UK Civil Service recruitment often asks for the candidate to make a presentation as part of their interview. Usually it’s the first part of the interview. Whether or not you are told the topic in advance very much depends on what is being tested with the presentation. If it’s presentation skills then advance notice is normal. For HEO and below that’s almost always the case. For senior roles, G7 and above (varies a lot at SEO) then often it’s technical skills or experience that’s being tested. You don’t want someone tapping up their network or Google, to show that they have specific knowledge you’d expect for someone in the role.
For example I’ve asked potential project managers about project Initiation, business analysts about process mapping, strategy advisers about external environment analysis. Usually it’ll be a topic or pattern directly relevant to the job. Like what their plan would be for their first hundred days. Often with a page or so of background to help. I’ve been asked (at G6 & SCS1 interviews) how I would establish a transformation programme, how to review an arm’s length body, and how to tell who the experts are (when setting up a project delivery profession function).
Pitching the Presentation
A presentation like this is the main way for the panel to get confidence that you could actually do the job. Take the line of trying to persuade a sceptical SCS of the value of your approach. Go beyond what Google would tell them. Relate your own experience of doing it if you can, and how your approach has improved outcome delivery.
You need to keep it pitched so that an intelligent layperson can follow, but also have enough so that the expert in the room (there will be one) recognises that you know what you are talking about. Always be clear about the takeaway message you want them to have. Keep this short and straightforward, not more than three points. Hammer that home by asserting it up front, giving it in detail, and then including it in your summary. Don’t forget to follow the usual structure for presentations.
- Tell them what you are going to tell them
- Tell them that.
- Remind them what you just told them.
Preparing for a Presentation
While we’re on video you have a lot more control over your environment. So you can absolutely make sure that you have a timer, can position prompts where you can see them but the panel can’t. You can also test the technology before you use it, especially if you’re actually allowed to present slides.
Practice in advance. Have a timer and keep to time. Keep it down to no more than three key points. If you’re going over simplify rather than talking faster. If you have a lot of prep time (because you got the topic in advance, then you can script it at about 2.5 words per second). I find it works better to have bullets and just to know that in a five minute presentation the first minute is for telling them what I’m going to tell them, then I have a minute for each of my three key points. This is followed by another minute to summarise and end.
Even if you aren’t allowed to use visual aids you might find it useful to prepare them to help you think about structure. That structure is how you keep yourself on topic. Talking for five or ten minutes is far harder than talking for an hour. You don’t have room for explanations or anecdotes in five minutes.
What would you do in your first 100 days?
This is not an uncommon presentation topic for SEO and above jobs. You need to approach it as not including the training. I have had something similar in a recent interview and I structured it
- Week 1 is about meeting the team and understanding the current picture and our objectives.
- Month 1 would be ensuring I had a good picture across my area, getting reports in from people and ensure we had a governance rhythm and a plan.
- By the end of the first quarter we’d have established a rhythm of getting things done, assessed capability across the team and planned how to address gaps, either by moving people around, developing new skills or kicking off recruitment.
So you need to think of what you could hope to achieve in those sort of timescales, and how you’d build on it after the time period asked about.