APS Job Interview: Common Questions & Tips

Introduction:

Aspiring employees of the Australian Public Service (APS) are typically required to have an interview in order to secure a job. The job interview process is a critical step in the job application process as it gives the employer an opportunity to learn more about the applicant’s experience, skills, and personality. This article will provide an overview of common APS interview questions and provide tips on how to answer them effectively. While this article is written for APS applicants, the selection processes and interview approaches are similar across all Australian State, Territory and Local Government organisations.  

Importance of preparing for APS job interviews:

Preparation is key to acing any job interview, and it is especially important when it comes to the APS. The APS is highly competitive and process driven, and job interviews are designed to identify the most suitable candidate for the role with very clear assessment criteria. Therefore, preparing for an APS job interview is crucial in order to give yourself the best chance of being selected for the job.

Overview of common APS interview questions:

APS interview questions typically include a combination of behavioural, technical, and personal questions. Behavioural questions are designed to elicit information about the applicant’s past behaviour, while technical questions are used to assess the applicant’s knowledge and skills. Personal questions are used to assess the applicant’s fit with the organisational culture and values.

APS Interview Questions:

  1. Behavioural Questions:

a. Describe a situation where you had to manage conflicting priorities:

This question is designed to assess the applicant’s ability to manage their workload effectively. The applicant should provide an example of a time when they had to manage multiple tasks with competing deadlines and describe the steps they took to prioritise their workload.

b. Give an example of a time when you had to work under pressure:

This question is designed to assess the applicant’s ability to work well under pressure. The applicant should provide an example of a time when they had to meet a tight deadline or work on a high-pressure project and describe the steps they took to manage the pressure and succeed in the task.

c. Tell me about a time when you had to handle a difficult situation with a colleague or supervisor:

This question is designed to assess the applicant’s ability to handle conflict and communicate effectively with colleagues and supervisors. The applicant should provide an example of a difficult situation they faced with a colleague or supervisor, and describe the steps they took to resolve the conflict and maintain a positive working relationship.

  1. Technical Questions:

a. What experience do you have with policy development and implementation?

This question is designed to assess the applicant’s knowledge and experience with policy development and implementation. The applicant should provide examples of policy development work they have done, and describe the steps they took to implement the policy effectively. Highlight what part of the policy development cycle you are experienced in. 

b. How do you keep up-to-date with changes in legislation and regulations?

This is an example of the type of question that could be asked for niche or specialist positions. This question is designed to assess the applicant’s knowledge of relevant legislation and regulations, and their ability to stay informed about changes in these areas. The applicant should describe the methods they use to stay up-to-date with changes in legislation and regulations, such as attending relevant training courses or reading industry publications.

c. Describe your experience with data analysis and reporting:

Again, this won’t apply to all jobs but is a familiar structure for many specialist roles. This question is designed to assess the applicant’s ability to analyse and report on data effectively. The applicant should provide examples of data analysis and reporting work they have done, and describe the steps they took to ensure the accuracy and relevance of the data.

  1. Personal Questions:

a. What motivated you to apply for this role?

This question is designed to assess the applicant’s motivation and fit for the role. The applicant should provide a clear and concise explanation of why they are interested in the role, and how their skills and experience align with the requirements of the position.

b. Why do you think you are the best candidate for this position?

This question is designed to assess the applicant’s self-awareness and confidence in their abilities. The applicant should provide specific examples of their skills and experience that make them the best candidate for the position.

c. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

During an APS job interview, you may be asked about your personal strengths and weaknesses. Be honest and provide specific examples that demonstrate your strengths, such as leadership, problem-solving, or teamwork. For weaknesses, highlight areas where you are actively working to improve and provide a plan for continued growth. Remember to stay positive and confident throughout the interview.

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APS Job Interview Questions by Level

APS (Australian Public Service) job interviews can vary depending on the level of the position. Here are some example interview questions for each level:

APS 4 Interview Questions:

    • How do you prioritise tasks when given multiple assignments at once?
    • Can you provide an example of a successful project you led?
    • How do you handle difficult or challenging situations with colleagues or clients?
    • Can you describe your experience with data analysis or data entry?

APS 5 Interview Questions:

    • How do you manage competing demands on your time?
    • Can you describe a time when you had to adapt to changing circumstances in a project?
    • Can you explain how you handle confidential or sensitive information?
    • How do you approach conflict resolution in a team setting?

APS 6 Interview Questions:

    • How do you ensure effective communication with stakeholders and team members?
    • Can you provide an example of a complex problem you solved using critical thinking skills?
    • How do you stay organised and prioritise tasks when managing multiple projects?
    • Can you describe your experience with project management methodologies?

EL1 Interview Questions:

    • Can you describe your leadership style and how it contributes to team success?
    • How do you identify and address performance issues within a team?
    • Can you provide an example of a difficult decision you had to make, and how you approached it?
    • How do you stay up-to-date with industry trends and developments?

EL2 Interview Questions:

    • How do you develop and implement long-term strategic plans?
    • Can you describe your experience with change management?
    • Can you provide an example of a successful initiative you led that resulted in significant cost savings or process improvements?
    • How do you manage and develop high-performing teams?

APS Interview Questions by Department/Agency

Different departments and agencies within the Australian Public Service may have specific interview questions based on their unique functions and responsibilities. Here are some examples of APS job interview questions for three specific departments:

DFAT Interview Questions:

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) 

    • Can you describe your experience with international relations and diplomacy?
    • How do you stay up-to-date with global political and economic developments?
    • Can you provide an example of a successful negotiation you led with a foreign government or organisation?
    • How do you manage cultural differences and language barriers when working with overseas stakeholders?

ABS Interview Questions:

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

    • Can you describe your experience with data analysis and statistical methods?
    • How do you ensure data accuracy and quality control in your work?
    • Can you provide an example of a complex project you managed that involved large datasets?
    • How do you communicate statistical findings to non-technical stakeholders?

ATO Interview Questions:

Australian Taxation Office (ATO)

    • How do you ensure compliance with taxation laws and regulations in your work?
    • Can you provide an example of a successful project you led that resulted in increased revenue for the organisation?
    • How do you handle sensitive or confidential taxpayer information?
    • Can you describe your experience with tax audits and investigations?

Example APS Interview Questions and Answers

Here are some tips and example answers on how to answer common government job interview questions:

How to Answer Behavioural Questions:

Behavioural questions are designed to assess how you have acted in specific situations in the past. To answer these questions effectively, use the STAR method:

Situation: Describe the context or background of the situation.

Task: Explain what your role was in the situation and what needed to be accomplished.

Action: Detail the actions you took to address the situation and achieve the task.

Result: Explain the outcome of your actions and any lessons you learned.

Example question: Can you describe a time when you had to work with a difficult colleague or stakeholder?

Example answer: In my previous role, I had to work with a difficult colleague who had a different approach to a project we were working on. I realised that our differences were causing unnecessary tension and impacting the project’s success, so I arranged a one-on-one meeting with the colleague. During the meeting, I listened actively to their concerns and explained my perspective, and we were able to find common ground and establish a more productive working relationship. As a result, we were able to successfully complete the project on time and within budget.

How to Answer Technical Questions:

Technical questions assess your knowledge and expertise in a particular field or industry. To answer these questions effectively, demonstrate your technical knowledge and provide specific examples or evidence of your experience.

Example question: Can you explain a technical concept related to your field of expertise?

Example answer: As a data analyst, I regularly use SQL to query and manipulate large datasets. One key concept in SQL is the use of joins to combine data from multiple tables. There are several types of joins, including inner, outer, and cross joins, and each has a specific purpose depending on the data being analysed. For example, an inner join returns only the rows that have matching values in both tables, while an outer join returns all the rows from one table and the matching rows from the other table.

How to Answer Personal Questions:

Personal questions are designed to assess your personality, work style, and values. To answer these questions effectively, be honest and provide specific examples or evidence of your personal qualities.

Example question: What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Example answer: One of my strengths is my ability to communicate effectively with others. I prioritise active listening and clear, concise communication to ensure that all stakeholders are on the same page. One area where I am continuing to develop my skills is in delegation. I tend to take on too much responsibility myself and have learned that delegating tasks to others can help me be more productive and efficient. To address this weakness, I have been working on identifying opportunities to delegate tasks and empowering my colleagues to take on more responsibility.

DFAT Interview Questions and Answers:

Q: Can you describe your experience with international relations and diplomacy?

A: During my previous role at XYZ organisation, I had the opportunity to work on several international projects and liaise with stakeholders from different countries. I also completed a Master’s degree in International Relations which gave me a strong foundation in the field. In my work, I prioritise building relationships with stakeholders and maintaining open communication to facilitate successful collaborations.

Q: Can you provide an example of a successful negotiation you led with a foreign government or organisation?

A: In my previous role at ABC organisation, I led a negotiation with a foreign government to secure funding for a development project. To prepare for the negotiation, I conducted extensive research on the government’s priorities and interests. During the negotiation, I emphasised the mutual benefits of the project and worked to build a relationship of trust with the government representatives. As a result, we were able to secure the necessary funding and move forward with the project.

ABS Interview Questions and Answers:

Q: Can you describe your experience with data analysis and statistical methods?

A: I have extensive experience working with large datasets and conducting statistical analysis to draw insights and inform decision-making. In my previous role at XYZ organisation, I worked on several projects that involved complex data analysis. I also completed a Master’s degree in Statistics that provided me with a strong foundation in statistical methods.

Q: How do you ensure data accuracy and quality control in your work?

A: In my work, I prioritise data accuracy and quality control by conducting regular checks and using established procedures for data entry and analysis. I also collaborate closely with colleagues to ensure that we are consistently following best practices and staying up-to-date with any changes or updates to our data management systems.

ATO Interview Questions and Answers:

Q: How do you ensure compliance with taxation laws and regulations in your work?

A: Compliance with taxation laws and regulations is a critical aspect of my work. To ensure compliance, I stay up-to-date with any changes or updates to taxation laws and regulations and collaborate closely with colleagues to ensure that we are consistently following best practices. I also prioritise ongoing training and professional development to maintain my knowledge and skills in this area.

Q: Can you describe your experience with tax audits and investigations?

A: In my previous role at XYZ organisation, I was responsible for conducting tax audits and investigations to ensure compliance with taxation laws and regulations. To prepare for these audits, I conducted thorough research and analysis of relevant data and documentation. During the audits, I maintained open communication with stakeholders and worked to identify any areas of non-compliance. I also provided recommendations for improvement to help ensure ongoing compliance with taxation laws and regulations.

Conclusion

Preparing for a job interview is crucial to increase your chances of success. By familiarising yourself with common APS interview questions, you can gain confidence, showcase your skills and experiences, and make a strong impression on the interviewer. Remember to practise your responses, research the organisation and role, and present yourself professionally to ace your APS job interview.

Picture of Ben Wood
Ben Wood

Public Service Careers Coach, PS Careers Practice Manager