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Got an SES interview? Make it snappy!

If there’s one thing that I hear over and over about Senior Executive Service (SES) interviews, it’s this: they’re fast. Typically, candidates report 15 to 20 minutes in front of the panel, with 3 or 4 questions. And that’s after submitting a concise 2-page resume and 1-page pitch, with perhaps a screening interview to round things out.

So how do you get the full picture of your value across and keep it short and sweet? Read on for some ideas of questions you might expect and how to formulate answers that are likely to impress.

I think preparing for an SES interview is like preparing to brief an SES officer on any other important topic. If you have been through this process before, you’ll know that it can take multiple people and many hours (if not days) to pull together a succinct, evidence-based message ready for consideration and decision making.

Try applying the same thinking to your interview. Your panel will be weighing up risks and benefits of hiring you. The way they are likely to gather their evidence is from a few high-value questions to deliver the information they need.

A robust process will include assessment against both the Australian Public Service Leadership Capabilities and the Integrated Leadership System (ILS). Check out the Australian Public Service Commission website to study up!

Here’s my take on the flavour these few questions might have:

1. Why should we hire you for this job?

It sounds like the answer should be all about you; to answer well you’ll talk about the role and what it delivers for the department, government, and citizens, whilst weaving in key strategies. Then you can focus on your point of difference based on your experience.

This question not only assesses why they should choose you over someone else, but your understanding of the bigger picture that the role delivers. This can address the first capability of the ILS; Shapes Strategic Thinking.

I recommend that candidates identify three or four stories from their career that will illustrate their unique selling proposition. These examples can be tailored to answer almost any version of the questions below.

2. Tell us about a time when you engaged stakeholders to develop a strategy.

An important part of an SES officer’s role is to work with stakeholders to develop plans to deliver the Government’s agenda. This can include negotiation, collaboration, and representation with other senior leaders across commonwealth and state governments, industry, and global partners. Key capabilities being assessed with this question are Strategy, Working relationships and Communication on the ILS and Visionary, Influential, Collaborative, and Entrepreneurial on the Leadership Capabilities.

3. Tell us about a time you led a team to deliver outcomes.

This is the companion piece to question 2; now that you have a plan you need to organise and motivate people to deliver it, whilst continuing to build capability and managing change. Review Achieves Results and Personal Drive and Integrity on the ILS to get some ideas of expected behaviours, along with Collaborative, Enabling and Delivers in the Leadership Capabilities.

Phew! For an article that’s supposed to be about keeping things snappy it got pretty involved in the end! The truth is this process is pretty hard to do on your own. Sometimes it really helps to have someone on the diving board looking down at you in the pool to help you figure out what your point of difference is, what your stories are, and how to succinctly get to the heart of interview questions and deliver compelling answers that hit the mark. If you want some help, please reach out. I’ll be glad to hear from you!



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