So you landed yourself an interview ey?
Well lardy dar. Look who’s the big “I am” about town.
I’m just playing. That’s fantastic. You should be very encouraged by this news as only a very small percentage of applicants survive the sift and score an interview.
First thing first though. Remember what you did in your application to get this far. Remember it. Write it down. Save it. Print a hard copy and put it in the safe. That is your ticket back here again should you be unsuccessful with your interview.
How did you answer your behaviour questions? What was your 250 word statement for “Delivering at Pace”? Did you tailor your CV and Personal Statement to the role? If so, how? Write all these things down and then use them again in your next application. You’ve got the golden ticket now!
But enough about next time. There won’t be a next time. Because you are going to nail this interview and get this job at the first go around.
And that’s what we are here to talk about in this article. Civil service interviews. What are they? How are they structured? What questions should you expect? How should you prepare? All of that will be talked about…and more!
But before that. Are you worried that your CV is holding you back from getting interviews? How many applications have you submitted to get this interview? 1? 2? 5? 10? More?
If you are getting more rejections (or ghosts) than interview requests then there might be something wrong with your CV. Let us take a look at it and give you some pointers (completely free), just upload your CV below and someone will reach out to you in a day or two with some tips to increase your chances of landing an interview:
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- 1 Civil Service Interview Structure
- 2 Civil Service Interview Scoring
- 3 Civil Service Interview Questions
- 4 How long does it take to hear back from a Civil Service Interview?
- 5 Civil Service Interview Tips
Civil Service Interview Structure
Civil service interviews are planned in advance so that they are the same for all participants. The questions you are asked and the order you are asked them in will be the same as for the person who was interviewed before you and will be the same for the person interviewed afterward.
The structure is fairly straightforward. Interviews will usually be around the 1 hour mark (however expect this to be longer if you are being evaluated on anything technical that requires a deeper examination of your knowledge).
- 5 minutes introduction
- 50 minutes of questions
- 5 minutes to allow you to ask any follow-up questions
That’s the basic structure to expect. The flow of the questions will depend on the interview panel and how they have decided to structure the interview. Always make sure you check the job advert to see what you will be assessed on.
In a typical blended interview assessing on Strengths & Behaviours you should expect:
~5 Behaviour based questions – The panel will expect each question, with time for the answer and any follow up questions, to take around 8 minutes
~5 Strength based questions – These are a lot quicker. The panel will be looking for your unrehearsed first response. These are expected to take 2 minutes per question.
You will know when you are being asked a Behaviour based question because the interviewer will signpost the question by saying something like: “Now we are moving on to Working Together and our next question will be about that behaviour”.
It is upto the interviewer to decide in what order to ask questions, however 9 times out 10 you will receive a mixture between the two – one behaviour then one strength and there will be a natural flow to it.
Behaviour Question: Tell me about a time when you have overcome potential delays to deliver a project on time
Strength Question: Do you prefer to start tasks or to finish them?
See the way both questions share a similar theme. That’s what most interviews will be like.
Civil Service Interview Scoring
As you learn more about the Civil Service you will realise that absolutely everything is documented and everything has a process. Interview scoring is absolutely no exception. There is a full process for how your interviewer will be scoring your interview.
In essence each interviewee will receive the exact same questions in the exact same order. The panel will then score your answers by averaging out the different scores to the nearest whole number.
E.g. Panel Member #1 scores 5 on Developing Self and Others, Panel Member #2 scores 4, Panel Member #3 scores 6. Your score will be
(5 + 4 + 6) / 3 = 5
Each element will be scored separately so let’s take a look at how each is graded.
Let’s take a look at the guidance your panel will be using:
So as you can see there are a maximum of 4 marks available for each strength being tested.
1 mark – Weakness. Your answers reflected that you do not enjoy the particular activity, you have little experience with it and that you do not show much enthusiasm toward development.
2 marks – Learned Behaviour – Your answers reflected that, while you are capable at the task, you do not enjoy it and you would prefer to be doing other things.
3 marks – Potential Strength – Your answers reflected enthusiasm toward the task, you appreciated the importance of it however you do not have a great deal of experience (although you showed commitment to learning)
4 marks – Strength – You showed great experience in the task, you appreciated its importance and you seemed to genuinely enjoy what you do.
Let’s again get our answers straight from the horse’s mouth:
As you can see there are many more marks up for grabs in the Behaviours scoring than in the previous section looking at Strengths.
The scale is fairly explanatory so I will not spend too much time dissecting. For more information about what the panel are looking for in your answers to ‘Behaviours’ questions I have a more detailed article here
Experience Scoring & Technical Scoring
This is fairly easy.
Experience and Technical questions are scored the same as Behaviours so refer to the above table.
When attending a blended interview, i.e. one which assesses you on more than one of the elements (Behaviours, Strengths, Experience, Technical), your final interview score will be the total of each element combined. So remember that is a total of 7 marks available per behaviour while only a total of 4 per strength. So make sure you allocate your prep time and your time in the interview accordingly.
You should also be aware that the interview panel has the ability to set benchmarks. Some example benchmarks that can be set would be:
- Requiring a score of at least 4 on all behaviours
- Allowing no more than one score of <4
- Requiring at least a score of 5 in “Working Together”
- Requiring a minimum score in Strengths
So in theory you could be eliminated from contention with a higher score than another candidate. This is why it is important to ensure you meet all criteria. Do not just put all your eggs in one basket so to speak.
Tell me about a time when you have challenged the usual way of doing things to make things easier for the customer or for fellow colleagues? (Changing and Improving Example)
Tell me about a time when you were late delivering a piece of work? (Delivering at Pace Example)
Tell me about a new skill or qualification you have learned over the last 6 months? How did you choose that particular skill/qualification to learn and how have you used your new knowledge? (Developing Self and Others Example)
Tell me about a time when you had to convince others to put in ‘the hard work’? (Leadership Example)
Tell me about a time when your organisation didn’t go with the decision you made? Did you agree with their ultimate decision and what did you learn from this experience? (Making Effective Decisions Example)
How do you identify customer needs when the customer is unsure on what it is they require? (Managing a Quality Service Example)
How would you deal with a senior member of staff who wants a junior colleague to shadow you, when you know that doing so will slow down your work? (Working Together Example)
How long does it take to hear back from a Civil Service Interview?
So how long does it take? Well, how long is a piece of string? Unfortunately there is not a one size fits all timeframe for response. Some postings are urgent and you will hear back almost immediately. Other postings are just back-fills and are deemed low priority so take months. I would say that on average you will be looking at somewhere between 2-4 weeks from the date you interviewed through to hearing a response. After the 4 week mark the chances of you being offered the role quickly diminish (but it might still happen)
The best piece of advice I can give with regard to time frame is to ask your interviewer. At the end of the interview say something like:
“So I can manage my expectations. Can you advise what timescales you are working to. When should I hear back from yourselves?”
Civil Service Interview Tips
Use the STAR Method when answering behavioural questions – Make sure you have your ‘stories’ prepared in advance and ready to go when asked.
Don’t be afraid to request a video interview – You are actively job searching. Who has the time to be going across town in the middle of the working day when you can just log onto Teams, Skype or Webex and get things boxed in an hour. You will not be penalised for requesting a remote interview. Your interviewer will most likely be grateful – particularly in a post-COVID world, they were probably wanting to work from home anyway.
Unless of course you think you work better live and in the flesh. In which case go for it. Whatever floats your boat.
Ask questions – Before the interview, during the interview, after the interview. Ask away. If you are unsure about anything to do with your assessment then ask the recruitment team. Do not hamstring yourself through lack of knowledge.
Learn about the Disability Confident Scheme (formerly the Guaranteed Interview Scheme) – Disability Confident Scheme employers offer an interview to a fair and proportionate number of disabled applicants that meet the minimum criteria for the job (this is the description of the job as set by the employer).
To be considered for an interview you must have:
- a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term (over 12 months) adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day to day activities; or a long term health condition; and
- Demonstrated that you meet all the minimum qualifying criteria set out in the advertisement for the post at the application and testing stages.
If this is you then make sure you are ticking that box to get a guaranteed interview. Check out what Citizen’s Advice has to say about the DCS
There is an appeals process – If you feel you have been treated unfairly you can appeal the interview panel’s decision. Learn more about that here.
The appeals process is not intended to be used if you disagree with the panel’s decision or how they scored your answers, but if you feel they have wronged you and not followed the process correctly then definitely lodge an appeal.