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Civil Service Interviews (updated 2023)

In this article, we are going to help you ace the Civil Service interview. You will have spent many hours crafting and agonising over your application to work in the Civil Service, following which a real sense of relief and achievement comes over you on clicking the ‘Submit’ button. You will have prepared your competency examples, either setting them out in a 250-word STAR format, or embedding the essence of each within an application statement of up to 1,500 words. If you have scored high enough marks in the ‘sift’ you will receive an invitation for a Civil Service Interview, if not, you have missed out – it’s black and white. If you keep getting through the Civil Service application sift and keep getting rejected at the inteview stage it can be very frustrating. How can you prepare for the Civil Service interview and succeed?

Be aware that if you are applying for role in England the Civil Service assesses candidates with Success Profiles. Along with the revised nine competencies and 36 basic strengths, the Competency Framework is designed to examine and test five key areas: Behaviours, Strengths, Ability, xperience, and Technical. You might find it useful to read our article on Applying to the Civil Service. However, if you are applying to Northern Ireland or Scotland the more traditional Civil Service competeny framework is still being used.

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Tips For Your Civil Service Interview

The very thought of an interview scares most people; this can be due to a deep concern about the unknown, a fear of freezing, not having an answer, or ultimately, a fear of failure. Having a structure to your preparation is crucial. Before you attend a Civil Service interview, you will have been provided with some information about the format. This could include a short presentation (notes only – no slides), or be simply a panel interview based on your CV or competencies; it is increasingly common for this to include strength-based questions. The Selection Process section within the Job Description will normally state that assessment for the vacancy will be based on the Success Profiles and will assess your Behaviours, Strengths, and Experience. The presentation is designed to test your ability to speak clearly and succinctly, whilst engaging the panel. To ensure a fair process, PowerPoint slides are not allowed so the panel cannot be influenced by professionally-created visuals. The subject will be provided with a time limit, typically 5, 6, 12 or 15 minutes. Civil Service interview panels must work within strict marking guidelines in order to be fair, consistent, and transparent.

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Civil Service Interview Questions

The interview panel are issued with a bank of questions from which they must select, testing each competency and listed strength. Answers are typically marked out of seven for each competency tested.  For more junior roles, candidates are often told which competency is being tested before being asked a question. Your answers should follow the STAR format, and most marks are awarded for the ‘Actions’ i.e. what you did and how you did it. Your answers should be between four and six minutes long to comprehensively answer the question. There might be follow-up questions, especially if the competency has not been adequately demonstrated, which is why you need to try to cover it fully in your initial answer. By sticking to the STAR framework you will be able to lead the interview panel through your answer in a logical and systematic way. You must remember to focus on what you did, so answer using ‘I’ and not ‘we’. Another very important point is to provide a summary to complete your answer e.g. “ So what I learned from this example which is relevant to this role is…..” or “ I have used this example because I believe it demonstrates my ability to [do something required within the role description]”. You will score points by consistently bringing your answer back to how it demonstrates the skills, knowledge, or experience the panel is looking for. Do not assume that the panel are able to make a connection between what you are telling them and why it is relevant to the role, even if this seems obvious to you. More information is available on how to answer Civil Service Interview Questions.

Civil Service Candidate Testimonial

Assessment of strength-based questions is slightly more subjective. Typically, they are marked out of four; two marks for positive body language and two marks for content. Strength-based questions, such as, ‘Would others describe you as adaptable?’ are designed to see if something is (or is not) your natural strength. The basic assumption is that if, for example, being adaptable comes naturally to you, then you will do this well and enjoy it. An organisation comprised of people who enjoy what they are doing, and do it well, should be successful. Hence, you need to be positive, not delay when answering, and back up your claim with a brief example. Answers to strength-based questions are brief and to the point. The Success Profiles listed within the Job Description have associated strengths set out within the Strengths Directory (see link above). Think about how you might demonstrate some of these (we say “some” because there are 36 in total!) In summary, prepare your examples and think about how they can be adapted to fit questions which are coming from a slightly different angle; in other words, remain flexible and don’t simply repeat you example verbatim because it might not fit the question. Listen carefully to the question, answer what is being asked, not what you think you have heard. Always make it clear why the example or demonstration of skills is relevant. Think about the required strengths and how you are going to answer the question in a positive and energetic way, backed up with a brief example.

Your answers are scored so focus on covering the skills, knowledge, and experience set out in the Job Description using the Success Profile to guide your thinking. You will usually get to see your scores after the interview, so take the time to reflect and refine your examples, you might well need them again for the next role! The key is to be authentic, using your voice to keep the panel interested and engaged. Inject energy and passion into your ‘performance’ and avoid talking about things which are not relevant and don’t add value to your sales pitch. Organisations seek to employ engaged, enthusiastic and energetic people; the Civil Service is no different.

One To One Guidance When Interviewing For The Civil Service

Interview Skills Clinic are specialist and approved Civil Service interview coaches providing application and interview coaching. We coach for all levels and across all departments whether you are joining the Civil Service for the first time, or are internally apply for the Future Leadership Scheme, Senior Leadership Scheme or a Senior Civil Service role.  If you are already working in the Civil Service you might be able to get funding for training.

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