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The ILS: Tips for Talking Strategy

Updated: Sep 24, 2022

People ask me all the time; “Lisa, what do interview panels want to hear? What buzz words do I need to drop to get the job?”

I hate to disappoint you; I’m no better at mind reading than the average person, and I also don’t have a cache of magic words you can sprinkle into your interview answers to dazzle the panel.

Never fear; I can point you to a resource that is free, outlines what the Australian Public Service expects in behaviour across job levels and will satisfy what many employers desire in workers. Most employers, public and private sector, are keen to have staff who know what the organisation is trying to achieve, make decisions based on evidence from a reputable source, ask questions, solve problems, get stuff done on time, deal with change, work with each other, behave with integrity, and are able to get a message across, in writing or conversation. Want to know where to get some language around all of that? The ILS is for you!

I’ve written before about the Integrated Leadership System. It’s a capability framework which describes behaviour for Australian public servants. There are lots of ILS tools available on the Australian Public Service Commission website. My aim here is to give you my translation of the capabilities in short, as they relate to answering interview questions.

Let’s start with strategy.

The first capability of the ILS is Supports Strategic Direction for APS 1-6 and Shapes Strategic Thinking for El1-SES B3. So what does that mean? It means that every person in a team has a vital role to play to meet the goals of the organisation as a whole.

Let’s say you run a toothpaste factory. Your goal is to make money for the shareholders of your company. Everyone in the factory has a role, from the CEO to the folks putting the caps on the tubes. (I know that’s a machine, but you get my point.) We want everyone to understand that their individual contribution supports a shared purpose towards the strategic direction.

How do they get there? By setting goals and making plans. A key management skill is turning strategic priorities into operational goals.

Can we expect everything to go swimmingly from there? No. There will be issues and problems that crop up.

How you approach those problems is crucial. Ask questions. Look for information. Analyse what you have found, make sure the evidence is solid. Use your judgment and common sense. Get advice from others. Follow best practice.

“Tell me about a time you solved a problem” is an example of a typical question you might get to assess your strategic thinking. How you answer that question depends on where you are on the toothpaste factory org chart.

This is where the ILS can come in handy. The Australian Public Service expects different behaviour from an APS 6 than they do from an EL1. Careful review of the ILS can help guide the language you use for your answer.

Strategy is about big picture thinking. I imagine it like a helicopter flying over to view a scene. The further up the org chart your position is, the higher your chopper will fly, and your view will be wider.

An APS 4 working as a call centre operator might be solving a customer problem by looking up policy, using their experience, and asking a senior colleague. An APS 6 supervising a team will be thinking laterally about the problem more widely across his team, and as SES officer would look across her organisation to the wider government and societal impact.

In short, here’s some tips for thinking about answering questions related to strategy.

· Be able to articulate what your job brings to the organisation as a whole

· Look at the ILS for your level and the level you aspire to, to present your answers at the appropriate level

· Think about your answers in terms of how high your helicopter is flying.

I hope that helps you get your head around talking strategy in terms of the ILS. Check out my other articles on the remaining 4 capabilities.

Good luck, job hunters!



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