Sunday, 18 November 2012

Mock Interviews

I used to struggle with interviews. My nerves always got the better of me, I was always asked difficult questions, something always went wrong - interviews became an ordeal and I avoided them.

Then I had a great opportunity. The company I worked for reorganised and had to reinterview all their employees. They needed more assessors to cope with the numbers, so I volunteered. For the first time I discovered what it felt like to be asking the questions, I saw the process from the other side of the table.

Since then I have conducted many interviews in the public and private sector, and I have become a successful interviewee too. I know that to practice your answers you need to be able to predict the interviewer's questions.

And that is why I am offering a limited number of mock interviews, based on my experience on both sides of the table and using six effective techniques:

1. Preparation is essential - learn how to prepare, boost your confidence and most importantly adopt a whole new philosophy before that critical interview.

2. Identify your strengths, and how they match the job description. Focus on what you want them to know about you - and plan how you will tell them.

3. Build rapport right from the first question, without wasting a precious second.

4. Recognise question types - platforms, pitfalls and the rest - and practice your response.

5. Use interview jitsu - where your weaknesses become strengths.

6. And leave them on a high, creating an unforgettable impression.

My time is limited so I want to work with people I know I can help. Are you one of them? To find out, email me at  .

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.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Public Appointments

An essential resource for candidates seeking a public appointment is the Cabinet Office website where all the advertised non executive roles across government are advertised on one page.

High profile jobs can be found here and they are suitable for experienced candidates with appropriate specialist knowledge who don't mind the publicity. This week they include:

Chair of the Charity Commission
Member of the Monetary Policy Committee
Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission
Chair of the Covent Garden Market Authority

Lower profile posts are also advertised. These are less influential but suitable for newcomers to non executive public roles. This week they include:

NHS Trust Non Executive Directors - North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust and Epsom & St Helier University Hospital NHS Trust
Independent Members, Parole Board for England & Wales

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Competence Based Interviews

For public sector appointments - both full time and non executive - interviews are almost always competence based. This means that the questions are designed around the job description and the person specification. They are intended to seek evidence that the interviewee has the qualities that are required.

The good news is that a reading of the person specification in particular should enable you to predict the sort of questions that will be asked and to prepare for them. I adopted this approach with Nadia Sharif, a candidate who applied for a public sector non executive role. I think she was pleased with the result - in her own words:

Roger Evans is an excellent recruitment mentor and coach. He is well acquainted with government procedure, has served on numerous panels and knows the key qualities and skills that employers are seeking. His techniques are based on a mixture of methods adapted to suit the mentored including feedback on application, interview discussions and mock interview. He listens with patience, creates an environment to build confidence and gives positive feedback on your answers. His motto is even if you are not successful at this attempt, you should make a positive and lasting impact on prospective employers who may consider you for another role in future. This has certainly worked for me.

And I can't emphasise her final point enough - news of a good performance gets around, even if you don't get selected first time.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Public Speaking - You Still Need to do it...

I spent Saturday working with 14 women who are seeking a seat to fight at the coming General Election. The group boasted a wide range of experience, with several people who had fought seats in 2005, others who have made it to finals but not yet been successful and a few who have just joined the candidates' list and have all the challenges of the selection process awaiting them.

My own session involved some basic training in public speaking, with everyone practising for three minutes before being critiqued by colleagues. The standard was high, even amongst those with less experience. The party has set out to remove the old requirement for a tub thumping speech from the selection interview, replacing it with questions from a professional moderator - often a journalist although I have filled this role in two of the London Assembly selections.

However, moderator and candidate are often standing at lecterns and the questions do sometimes present opportunities to in effect deliver a speech - and confident speakers will grab such opportunities. Two examples:

At the beginning - Tell us why you are a Conservative and why you want to represent Skipton and Ripon - provides the chance to deliver a short speech outlining your background and beliefs.

At the end - Is there anything you would like to say in conclusion? - is the perfect point to make a passionate bid for the job and leave the audience on a high.

Candidates who fail to take opportunities like this will fail to stand out sufficiently to get selected.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Approved Candidates List Reopens

Yesterday David Cameron announced that he was reopening the list of approved candidates for fresh applications, and that even people from outside the Conservative party may apply.

There are always a few plum seats that fall free at the end of a Parliament, as older MPs decide that they can't face another four / five year term and they would prefer to spend more time with their families. This time the expenses scandal is likely to create more such opportunities than usual, with the Times predicting that some 325 seats could change hands.

The selection process is also likely to be speeded up, particularly if an election is called early. I will post more details on the new procedure when they become available.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Conservative Home Selection Surgery

I recently held a selection surgery on Conservative Home. Here are some of the questions I received and my responses:

Should I be truthful about my views?

What if my chances may be harmed? Handling questions about Heathrow expansion in a nearby constituency was one example. You should always be honest. If you make a promise to fight an important local campaign then betray it after you get selected, you are likely to have a very bad relationship with your volunteers, and probably get some bad publicity.

Another example was moving to the constituency. If you aren't able to make the commitment you should be honest about it, or be prepared to be taken to task for your bad faith. Volunteers are unlikely to work with a dishonest candidate.

Having been straight with the selectors, you should go on to sweeten the pill by explaining your reasons, and how you plan to compensate for your decision.

Should I take my same sex partner to the selection?

Yes, if they will help you to win! The days when candidates felt they had to present the other half for inspection are long gone, however a confident partner - of either sex - can help you cover more ground if you have to go through a death by canapes meet the members event. Obviously you shouldn't inflict this on your partner if they are uncomfortable with the prospect, or if they are likely to pick arguments. And there is no point in parading them on stage for the formal interview session.

I'm new to politics, is my lack of experience a problem?

Expect a question about your campaigning experience, so go and get some, as soon as possible. However you should also make sure the selectors know about what you have achieved outside politics. Don't let them overlook any relevant experience you have, even if it is in another field.

I'm an older woman, district councillor, dyed in the wool Tory. The party doesn't want candidates like me...

Oh yes they do! I know people with all those attributes who have been selected for safe seats, so stop moaning and go for it. As a councillor you probably have some valuable experience of campaigning and working with people. If you write yourself off in this way you definitely won't be selected.

What about women selectors who won't vote for female candidates?

This is much less of a problem than it used to be. Forget about the few closed minded individuals you might encounter and concentrate on winning over the majority of the selection panel who will be open minded, and who want to find the best candidate for the seat.

Should I pay for professional help?

Some of the best candidates are the ones who recognise their weak points and are willing to learn. However, professional assistance is not a magic wand and in the end you will have to do the interview on your own, without help. Assistance is available for most aspects of the process - how to design a CV, handling questions, policy research, speaking skills, what to wear, and so on...

A lot of advice can be gained from other candidates, without paying a penny. If you do pay, make sure you are comfortable with your mentor and that they come recommended by other successful candidates.

The Selection Process Stinks!

I see this in response to every thread about candidates. Some people will never be satisfied...

Look, the process is what it is, not what you might like it to be. Successful people adapt to their circumstances, which brings me to my most important rule:

After an interview, write down all the questions you were asked and think about how you can answer them more effectively next time. You are allowed to lose a selection but you should never lose the lesson.