Public sector interview techniques

Public sector interview techniques

Public and not-for-profit sector interview questions are highly structured and, compared to private sector interviews, are much more stringent. In fact, they are one of the toughest interviews you are likely to experience. They are this way to help make the process fairer and eliminate conscious and unconscious bias in public sector, not-for-profit and civil service hiring decisions.

However, with plenty of preparation and a solid understanding of public and not-for-profit sector interview structures and techniques you’ll have what it takes to score highly and land that public sector role. That’s why we’ve prepared a rundown of competency-based interviewing and some STAR techniques.

What is a competency-based interview?

Competency-based interviews, also known as behavioural interviews, are designed to evaluate candidates’ skills or competencies and establish how their abilities and behaviours will impact their effectiveness for the role.

Interviews will have a list of set questions and the candidates’ answers are scored against pre-established criteria. Scoring systems vary but the two most used are arithmetic, where the candidate with the highest score is offered the role, and consensus where all the interviewers must agree on the successful candidate.

The good thing is that interview competency questions will generally run down the list of essential criteria on the person specification so you can pre-prepare your answers with some certainty!

It’s important to note here that the UK civil service is moving away from traditional competency-based interviews and is moving to a similar but much more flexible method known as the Success Profile Framework. This system is designed to allow you to give a more rounded overview of your abilities by providing you with more guidance on what interviewers are looking for. However, you should still structure your answers in a similar way to competency-based questions.

Answering public or not-for-profit sector interview questions using STAR

Since public and not-for-profit sector interview questions are designed to assess your specific skills and abilities, the first step to success is to carefully review the job description to identify the core competencies that are being asked for.

Then give concrete examples of when you displayed those competencies. Remember to structure your answers using the STAR (situation, task, action, result) technique:

–  Situation

Describe the situation or problem with which you were faced. One of the mistakes candidates make is to spend too long on this section of the answer. Try to keep your description brief and to the point and make sure your example is recent.

–  Task

What specific task did you have to undertake as part of the situation you described above?

–  Action

Explain what you did and how you did it. This is the most important part of your answer so try to be detailed. Describe any challenges you faced and how you overcame the problem.


What was the outcome? What lessons did you take from the task and if you were to approach it again what would you change about your action?

Where you can, it’s a good idea to try to relate your examples to the role and try to avoid sounding overly rehearsed.

Tip: To avoid sounding pre-prepared, practice talking through your answer to a friend.

5 common public and not-for-profit sector interview question examples

1. Describe a situation in which you led a team.

Competency being assessed: personal motivation and drive for results

2. Has there been a time when you had to communicate a complicated issue to a colleague?

Competency being assessed: communication

3. Describe a time when you had to consider competing workloads when scheduling a project.

Competency being assessed: organisation and planning

4. Tell me about a time that you made a decision and then changed your mind.

Competency being assessed: decision making and problem solving

5. Describe a time when you had to work closely as part of a team. What skills and personal qualities did you contribute?

Competency being assessed: collaboration and interpersonal skills

Secure your next role with Morgan Law – the public and not-for-profit sector recruitment specialists

Preparing for a public sector or non-profit role has its own unique challenges. Whether you need help honing your skills, polishing your CV , getting ready for that crucial interview, or simply finding exciting roles in the public sector that put your skills and expertise to effective use, Morgan Law can help.

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