Roger Evans is the London Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge. Following recent focus on Labour dominance of public appointments he offers some advice to Conservatives on how to successfully apply for public sector posts.
I believe that CCHQ should be encouraging members to apply
for public appointments and should provide helpful advice to applicants. In the
absence of such help, here are my own thoughts:
Why do people view job seeking as a process over which they
have no control, in which they are the victims of others’ decisions and the
whims of fate?
As the applicant you exercise considerable power over most
stages of the journey. You decide if you should apply in the first
place. You write your CV and complete the application forms. You choose
how to prepare for the interview and in a professional interview, you
should be doing most of the talking.
The decision to call you for interview and the final
decision to appoint may seem to be out of your hands, but they are based on your
answers to the questions they have asked.
So actually you exercise considerable power in the
The best place to start is the Cabinet Office website. You
should be checking this once a week. Obviously eliminate all the posts for
which you are clearly unqualified. For anything that looks attractive you can
request further information including the all important Job Description and
Take a good look at these and mark yourself out of 100
against each of the criteria they list. Be strict with yourself – applying for
an unsuitable role is likely to be a waste of time and the worst outcome would
be for them to hire you!
Now it is time to face the application form. For a public
appointment this is likely to be a lengthy and complex task. The form is your
first contact with the assessor and a poor effort will go straight in the bin.
The form will also follow you through the process, affecting each interview, so
it has to be strong.
Each question is asked for a reason. Try to work out what
they are testing for, bearing in mind there won’t be any trick questions or
duplicate questions. Answers need to provide evidence backing up any assertions
you make – it is not good enough to claim to be a good communicator, for
example, without providing examples of the ways in which you have used that
When you are called to interview, you should be celebrating
because you have beaten at least 80% of the other applicants to get this far.
The call is proof that someone thinks you can do the job, otherwise they
wouldn’t waste time on you.
Good interviews are all about preparation. The internet
makes research easy so there is no excuse for being ill informed about the organisation
or the job. You should pick up some key facts that you can use in the
interview. Also highlight any challenges the organisation is facing.
Research also involves thinking about yourself. What are the
key attributes and achievements that make you the best person for the job? List
up to seven of them and consider how you will drop them into the answers you
will give at the interview. You need to get all of these across before you
leave the room.
You will of course arrive on time and appropriately dressed.
Most interviewees see the questions as hurdles to be
scrambled over. You should be looking at them as platforms from which to
proclaim your greatness.
The first question is usually something easy to get the ball
rolling. What makes you think you are suited to this role? is a good
example and it gives you an opportunity to unveil the best of the seven key
attributes that you identified in your preparation.
In a public sector interview most of the questions will be
competence based, seeking evidence of the important elements of the person
“Tell us about a time when you had to convince people
that your point of view was correct” is a typical question and you will
need to talk about an occasion when you achieved this, giving a concrete example
and the result of your effort.
“What are your weaknesses?” is a tougher question and
you should be prepared to talk about something that did not go well, what you
learned from the experience and how you will face it in the future.
Finally they usually ask if you have any questions for them.
This is a good opportunity to convey any of the seven key points that you
failed to get across earlier.
You have done your best and the final decision is out of
your hands. Write down all the questions you were asked and consider how you
would answer them next time – because there probably will be a next time. This
is a learning process with each interview being better than the last one.
It’s not rocket science and there are many great
opportunities out there.