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Civil Service Interview Questions – Success Profile (updated 2023)

Do you want to work in the Civil Service? If you want to work in the Civil Service, it’s important to know that you will be assessed against the Success Profile Framework. This means that Civil Service interviews take a blended recruitment approach involving both Behaviour questions and Strength questions at application and interview stage. At the first stage, many candidates are asked to write 250 word Behaviour examples together with a Personal Statement around the job criteria. Once a candidate is sifted to interview, they will be asked interview questions around the same Behaviours specified in the job specification. If you are an external candidate it can be very challenging to write Behaviour examples and prepare examples for interview. In the video and article below we give you tipes on how to structure your examples in order to achieve a higher assessment at application and interview stage.  Interview Skills Clinic have extensive experience of coaching clients for Civil Service interviews. We are an approved interview training provider across the Civil Service departments such as The Treasury and CPS and we have extensive experience helping clients succeed in their applications and interviews from EO level to Director General as well as deliverng internal training for The Foreign Office and Dept of Trade.

What is Civil Service Success Profiles

Depending on the role, you could be assessed on five areas:

1. Behaviours: These are very similar to competencies. A Behaviour is the knowledge, actions, and skills that it takes to deliver a successful project or objective. The Civil Service has defined 9 Success Profile Behaviours. Some commonly assessed Behaviours are Delivering at Pace, Seeing the Big Picture, Making Effective Decisions, Leadership, and Working Together. Less frequently asked are Developing Self and Others, Managing a Quality Service, and Changing and Improving. Behaviour competency questions are always looking for a specific example which can substantiate the Behaviour. You can easily identify a Behaviour question as the question often starts with the phrase: …

  • Tell me about a time when …?
  • Give me an example when ….?
  • Describe a time when…?

In most Civil Service interviews you will be told the Behaviour that is being assessed before the question is asked. For example, “With regards to the Behaviour ‘Working Together’, tell me about a time when you had to motivate a team?”

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The criteria for each Behaviour depends on the level of the role that you are applying for, details of which can be found in  the Success Profile Framework. Unless you are applying for a Senior Civil Service (SCS) role, you will only be assessed against a specified number of Behaviours, usually between 3-5, which best match the criteria of the role. If you are applying for a SCS role, you should expect to meet all the 9 Behaviours. The Behaviours merge to demonstrate your leadership capability.

2. Strengths: Strengths are your natural strengths, the things that energise and motivate you. The thinking behind assessing a candidate’s Strengths is that if you are doing a job which plays to your natural strengths you are more likely to enjoy the role and exceed expectations. The Civil Service have 36 defined Success Profile Strengths that are split across the 9 Behaviours which are outlined in the Strength Directory. For example, Delivering at Pace has 7 Strengths associated with it:

  • Adaptable
  • Disciplined
  • Catalyst
  • Focused
  • Organiser
  • Resilient

If you are being assessed on Strengths, then reading the Civil Service Strength Directory will help you understand the definitions behind each Strength.

3. Experience: Candidates are assessed on their knowledge or skills to do the job, gained by their involvement and expertise gained through exposure to it. It’s important to read the job description to know what experience is required. For example, if the job description requires strong evidence that you have expertise to develop and deliver policy, then it’s only worth applying for the role if you have policy experience. Experience can be assessed through your written application, presentation, and interview questions.

4. Technical: This is the demonstration of specific professional skills, knowledge, or qualifications to do the job. The job description will clearly define the technical skills which are relevant and required for the role. Technical skills can be assessed through qualifications, tests, presentations, and interview questions.

5. Ability: This is the aptitude or potential to perform to the required standard. This can be assessed through tests and a range of different types of questions such as situational and strength questions.

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How To Use The Civil Service STAR 

A Behaviour question will sound identical to a competency-based interview question which you are likely to be familiar with from other interviews in the public and private sector. Each Behaviour question needs to be answered by giving a specific example using the STAR framework. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

  • SITUATION. First of all, they want to hear about the background to your example. What was the situation? Why is this relevant to the question? Why was it challenging?
  • TASK. What was your role and responsibility? Who else was involved?
  • ACTIONS. What actions did you take? How did you prioritise these actions? What factors did you consider? What methods/resources did you use? Describe how you worked to support and challenge those you were working with.
  • RESULT. What was the final outcome? What impact did this decision or information have? In hindsight, what could you have done differently?

STAR gives you a structure to prepare your written and interview examples.

Civil Service Candidate Testimonial

Example Answers – Written Behaviour

Applying to the Civil Service can be varied depending on the department, role and grade you are applying to. You may ask for a Personal Statement, Behaviour Examples or a combination of both. Many Civil Service applications below Senior Civil Service(SCS) level require candidates to write multiple 250 word behaviour examples.

Delivering At Pace Example  – Level 3 SEO

I ran a complex re-admission process. The objective was to produce a 100-page report in just four weeks. This was an usually tight timeframe for a legal document of this complexity. Given the tight timeframe, I had to ensure that my team remained on track, motivated and that the work was both accurate and concise.

I set out the work schedule and briefed all members of the team in person, inviting feedback in order to identify the workload and assess if there were any potential obstacles from the outset. I had several trainees on the project who needed coaching and mentoring to ensure that they remained motivated throughout the project.

Part way through the project, I identified that progress had slowed. I was aware that the qualification time for trainees was approaching and this meant that they had conflicting priorities. I needed to re-energise the team to complete the project. I brought all the team together, recognised what we had achieved, and thanked them. I realigned the remaining workload and ensured that everyone was clear on the next steps. It was key that the high quality of the initial work was maintained.

The admission report was completed on time and made public on the agreed publication date. I was pleased with the work carried out by the trainees and appraised each person accordingly, which helped towards their final qualification.

Civil Service Candidate Testimonial

Delivering At Pace Example – Level 4 Grade 7

Below is a draft written example for a more senior role.

I led a team of 4 to organise a 2-day conference (name it) for 150 people with 6 weeks’ notice instead of the minimum 4 months, to accommodate the availability of an international speaker. I delivered the conference by:

  • Effectively prioritising my workload to manage competing priorities. I delegated non-managerial tasks for other projects to junior colleagues (for example), ensuring I had sufficient time to oversee planning and delivery.
  • Appointing and motivating a project team. I communicated priorities and objectives (for example) with enthusiasm, allocating roles and responsibilities that aligned with team members’ strengths and interests (for example). To promote teamwork, I encouraged the development of a shared vision for the conference (for example).
  • Regularly reviewing the quality and consistency of my team’s performance. Using project management tools (for example) I monitored key deliverables in relation to an agreed timetable and factored in contingency plans. I introduced a new platform (for example) improving communication and collaborative working between the team based in different locations.
  • Supporting my team to overcome challenges. When senior leaders requested an additional conference theme at short notice, I encouraged the team to assess different options before collectively agreeing on the solution (for example). I instilled confidence in their ability to deliver quality outcomes by praising their achievements and supporting their professional development.

Due to my leadership and project management skills, the conference was delivered on time and within budget, achieving a high (add details) delegate satisfaction rate.

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Delivering At Pace Interview Questions

Graduates who apply to join the Civil Service Fast Stream join at level 3. Additionally there are many graduate opportunities at level 2

Typical Level 2 & 3 Questions

  • Tell me about a time when you managed a complicated project to a demanding deadline?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to multitask to cope with conflicting priorities?
  • Tell me about a time when your organisational skills contributed to the success of a project?
  • Give us an example when you had to manage a setback on completing a project or task?

Typical Level 4 Questions

  • Tell us how you monitor your work and your team’s work in order to keep priorities on track?
  • Tell us about a time when someone in your team wasn’t performing and jeopardising the outcome of a project. What did you do to resolve the issue? How did you coach and support the colleague?
  • How have you gone about bench marking the performance of an area of your business, encouraging greater performance amongst your team?
  • Tell us about a time when you were working on a project and the objectives and priorities kept changing. How did you keep your team motivated?

How To Answer Behaviour Questions In An Interview – 3 Key Tips

  1. Answer the question directly rather than just relying on your written Behaviour examples. There is a chance that your written application example may not be relevant to the question. It’s likely that you will need additional examples to draw on in the interview.
  2. Answer the question in a conversational style. You are telling a story to substantiate your experience, not regurgitating in ‘parrot-fashion’ your written example.
  3. If your written example is relevant to the question, add more depth to the answer by putting a greater emphasis on why you did what you did, and how.

Depending on the level of the role, the interviewer will allow 5-7 minutes for each Behaviour question and will ask you additional questions to explore your example further. For more advice read How To Ace A Civil Service Interview

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