A guide to Success Profiles: what job applicants need to know

By on 16/02/2022 | Updated on 16/06/2022
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All you need to know about the commonly-used public services recruitment tool, and how it differs from others like Competency Frameworks

Success Profiles are a recruitment framework used within the UK civil service since 2019. They are the process by which an organisation identifies the key skills, knowledge, experience, behavioural competencies and personal attributes required for successful performance in a given role or a group of roles at a specific level, and is then used as the basis for recruitment process.

Success Profiles can help job seekers know what they are expected to demonstrate in the application process and gives selection panels greater clarity on what to expect from applicants. Success Profiles are not only used in the UK civil service. For example, a Leadership Success Profile is used in the New Zealand public service. Many organisations in the public and private sectors use Success Profiles in their recruitment, talent, training, and organisational development strategies.

The UK Civil Service Success Profiles guidance explains that it is designed to “enable a fairer and more inclusive method of recruitment by enabling us to assess the range of experiences, abilities, strengths, behaviours and technical/professional skills required for different roles. This flexible approach to recruitment focuses more on finding the right candidate for the specific role.”

Success Profiles are made up of five elements, explained in the guidance as (listed here in alphabetical order):

  1. Ability – the aptitude or potential to perform to the required standard
  2. Behaviours – the actions and activities that people do which result in effective performance in a job
  3. Experience – the knowledge or mastery of an activity or subject gained through involvement in or exposure to it
  4. Strengths – the things we do regularly, do well and that motivate us
  5. Technical – the demonstration of specific professional skills, knowledge or qualifications.

Not all elements are relevant to every job, and the elements for a specific role will be tailored to it and the type of person needed. Applications, CVs and interviews are the key ways in which the elements are assessed, but the guidance lists many approaches that may also be used including assessment centres, presentations, judgement tests, written exercises etc.

The difference between Success Profiles and Competency Frameworks

Previously, UK civil service recruitment involved a competency-based approach to interviewing. This was based on the Civil Service Competency Framework which provided the framework for the questions that applicants were asked in an application and at interview. Answers needed to include examples of how you had demonstrated each competence in the past (from a current or past role). The answers that worked best would explain the situation (and the context that made what you did challenging), the task you were responsible for, the specific actions you took, and the results (the outcomes) that were achieved by your actions – the so-called STAR system.

Although the answers to such competency questions provided useful information, feedback from managers recruiting found that the approach under this system was too rigid. Because it focused only on past behaviour, it did not allow for a more rounded view of the person. Recruiters in the civil service became concerned that it resulted in a narrower range of candidates being selected than might have been achieved with a more flexible approach. It also raised concerns about diversity and inclusion outcomes. The civil service decided to move recruitment away from using a solely competency-based system of assessment and to introduce a more flexible framework which could assess candidates against a range of elements using a variety of selection methods. As well as making it more likely recruiters would select the best person for the role, Success Profiles were designed to better reflect the increasing development of professional functions (e.g. commercial and procurement, policy, project management and delivery etc – a full list of UK civil service professions is available here) across government.

It is important to note that competencies are still a large part of the Success Profiles system, but they are now called Civil Service Behaviours (i.e. the behaviours element of Success Profiles). Civil service vacancies will usually mention four or five Success Profiles Behaviours that will be a core element of how applications are sifted for interviews. Sometimes, vacancy notices will specify that if there are a large number of applications then one of the Civil Service Behaviours (specified as a “lead behaviour” in the vacancy) will be used as the basis for the sift.

The Success Profiles Behaviours are:

  • Changing and Improving
  • Communicating and Influencing
  • Delivering at Pace
  • Developing Self and Others
  • Leadership
  • Making Effective Decisions
  • Managing a Quality Service
  • Seeing the Big Picture
  • Working Together

Read more: Skills-based recruitment reforms postponed in US federal government

What job seekers need to know

The Success Profiles guidance gives a detailed explanation of what each behaviour involves at different civil service job grades and it is important that you study this carefully before writing your application. The application process is made more challenging by the word limit of as little as 250 words for each example that you provide for each one of the four or five behaviours specified in the vacancy advertisement. (You will not be asked to demonstrate all the Civil Service Behaviours for one role). Your CV might not be considered until after your answers demonstrating the behaviours have been scored. This means that you need to be able to articulate succinctly what you did, how you did it, and the outcome in your examples of the behaviours. It is not enough to simply state what you did – you need to show what was challenging about the task, how you rose to the challenge in your approach to it, and the impact that you made. You can use examples from different contexts to the civil service if they show the required behaviours and transferable skills.

Sometimes the selection panel may conduct an initial sift of applications via personal statement rather than the behaviours, though the behaviours will still form a key part of the assessment system after this sift.

If selected for interview, you can expect to be asked about some of the required behaviours in more detail. You might expand on the examples used on the written application, or use different examples to show the behaviours.

You will also be asked questions that demonstrate relevant “Strengths”. For example, you might be asked questions that explore your strength as an influencer, along the lines of “Can you tell me about a time when you implemented change, bringing your team on board?” Or “How do you inspire others?” in relation to being confident. Your answers are an opportunity to emphasise that you are a good fit for the specific role in terms of attitude, approach, and motivation. The guidance contains an A-Z list of specific Strengths that might be required and also shows which Strengths map across to which Civil Service Behaviours. It advises that “it is important to remember that there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Do not rehearse your answers because we are looking for your initial response. The qualities required for the role will be described in the job description. The best way to prepare is to reflect on what you feel your personal strengths are and your preferred ways of working.”

Read more: Shifting pair bonds: Canada’s former public service chief shares his top tips for working with ministers

Planning your public service career

The Success Profiles framework can also help you in planning your career development – gaining the relevant experience that enables you to demonstrate the required abilities, behaviours and strengths, and technical expertise. If applying for a UK Civil Service job, you will need to reflect upon the guidance carefully and begin drafting examples for each behaviour emphasising the situation, the task required, the action you took, and the result (i.e. use the STAR framework). Wherever possible, seek to highlight the relevant abilities, expertise and strengths in what you write and say in interviews. Success in any job application, in any sector, will involve careful consideration of what the recruiters are looking for. Then you need to prepare the most impactful ways of demonstrating your ability, the required behaviours/competencies, relevant experience, your strengths (including your attitude and motivation) and any technical expertise required. Never assume your experience will speak for itself. It is not enough just to communicate your past actions, you will need to ensure you have emphasised how you approached challenges and the outcomes you have achieved as you delivered those actions. You need to promote yourself as the best person to rise to the challenge of what the job role entails. Above all, persistence pays. Keep on trying and seek whatever help is available to continuously improve all aspects of your applications.

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About Tony Cash

Tony Cash is an expert on policy, strategy and regulatory best practice. He is a former civil servant and his roles included Head of Strategy and Communications for the Joint Trade Policy Unit and Deputy Director of the Department for Business internal training team. In his role as a training consultant, he has trained people in policy-making best practice and better regulation across the UK and overseas (including Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dubai, Guernsey, Ireland, Kenya, Malta and South Africa). He has worked with many government organisations on impact assessment. He also provides training on many related subjects including change management, governance, leadership, parliamentary affairs, project management, public service reform, risk management and strategic management. He delivers training in a wide range of formats including online. Tony is also an organisation development expert (MSc OD) and holds qualifications in coaching (Certificate in Executive Coaching), training (CIPD Certificate in Training Practice), project management (PRINCE 2 Foundation and Practitioner) and Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

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