Interview question: Summarise for us why you should win this job

You’ve written your pitch for your dream government job. You’ve scored an interview. What do you include in your preparation?

What if you’re asked the above question, a form of verbal pitch for the job? Would you be prepared for this? And if so, how would you prepare?

What you might do is make a list of all the experience, skills and knowledge you have that are relevant to the role. You might then summarise this list, throw in some words and phrases from the role description, and practice it a few times. It sounds comprehensive, but will it convince the panel?

Three reasons why your pitch might fall short
  1. A ‘you’ rather than ‘them’ focus

Your response focuses on you rather than the selection panel and the organisation. If I’m filling a vacancy, I want to know how what you offer by way of skills, experience and knowledge, will be relevant to my needs. I need someone who ideally, can do the job without much training and induction, can deliver the results required of the role, will not cause me any headaches, and will make a useful contribution to my team, work unit, and wider organisation.

Summarising your skills, experience and knowledge only fulfils one part of this list. I’m left having to do the work to fill in the rest, without knowing if you understand what your value is and what my needs are.

2. Too much detail

This response may focus on too much detail about you and not enough about what your value is. There is no information about what problems you will solve, what value you will add.

3. Long-winded and unfocused

This response is also likely to be too long-winded and unfocused. What is the key message you wish to make about your value?

Five steps to fix this pitch

Crafting a useful response takes time and effort.

  1. Do your research

Preparation is not confined to what the job is about and whether you can do the job. You need to understand the context of the role so you can work out your value. To understand the context, talk to the contact person, research the organisation via websites, corporate documents, colleagues who can provide background, ideas, insights.

Context means understanding why the work needs doing, who are the key relationships up, down, across and outside the organisation, what results are expected, what critical issues are being faced, what the culture is like, what strategic issues are uppermost in managers’ minds, what the team’s performance is like, what risks are of concern, what problems need solving. Much of this information will not appear in the role description.

2. Understand seniority

If you are entering the public service for the first time or applying for a promotion, you need to understand the hierarchy, and what is expected of each level so you can align what you offer with the expectations of the role and its level of seniority. Without this understanding, there is a risk you will undersell what you offer by choosing material that lacks sufficient complexity.

3. Cross-reference with your background

With the above information in hand, cross-reference with your list of skills, experience and knowledge. As a pitch is short, stick to material that best matches the role requirements, the seniority, and the contextual information. One way to focus is to stick to your relevant strengths, those skills that you are particularly strong at, and how they are going to be useful.

4. Work out your value

Depending on the role, your value could be to a team, a manager, executives, to clients, stakeholders, the wider public service, a Minister. Or some, or all, of the above.

If the jurisdiction or agency you’re applying to has a capability framework, then this may offer words and phrases you could apply or adapt in your response. For example, the Australian Public Service has a capability framework – the Integrated Leadership System – and Work Level Standards. Some agencies, such as the Australian Federal Police, have adapted the Work Level Standards. The NSW public service has a capability framework.

As an example, if you are an APS 6 seeking promotion to an EL1 position, then your leadership and contribution to strategic thinking will be important. At any level, delivering results is important. Managing risks may be significant for some roles. Leading or managing a productive team, or being a valuable member of a team, will be essential to many roles. What you’re looking for are tangible, evidence-based contributions that will be of value to the selection panel.

5. Rehearse your pitch out loud

Writing a quality pitch is not the end. You need to practice saying your pitch, out loud, so you become comfortable hearing yourself say it, and can express it with ease. If it feels uncomfortable in any way, see what can be changed. Are you using words that look ok on paper but sound awkward, pretentious, unconvincing? Are sentences too long to remember easily? Does it sound genuine? Are you offering value that’s not in the role description?

Having completed these five steps your pitch is more likely to be convincing, relevant, and value-laden.

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Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.