Recruiting managers in the Civil Service seek evidence of behaviours in candidates for jobs in various UK government departments. Once you’ve found a Civil Service job you’re interested in, you’ll first need to prepare your application in the normal way. In other words, you’ll need to:
- write a CV
- write a cover letter
- prepare a resignation letter if you’re currently working (don’t send it in until you know you got the new job!)
- gather documents proving you have the right to work in the UK
However, a Civil Service job interview differs from traditional job interviews. You’ll need to prepare Civil Service Success Profiles — including Behaviours — to demonstrate your competence, experience, and positive attributes and get a job in HM Government.
What are Civil Service Success Profiles?
The Civil Service’s Success Profiles are the new method the organisation uses to evaluate candidates for Civil Service Jobs.
Success Profiles replace the former competency-based evaluation method that based candidate evaluation on your ability to perform certain tasks.
The five Civil Service Success Profiles (and what they mean) are:
- Behaviours — how you behave in a job that helps you succeed
- Strengths — your talents and mindset
- Ability — your ability to do the job advertised
- Experience — your experience in similar roles
- Technical — your technical skills and certifications
The Strengths, Abilities, Experience, and Technical facets are straightforward, and the Civil Service will look at your CV and cover letter to check whether you have the right work experience, hard skills and soft skills, and accomplishments for these four facets.
The Behaviours facet is a bit trickier though because HM Government is looking for evidence of how you react in certain stressful or urgent situations, so they’ll test your Behaviours through interview questions.
Because it’s important to be able to answer the questions in your Civil Service interview(s), you should learn about the Civil Service Behaviours framework.
What is the Civil Service Behaviours framework?
The civil service behaviour framework is the list of behaviours that the Civil Service looks for in its candidates.
Here’s an introduction to the names of the nine Civil Service Behaviours and what they mean:
- Seeing the Big Picture: Understanding HM Government’s policies and objectives as well as your own role in fulfilling them.
- Changing and Improving: Seeing ways of improving the work process, both team-wide and on an individual basis.
- Making Effective Decisions: Evaluating potential decisions and making well-researched decisions that deliver taxpayer value for money.
- Leadership: Leading a team and championing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
- Communication & Influencing: Showcasing your effective communication skills and providing people with alternative perspectives.
- Working Together: Being able to work well with people inside and outside of the Civil Service and provide resources to people who need them.
- Developing Self & Others: The ability to critically self-evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and respond appropriately to feedback from other people.
- Managing a Quality Service: Providing quality deliverables, and serving a diverse range of taxpayers in your role.
- Delivering at Pace: Completing your work at the required rate.
How do you answer Civil Service Behaviour questions? Guidance and examples
When interviewers try to find out whether you exhibit Civil Service Behaviours, they’ll use ‘Tell me about a time when…’- or ‘Describe a time when you…’-type questions, which give you the opportunity to launch into long, detailed answers where you show employers you have the Civil Service Behaviours.
Because there are nine Civil Service Behaviours, you should come up with an example of a time when you showed evidence of that Behaviour in previous roles (for example, an example of a time you made effective decisions).
We recommend using the STAR Method for framing your answers to Civil Service Behaviour questions. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.
For example, if you successfully dealt with a difficult person, you might break down the situation using the STAR Method like this:
An irate customer called in to say that their latest gas bill was £700 more than they’d been expecting. My job was to work out why the customer’s gas bill was so high and report back to the customer.
I checked the customer’s account on our system, and noticed that the customer’s name matched our records, but the address they gave was different. I worked out we had sent a bill to the wrong address because we had two customers with the same name. I rang the customer back and told them they were right. I told them to ignore the bill and that we would send out a new bill with the correct amount plus a 5% discount to apologise for our mistake.
The customer was very grateful we fixed their problem, and was happy to hear they’d receive a discount on their bill. My supervisor also complimented me for finding an effective solution that used my customer service skills and increased customer satisfaction.
Civil Service Behaviours: Examples of effective answers
Here are more example answers to Civil Service Behaviours questions:
Seeing the big picture
This behaviour is about understanding how the work of your department — and your own work — fits into the government’s programme and works in the national interest.
In my last job, I noticed that we spent a great deal of time doing routine, simple tasks in house, which seemed to me to be a waste of time and resources. I set up a meeting with my supervisor and let her know that I’d used freelancers in a previous job to do routine, mindless tasks. She let me put together an action plan for outsourcing work to freelancers and specify which kinds of tasks would be outsourced.
After we began outsourcing tasks to freelancers, my supervisor calculated that we were now saving 35 man-hours a week and gave me a one-time bonus.
I was working on a community leafleting campaign where I was in charge of printing off leaflets, bundling them into stacks for delivery to the same area, and allocating different volunteers delivery routes. It was a long and difficult campaign, and we were volunteering at least 12 hours a day for a cause we believed in.
One day, one of our best volunteers had to take the day off after he sprained his ankle, so after I’d finished my usual duties, I delivered his route for him. I had to deliver to 100 houses along a 1-mile council estate route, but I managed to complete it 5% faster than average, which gave me time to return to the office, clean up, and prepare for the next day’s work, and of course, head to the pub for a well-earned pint with the other volunteers.
Changing and improving
For this behaviour, you’ll need to showcase your ability to discover problems, find improvements for them, and improve the workflow in your department. Here are some examples of common questions and answers for this behaviour.
I currently work as an editor for the scientific journal, Proceedings of the Royal Academy, and after working there for around a month, my supervisor asked me to join her in her office. She told me my work so far hadn’t been meeting expectations and pointed out several typos in the articles I’d edited.
Of course, I was mortified, but I resolved to improve my performance. To that end, I made sure to double check each article I edited and started using tools I’d previously scoffed at, such as the spell-checker, Grammarly, and our in-house Style Guide checker.
Consequently, errors in my work fell dramatically, and I have maintained a close to 0% typo rate ever since.
I always found writing campaigns emails the hardest and most tedious part of my previous job working for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Not only that but writing about animal cruelty was heartbreaking.
I realised that more and more often I was putting off this task to the point where I would have to rush it. I decided that this was a form of procrastination that was an obstacle to my success in the office. I researched several effective methods for dealing with procrastination, and it seemed to me that something called the Pomodoro Technique might work for me.
For the Pomodoro technique, you focus entirely on work for a 25-minute chunk, and you can then enjoy a 5-minute break where you can catch up on Slack messages, make a cup of tea, or have a quick biccy.
Effective decision making
The Civil Service is looking for employees who can make good decisions when presented with various options to choose from — and be able to justify why they made them.
I previously worked as the Office Manager at a solicitor’s office. I was asked to take some documents to the FCDO to have them stamped for use abroad. Unfortunately, there was a large queue of people waiting to have their own documents stamped. I asked the official who was managing the queue when their quietest time was, and he told me the queue was shorter between 15:00 and 16:00.
Since our office was only a short distance from the FCDO, I elected to return to the office and managed to get a substantial amount of work done. When I returned to the FCDO at 15:15, there were only two people in the queue, so I managed to get my documents stamped within 10 minutes, and returned to the office.
In total, I saved around 2 hours for my office by making the decision not to remain in the queue.
In my last job, I was hiring for a new office assistant. My boss and I shortlisted two candidates. The first one was a young man who had worked in a similar role in the same sector for a year for a less prestigious company. He seemed well qualified for the role. The second candidate was a young woman who had just graduated from university. She was bright and personable but had no work experience. However, she came from a working-class background whereas the other candidate was more middle class. I got the impression that he saw this role as another stepping stone in his career.
Since the person would be working directly under me, my boss said I should decide who to hire. My instincts told me that the young woman would be the better hire, so I offered her the job. I never regretted it. She was very eager to work and helped us increase productivity by 27%.
Although leadership skills are more important for supervisors and department heads, leadership is a behaviour that the Civil Service might ask you about. Here’s how you could answer some common questions:
I had a new employee who initially worked hard and provided high-quality output. However, she soon began to perform less and less well while her output decreased.
Eventually, I asked her to meet with me, and we discussed why her productivity had decreased. It emerged that her previous employers had provided her with deadlines, whereas our company doesn’t usually impose deadlines on its staff. After discussing the issue with this employee, I realised that she could use deadlines, so we worked together to impose some reasonable deadlines.
Afterwards, her productivity rose again and she now produces 5% more work than her colleagues.
When I worked at the BBC, my team was asked to prepare a presentation for the BBC Board. I assigned each member of my team a specific topic to prepare, but after a few days, I realised that their progress was too slow.
When I asked each member of my team why they were struggling, some of them said they were unfamiliar with the topics they were asked to prepare.
Accordingly, I reassigned several team members to new topics, and progress immediately rose. After the presentation was delivered, my boss praised me for the high quality of the information delivered and the speakers.
Communicating and influencing
As a member of the Civil Service, you’ll be expected to ably communicate with your colleagues, supervisors, and members of the public, so learn how to effectively answer questions about this behaviour.
My former boss was a stickler for doing things the old-fashioned way. She would have her assistant bring us hard copies of memos that she wanted us to read. I found this inefficient for several reasons. First, it took her assistant several minutes to deliver every memo, and they took up too much space on our desks and made it difficult to store and refer to previous memos.
Finally, I decided to discuss the matter with my boss. I made an appointment and she explained that she was embarrassed that she didn’t know how to send emails to multiple people. I suggested she email her memos to her assistant who could then forward them to everyone else, a suggestion that she accepted.
As a result, her assistant saved a great deal of time, and we all could easily search for previous memos in our email inboxes.
As a campaigns assistant during the AV referendum in 2011, I was part of the campaign team.
We talked to a lot of voters about the two different voting systems they were being asked to back. It turned out many people didn’t understand the current system, never mind the proposed system. I had to break down how each system worked, and why the system I was backing was better for them.
I talked to hundreds of voters during the campaign, and my side ended up winning in the local area where I campaigned by a 5% higher margin than the national average.
When you join the Civil Service, you’ll need to work together with other colleagues and departments as well as customers, so you’ll need to show that interpersonal skills are a strength of yours.
I interned in an office where one employee was constantly dismissive and rude to the other interns and me. I guessed that it was because interns were only there for 2 or 3 months so she didn’t see any need to be polite to them.
I decided to speak to her to try to understand why she seemed to have such an attitude problem. It turned out that even though she was around the same age as us interns, she was never invited to any of the social events that we would go to after work, like having a quick drink at the local pub.
After finding out why she could be unpleasant to work with, I made a special effort to include her and the other permanent staff in some of our after-work activities. Not only did this particular colleague become much easier to work with, but the other permanent staff also enjoyed themselves and it helped the overall team gel.
Although many people who apply for this role at HM Diplomatic Service have good foreign language skills, I’m fully trilingual in Chinese, English, and Korean because my mother is half Korean and half English, and my father was born and raised in Taiwan. Not only can I simultaneously interpret between these three languages, but I can also simultaneously interpret between these three languages, Japanese, and Cantonone, in which I’m near fluent.
In my past role at KPMG, I used my interpretation skills to allow the director-general for Europe to effectively communicate with a Taiwanese auditing firm. Thanks to my knowledge of Chinese and the subtleties of Taiwanese culture, we successfully negotiated a partnership that gave us a 30% share of profits earned in the Taiwanese market.
Developing self and others
Interviewers will be looking for you to prove that you can accept feedback, spot your own weaknesses, and improve your performance. They’ll also want to hear evidence that you can provide support to your colleagues as they level up their own skills.
When I first led a team, I was anxious that my own supervisor would think my team’s work pace was too slow, so I checked in on them often to check their progress.
However, I noticed that after a few weeks, their pace had slowed considerably. At first, I was angry because I thought it was a sign of a lack of respect, so I decided to speak to all five of them one on one.
In fact, it turned out that they had spent so much time compiling daily notes on their progress that they didn’t have as much time for their work as they were used to.
I realised that I had been micromanaging them and immediately began just checking in with them less often. Afterwards, I noticed their productivity and morale had increased.
When I worked as a graphic design assistant at a marketing firm, content editors would send me design requests for very simple graphics. Although I was happy to provide the graphics they requested, I thought they might be interested to learn how to make them themselves.
I booked a meeting room and walked them through how to make simple graphics with Figma, a simple graphic design program. It only took about 30 minutes before they grasped how to use it.
Afterwards, I noticed two benefits: content editors could save a great deal of time by making their own simple graphics without waiting for me, and I had more time to work on more challenging work.
Managing a quality workplace
This behaviour measures your ability to create high-quality work and deliver results for the Government and the public, so practise answering the following questions.
I was working as a legal assistant and had helped the solicitor I worked for draft a will for a client.
Unfortunately, the client’s file was confused with another one, with the result that some details on the client’s will were incorrect, including their address and their executor’s address.
The client rang us to complain, and I was the person who happened to pick up the phone. After I worked out exactly what happened, I explained why we’d made such a crucial mistake with their document and offered immediately to waive their fee and donate an equivalent sum to a charity of their choice.
The client was immediately mollified, and we made sure their will was updated with the correct details. Following this incident, I devised a new system to make sure documents could no longer get confused. I’m happy to report that no similar incidents occurred and that the client chose to retain us as their law firm.
I currently work for Bristol City Council. I noticed that even though our Customer Service Centre is open from 09:00 to 17:00 on weekdays, our work schedule sees most of the staff take their lunch breaks at 13:00, which is exactly the time when we have the most customers, who desperately need to pay their council tax, apply for social housing or an emergency shelter, or see a caseworker about getting support for people with special needs or other urgent matters.
I met with the Chief Executive and explained that our current arrangements weren’t meeting local residents’ expectations. Together, we devised a new scheduling system that saw some staff take earlier or later lunches so that our Customer Service Centre could remain fully staffed during the busy 13:00–14:00 window.
As a result, queueing decreased by 47% during the busy lunch period.
Delivering at pace
To work for the Civil Service, you’ll need to prove you can meet deadlines, so you might get one of these questions. Use a similar answer to impress your interviewer:
I was working on a report commissioned by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, and had been emailing the Regional HMIP Information Officer for North East England to obtain statistics about HMP Frankland. The statistics pertaining to HMP Frankland were vital to my report, so I was waiting on them to complete the document.
Unfortunately, despite following up on my previous email, I didn’t receive a reply from the Information Officer. I knew from experience that Information Officers frequently become deluged with questions from the media and Freedom of Information requests, so I realised email wasn’t the best form of contact.
Instead, I called the Ministry of Justice’s central switchboard and got the Information Officer’s direct number. Although they weren’t available, their assistant provided me with the correct statistics within a couple of minutes, and I was able to finish my report ahead of time.
When I worked as a personal assistant, my manager was suddenly asked to give a presentation the following day by the firm’s Managing Director. Since he was already busy giving employee reviews to the rest of the team, he asked me to prepare the presentation for him.
Although I had to work overtime, I managed to finish the presentation by 20:00 that night, and my manager and I went over it for the next hour. The next day, my manager’s presentation went off without a hitch.
The audience seemed to enjoy it very much, and my manager and I worked out a day when I could take compensatory time off.