Paul Franey breaks down the completion of a competency based interview form into manageable steps.
Any member who now wishes to apply for allocation to a specialist unit, or for promotion, will have to complete a competency based application form. While some members are happy to complete these forms, many dread them.
Competency based interviewing was introduced for all promotion competitions in 2004 and has been extended to all lateral appointments to specialist units and other positions. There are two stages in this process; first is the submission of a competency based application form (and possible short listing) and, secondly, a competency based interview.
Most of the discomfort comes from not knowing how to approach them. Competency based interviewing is not an exact science but the following information gives members a better chance of producing a really good form.
Getting the form right is vital; first impressions last. If examples are too long, look sloppy or are not hitting the points correctly you could lose the interviewer before you even start. Secondly, the form guides the direction of the interview. If you don’t create the direction for your interview and fix your competency around the required evidence, it’s very difficult to rescue it at interview stage.
A third and more sobering point; the promotion and appointments system might not work in your favour first time. You may be back the next year again, possibly the year after. Get your form right the first time; next year will be a lot easier. Finally, competencies are similar for promotion and specialist positions; a competency example for one competition can often be adapted for another. If you want the job, it’s worth doing it right.
Competency based selection is the concept that past performance is a good indicator of future behaviour. A job is analysed to identify the competencies (skills, aptitudes and attributes) key to that role. A set of written competencies are developed along with behavioural indicators (or anchors) to help measure them. Applicants for the job are then expected to provide evidence of having the necessary traits by providing concrete examples of past performance.
Getting the job or promotion you really want could be life changing. If you want a particular job, you need to start thinking now, before the competition is advertised. Get a copy of the job description, application form, competency indicators and anything else useful you can find. The documents may be on the portal if previous competitions were held or you could contact the relevant section/unit. The competitions office at HRM may also be able to help. Starting early gives you the time to work on building a set of competency examples through your daily work.
When the competition is launched, read all instructions carefully making notes on everything you have to do. Read the job description in detail and try and picture the type of garda they are looking for. The board will be looking for members who can show they are as good as doing the job already or have the potential to hit the ground running. Key to succeeding is reading the competency descriptions and the behavioural indicators over and over again.
Flesh out ideas
The next step is to list the competencies being measured on the left hand side of a page. Put a big empty box beside each competency. In the box write a number of examples for each competency. Then narrow them to two good examples for each. The examples should indicate when you engaged in behaviour that exemplifies the competency that is being examined. Not every example will always be suitable and the more examples you can come up with for each the better. An example that initially seems suitable for one competency may end up more relevant for another.
In the end you’ll need two examples for each competency, one for the form and a second as a back up for interview. If you’re under pressure to get the form in, just focus on the one example until it’s submitted. If you can’t think of a good example take out your notebooks, court files, diary – flick through your old work emails. You have done more than you remember.
Start writing out the example you want to use for each competency. Looking at the behavioural indicators to see if your example ticks the necessary boxes to prove you’ve done exactly what the interview board seek; outlining excellent police work is irrelevant if it does not show the desired skills or traits. While incidents that are exciting or unusual are great, they don’t have to be. The example just has to show that you are able to demonstrate the competency well.
Structure your examples
When preparing, consider the following CAR structure: Context, Action & Result. The following is a rough guide to structuring your example;
Context: Outline the context in two to three sentences. Essentially what problem had you to solve/challenge to overcome.
Action: Outline exactly what you did to address the context in five to seven sentences. Each sentence should hit an action point that shows you undertook an action to address the situation, an action that shows you have the skills, aptitudes and abilities.
Result: Two to three sentences outlining how the result came about because of the actions you took. Also indicate any lesson learned.
The interview board will have many forms to consider and will, most likely, read your form the night before or the morning of the interview. You need the board members on your side from the minute they pick up and consider your form. Make it easy for them. It can be helpful to structure your sentences using bullet points. Remove the bullet points when finished and it should present the text smartly. It is better to present the text in a readable format than provide one big block of text. At the very least the context and actions need to be in separate paragraphs.
If you are asked to provide one example that displays your particular skill or attribute do just that, provide one clear example, not two or three. Follow the instructions. Ideally, have a second good example written down that you can draw on in interview if asked.
Don’t write too much, it is important to be concise. The board members don’t have time to read endless text and you will be delivering the finer details in the interview. Ideally you shouldn’t use the same incident/achievement twice on your form. It is better to give the board a variety of examples to show the breadth of your experience. You can, however, use an incident/achievement twice but make sure you are exemplifying two very different competency traits.
The action points should hit on the behavioural indicators outlined for that competency. Use your own words/language rather than the exact words in the indicators. Don’t use words or language that you wouldn’t ordinarily use. If your sentence is longer than two and a half typed lines of text, it’s probably too long; try to break it up or make it shorter.
Be concrete in your examples; not theoretical. The example below indicates the difference between a statement that shows you have the capacity to make decisions and a statement that says a lot but means nothing:
Concrete: I made the decision to arrest the woman having assessed her behaviour, body language and threats of self-harm. I weighed up the requirements of the situation quickly, drawing on my experience dealing with persons with acute mental health difficulties.
Theoretical: I always make decisions in a timely fashion based on an analysis of the factors effecting a situation and assessing all information properly.
One of the most important things you can do is to remember that the form, example and interview are all about what you did. Write “I drafted the document’, “I decided the best course of action was to’… sell yourself and the actions you undertook. Where the decisions you took clearly required a supervisors or managers authorisation, acknowledge that the required authorisations were given.
When writing examples put yourself effectively in the role you are applying for. This is particularly important for promotion; show that you are already a leader. Your potential must show. Competitions are not a time to be bashful. Show a passion for the job you are doing and the job that you are applying for. If you are passionate about what you are talking about, it will shine through. While this is more an issue for the interview, the form should set a scene.
It is important that you write your own form. Getting someone with a brilliant management brain and a mastery of complex management speak to write out your examples is pointless if you don’t speak like that. You can’t bring the author into the interview with you. Be comfortable with the content. Don’t use jargon or specialist terms. Interview board members may be civilians or without a knowledge of the specialist areas you work in.
If you didn’t do something, don’t say you did. Interviewers are accomplished at asking probing questions and you’ll fail if they catch you out. If you did something you will be able to answer difficult questions about it. Be authentic.
Check and check it again
Print off the examples and hand them to someone who hasn’t been involved in drafting the document. Have it checked and double checked by as many people who will look at it. Spelling, grammar and sentence structure need to be perfect. Ask your sergeant, your CPD instructor, your partner or a neighbour to help. Put it away and come back a few days later if you have the time. You need fresh eyes to see mistakes and opportunities for improvement. The more views the better. Be open to criticism and new ideas.
The application form is only one step in what could be a long selection process. Get it wrong and you might not even make it to interview (short listing is increasingly popular). Start early, plan your application in advance, structure it around the required evidence and check it again and again. It won’t guarantee you get the job, but it will put you on the right road.
Paul Franey is attached to Harcourt Square. He has a BA in Sociology and Politics and a MA in Public Management. For his masters thesis he conducted a validation study of garda selection methods.
For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.