Working in the Civil Service- Interview Questions and Preparation Tips
So, you’re interested in working for the Civil Service. Well, you’ve come to the right place to find out more about what that entails. The Civil Service offers job seekers the opportunity to work in the following Civil Service Departments:
- The Cabinet Office
- The Crown Prosecution Service
- Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport
- Department of Education
- Department of Health & Social Care
- Department for International Development
- Department for Transport
- Department for Work & Pensions
Fortunately for you, Assessment Centre HQ is the place to be to get the bestselling online interview training you’ll need. We have a list of the interview questions featured in most Civil Service interviews as well as suggested answers.
Table of Contents
Civil Service Job Duties and Competencies
Regardless of the position you have applied for in the Civil Service, you are expected to demonstrate a specific core set of competencies in order to be considered.
- The ability to work collaboratively with others
- An ongoing desire to improve and develop
- A proactive and positive willing embrace of change
- The ability to work well, and hard under pressure
- Have effective written and verbal communication skills
- Be capable of learning and retaining large amounts of job-specific information
- Have a positive, unwavering attitude towards working
- The ability to complete difficult, time-sensitive tasks
- Be inclusive of a diverse range of people
Civil Service Interview
In your Civil Service Interview, you will need to show that you have the necessary skill-set and intentions to serve your community and government.
The ideal candidate for both government and community jobs needs to show genuine commitment to the vision of the agency you’ve applied at.
In the job interview for all Civil Service Jobs, your interview answers are scored against the specific competencies, behaviours and strengths for the position you are applying for.
A successful candidate is one who fits the criteria as opposed to one who gives generic answers.
Successful interview preparation
In order to secure interview success, you will need to formulate all the answers to suit the sole you’re applying for.
This means that your answers must demonstrate the success profiles and core values of the Civil Service. But first, let’s discuss the strengths-to-behaviours and Civil Service values you’ll need to show:
On the left will be your ideal strengths, which will demonstrate on the right, the kind of ideal behaviours you will display if these strengths are yours:
- Sees the bigger picture = Challenger/Strategic/Mission/Visionary
- Makes effective decisions = Analytical/Decisive/Preventer/Problem-solver
- Changes & Improves = Adaptable/Courageous/Resilient
- Shows leadership = Confident/Motivator/Change agent/Team leader/Inclusive
- Communicates well & influences = Authentic/Emotionally intelligent/Influencer/Explainer
- Works together = Networker/Relationship builder/Team player/Negotiator/Mediator
- Develops Self & others = Enabler/Learner
- Manages quality service = Disciplined/Precise/Efficient/Focused/Organised/Service-oriented
- Delivers at pace = Catalyst/Responsible
Civil Service Core Values
While it is extremely helpful to have interview skills, it is also really important that you answer the Civil Service interview questions with the following values:
These are the necessary characteristics of a Civil Servant and answering the questions in this manner will show that you’re this kind of person. Your job interview will be successful if you are able to honestly show that you have these skills, attributes and values.
Civil Service Interview Questions
Part of developing your interview skills is knowing what to expect. This is not cheating, it is helping you to prepare so that on the day, rather than stress about the unknown – you can focus on the interview questions and give well-thought-out, detailed answers.
Civil Service interview questions are designed to identify your intentions, motivations, abilities, characteristics and values.
The interview experts will be trying to establish whether you are suited to public service and whether you are eligible to join the Civil Service.
We have compiled a list of the most common interview questions featured in Civil Service interviews.
We have also given suggested answers to help you prepare.
1. Why did you apply for this role?
This interview question is asked to learn more about your intentions for the Civil Service role you applied for. They want to know if you are trying to get into this career for the right reason.
Suggested answer: State clearly your goals for a career in government and prepare by doing some research on the mission of the agency you’re applying to. Do your goals align with it?
2. Do you share difficult news well?
As a Civil Servant, you’ll not be able to please everyone, so you will often need to break the bad news about budget cuts or policy changes. Do you have the necessary communication skills for this?
Suggested answer: Give a detailed response that conveys your ideas and methodology for handling challenging situations.
3. Can you implement new systems?
This interview question tells employers whether or not you’re a quick learner. New systems are often implemented to make work more efficient.
Suggested answer: Explain how you are able to adapt to new technology and your ability to learn new things quickly.
4. Can you manage multiple projects at once?
Your potential employers ask this interview question to see how you prioritise your work, due to the nature of the job which often requires having multiple responsibilities.
Suggested answer: Give a detailed response about how you organise your tasks and time, and your ability to meet challenges.
5. Tell me about a time you worked with a challenging coworker.
As a Civil Servant, you will interact with all kinds of people. This interview question helps employers determine whether you have the interpersonal skills necessary to overcome challenges with others.
Suggested answer: Give a detailed response about what action you took and the results of that action.
6. How would you help an under-performing colleague?
If the job you’re applying for requires leadership skills, then this interview question will be asked to see how you help your team succeed.
Suggested answer: Explain how you would identify the problem and the steps you would take to help someone succeed.
7. Tell me about a time you implemented a change
This interview question is asked to see if you have the relevant experience necessary to help implement change in the community for the betterment of the people you serve.
Suggested answer: Using the STAR method give a detailed response on how you specifically contributed and what the results were.
8. How do you avoid conflicts of interest?
In government, conflict needs to be avoided as far as possible, especially amongst government employees. You might be asked this interview question to see if and how you act with integrity and honesty in difficult situations with difficult people.
Suggested answer: Give a detailed response in which you refer to keeping abreast of office policies and regulations to ensure a productive, friendly and safe working environment for everyone.
9. Have you had your ethics challenged, tell me about it.
Employers will ask you this interview question to make sure you are always making ethical decisions.
Suggested answer: Using the STAR method (see bottom of the article), explain how you overcame the difficult situation by doing what was right, regardless of how difficult it was.
10. Do you over-deliver?
Employers might ask you this interview question to learn more about your work ethic. You don’t know if they’re looking for an overachiever, as this is not always a good thing.
Suggested answer: Honesty is best, and if you are always willing to contribute as much as possible and go above and beyond, then say as much.
11. Are you comfortable giving presentations?
If your role requires that you might need to give presentations to your team or a group of professionals then this interview question is designed to determine whether you have effective public speaking skills.
Suggested answer: Give examples of previous public speaking experiences that went well.
12. How do you handle mistakes?
Actively looking to resolve mistakes is essential in Civil Service jobs as so many people are impacted by them. This interview question is asked to see if you are open to correction and how you go about solving the problem of your mistake.
Suggested answer: Be honest. People appreciate honesty more than they appreciate the “right answer”.
13. Where do you see yourself in five years?
You may be asked this interview question to see if you envision yourself in a government role years from now. How committed are you?
Suggested answer: Give a detailed response explaining how you hope to progress in your career.
14. Do you have any questions for me?
At the end of your interview, you are likely to be asked if you have any questions for the interviewer. This is useful for them to tell how interested you are in the role.
Suggested answer: Make sure the topics have not been covered yet. Have about two or three purposeful questions.
Civil Service Interview Questions (continued)
While we can’t know the exact wording or extent of all the interview questions you might be asked, we have included some more possibilities for you to consider to get you “Interview Ready”.
- Tell me about a time your patience was challenged.
- How would you help our department better serve the community?
- Do you have experience working with community members?
- What steps do you take to come up with unique solutions?
- How would you support a diverse work environment?
- What are your strategies for effective communication?
- How would you help a community member feel heard?
- How do you help others learn from their errors?
- Tell me about a time you helped two groups get along.
- What is your ideal working style?
Successful Civil Service Profiles
The Success Service Profile system is based on five elements and is designed to be a more holistic approach to establishing successful candidates in Civil Service Interviews for government agencies. Government departments have begun to use this method of interviewing so that rather than just focusing on a person’s competencies, but also their behaviours.
This is to ensure a much broader and fairer selection process.
In your Civil Service interview, you might be assessed on all or just some of these elements. The interview questions will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your work experience and your interests, passions and energy.
This means that Civil Service interviews no longer limit candidates to providing only competency-based answers, but to talk about your skills and strengths as you answer interview questions to establish whether you have the desired Civil Service behaviours.
The five elements of the Success Service Profile
- Ability – Are you able to do the job and do it well? Your ability is about your natural aptitude and potential to perform in the role.
- Behaviour – Remember those strengths-to-behaviours? These are assessed in various ways during the recruitment process and through interview questions, and on the application form.
- Experience – While the competency-based interview questions are purposed to establish your level of skill gained in previous jobs and activities; experience does not just refer to technical things, but also to skills like communication, etc.
- Strengths – These are developed by doing something regularly and with enjoyment, therefore, if you love what you do and are naturally suited to doing it – it becomes your strength.These will be assessed in a number of ways during the interview process using both competency-based interview questions and strengths-based interview questions.
- Technical – There are over 20 different technical professions in government such as Finance, IT, Communications and Marketing, Economics, Engineering etc. that require specific qualifications, knowledge and skills.
With your interview questions, you will be asked about your qualifications, professional memberships, and your skills and knowledge which will be assessed through a variety of questions, tests and exercises.
Civil Service Interviews (Stages)
We have discussed the questions and answers you can expect to be asked and expect to provide in the interview earlier, but it is also helpful to know that the interview itself and the interview questions featured are not the only part of the recruitment process.
You need to prepare well for the interview questions, but there are other parts to your job application that you will need to do well in order to ensure success in your chosen career path.
This is the first step and key part of the recruitment process. With this, they will shortlist you and test your experience, strengths and behaviours based on the answers you give.
You will also need to submit a CV and a Personal Statement/Statement of Suitability/Behaviour Statement.
You might need to complete some online psychometric tests depending on which government department you are applying to, and at which level. At AO, EO and HEO levels, Civil Services use psychometric tests to predict your future performance.
If this is the case you will be sent a link to the relevant website and will have a specific number of days to complete the assessments.
Should you be successful with your initial application form and possible psychometric testing, you will be invited to attend a day at the Assessment Centre.
At the Assessment Centre, you will take part in a variety of exercises which include group discussions, role-playing, oral briefings, written analysis and job-related simulations. This will be similar to a performance review.
If you have applied for a Senior Role or a role at the SEO and HEO level, you might be required to give a presentation.
The time you are given to prepare this presentation ranges from either on the day (of assessment) or a few days later.
Civil Service Blended Interview
Upon passing the initial application and testing process, you will be formally interviewed.
An interview panel will do this in person, telephonically, online with a camera or by recorded video. It usually lasts between 30-60 minutes.
You will be required to give a detailed response in which you demonstrate the relevant skills and behaviours necessary for the role.
Your Civil Service Application
In comparison to other employers, getting a role in this sector is comparatively hard. Getting through the initial sift is a challenge and there are a number of hoops you will have to jump through. Your success will depend on your ability, skills, experience, strength, and behaviour.
You will be asked to complete an online application and submit your CV along with either a personal statement or a behavioural or suitability statement. Your application will be judged on your suitability against the success profile framework.
Here we explore how to pass the application process in more detail and give you our golden rules to help you submit a successful application.
10 Tips for Successful Civil Service Applications
1. Read our guide carefully (and again)
2. Study the job description and mission of the agency you’re applying at
3. Make sure your application is 100% relevant to the job you’re applying for
4. Make your application unique
5. Be sure to demonstrate the correct and desired behaviours and strengths
6. Provide one example per behaviour and strength
7. Refine and refocus your examples
8. Give brilliant STAR answers
9. Tailor your CV and career history to be relevant
10. Make a powerful personal statement of suitability for the job (be extremely passionate)
What is the STAR Answer Method and when should you use it?
The recruitment industry is big on asking behavioural interview questions. Most interview guides (if they’re worth their weight in salt) should mention this method to you.
Here’s what STAR stands for:
(S) Situation – What’s the context? Describe the situation/background first.
(T) Task – Talk about your responsibilities/tasks you had to complete (was there any challenge?)
(A) Action – How did you fix the situation? Describe your process and the steps you took.
(R) Results – Describe the results of your actions. If possible, use numbers or data where you can.
You can use this method for any interview question, but it is designed for and most effective in answering behavioural interview questions.
Assessment Centre HQ
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Not only that, but we also have excellent interview skills guide with sample questions and answers among our many training resources to help you prepare for your Civil Service interview questions and job application.
Check out our online course for powerful online training for time-saving success! Who needs an interview coach when we can help you give winning answers to any interview questions and any interview panel?
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Sarah is an accomplished educator, researcher and author in the field of testing and assessment. She has worked with various educational institutions and organisations to develop innovative evaluation methods and enhance student learning. Sarah has published numerous articles and books on assessment and learning. Her passion for promoting equity and fairness in the education system fuels her commitment to sharing insights and best practices with educators and policymakers around the world.