Monday, 5 November 2012

Common Interview Questions for Public Appointments

Public appointments are all made with the assistance of professional assessment, including application forms and panel interviews. For more senior roles headhunters will also be used.

At the interview the questions are usually competence based - that is, they are seeking concrete evidence of the qualities demanded by the job description and the person specification. I have conducted many of these interviews and also come through them successfully and there are some questions that often asked. These can provide you with platforms or pitfalls depending on your research and preparation. Common questions include:

Why do you want this job?

Obvious question which will always be asked in one way or another. This provides a great opportunity to demonstrate the research you have done. Best to talk about the job description and how your skills and experience fit the requirements.

What do you think your strengths are?

Another good opportunity to push your good points. They need to be relevant to the role and preferably backed up with evidence to demonstrate how you have used these strengths and why they apply in this role.

What is the greatest challenge facing our organisation and how would you deal with it?

This question requires wider research, beyond the role of a board member. They will expect senior people to have a knowledge of the organisation and the issues it currently faces. Another good opportunity to demonstrate your preparation and to have a discussion that goes beyond the immediacies of the job.

As part of a team, which role do you fulfil?

Are you an ideas person, a networker, a completer, a potential chairman? You need to be aware of what you can contribute to a team. This is particularly important with public sector board appointments where the interviewers will be looking to select a group of individuals who can all contribute something - ideally the full board will be stronger than the sum of its members.

How do you deal with conflict?

Another important question when assembling a board - they don't want people at each others throats. You need to have a specific example of resolving a conflict to refer to. This should involve creating a 'win win' resolution taking account of both sides' points of view rather than just crushing the opposition.

Do you have any weaknesses?

Another quite common question which provides a pitfall for the unprepared. Think carefully about occasions where things have gone wrong, you have learned from them and changed your approach to ensure the mistake is not repeated. The assessors are looking for your self awareness and maturity. Just saying 'I'm a perfectionist and some people struggle to deal with this' no longer cuts the mustard.

Tell us about a time when you had to communicate a difficult message to a wide audience.

Board members have to attend public meetings and deal with media scrutiny. You need to provide an example of your communication skills, preferably in a high profile and challenging situation.

Do you have experience of managing a budget?

Balancing the books is an important board responsibility. You don't need to be a full blown accountant but you do need to demonstrate some experience of taking responsibility for spending decisions. In the current climate some understanding of cost cutting techniques is very valuable, so take this opportunity to refer to it.

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