By Barry Traish, head of role for agile delivery
Interviews make most of us feel nervous, but knowing what to expect and how to prepare can help you do well and stand out as a candidate.
What to expect
Digital roles are often specialist, and each interview may be different. There’s usually just one interview, but some jobs may have more stages, including tests, role-plays or a presentation.
The advert will specify exactly what’s required for your interview in the ‘Selection process’ section. You can find the advert again in your applications on Civil Service Jobs.
Most interviews at DWP Digital are now done virtually on Microsoft Teams. You should check your device works with this software, that you have stable internet, a well-lit space where you won’t be interrupted and have good audio.
Have your ID ready, as we need it to verify your identity. And it never hurts to dress smart for an interview, whatever the role.
The most common type of interview will follow this standard format.
The interview panel
This consists of two or three people, often experts in the role, but can include people from the team you’ll work in or from HR. We try to ensure diverse representation on panels.
Introductions and housekeeping
The panel will introduce themselves, set out the structure of the interview and let you know what’s expected of you. Take note of how long the interview will take and any information the panel give you.
We’ll start with a warm-up question to help you feel more comfortable and get a baseline of how you answer. It isn’t marked, so ensure you keep your answer brief.
The panel will ask you four to six questions on your skills, knowledge and experience, based on the topics listed under ‘essential criteria’ in the advert.
You may also be asked follow-up questions, to delve deeper into your answers. This section usually takes the bulk of the interview, and you are scored on the essential criteria. There are no trick questions. The panel want to get the best out of you, so feel free to ask them to repeat or clarify questions if you need to.
Finally, you will get a chance to ask questions, if there is time. You won’t be penalised if you don’t have any questions for the panel.
Answering the questions
The essential criteria will be based on the behaviours, technical skills, experience, strengths and abilities that the role requires.
Experience or behaviour questions could be something like: “Tell me about a time you had to demonstrate exceptional leadership.”
There is no defined format for answers, though many people like the Situation, Task, Action, Results (STAR) model. A common mistake is to spend far too much time on the situation. The panel will want to concentrate on what you did, how and why you did it and what the result was.
Ensure you have thought through some examples from your experience for the essential criteria. It can be hard to predict what the questions will be, so the more examples you have prepared, the better.
You can use notes to jog your memory, but don’t read out an answer. Another common mistake is failing to answer the question, so note down the keywords of the question, and keep your answer relevant to the role.
Your answers should provide evidence of your knowledge, skills and experience. Instead of saying “I influenced the stakeholders”, explain what you actually did, being clear about your role in events. Your answers should also be relatively recent — from the last few years — and avoid buzzwords or overclaiming.
Lastly, I have four key tips to help you with your interview:
- Stick to time, whether you’re answering a question or presenting to the panel. Have a timer nearby and be mindful that you have limited time. Most people speak slower in an interview than in their rehearsals.
- Make sure you answer the question. It can be very easy to go off-topic.
- Remember you are demonstrating your overall communication skills, so maintain eye contact and structure your answers.
- Rehearse your answers or presentation in front of someone and get their feedback.
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