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Public Sector Informant : PSI - September
[PERSONNEL:SUZANNE E GGINS] Interviews that actually work: Recruitment What questions should selection panels ask, and avoid asking, during APS interviews? Reform may be in the wind following the pre- vious government's Ahead of the Game report, but, for now, the panel interview remains the nub of the Australian Public Service recruit- ment process. The in-the-flesh encounter of the interview is meant to provide the definitive opportunity to test whether applicants' ''fit'' to a position. Why, then, do so many panels blow it? Consider these vignettes: Example 1 Panel chair: Please tell us your definition of integrity and describe for us what integrity means to you in your personal and professional life. Candidate for APS 4 job: Eh? Um . . . sorry, could you repeat that question, please? Chair: Integrity, you know, what is it for you? And how do you, you know, show it? Candidate: Integrity, right . . . um . . . Chair: If you could just define it. What is it to you? Candidate: Right, oh, okay. Define it . . . Yeah, well,Iguessintegrityislike. . .well,um. . . I'm not sure, really. Maybe just knowing your role. Yeah, being confident in your work. Example 2 Chair: Can you tell us please what type of duties you have performed that may be outside of your job description? Candidate for APS3 job: Sorry? I'm not sure whatyoumean. . .um. . .Ioftengoandget us all coffees. Is that what you mean? Example 3 Chair: So, if we were to ask your referees, what do you think they would say is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness? Candidate for APS5 job: Er . . . I would think you'd have to ask them. Won't you be asking them? Chair: Yes, probably. But we want you to say what you think they'd say. Candidate: What I think they'd say? Ah . . . Okay, well, I don't feel very comfortable second- guessing them, but I guess they might say . . . As these problematic examples show, writing an effective interview ques- tion is not as easy as it may seem. In fact, an effective interview question needs to be all of the following: Relevant. Concrete. Accessible. Fair. Appropriate. Clear. Answerable. Here's a guide to writing questions with these characteristics. Be relevant: derive questions from the selection criteria and duty statement After an APS interview, your panel must assess and rate candidates against the selection criteria for the position -- not against the interview questions. The starting point for your questions should therefore be the selection criteria. But selection criteria, especially those based on the Integrated Leader- ship System, are generic. ''Builds productive working relationship''. ''Displays personal drive and integ- rity''. How do you get a question from those? You don't. Instead, you combine one or more selection cri- teria with a specific duty from the position statement. Here are some examples: Criteria: Achieves results. Key duty: Help accurately process fortnightly payroll (APS4). Possible question: Please describe some of the strategies you would use to ensure fortnightly payroll is processed accurately and on time. Criteria: Shapes strategic thinking. Key duty: Develop processes and procedures for collecting data, and analysing, assessing, assimilating and preparing reports (EL1). Possible question: Please tell us about a time when you have collected and analysed data to help your unit or organisation meet its goals. Be concrete: ask about specific, real behaviours Note how the candidate in example 1 struggles with the poorly conceived question that asks her to ''define integrity''. Little wonder: you can bet that ''ability to define complex and contested abstract nouns'' did not appear in the selection criteria or duty statement for the job! Design your questions to elicit concrete examples of behaviours and actions by drawing on the three main types of behavioural questions: Retrospective or ''example'' ques- tions: ask for examples of how candidates have behaved in real- world workplace situations; eg. ''Please tell us about a time when. . .'' Hypothetical or ''scenario'' ques- tions: ask candidates to put them- selves in a possible situation and then say what they would do; eg. ''Imagine you come in to work and find. . .'' Descriptive or enumerative ques- tions: ask candidates to list their skills, attributes or achievements relevant to the position; eg. ''Please tell us what skills you bring . . .'' Make sure the examples, scenarios or descriptions are concrete, credible and relevant to the position. Con- sider: Please tell us how you deal with difficult teams or clients. What strategies do you use? This generic question will elicit a waffly answer full of textbook platitudes about ''the most important thing with teams is to have open communication''. You will have no way of knowing whether in fact the candidate ever used the strategies s/he mentions. Prefer: Please tell us a time when you dealt with a difficult or challenging team or client situation. What steps did you take to resolve the situation? By asking for a specific example, you will see how the candidate managed in a real situation. Candidates who say they have never had to deal with challenging teams or clients should be regarded with some scepticism. With hypothetical questions, keep the scenario short and simple: one to two sentences only to set the scene; one sentence to ask the question. Compare: You are given five tasks that have competing deadlines: A briefing for the chief executive. A minute to the group manager. Completion of your own leave application for leave on the following day. Making updated track changes on a ministerial brief. Finalising and sending a Senate estimate response to questions on notice for the relevant representatives. How would you ensure that all tasks are completed by their deadline? Candidates under interview stress cannot remember five-item lists. If the question is presented in writing, you will not get access to a candi- date's ''live'' thought processes. Instead, keep the hypothetical com- ponents to three and deliver the question orally. For example: Imagine you are successful in your application for this position and find yourself managing a team of three APS5s. One is a very high performer, another is an under-performer and the third is a good solid middle-of-the-road officer. What are some of the strategies you would use to manage your team? With descriptive questions, ask for focused and concrete responses. If you ask, ''Please tell us a little about your work history,'' candidates may recount chronologically every pos- ition they've every held. Ask instead: Please tell us what relevant skills you feel you would bring to the role. This will show you which candidates have actually read the duty statement. Be accessible: ask questions free from assumed knowledge Please tell us your understanding of the PSI and the ISM. How do you think they would impact on your duties in this role? Questions like this clearly favour applicants inside the agency. Even if the acronyms are unpacked, the question still discriminates against private sector candidates. Beware also of questions that mask their bias with apparently transparent vocabu- lary: Tell us a time when you have contributed to your agency's strategic direction? In everyday language, ''strategic'' Registrations are now open. To view further details please visit the conference website http://nipdc.arts.unsw.edu.au Indigenous Policy and Dialogue: New Relationships, New Possibilities 18th & 19th November 2010 -- UNSW, Kensington Campus, Sydney National Indigenous Policy and Dialogue Conference 10 -11323/1 The Indigenous Policy and Dialogue Research Unit The University of New South Wales [SEPTEMBER 2010] 26 THE PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMANT
PSI - October