Crunch time. This is the most daunting part of the process for many people. It doesn’t matter how polished your CV is or how much effort you’ve put into your written application, the interview is where you really make an impression – and for many, nerves can take over.
But don’t fret! This is what you’ve prepared for, and we’re here to guide you through how to defeat the final boss. Think of it less as a hurdle and more as an opportunity to demonstrate why you’re perfect for your dream role!
The key thing to note about public service interviews (which may differ from other job interviews you’ve done) is that they are (almost) always conducted by a panel. As we said, this is your opportunity to impress multiple people at once and really lock-in that you are their ideal candidate. The panel members will ask questions in a variety of styles and will assess both your verbal and non-verbal responses.
So how do you impress a panel of seasoned public servants? Here’s our list of the most important things to do to prepare for your interview and things to keep in mind when you are in front of the panel.
You shouldn’t need us to tell you that research is crucial to any job interview. Start with the official website of the department or agency you’re interviewing for and digest as much information as you can about what they do, their recent projects, and how they fit into the governmental landscape. It will also be useful to know who the key figures are within the organisation and have a clear understanding of how the organisation is structured.
If you’re provided with the names of the panel members ahead of time, make sure you’ve spent some time looking into their backgrounds and any recent or major projects they’ve worked on – these will be great talking points if you are able to relate it to any of the interview questions (for example, if you’re asked about what draws you to a particular department, being able to point to a specific project that a panel member has worked on as being the kind of work that interests or inspires you is a great way to earn brownie points!).
However, keep in mind that any organisation’s official website will frame themselves in a very positive light, so try and find some external sources such as newspaper stories and third-party reports to get a complete picture of the organisation.
Don’t spend all your time on researching though – make sure you spend some time practising! A quick Google search will bring up a tonne of job interview question examples, and you should be using these to practise your responses, whether that be by writing them out, saying them aloud to yourself, or even getting a friend or family member to role-play as the interviewer for you.
Practice makes perfect, so don’t sell yourself short just because you feel like you’ll be able to wing it in the interview. You can never be too prepared!
Walk into your interview with a clear understanding of what the department or agency you are applying for is, what they do, and why you want to be a part of their team.
Even if you aren’t directly asked why you want to work for the department or agency (though it’s very likely a question like this is thrown at you!), it’s important that this comes through in your answers to other questions. Show the panel that you know what kind of work they do and why you would be a valuable addition to their team. Show them that you have values that are aligned with theirs. Show them that you understand the importance of their work and why you are motivated to work towards their goals.
There is nothing worse than trying to court someone who isn’t interested in you, and there is nothing better than the reciprocity of mutual interest. It’s important to not only show the panel why they should want you, but also to make it clear that you want them, and why.
Just as important as knowing the organisation, is knowing the ins and outs of the role you’re applying for. It would be a big mistake to think that all government grad positions are the same, so don’t let this be your downfall!
The most important source for you to get to know the role will be the role description document. Focus on the key accountabilities and capabilities and learn these! Every question you get asked in your interview will be based on these in some way – whether it’s obvious or not – and it’s crucial you know which capabilities are being targeted.
You should structure all of your interview responses so that you touch on at least one of the key capabilities, and use your examples to demonstrate how you used that capability to achieve a positive outcome.
Speaking of examples…make sure you come prepared with a bunch of stories to tell about your experiences. This is how you will show the panel that you have the experience to support your claim for the throne.
You want to provide examples that demonstrate your suitability to the role or that show how you used a key skill to achieve the desired result. Every answer you provide in an interview is improved by tying it to a real-world situation you were in. This shows that you not only have the skills the panel are looking for but that you know how to apply them.
You might find that certain stories are perfect for answering multiple questions that may be thrown at you. For example, the same story may be relevant to a question about teamwork as well as a question about dealing with adversity, but it’s best if you can show you have a range of examples to pull from by using a different story for each of these questions. Make sure you equip yourself with backup options in case you have to use your first choice examples for a question that took you by surprise.
An interview isn’t a one-way street. Come prepared with a few questions to ask the members of the panel to demonstrate that you are invested in the idea of working for their organisation and that you’ve given the process some real thought.
Avoid questions that are self-centred in nature (things like salary, benefits and leave are best left until you have an offer) and ask things that either clarify something substantive about the role or which will invite an insightful answer about the organisation.
Last but not least – focus on communicating your answers clearly. Being able to process a complex issue and explain your understanding of it in simple terms is a highly valued skill in the public sector.
Don’t fall into the trap of trying to impress the panel with big words. Clarity and simplicity are key. Be confident in what you’re saying without being cocky.
You may find that you are asked an interview question about your communication skills and an example of where you have put them to good use. There is no better example than demonstrating how well you communicate throughout the interview itself!