Civil Service Interview Questions Behaviours Strengths & Examples (2024 Guide)

By: Joe McDermott | Updated: 17 June, 2024
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Civil Service interviews questions, answers, examples, success profiles behaviours and more.

All You Need to Know About Civil Service Interviews, Questions and Answers, Behaviours, Strengths and Success Profiles in 2024.

Government recruitment in the UK has changed!

You may have heard that the approach to recruitment within the Civil Service has changed.

The Competency Framework has been replaced by a new recruitment model called “Civil Service Success Profiles” and this will form the basis for all recruitment in 2024 and beyond.

What this means for you:  Put simply, if you are applying for roles within the Civil Service or already working within it and looking for a promotion, then you must become expert with the Success Profiles system.

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Civil Service Interviews Have Changed

In the past, Government and Civil Service recruitment relied very heavily on competency-based interviewing. This was linked to the Civil Service Competency Framework and it provided a structured approach whereby every candidate was tested with the same questions in the same order.

You would give an answer which included an example of a task or activity you completed in the past and you would outline the actions you took in that particular situation.

Hiring managers found that that this was very rigid.

It focused only on past behaviour and did not allow for a more holistic view of the person. This was resulting in a narrower range of candidates being selected when in fact, the ethos of the Civil Service is to be a role model in terms of diversity, equality and inclusion.

Success Profiles were therefore launched and are now the formalised strategy for all Government roles. Early adopters were HMRC, the DWP and Department of Transport however all Government departments are using this new system.

NOTE: This article contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

What Are The Civil Service Success Profiles?

Civil Service UK Success Profiles

The Success Profiles system is based on the following five elements:

  • Ability – Can you do the job and can you do it well. This is all about your natural aptitude or potential to perform in the role. NOTE: Ability will be measured using online tests most often numeracy and literacy, rather than in your interview.
  • Behaviour – In simple terms effective behaviours result in excellent performance in the role. There are nine behaviours used in the Success Profiles system and while similar to the old framework they are different in many areas. Behaviours can be assessed in a number of ways and at various stages of the recruitment process, including on the application form, via a formal interview using competency based interview questions or in a presentation.
  • Experience – For many roles and especially at senior level, previous experience will be essential. You will be expected to bring a level of skill gained through a previous role or activity rather than simply being trained after you join. This does not necessarily have to be a technical experience it can relate to a softer skill, for example excellent communication or leadership however they will look for examples of previous achievements, activities or studies which are relevant to the job role.
  • Strengths – This is based on the premise if you do something regularly and with enjoyment, it becomes a strength. Simply put, when someone is doing something they love and are naturally suited to, they will be more productive, industrious and successful. Strengths can be assessed in a number of ways during the recruitment process including in the interviews – using both competency and strengths based interview questions and via tests.
  • Technical – Within Government there are over 20 different technical professions such as Finance, IT, Communications and Marketing, Economics, Engineering etc. which require specific qualifications, knowledge and skills.  You will be asked to provide evidence of your qualifications or professional memberships and your skills and knowledge will be assessed through a variety of questions, tests and exercises. For example, you may be asked to perform a work based technical test or give a presentation on a particular technical topic.

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What’s Good About the Civil Service Success Profiles?

  • A more modern and simple recruitment process which will improve performance, diversity, and inclusivity.
  • Improved ability to attract and retain talented and experienced workers in a competitive market.
  • Move away from a solely competency-based recruitment system to be less rigid and more inclusive.
  • An easier application and selection process with candidates given the opportunity to demonstrate their full potential rather than favouring those with good experience or examples.

Civil Service Recruitment Process  – What to Expect

Civil Service Interview Questions

Civil Service Success Profiles have been designed to recruit a broader and more diverse government workforce. They are also aimed at making the way towards promotion more effective in terms of matching strengths to roles and making sure the right fit is achieved whereby you are doing something you are both good at and for which you have a passion.

As a result, they will use a wider range of recruitment tools and tests and you need to be prepared for each. Here are the key stages you will follow for most roles.

Application Form

This is the first and a key part of the recruitment process. They will use this to shortlist and will test the elements of experience, technical, strengths and behaviours via the answers you give. In addition to an application form, you may be asked to submit a CV and a supporting Personal Statement or Statement of Suitability. Some roles ask for a Behaviour Statement. These documents will be used to form an initial impression of you and so should be seen as an opportunity for you to demonstrate all of your relevant skills and strengths.

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Psychometric and Online Tests

Depending on the Government department and level you are applying for you may be asked to complete any number of online tests. At AO, EO and HEO level the Civil Service often uses psychometric testing to predict future performance and the two most common tests are designed to assess verbal reasoning (VRT) and numerical reasoning (NRT).

If this is part of your recruitment process, you will be sent a link to a website and given a certain amount of time to complete the assessment. Online tests may also be timed and contain practice questions.

Assessment Centre

You may be called to an Assessment Centre, especially if you are applying for the Civil Service Fast Track programme. Traditionally, these include a variety of exercises such as those mentioned above plus group tasks or discussions, role-plays, oral briefings, written analysis and job related simulations along with a formal interview.


Depending on the level and especially for SEO, HEO and Senior Roles, you may be required to give a presentation. The time you are given to prepare could be a few days, or you could be asked to deliver a presentation at very short notice (ie the day of assessment). You will be expected to present for a specific amount of time, often 5, 10 or 15 minutes, to a panel or group of stakeholders and to respond to questions afterwards.

Civil Service Interviews

Having passed the initial stages of the process, you will be invited to take part in formal interview. For lower grades, these will be completed using a pre-recorded video interview where you will be presented with a set of standard questions and given time to record your answer.  Learn more about Civil Service pre-recorded video interviews here. 

Having passed the video interview or if you are applying for a higher grade you will be invited to take part in a formal face to face interview in front of a panel. Your interview questions will vary depending on the role and department however you will certainly be examined on a selection of the 9 core behaviours plus strengths, technical and experience and more. We find that a blended format is very commonly used and you will learn more about the questions below.

But first, lets look at the Civil Service Success Profiles behaviours in more detail.

Civil Service Success Profiles Behaviours

So, we hear you ask, what are these new Civil Service Success Profile Behaviours all about and how do they relate to the old Competency Framework?

Well the news is that competencies or competency based interview questions have not gone away.

In fact, competencies are still a huge part of the Success Profiles system however they are now called Civil Service Behaviours and they have been modified to become just one of five elements of the new model, as detailed above.

Within this there are 9 effective behaviours (competencies) which you will be required to show as follows:

  • Changing and Improving
  • Communicating and Influencing
  • Delivering at Pace
  • Developing Self and Others
  • Leadership
  • Making Effective Decisions
  • Managing a Quality Service
  • Seeing the Big Picture
  • Working Together

Read more about these 9 Civil Service behaviours in this post about competency based interviews.

The Civil Service Success Profiles behaviours are similar to the previous competencies with some changes for example Leadership and Communicating is now just Leadership while Collaborating and Partnering is now called Working Together.

To a large extent they reflect the previous Competency Framework however the list of ways you can show the effective behaviours is more concise. In addition, there will not be any assessment of negative or ineffective behaviours, the focus is only on the positive.

You will still be asked competency based interview questions however they will allow for a broader range of content and other elements will be assessed at the same time. For example, your answers will be scored not just on a demonstration of the effective behaviours but they will listen for a display of inherent strengths.

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Examples of Civil Service Behaviours Interview Questions

Your interview invite, job description and person specification will outline the relevant civil service behaviours for the post. Out of the 9 mentioned above you should usually expect to be examined on between 3 – 5 depending on the role and level.

We suggest that you practice and prepare excellent STAR interview answers for each of these behaviours, using a relevant and recent example. You will learn more about choosing examples with InterviewGold.

Here are some sample behaviour based civil service interview questions for you to practice with.

  • Can you provide an example from your past experience where you demonstrated effective leadership in a challenging situation? (Leadership Get Answers)
  • Describe a project where you had to collaborate with a diverse team to achieve a common goal. How did you handle potential conflicts and contribute to the overall success of the team? (Working Together Get Answers)
  • In a dynamic work environment, unforeseen challenges can arise. Can you share a situation where you had to quickly adapt and find innovative solutions to overcome a problem? What was the result of your problem-solving approach? (Problem Solving Get Answers)
  • Effective communication is crucial in the Civil Service. Provide an example of how you successfully communicated complex information to stakeholders or the public. How did you ensure clarity and understanding while managing diverse perspectives? (Communicating and Influencing Get Answers)
  • Working in the public sector involves ethical considerations. Describe a situation where you had to make a decision that aligned with ethical standards. How did you ensure integrity and transparency in your decision-making process? (Decision Making Get Answers)

These interview questions are designed to assess your core behaviours / competencies in key areas such as leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, communication and  decision-making, all of which are crucial in most civil service roles.

When answering behaviour questions, you will be expected to give your examples using the STAR approach. Our powerful Answer Builder will create brilliant STAR examples for you based on your task or achievement.

Civil Service Experience Interview Questions

Civil service experience interview questions are designed to assess your ability to perform effectively within the framework of governmental and public service values. These questions will often focus on past experiences and behaviors to predict future performance and will use similar style questioning as per the behaviours above.  You may also be asked traditional questions exploring your career and experience to date.

Here is a selection of typical civil service experience interview questions in different formats:

  • Please talk us through your experience to date with creating policy.
  • Give is a brief summary of your career to date outlining the key experience and skills you will bring to this role.
  • Can you describe a time when you had to implement a new policy?
  • How have you handled conflicts within your team?
  • Give us a recent example showing your ability to communicate a complex policy to the public or your team. How did you ensure it was understood clearly?
  • Talk us through your experience of managing projects with limited resources. How did you ensure their successful completions?

See how you can get brilliant Civil Service interview answers written for you in minutes.

For the more traditional questions, we suggest you prepare answers outlining your relevant experience. Practice also with the top questions, those traditional questions asked in any interview. While they may not come up exactly, they are a powerful way to refresh your memory of what you have achieved.

Civil Service Strengths Interview Questions

What are Civil Service Strengths?

Many employers, such as the Civil Service, Government, NHS, major banks and consultancy firms are moving away from solely using competency based or traditional interviews and are now using a blended approach, one part of which assesses your strengths.

In simple terms, strengths are the things that we do regularly, do well and that motivate us.

Each Civil Service job comes with pre-determined strengths. These are taken from their strengths dictionary and they judge that a top performer will display these characteristics or strengths when in the role.

When looking at your strengths, the Civil Service recruiter, will be assessing your compatibility, one of the 3Cs; will you suit the organisation (Compatibility), will you enjoy the job role (Cultural fit) and are you able to deliver in the role (Capability).

Advocates for strengths based interviews say that when we use our strengths, someone is doing something they love and are naturally suited to so that they will be more productive, industrious and successful.

Examples of Civil Service Strengths Interview Questions

In the Civil Service recruitment process, your strengths may be assessed in a number of ways including via the application form, a pre-screening video interview, your face to face interview or in some form of psychometric test or assessment centre exercise.

You may be asked direct strengths based interview questions or they may be assessed when you give answers to the behaviour questions or through your personal or suitability statements submitted as part of the application.

Here are some examples of civil service direct strengths based interview questions. In our experience, you will only be asked one or two of these in any blended interview.

  • What is your greatest accomplishment?
  • What did you enjoy most when completing a task or project?
  • Describe the most exciting thing you have ever done.
  • Are you a planner or do you prefer to take things as they come?
  • How would you react if someone challenged you in a meeting?
  • Do you prefer to look at the big picture or deal with the small details?

Get your Civil Service strengths interview questions and answers here.

Answering can seem easy however as with all questions, while honesty is recommended you must be careful as to what you choose to divulge. Of course proper structure is required here too.

Civil Service Technical Interview Questions

Within the Civil Service most roles will have a technical element attached. This does not refer to the use of technology but relates more to the specialist skills, knowledge and qualifications.

Some of the most common roles with specialist skills are Accounting and Finance, Technology,  Communications and Marketing, Economics, Engineering etc.

While assessment is usually through evidence of your qualifications or professional memberships or tests, you may be asked some questions in your interview. We find that technical and experience interview questions can sometimes go and in hand. Here are some examples:

  • Describe how you would approach debugging a complex issue in a software application. What tools and methods would you use? (Technology Get Answers)
  • Describe the differences between patent law and trademark law. How do these types of intellectual property protection serve different purposes? (Legal Get Answers)
  • Describe how you would conduct a financial analysis using ratio analysis. What are some key ratios you would use, and what insights can they provide about a company’s financial health? (Financial Get Answers)
  • What key elements would you include in an effective communications strategy? (Marketing Get Answers)
  • Can you walk us through the process you follow when creating a new inter-departmental policy? How do you ensure it is comprehensive, compliant with relevant laws and regulations, and effectively communicated to all stakeholders? (Policy Get Answers)

Civil Service Blended Interview Questions

What is a Civil Service blended interview?

If you pass the initial selection and testing process, you will be interviewed formally.

This is usually a panel interview in person but may also be conducted over the phone, online with camera or by recorded video. Interviews typically last between 30 and 60 minutes and you should be ready to describe how and when you have demonstrated the required behaviours and experience.

As mentioned above, as the Civil Service are now broadening their approach, they will not rely simply on competency based interview questions. They will use a Blended Interview approach where there will be an equal mix of questions, including competency (behaviour), strengths and experience plus traditional interview questions. Depending on the role and department, questions exploring your technical skills and qualifications may also be included.

Typical Civil Service Blended Interview Questions

Here are a selection of potential Civil Service interview questions. As mentioned above, they will use a combination of question types including strength based questions which we look at in more detail below.

Take a look at these Civil Service interview questions and see how you would answer.

  • Describe the most exciting thing that you have done over the past 12 months.
  • Why have you applied to this department (for example, the Home Office, DWP, MoD etc) and why do you want to work in it in particular?
  • What have you learned in your current role which will be of benefit in this Civil Service posting?
  • What steps would you take to ensure that your team is focused on maintaining an excellent relationship with all your clients and customers?
  • Describe a time when you showed exceptional leadership skills and inspired outstanding performance in others. What goal did you achieve?
  • Give me a recent example to illustrate how you handle criticism.
  • Tell us about a time when you identified a gap in your own skills or knowledge and made plans to overcome it.
  • Finally, summarise why you are the perfect candidate to join the Civil Service at this time.
A common tactic is to use a strengths based interview question to start then followed by a motivational question. They will assess your energy as you move from one to the other to get an idea of how keen you are on the role.

Get brilliant answers to these and any Civil Service question with just a few clicks with our powerful Anwer Builder.

Northern Ireland Civil Service Interview Questions

For posts in the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS), you will find that the interview questions will be based on the Northern Ireland Civil Service Competency Framework, created in 2014 and last updated in 2018.

This framework contains ten competencies, organised into three clusters and you will find these are very similar to the success profiles framework behaviours we talk about above.

The three clusters are:

  1. Strategic Cluster – Setting Direction, competencies are Seeing the Big Picture, Changing and Improving and Making Effective Decisions.
  2. People Cluster – Engaging People, competencies are Leading and Communicating, Collaborating and Partnering, Building Capability for All
  3. Performance Cluster – Delivering Results, competencies are Delivering Value for Money, Managing a Quality Service, Delivering at Pace, Achieving Outcomes through Delivery Partners.

As you can see many of the competencies are the same with some being combined as is the case with Leading and Communicating. Collaborating and Partnering is synonymous with Team Working or Working Together.

Here are sample interview questions for the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

  • Can you provide an example from your previous experience where you effectively communicated with a diverse group of individuals to achieve a common goal?
  • Tell us about a time when you adapted your communication style to engage people with varying perspectives and backgrounds?
  • Describe a situation where you had to establish and nurture a positive working relationship with a key stakeholder or team. How did you go about building trust and ensuring effective collaboration?
  • In a leadership role, how have you demonstrated inclusivity and ensured that all team members feel valued and engaged?
  • Give us an example where you promoted diversity and inclusion within your team, fostering a sense of belonging and collaboration.

As you can see all of these questions are competency and behaviour based. Once again, we suggest creating strong STAR interview answers with complex and interesting examples. See below how InterviewGold can help with that.

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About the Author |
Joe McDermott is CEO of Anson Reed the UK's leading interview coaching specialists and founder of the successful InterviewGold online interview training system. Since 2006, Joe and his team of top interview coaches have helped thousands of clients win jobs and in this blog they offer their expert advice - all to make sure you get your top post.