Strengths have a different scoring system. Each strength is evaluated against a rating score from 1-4.
1. Weakness, lower engagement, lower capability
2. Learned behaviour, lower engagement, higher capability
3. Potential strength, higher engagement, some capability
4. Strength, higher engagement, higher capability
When you start preparing your examples, I’d recommend writing up your examples in full. Don’t be tempted to just think about your examples. This is a risky strategy with public sector interviews.
Why am I recommending you write down your examples?
- It will help you prepare much more evidence and data
- Help you assess the information more accurately
- It will help you recall far more detail when you get into the interview
After you’ve written down your examples, it’s important to review the information against the criteria.
Public sector interviewers will be doing the same after the interview. They will be using their scoring system to measure your answers against these criteria.
What is the Civil Service Success Profiles?
Here’s the main reason for introducing the new framework:
“The Sucess Profiles Framework is being introduced to attract and retain people of talent and experience from a range of sectors and all walks of life, in line with the commitment in the Civil Service Workforce Plan.”
Success Profiles is a framework to measure certain behaviours. Therefore, interviewers will assess the actions and activities which resulted in good and effective performance. This is important to understand when you are preparing your specific examples.
In my experience, one of the mistakes candidates make is to talk too much about the situation. Firstly, they talk too much about the problem or office politics. Secondly, as a result, they share little evidence about what they’ve done to solve the problem.
This framework gives you an overview of how your answers are going to be measured. It also helps you understand what is expected of you in the role.
The framework is divided into categories;
You will find the information you need on the job description. You’ll also see what will be assessed during the interview on the job description.
- Behaviours: Behaviours are the actions and activities that you do which result in excellent and effective performance in a job
- Strengths: Strengths are the things that you do regularly, you do well and that motivates you
- Ability: These relate to your aptitude to perform at a required standard
- Experience: Experience is the knowledge or mastery of an activity or subject gained through involvement in or exposure to it
- Technical: Technical is the demonstration of specific professional skills, knowledge, or qualifications
Here are some tips when attending a public sector interview
These tips are worth understanding. Because these tips are not common sense. If you have only worked in the private sector then it’s unlikely you’ll have experienced anything similar.
If the interview is assessing strengths, then they will ask a question in this section first. The first question will probably be a ‘warm-up’ question. Then further strength-based questions will be threaded through the rest of the interview.
- Warm-up (baseline) question: The warm-up question is designed to understand the natural way in which you speak, interact, and engage. Therefore, it’s a baseline question.
- Baseline question: The answer to the first strength-based question isn’t being assessed.
- No signposting: The interviewers will NOT introduce the question with the name of the strength. For example, Adaptability or Analytical, or Confidence. However, they will let you know it’s a strength-based question.
- For example, “I’m now going to ask you a strength-based question.”
- Repeating the question: Questions can be repeated, however, they must not be reframed, rephrased, or explained.
- No probing questions: Interviewers must not ask further probes when they are asking strength-based questions.
- Rapid and unrehearsed: These types of strength-based questions are supposed to be rapid. The interviewers are looking for unrehearsed and natural answers.
Remember the behaviours are the actions and activities that you do which result in effective performance in a job. For example, Working together, Developing self and others, managing a quality service, Delivering at pace and there are many more.
- Behavioural questions: The interviewer will signpost what behaviour they are assessing
- For example, “We are now assessing your ability to Deliver at pace.” And, then they will ask the question
- Questions: They will ask questions sufficiently broad to allow you to respond
- Probing questions: The interviewers can ask a few probing questions. However, it’s best to include lots of evidence in your examples
- Taking notes: It’s important you talk at a comfortable pace (not too fast or too slow!). Typically, each interviewer will take it in turns to ask the questions or write the notes. The interviewer writing the notes will attempt to capture verbatim. Their job is to focus only on taking notes and not on asking the questions or assessing the information
Hopefully, you can understand and appreciate the need and importance of preparation.
In fact, spending quality time preparing will help you to handle the public sector interview. Accordingly, all the answers are in the job description and all the supporting documentation you will receive as part of the invitation. Consequently, read these instructions carefully and thoroughly.
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