How to put a strategic flavour into interview responses

One of the most commonly asked questions during interview coaching is: How do put a strategic flavour into my answers? This can be a challenge particularly for people stepping up to EL1 level jobs in the APS.

The word ‘strategic’ is one of those words that’s cast about to try to make one feel and sound important. Like salt, if you sprinkle it around enough, it’s bound to improve the flavour of what you do. In reality, what is claimed to be ‘strategic’ can be pretty ordinary. Nevertheless, applicants become stressed about not sounding strategic enough.

Most people are strategic in their thinking, it’s just that it’s so automatic that they don’t recognise what they are doing. In preparing for an interview you need to bring to conscious awareness the material that you do consider.

Here are eight suggestions as to how you can sound ‘strategic’ in your answers.

1. Avoid detailing the action minutiae of what you do. When giving an example to demonstrate your skills, stick to the key actions rather than the detail of those actions. For example, note the difference between these two responses about working with stakeholders:

I brought together a meeting of key stakeholders, identified where there were conflicting points of view, facilitated an exploration of these differences, and negotiated an action plan that would address all parties’ concerns.

I brought together a meeting of key stakeholders. As we worked through the agenda several people put forward points of view that resulted in extended discussions about the pros and cons of the issues. After an hour of discussion it was clear that there was disagreement. I suggested that we spend 15 minutes exploring the different viewpoints and the meeting agreed. Each stakeholder was asked to explain their viewpoint without interruption. They did so and after another hour of discussion we were able to identify where people agreed and disagreed… (This is getting down into unnecessary detail of process)

2. Where possible mention corporate objectives, government policies, strategic documents that you took into account in deciding a course of action.

3. Work out what the key issues are that are likely to be facing the area where the job is located.

4. Identify what risks you considered in your examples. What ‘Plan B’ did you come up with in order to minimise key risks.

5. Refer to when and how you  have provided direction to others so that they understood the purpose and importance of their work, and the links between what they are doing and organisational goals. ‘Others’ can be supervised staff, team colleagues, managers, stakeholders, clients.

6. Refer to when and how you have contributed to planning discussions that established a link between work done and corporate objectives.

7. Refer to when  you have recognised the links between issues that others have not seen or overlooked.

8. Refer to when you have examined an issue and identified a critical gap that has been overlooked or ignored.

An example may cover several of these elements, thereby signalling that you are a strategic thinker.

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.