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Application Advice

We want to make sure that you can make the best first impression possible at every stage of your application process. This page is designed to help you understand what we’re looking for and how to prepare for each step.

Virtual Assessment Centre

The virtual assessment centre is the final stage of the recruitment process for our Graduate Development Programme, where we’ll ask you to take part in three different exercises.

We’re proud to be working with upReach to support candidates from underrepresented groups to apply to our graduate programme, including those from a lower socioeconomic background. Find out more about how they can support your application by visiting their website.

Structured Policy Conversation

Before the assessment centre, you’ll need to prepare for a conversation on a certain area of policy. We’ll ask you to do some research around a general topic area and give you some articles to start with.  On the day we’ll give you a specific question within the topic area, and you’ll have 30 minutes to prepare your answer. At the end of the discussion we’ll also ask for your reflections on how you approached the exercise and share your learnings.

Tips for the Structured Policy Conversation

  • Make sure you spend some time looking at additional – the latest – articles to get a sense of what’s going on in relation to the topic and what the government’s stance is. You may find looking at the House of Commons briefing papers  useful, along with 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 to the assessors.
  • On the day, spend this time structuring what you’re going to say. Make sure that you answer the question asked, and that there’s a logical flow to your conversation. Try not to spend too much time talking about background.
  • Think about how what you’re 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 would these ideas be funded and what are the other options available to achieve the same outcome?
  • Be yourself. We’re looking for a balance of different people with different skills, talents and experiences to make the best policy makers. Just because you may not have prior experience of the subject doesn’t mean your thoughts aren’t valid or valuable.
  • The most important fact to bear in mind is that there’s 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.



Written Exercise

Here, we’ll give you a booklet of information on an unseen topic, and ask you to write a summary giving thoughts on your recommendation based on the options in the text.

Tips for the Written Exercise

  • Read the instructions carefully on the day. If you have any questions please ask before the exercise begins.
  • You’ll need to structure your report with an introduction summarising the background, then overview the available options before finishing with your chosen recommendation and justification for this.
  • Time management is key for this exercise. Plan how you’ll split your time at the start between reading and writing in order to give a balanced overview. Some find it useful to make a quick plan.
  • Think about how best to structure your response and how the key information can be picked up easily by the reader. Try to be clear and concise, using plain English to get your message across
  • Please keep in mind there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to recommendations. We’re looking to see that the piece is well written, covering the points asked, and that you’ve given thought to why you’re making a certain recommendation with any supporting evidence provided.
  • To practice similar skills, you could try summarising news articles, policy or research papers, setting yourself a time limit on how long you have to respond. Think about what you are writing and why:
    • Is the point your writing important within the context of the topic?
    • Do different view points need to be taken into consideration?
    • If you were asked for your opinion on the topic, would you be able to decide on a response and justify this?


Your interview is designed to help us 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 what you’ll be honing throughout your Civil Service career.

You’ll be asked a mixture of behaviour and strength-based questions by our interviewers. The behavioural questions will ask you to detail actions and activities that you do which result in effective performance in the Policy Adviser role, and strengths  explore what you enjoy and your motivations.

Behavioural interview questions

  • Prior to the assessment centre, you’ll be told what behaviours you’ll be assessed on in order to prepare. Spend some time familiarising yourself with these, trying to think about what the values or behaviours might actually look like in real life and how you would 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.
  • Your interviewers will ask you follow-up questions to delve deeper into your answer and elicit as much evidence as possible.
  • In competency-based interviews, it’s 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.

Strength-based questions

  • In strength-based questions we’re looking for your first, unrehearsed and natural response to the question. This means you won’t be told before the day what Civil Service strengths are going to be assessed at interview.
  • You’ll be asked a warm-up question at the start of the interview. This helps assessors recognise how you speak and show engagement when talking about something you enjoy doing.
  • Your interviewers won’t ask follow up questions for strength-based questions. Responses tend to be short, approximately 2 minutes per question. We’ll be observing the content of what you say as well as how you say it.
  • There is no expectation or requirement for you to prepare for strength-based questions in advance of the interview, though you may find it helpful to spend some time reflecting on what you enjoy doing and what you do well.