Recently I reviewed a police application form for one of my clients that was unsuccessful at the initial stage of the recruitment process. Naturally this individual was upset, even more so because he had followed the College of Policing guidance on the completion of the application form and had answered the questions in the style they suggested as below:
Example response (Openness to Change competency area):
Question: Please describe a specific occasion when you have had to adapt to a new situation.
Why was it necessary to adapt to the new situation?
I work for a pharmaceutical company and when the management changed we moved from a smaller office in a traditional building to all being in one big, modern open-plan office. I had to adapt because the working environment was completely different. I knew I’d have to find a different way of working.
What did you do to adapt to the new situation?
I knew that open plan offices could be noisy so I brought in my MP3 player so that I could listen to it through headphones if I needed to zone out and concentrate on my work. I also put effort in to making sure that I was considerate of the needs of others in the office.
What did you consider when adapting to the new situation?
I considered that I wasn’t the only one in this situation and that other people would have to adapt to the new office too. I also thought about all the different tasks I had to do and thought about how I would need to approach them differently in the new office. I tried to think outside the box and not be constrained by old ways of doing things.
What was particularly good or effective about how you adapted to the new situation?
I think it was effective that I made myself adapt quickly to the new way of working and that I was prepared to work hard at making the new office pleasant for everyone. I knew that I might not find it easy at first but that if I put the effort in, I’d adapt to the new office in no time.
What difficulties did you experience and how did you overcome them?
Some people were upset about moving to the new office and didn’t like that things were changing. I overcame this problem by telling them about the benefits of the new office and how we all need to be open to change. It was also sometimes difficult to work in high levels of noise, so if I needed to concentrate I booked myself a private quiet room for the day.
Here’s the problem – the example provided is in my opinion really poor and would not get through the paper sift for most forces who set a higher bar than the College of Policing, especially if they are a force with only a few vacancies and they need to whittle the numbers down.
As an assessor what this example tells me is that to cope with a change in office environment you brought your MP3 player in so you could ‘zone out’ (use of jargon / slang?) and you used headphones so as not to upset other people?
My four year old does this when he gets his hands on the iPad. Hardly a powerful example of ‘giving 120% without being asked to do so.’ Your answers need to be exceptional if you are to go through to the next stage.
So, here’s some real world advice – a checklist of what to do and not to do. There’s more and in greater detail in my Application Form Checking Service:
Does your example reflect the competency that is being asked for?
Does your example provide an example of when you were challenged in dealing with a problem or situation?
Does it explain what you did as in the use of “I” not “we?”
Do you describe now just what you did but how you did it? I read far too many application forms (that would otherwise fail) where the applicants write how they, ‘ approached the scene calmly and professionally’ or, ‘Spoke with empathy with the person.’ The thing is, anyone can write this, but they can’t describe how specifically you did it, the how.
Did it have a positive result?
Upon reflection, was there some valuable learning for you?
Did your example involve you supporting others and helping them to solve a problem?
Did your actions have an impact on others?
Was what you were doing in line with the organisation’s (voluntary, sporting, employment) objectives?
Were there results that can be quantified?
Are you using active verbs and sentences rather than passive ones? And are you using them to good effect?
Taking all of the above into consideration you can transform a poor answer:
I was the lead role in the problem solving and we brought up lots of possible problems. We’d made sure all of the right people were in the group to help with the process. I was then able to ensure we came up with some really good solutions, which I made sure my boss received on time.
I took a lead role in identifying the specific issues by asking questions of a number of stakeholders to ascertain what their views were. Once I had analysed the results I established a focus group to ensure a collaborative approach to resolving the problem. By ensuring there was sufficient time and an agenda, I was able to ensure everyone had an opportunity to contribute through the use of open questions. I also ensured that the group had people within it designated to document what was discussed and the group’s proposed solutions. I collated these and forwarded them to my manager, I then briefed her with my recommendations as to the next course of action.
See the difference that will make the difference?
For further information on how to ensure your application form stands out from the crowd see my Application Form Checking Service