THE NIGHT BEFORE
Be prepared. This will beat nerves. Practise your presentation and read widely, but also know where to draw the line. You can’t read or know everything and you aren’t expected to. Distract yourself by playing sport or listening to music to help get rid of nerves. This will also help you to get a good night’s sleep. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep, you’ll wake up alert, positive and the best version of yourself.
ON THE DAY
Eat breakfast. You can’t perform your best if your stomach is grumbling or you are feeling lightheaded. In addition, give yourself plenty of time to arrive, factoring in potential transport issues. You want to arrive calm and collected not breathless and perspiring.
When you arrive, talk to each other. This will help you all to relax and approach the tasks with ease and enjoy the day. Also take the opportunity to ask questions to the policy advisers present about their experience at HM Treasury.
AFTER THE ASSESSMENT CENTRE
Don’t over analyse. It is easy to look back and critically analyse how the day went but things always seem worse than they really were and the assessors aren’t looking for perfection.
Most importantly, congratulate yourself on making it through the day. The threshold for making the assessment centre is high so this is a feat in itself and hopefully something you can learn from.
Research. You’ll be told the general topic area of the structured policy conversation when you’re invited to assessment centre. Look at the latest articles in the papers to get a sense of what is going on in relation to the topic and what the government’s stance is. Useful too are the House of Commons briefing papers and any relevant reports from think tanks. These will provide impartial context on your policy conversation subject and help you to demonstrate a range of views on the policy, which will impress the assessors!
Big picture thinking. Think about how what you are saying fits in with the bigger political picture. What have the government done before in this area and why? Think about how your ideas will be received by politicians, the public, the press and people within that industry. How will they be funded and what are the other options available to achieve the same outcome?
Structure. You’ll be given a specific question within the topic area to answer in your policy conversation on the day, and you’ll have 30 minutes to prepare once you have the question. Spend this time structuring what you are going to say. Make sure that you answer the question, and that there is a logical flow to your conversation. Try not to spend too much time talking about background.
Be yourself. Don’t try to fulfil some sort of Treasury stereotype that you have in your head – it doesn’t exist. The Treasury are looking for a balance of different people with different skills, talents and experiences to make the best policy makers.
The most important fact to bear in mind is that there is no wrong opinion when it comes to policy as long as you have evidence to back up your opinion and you can show that you understand different views on policy.
There is no perfect answer. The assessors want a well-written, well-reasoned brief, covering the areas requested.
- Time management is key here. 75 minutes sounds like a long time, but it flies once you’re in there. Get loads of notes down and you can turn it into prose later.
- Take five minutes to make a plan.
- This isn’t an academic essay, so don’t treat it like one. The report must be clear and concise. Use plain English and headings to get your message across.
- Don’t worry too much about the recommendation you make – there are no right or wrong answers, but ensure you back it up with evidence. Pick out a few (reliable) stats from the pack and use them to inform your analysis and support your recommendation.
- Keep to the word count. Imagine that you’re briefing a Minister – they want the relevant information and they want it quickly. Don’t make them trawl through five pages when the same information can be communicated in two.
- Last, but certainly not least: keep the competencies in mind and reflect them in your work. If you’ve booked on to the assessment centre, you’ll have a confirmation email with the competency framework and a grid showing where they are assessed attached. Read through the relevant competencies and the ‘positive indicators’ that show how you can demonstrate them.
Your interview is designed to get to know you better, to see if you’d be happy with us and if HM Treasury is the right place for you. The best way for us to find that out is to see how you already demonstrate our values and the Civil Service Success Profile Behaviours. Quite simply, these skills are what you’ll need from day one as a Policy Adviser and are skills that you’ll be honing throughout your career in the Civil Service.
Try to think about what the values or behaviours might actually look like in real life. How would you put them into practice?
You don’t need a particular type of experience to demonstrate these behaviours. You can draw examples from any type of work, from volunteering, or from your studies. When you have a few examples that you can share, make some notes about the key points you want to cover when using the examples in the interview.
In competency based interviews, it is useful to use the STAR technique. This means that when you answer a question, you describe:
- The situation – a brief description of the situation that you were in
- The task – a description of what you had to do in that situation
- The action that you took – an explanation of exactly what you did (avoid using terms like ‘we’ and remember to use ‘I’, as interviewers want to know what you personally did)
- The results – a brief summary of the outcome of the situation
Roughly 70% of your answer should focus on the Action element, and 10% on each of the other elements.