For those applying for senior level roles in the public or voluntary sectors, including Non Exec or Board positions, you will more than likely be asked to complete an application form rather than a CV.
We are not covering the STAR method here, rather the key components of the answers to common questions and some of the regular mistakes that people make.
Let us also get the word limit out of the way. Mark Twain wrote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Meaning, it is easy to say what you want to say with no constraints. If you really know what you are talking about, with a bit of effort you should be able to articulate it clearly and succinctly in 4-500 words.
We will cover key competencies that you will come up against, such as strategic thinking, leadership, financial awareness, and stakeholder engagement along with some selected others.
This will be an overview of each. You will obviously have to answer the specific question asked, which will likely vary each time. It is important that your answers should include not just WHAT you did, but HOW you did it.
For the sake of brevity, we will move straight to reviewing Strategic Thinking.
You need to begin your answer by giving your example context. What is the nature of your organisation, what are the strategic goals, and show an understanding of the environment in which it operates?
You should outline your understanding of the strategic development process, which should include, crucially, your involvement within that.
This should include evidence of underlying analysis or the rationale that guided the goal setting and the prioritisation of these. You should acknowledge the resource limitations you faced – specifically around time, financial constraints, and capacity of the organisation from a people and operational perspective.
You should also demonstrate how you engaged with stakeholders and how their input was addressed and/or dealt with.
This will allow you to articulate most of your experience in strategy development, however, increasingly questions also cover strategy deployment and you may have to address this.
The above points framework can be read in most textbooks; however, it is the articulation of how you have successfully delivered of the strategy that sorts the best from the rest.
This dear reader, is what we call the ‘strategic cliff’.
I have read more application forms and sat in more interviews where a fantastically structured answer clearly outlines the strategic development process in textbook-like detail, but makes no reference whatsoever to how it was actually delivered, rendering the answer as useful as a neutered bull. It looks good, but ultimately is ineffective.
You need to make mention of the challenges faced, the metrics and measurements that were used, and HOW you managed these. For bonus points, you should also reference your monitoring and feedback mechanisms that allowed you to stay on track and crucially sustain success.
The “How to Excel at Application Forms” series will culminate in a webinar on the 16th of December 2020, where we will go through each topic in more detail. If you would like to register your interest in this webinar please click here.