Some FRS will request applicants complete an application form as the initial sifting process. This will sometimes need to be evaluated and agreed by a line manager before it can be submitted. It may then be evaluated again by the assessment team, or the line manager verification will be enough.
Some FRS use a written exercise or in-box style task as part of the early sifting process. An application form will usually come before this to determine access to the written stage. Success at the written exercise means you will be invited to the ADC or alternative assessment event or series of exercises that your FRS chooses to run. For more on written exercises click here.
PQA/ Competency questions
Some of your application form will probably cover standard aspects such as your work history, qualifications etc.
The main section of application forms for promotion are usually competency based. These are designed to assess your attitudes, motivations, values and behaviours in advance of the more detailed assessment process. You need to demonstrate that you have potential when measured against the performance criteria in order to be invited to the next round of assessment.
Competency questions require you to provide personal examples of your actions, performance and results. Although this might seem quite straightforward, it’s actually harder than it seems and a lot of applicants struggle.
What do competency questions look like?
These questions ask you to identify an occasion in the recent past where you feel you have demonstrated certain skills. You then have to write about this occasion in a way which demonstrates your skills, abilities and attitudes. The assessors will evaluate these examples for evidence of your potential to succeed in a more senior post.
- Describe a time when you have taken proactive steps to raise standards without being instructed?
- Please describe an occasion where you demonstrated a fair and inclusive approach despite challenge or setbacks?
- Describe a situation where you had to adapt your style of working to fit with a change in protocols or procedure.
Key difficulties with these types of questions:
- finding relevant examples of performance which match what the question is asking about
- providing sufficient detail to the example so it is clear what you did, how you did and how it fits with the required question criteria
- selecting examples which demonstrate a suitable level e.g. are good enough to prove your potential
Following the rules
Particularly with the PQA/competency based questions, there are rules you need to follow in order to produce an effective answer. By following certain guidelines regarding how to structure your answer and steering your responses towards certain types of content you can avoid all the most common pitfalls. Most applicant responses lack depth and focus. Once you are aware of the correct formula to apply you will be able to see the difference yourself.
Unfortunately, your FRS won’t provide you with very much in the way of guidance!
Sifting strong and weak applicants
What’s important is to do everything you can to get this first step right, because providing a poorly thought-out application, or failing to answer the questions correctly can stop your promotion ambitions in their tracks. Remember, application forms are used as a sift- they serve to reduce the number of applications to a more manageable level. Simple mistakes can easily see you on the wrong side of this process. Don’t under-estimate this stage; it is far wiser to invest the time and effort in getting it right, and once you are confident with the requirements it’s something you know you will be able to draw on time and time again throughout your career.
We’ve worked with a lot of people who thought the application form was easy and that they didn’t have anything to worry about. Often these people didn’t get through this stage, and so realised they needed some help once it was too late for this round of promotions.
Is ‘having potential’ enough?
Even if you have huge amounts of experience and potential, it isn’t enough if you don’t present it in the right way. This is a mistake many applicants make. Two applicants can have similar skills and experience to offer, but how they present this can vary enormously.
You need to learn the correct formula
There is an art to writing a very strong application form and using your experience and personal qualities to their best advantage. Once you understand the formula, you can then apply it to the evidence you wish to present about your suitability for promotion.
Colleagues may offer you advice, particularly if they have been successful in gaining promotion. This can be risky because although well-meaning, it’s often out of date and inaccurate. What worked for them may not work for you.