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The Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) uses a different competency framework to that which is now used throughout the main Civil Service departments for roles across England. The Welsh and Scottish Governments also in turn have their own frameworks. The current Northern Ireland Civil Service Competency Framework reference document was created in April 2014.

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Interview Skills Clinic have successfully coached many candidates for Civil Service interviews in NICS as well as Scotland and Success Profile interviews in England. Job descriptions for roles in the Northern Ireland Civil Service are generally very comprehensive and take the form of a multi-page Candidate Information Booklet. Under the heading entitled ‘Assessment Process’ within this document, it is possible to read exactly how this competency-based interview will be assessed and crucially how marks will be awarded. For some competencies there will be a minimum mark which has to be achieved. For example, a recent role on which I was working listed five competencies and detailed the maximum marks awarded to each answer at the interview. The overall pass mark was shown and one of the competencies required the interviewee to achieve a minimum score as follows:

Competency Marks Available Minimum Standard
Making Effective Decisions 40 24
Delivering Value for Money 20 No minimum set
Collaborating and Partnering 20 No minimum set
Managing a Quality Service 20 No minimum set
Achieving Outcomes through Delivery Partners 20 No minimum set
Total Marks Available 120  
Minimum Score to pass the board   72


For this position only one of the competency answers was given a minimum required mark of 24 and the overall required pass mark for the interview was 72. Despite this fact it goes without saying that consistency in terms of the quality of the answers is very important and it would be inadvisable to score very low on one or two answers and very high on the rest.

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Before considering any typical sample interview questions, it is important to take time to carefully read through and understand the Northern Ireland Civil Service framework. There is a selection of 10 possible competencies from which you will be assessed, which are in turn clustered into three groups. The descriptors for each behaviour are further categorised into six different levels according to the seniority of the role. The type of answer expected from a person interviewing for a higher management role is therefore noticeably more complex and challenging. Of the six specified levels, you will need to identify into which band your role fits. When crafting examples, you should use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) format, a useful framework which ensures that your answers are structured in a clear, logical, and concise manner. The panel will expect your answers to be delivered according to this format and will allocate marks correspondingly, with the most marks being awarded for the ‘Action’ part of your answer.

Once you have drafted your examples it is time to start practicing them against some likely interview questions. Below are a range of sample questions typical of a lower to middle management interview: 

Cluster 1: Setting Direction

  • Give me an example of how your wider insight of the external environment helped address or shape a recommendation you have made? (Seeing the bigger picture)
  • What approaches do you use to ensure that the work you and your teams are doing is aligned with the strategies and priorities of the organisation? (Seeing the bigger picture)
  • Tell me about a time when you made changes/improvements to a process or processes. What would you do if your colleagues did not agree with the change or improvement? (Changing and improving)
  • Describe a time when you improved the way you work. For example, perhaps you found a way to complete a task more efficiently? (Changing and improving)
  • What have you done to encourage others to question existing practices? How do you support other people’s ideas? How do you enable change and improvement? (Changing and improving)
  • Tell us about a time when you had to analyse and evaluate complex information and competing options before making a decision? (Making effective decisions)
  • Describe a time when you had to choose between several different options to achieve particular result? (Making effective decisions)
  • Tell us about a time when you changed your advice on a particular project policy having considered the financial, technological and/or reputational risks? (Making effective decisions)

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Cluster 2: Engaging People

  • Give us an example of a difficult or sensitive situation that required careful communication? (Leading and communicating)
  • Describe a time when you went through a series of steps to influence an individual or group or people on an important issue? (Leading and communicating)
  • Describe a time when you had to drive change and how you ensured it was communicated and accepted throughout the team? (Leading and communicating)
  • Give us an example of a time when you worked collaboratively with others? (Collaborating and partnering)
  • Talk us through a time when you improved collaborative working between teams and across organisational boundaries to support the business? (Collaborating and partnering)
  • Describe a time when you had to work with someone with a very different viewpoint to your own? (Collaborating and partnering)
  • How do you support your team in building their knowledge base? (Building capability for all)
  • When have you learned something new and been able to communicate it to the wider group? (Building capability for all)
  • How do you ensure that you are always striving for innovation and building the capacity for change in your teams? Provide an example when you did this effectively.(Building capability for all)

Cluster 3: Delivering Results

  • Describe a time when you managed competing priorities to produce a project under difficult circumstances? (Delivering at pace)
  • Tell us about a time when you have led a team in a fast-paced environment. How did you manage and maintain motivation and resilience? (Delivering at pace)
  • Tell us about a time where you dealt with a project which had gone off track? (Delivering at pace)
  • Tell us about a time when you identified a process that was inefficient and represented poor value for money? What action did you take? (Delivering value for money)
  • Tell us about a time when you motivated your staff to think about more efficient solutions and use resources to deliver a more cost-effective outcome? (Delivering value for money)
  • Describe a time when you were proactive in finding a solution to a problem encountered by one of your customers? (Managing a quality service)
  • Tell us about a time when you responded to new customer feedback and solved a problem to improve the quality of service to customers? (Managing a quality service)
  • When have you been particularly effective in working with a business partner to deliver on a long-term strategic objective? (Achieving outcomes through delivery partners)
  • How do you ensure that the work you are doing is aligned to the overall objectives of the organisation, continually reflects external challenges, and seizes on opportunities? Please give an example. (Achieving outcomes through delivery partners)

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