How recruiting for Local Government is similar to recruiting for Google!

Published: 17 March 2014

Google’s Personnel Chief, Laszlo Bock, let slip in a recent interview with the New York Times the five qualities the company looks for in their new hires:

  • Intellectual humility
  • Emergent leadership
  • Learning ability
  • Ownership
  • Problem solving

The general gist is that if you are clever but not arrogant, have an opinion and are willing to stick to it, can own and lead projects and are able to come up with a solution to something completely out of your comfort zone – you’re in!

Sounds to me surprisingly like working in local government. As a firm that interviews hundreds of senior officers each year we offer some Googlesque pointers on the kind of questions you can expect to be asked at interview and what we’re really trying to get to the bottom of.

Humility: Most senior officers are driven by a deep sense of public service and the desire to make a difference. Invariably this is supported by a level of intellectual rigor, academic and professional experience, and a deep interest in a range of policy issues. Put the heart bit before the head. The most impressive and memorable candidates are those who paint a picture of what they have achieved and who show how they have personally delivered positive outcomes for communities. Showing your human side and that you care is deeply impactful at interview.

Leadership: You’ve been psychometrically profiled, done the leadership tests, got the 360 feedback. We know all that, but what we really want to hear is an original opinion on what leadership means to you and that you can contextualize this. It is fine to talk about your preferred style but far more useful to understand how this looks and feels for others in real life. What do others say about your style and how does it change in different circumstances? And what will you be like when the chips are really down? Do you have the resilience to stick to your guns when you have to and do you understand the difference between doing the right things over doing things right?

Learning: The stock interview question, “what kind of support will you need to succeed in this role?” should not be feared or avoided. The ability to articulate both formal and informal learning and development needs demonstrates self-awareness, humility and the recognition that no candidate will ever meet every criteria of a person specification. Your referees, both known and unknown will have a view on where your blind spots are so get this in up front and tell us where you will need support. By tackling potential future objections, the hiring authority will have a much better idea of what they are letting themselves in for.

Ownership: This is more than the usual “I” versus “We” debate. Of course you should give examples of projects on which you have led and their impact on the locality, as you should show your contribution as part of a wider leadership team to corporate outcomes, but your examples need to be original, interesting and different. It’s about going the extra mile and demonstrating personal ownership and leadership of something that has never been done before. Taking the lead in a complex partnership environment or working across traditional boundaries are often the best examples to use.

Problem solving: A good interviewer will want to understand when you have been forced to work out of your comfort zone so expect questions about your broader corporate contribution. As lines between traditional job function boundaries have blurred and local authorities have become more focused on ‘themes’ – people, place, partnerships – you will need to evidence your role in coming up with solutions to address complex cross cutting issues.

Nick Cole is a Consultant in the Local Government Practice at Berwick Partners.

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