Tips for a successful application
This year the application process for the Civil Service Fast Stream has changed to make it fairer for all applicants. Gone are numerical and verbal reasoning tests of the past, which are replaced by a situational judgement test and behavioural questionnaire. There’s also now a video interview too before the assessment centre. In light of these changes, we thought we would tell you a bit more about each stage of the process and give you our top tips for being successful.
Stage 1: Online Tests
If you have applied for the Fast Stream before, you will be familiar with the verbal and numerical reasoning tests which used to be the first stage of the assessment process. This year they have been replaced by a situational judgement questionnaire and a behavioural questionnaire, both of which are designed to give a fairer reflection of your suitability for the role than the previous tests. They also are harder to practice for, giving a more level playing field for all applicants.
If you are not familiar with the Civil Service competencies, be sure to check them out before starting your application as the online tests will be marked against them.
The situational judgement questionnaire is a multiple choice test asking you to decide on the best course of action in some work-based scenarios. There are practice questions available on the Fast Stream which you can use to prepare in advance. This test has no time limit on it so take your time completing it, ensuring you read the scenarios and options carefully and think about the competencies in your response.
The behavioural questionnaire is looking directly at your skills and personality and ranking these traits against the competencies. Be honest when completing this — there is no one type of person the Fast Stream is looking to attract so don’t try to second guess what you think might be the right or wrong answer.
Stage 2: E-Tray Assessment and Video Interview
If you are successful in passing the first set of online tests, you will then proceed to the next stage, which is a 20 minute video interview and 80 minute e-tray assessment.
The video interview is completed at home at a time which is convenient for you. Your responses are recorded on a video platform and looks at your experience and motivation for applying. For the video interview, you don’t need any specific knowledge of the Civil Service, but try to make sure your passion for getting onto the Fast Stream comes across and ensure you are clear on your reasons for joining the Fast Stream. For example, many people join the Civil Service because they want to make a positive difference to people’s lives or because they want to tackle challenging issues.
The interview will test the a number of the Civil Service competencies and ask more than one question for each competency. Make sure you have 2 or 3 examples you can use for each competency and try not to use the same example for everything. It would be best if, through using these examples, you show how you demonstrated the good behaviours expected under each competency. Ensure your answers illustrate exactly how you would do something and doesn’t just say I can do that. E.g. don’t just say ‘I work well with stakeholders’ it would be better to say ‘I work well with stakeholders. I do this by holding regular meetings with them, listening to their concerns before speaking, making sure I am available when they contact me’ etc.
While it is good to prepare you don’t want to come across as scripted or read off a piece of paper, it is better to have a general idea of what you wish to say (perhaps bullet points noted down in front of you) and speak naturally on the day.
In addition to the video interview, you will also have to complete an e-tray assessment before progressing to the next stage of the application process. This online assessment asks you to review a number of background information documents and then respond to a series of emails relating to that information. The exercise will test your ability to work at pace, as well as your decision making skills. There is a lot of information provided to you and it’s important to try and read as much as you can, but in doing so, be sure to prioritise where you focus your attention. Key an eye on your time throughout the exercise as emails will be delivered to you at a fast past and you don’t want to spend too long one one question and have to rush through the rest at the end.
Stage 3: Assessment Centre
The next stage of the application process is a half day assessment centre. At the assessment centre, you will be faced with 3 different scenarios to complete: a group exercise, a leadership exercise and analysis exercise. Before each exercise you will be told which competencies/ skills are being assessed — keep these in mind throughout.
You don’t need any specific detailed knowledge of the Fast Stream to be successful at the assessment centre — it is more about your potential and skills rather than what you know. However, coming across like you really want to be there and are passionate about getting onto the scheme will help you come across better in the exercises. Throughout the day, think about how you are coming across — remember communication is only 7% words but 38% tone and 55% body language.
The most important thing to remember about the group exercise is that it’s not a competition — everyone is scored individually and not against the others in the room. Each person is given a position to negotiate, but getting your position adopted won’t necessarily mean you score the highest — it’s more about how you work with others. Conversely, your position may not be adopted, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Try to continue to work with the group to make the choice that has been selected work for your position/department. It is important to try and ensure the group reaches a decision; if it’s looking like you’re not going to come to an agreement before time’s up, try to move the group in this direction.
It might not sound important, but if you feel like you might be quite quiet in the group exercise, suggest being the person to keep track of time. The assessors do not keep track of time for you so someone in the group will need to. You could also suggest a structure for the group to follow and assign time to each section. If you notice that someone in the group has been quite quiet, try to encourage them to speak up and include them.
In the course of your negotiation, don’t forget to consider your stakeholders during the exercise. This is key — as a department you are representing certain sections of the population/industry. Use the stats and facts you have been given to negotiate your position and persuade others. The creates a more convincing argument. But remember certain departments will be more interested in certain facts than others — choose your argument depending on who you are speaking to.
In the leadership exercise, you will be asked to brief your manager (an assessor) on how you would lead and manage a team and key stakeholders. To help with this task, think about where you have experienced good/bad leadership and draw on this to think about how you would manage/lead. When you’re given the exercise, think about what your ‘good example’ would do/behave in this situation. There is no single leadership/management style the assessors are looking for. There are many different styles of leadership/ management; many of which are good.
You can take your notes in with you, but when preparing your presentation ensure you have a clear structure to what you want to say and ensure you order your points with clarity. You will have to keep track of your own timing and if you finish slightly before you should, don’t be afraid to finish or feel you have to waffle to fill the rest of the time. The assessor will test you on what you have said — don’t assume this means the assessor thinks your are wrong. They are just testing your thinking around what you’ve said.
The final exercise is an analytical exercise where you will be asked to analyse information and make a recommendation on which of two options to choose from. Neither one is right so it doesn’t matter which one you choose. You will be asked to argue why one is better than the other. Make sure you are clearly advocating one option over the other the whole way through, making sure you mention the other argument. A bit like a compare and contrast. However you must also consider the weaknesses of the option you have chosen and perhaps the strengths of the one you haven’t chosen and still say why the option you have gone for it better.
You will be given a lot of information — some of which is irrelevant. We would suggest skim reading all the material to identify what is important before reading this in more detail. You won’t have enough time to read all of it. Ensure you use the facts and figures you have been given to provide a more persuasive argument and try to structure your answer.
After each exercise you will be asked to fill in a self assessment form explaining what you think you did well and didn’t do so well. You have to be completely honest on these — they are testing to see if you are self aware about your strengths and weakness and therefore your own development. Don’t be humble about what you did well either or overly critical on yourself. Try to be objective in how you express yourself here.
Final stage: Final Panel Selection Board
If you are applying for the Generalist or HR schemes then the assessment centre is the final stage of the application process. For all other schemes, you will to attend a final panel selection board. The board will differ for each scheme so make sure you show your passion not only for the Fast Stream and Civil Service but also for the particular scheme you have applied for. Be clear on why you want to be a part of that scheme over any other.
It may be useful to think about where you want to be in 5–10 years time (longer career goals) and how this particular scheme will help you get there. Think about what you have done in the past that demonstrates how you are interested in this area. This could be anything from societies/ charity work/ internships/ hobbies/ previous work experience. This is not necessary to be successful, but may be useful to demonstrate your interest.
It will be useful at this stage to know about the particular stream in more detail. Before attending the panel, do your research about how the scheme runs and what is expected of you. It is also essential to understand the wider political context around the scheme you are applying for. Do you know what the particular department/government function does and why (this is available on their website(s)). Prepare some current examples of work they have done/been involved in.
Best of luck!