Top Advice for Public Sector Interviews

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    In public sector interviews, over the past two decades, the landscape has undergone a notable transformation, particularly in its approach to recruitment. What once involved the submission of cover letters and resumes has evolved into a more structured process oriented around competency based application forms. Let’s delve into the nuances of this shift and explore how candidates can navigate this new terrain effectively.

    Understanding the public sector landscape

    Over the past 20+ years or so, the public sector has veered away from accepting cover letters and CVs for live, open job applications to now only accepting application forms, a trend particularly evident in public sector interviews. Public Jobs, launched in 2004, has been the top choice and the sole destination for finding vacancies in every public sector job in Ireland. It’s the go-to place for all open positions, making job searching easier and more accessible. Every government department and associated departments, sectors and functions upload job descriptions, candidate information booklets and application forms when they have a job to fill on Public Jobs.


    Completing a competency based application form for public sector jobs

    Public sector application forms are no longer the simple form they once were, where you input your name, address, education, training, work experience and references. The new application form includes these and the competencies. These application forms are now officially called Competency based Application Forms and include key competencies that are important skills to carry out the job effectively and efficiently; where each applying candidate must demonstrate how they meet the criteria of each competency through examples i.e., past behaviour/experience from work and life (the former being more preferable). If you want to learn more about competency based application forms you can read our blog What are Competency Based Application Forms?


    What are these competencies?

    What are these competencies that the public sector wants you to write about and how? Well, they vary from job to job and of course the level/grade of the job i.e., Grade 1 to Grade 8. Competency titles could include:

    • Planning & organising
    • Providing a quality service
    • Building and maintaining relationships
    • Teamwork, leadership
    • Analysis & judgement
    • Decision- making
    • Problem-solving
    • Communication skills
    • Presentation skills
    • Managing conflict
    • Managing performance

    Writing examples to competencies

    Writing examples that meet the criteria of the job description and more importantly, the criteria of the competency i.e., competency explanation, is key and paramount and must be written in a structured way. Adhering to the allowed word count or space is critical as the hiring organisation can disqualify if candidates cannot follow their guidelines. Use the requested format/formula to narrate your examples i.e. STARLIS, STAR or ABC (the latter being the most popular).


    Need assistance with competency application forms? Consider seeking guidance from Ger Colleran for expert advice tailored to your needs, helping you navigate the process smoothly. Book your call today here!

    Preparing for a public sector interview

    The quality of your tailored competency based application form i.e. education, qualifications, employment experience and of course your competency based examples will hopefully secure you an interview that will be competency-based. Know your application form and the content of your examples. Have backup examples prepared, rehearsed and ready to go. Study the criteria of each competency in the job description and pre-empt what questions they could ask you from these. At the end, ask three questions about them and finish with an appropriate closing statement i.e., a memory hook.

    “It was actually a nice interview, what we covered came up, so that was great, though one or two questions caught me that we had not covered i.e., ‘Tell us about a project/task that didn’t go to plan for you?’ I think I answered it ok. Thanks Ger, you gave me great confidence.” – Emily, Boston Scientific Corporation (Graduate Engineer – January 2024)

    Dress code

    Whether the interview is in-person or online, you need to dress appropriately for the job that you are applying for, always defaulting to business wear, if in doubt. Many experienced Interviewers make their decision to hire you or take you to the next stage of the interview process in the first five minutes of meeting you; inexperienced Interviewers give you a bit more time to impress them. Speak professionally, yet authentically, leaving everything in the room.


    Navigating the labyrinth of public sector recruitment demands mastery of competency-based application forms. These pivotal documents serve as the linchpin of success in public sector interviews. Through diligent preparation and strategic examples, candidates can carve out a distinguished path. Confidence at each stage of the process is essential, fueled by a comprehensive grasp of sought-after competencies. This holistic approach ensures candidates stand out in the rigorous landscape of public sector interviews.

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