Step by Step Guide To Ace a Civil Service Interview

Civil service is the biggest employer in the United Kingdom and the US. Within it, is a diverse range of smaller business areas from building services to social services. The civil service as large as it is, is also part of a larger Behemoth known as the Public sector. Which includes the NHS (national health service), the Police, HMPS, Ambulance and Fire Service. Interestingly enough within the UK that the interview methodologies and strategies used across all of the public sector whether it’s the civil service interview or the NHS and Police are all very similar. Generally consisting of success profiles, marking matrices and behavioural interviews. Here I’m going to run your through a step by step guide of some important civil service job interview tips and how to ace a civil service interview.


How do I understand Success Profiles?

Soon as people hear the word success profile, it can create a sense of fear and anxiety when it comes to preparing for a job interview. However these success profiles when you actually look at them with a clear mind are no more than a list of common sense categories. Therefore rather than become overwhelmed by them, take a step back and think about what you believe are the right qualities for the role from your experiences, and see how they align with what is required in the success profile. This will make them far easier to understand and comprehend. As part of our interview coaching philosophy is to keep things simple. The more you overthink things, the greater the likelihood it can lead to turning an interview preparation process into a complex academic exercise. Which is great if you’re planning on writing an essay but terrible for an interview.

How to understand success profile


What is the civil service marking criteria?

The general rule is marks out of 7 for competency and behavioural questions and marks out of 4 for strength based questions. However this can vary widely across various parts of the public sector. For example in the NHS the interview marking scheme is from 0 to 4, from ‘unable to evidence’ to ‘exceptional’.

However whatever number the marking scheme might consist of whether it’s 7 or 4, the most important thing is not to get too focused on the scheme itself. Rather to focus on firstly ensuring that you have an engaging answer. I cannot emphasise this enough, and it’s something I put a huge amount of onus on particularly when it comes in to competency interview coaching. There is no point ensuring that you’re ticking all the boxes if the interviewer is bored with your answer. So firstly focus on building a narrative which is engaging and interesting utilising empathy and making your answers relatable. Once you’ve done this the next step is to ensure that you’re ticking the key boxes within the marking scheme, this is one of my most important civil service interview tips. The interviewers aren’t robots, they’re human, therefore you have to use ‘human’ ways to keep them interested and engaged.

criteria for civil service interview

How do I answer a civil service interview question?

Firstly you have to know what type of question is being asked whether behavioural or strength. If it’s a behavioural question then you have to use the STAR method – Situation, Task, Action and Result. One of my favourite civil service interview tips for competency questions is to ensure that you not only talk about the ‘what’ and the ‘how’, but most importantly the why! As this will provide the reasoning behind your actions and through this they will have the ability to extrapolate what you’ve said in your answer and be able to visualise how you might behave or act in the new role that you’ve applied for.
When answering using the STAR method, make sure that you during the situation that you provide context, don’t assume they know what you’re talking about unless it’s a direct like for like job. One of my most important interview coaching civil service advice is that this is particularly important if you’re you’re coming from a different part of of the civil service or the private sector. The fastest way to provide context without waffling or talking for too long is to use figures and numbers as this provides instant context i.e. team of 10, project worth £2million, managing 30 patients etc.
Regarding the ‘Actions’ this is the bulk of your answer accounting for up to 70% – 80% and this is where the majority of scoring will take place. Here is where having a clear structure is very important especially if it’s a complex question. Since the structure will ensure that your answer stays on track and doesn’t veer too far off on a tangent. One of my top civil service interview tips is to structure your answers in threes! ‘There were three things that I did….firstly xyz, secondly Abc and finally 123’, in this format you’ll be able to stay on track. Also it will give you the framework to provide more depth in your answer in a more structured way. For example you you could say again ‘There were three things that I did….firstly I conducted a review which consisted of two key things …one…. and two….’ followed by going in to further detail on each area. Importantly as mentioned previously competency interview coaching advice was to not only mention the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ but also the why.

Finally when it comes to the ‘Result’, the first thing you in you provide are the tangible facts, again it’s important to provide figures where possible as that will provide context. The second piece of advice in our civil service interview coaching is to talk a little bit about what you learnt from the experience. It should almost always being with… ‘I believe that through…and … provided the perfect platform to deliver the required result’. If you take the above civil service job interview tips in to your behavioural answer development you will find that your answers will improve immensely.

how to answer for public job interview

Can you take notes in a civil service interview?

Now I know talked a lot about ‘how to ace your civil service interview’ however the one question about note taking always comes up from time to time. Now in civil service interview coaching, we recommend in a normal in-person face to face interview that if you feel you need to take notes then take in a single piece of paper which you can rest on your lap on top of a folder. What this will allow you to do is to be able to refer to your notes without looking too reliant on them and still having a professional demeanour.

If you’re on a Microsoft Teams or Zoom interview then ‘what the interviewer can’t see, they don’t know’ therefore feel free to pin notes up behind your camera, or even on your screen. However more isn’t necessarily always better, as it can be overwhelming in the heat of the interview to reference the right part of your notes. So instead have fewer notes, use mind maps rather than bulky paragraphs!

Farhan Raja

I'm Farhan, the Founder and Coach at, one of the world’s leading Career and interview Coaching specialists. Bringing over a decade of industry experience and a passion for guiding individuals in their career journeys. As an Interview and Career Coach, I've authored the eBook '10 Simple Steps to CV & Resume Success,' directed a leading UK CV writing specialist, and pioneered the iPREP interview coaching methodology.

My career and interview coaching has spanned over 10 years across diverse industries, from IT giants like Google and Microsoft to vital sectors like Civil Service & NHS, Pharma, Finance, Engineering, Automotive, Construction, Logistics, Banking, and Management Consulting. I've had the privilege of assisting professionals in presenting their best selves, and targeting roles at renowned companies like Amazon, GSK, EY, Shell, Rolls Royce and more.

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