How your application is assessed - competency based

This guide shows candidates the criteria that we use to assess a job applications through competency based assessment.

Competency based assessment

COPFS follow the Civil Service approach to competency-based recruitment. This means the panel will be looking for specific examples of how you have met the competencies that you will be assessed against.   

The COPFS Competency Framework details the level of competence required for each grade, a description for each competency and what behaviours are expected at each level. You should refer to the framework to gain an understanding of the role.

The Competency Framework is not exhaustive and provides an indication of the general level of working. Your evidence should also take account of your skills, the job role and its accountabilities.

Your application

Pre-sift process

The first stage of the application form will ask some questions to establish your eligibility to apply for posts.   

HR Resourcing will undertake a pre sift to ensure applicants are eligible for appointment to the Civil Service. Your application will be checked to ensure they meet the following rules:  

  • COPFS has exemptions from the conditions of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and will not usually accept applications from external candidates who have previous convictions relating to violence, dishonesty or drugs. 
  • COPFS must adhere to strict Civil Service Nationality rules – further details can be found on the Civil Service website. 
  • Consideration will be given where candidates have a conflict of interest, secondary employment and any past or pending complaints by any professional body of which they are a member. 

For all internal appointments the pre sift process includes checking whether you are eligible to apply for specific posts. The HR Resource team will check applications submitted to ensure they meet requirements for the specific post.   

Should you not meet the requisite eligibility criteria your application will be sifted out by the HR Resource Team before it can proceed to the formal sifting/interviewing stages.  

Sift process

The second part of your application form will be sent to the board to sift. 

To ensure that only relevant information is taken into account when sifting, ‘blind’ recruitment will continue to be used. This sees the your name, personal information and biographical data and education dates being removed before the application form is reviewed by the sift panel. This ensures you can be judged only on merit and not on your background, race, gender, or other protected characteristic. This same blinding process is for other application types such as CVs.  

Competency-based applications

For competency-based application forms we will ask you to provide specific and job relevant evidence of competency related behaviours in each of the key competencies detailed in the advert and application pack.

In order to do write competency examples, we recommend you adhere to the ‘STAR’ (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method to present your answers: 

S – Situation 

This part of your answer is to describe the scenario you are going to use.  A brief overview is all that is necessary. 

T – Task 

Again, a brief sentence or two is all that is needed. The task will be your objective or goal, it may also be relevant to note any consequences to you not achieving it. 

A – Actions. 

This is the most important part of your example in terms of assessment.  You should explain what you did within your described situation and task.   

It is important to note what YOU did, so actions should start with “I” and contain a specific action word (e.g. organised, presented, researched, etc).  You should also note how you carried out actions (e.g. face to face, over the phone, etc). 

When preparing your answers at home, actions should read like bullet points. 

R – Result 

Like the situation and task, this should be kept brief and describe the outcome of your situation.  You may also consider some reflection points (e.g. would you do anything differently, has there been an evaluation).  

Following the STAR method helps present your example in a chronological order which focuses on what you have done. 

The recruitment panel expect you to ensure that the examples given in your application form are concise and meet with the recommended word count of 250 words per competency. Answers in excess of 300 words will not be assessed beyond this count which will likely affect your score. 

Personal statement applications

During the sift, your personal statement is being marked  based on how well you provide evidence against the essential criterial, desirable criteria and where possible the job duties as outlined in the job advert/application pack, along with reference to the 4 bullet points below.

You should provide detail of your skills & experience and demonstrate how you have acquired these skills and what experience may be transferrable to this job.

The statement should include examples of ‘how’ and ‘what’ you have done to meet the criteria, but does not need to be written in a standard competency answer format such as STAR.   

  • Planned and organised your own workload  
  • Stayed focused in a busy environment  
  • Displayed good communication skills, both written and oral  
  • Used time management skills and ability to meet deadlines  

Understanding the sift procedure 

The board will undertake an initial sift of all applications, based on the essential criteria for the post. In some circumstances a second stage sift can be undertaken looking at any desirable criteria for the post should this be required.   

Where the post attracts a large volume of applicants, competency answers or personal statements will be “sifted” and a shortlist produced. Applications will be sifted using the scoring system below will be used to help rank applications in an objective and consistent manner.  

 The results will identify the most suitable candidates to progress to the next stage of assessment. A board will use the content of the application to look for appropriate evidence that the candidate meets the required competency level of the role. 

Competency scoring

In competency-based applications each competency example is scored using the 0-3 scale below  





The candidate provided evidence that demonstrated highly effective behaviour against the requirements of the role and level of competence required.



The candidate provided evidence that demonstrated effective behaviour against the requirements of the role and level of competence required.



The candidate provided evidence that partially demonstrated effective behaviour against the requirements of the role and level of competence required, but there are a few minor gaps that can be investigated at interview or developed on the job.



The candidate failed to demonstrate that they meet requirements of the role and level of competence required.


In order to pass assessment, candidates will usually be required a score of at least ‘2’ at each stage, although a score of ‘1’ for a single essential competency should not rule a candidate out if scores are high for all other areas.  

Applicants who score zero in any of the competences or essential skills/experience/qualifications must not be selected for appointment.  

Personal statement scoring

Personal statement and blended applications will be scored using the 1-7 scale below

  1. Not demonstrated - No positive evidence of competence
  2. Minimal demonstration - Limited positive evidence of the competency
  3. Moderate demonstration - Moderate positive evidence of the competency
  4. Acceptable demonstration - Adequate positive evidence of the competency
  5. Good demonstration - Substantial, positive evidence of the competency
  6. Strong demonstration - Substantial, positive evidence of the competency and includes some evidence of exceeding expectations
  7. Outstanding demonstration - Evidence provided wholly exceeds expectations at this level

The sift score should be set by the board and can be lowered but not raised. The minimum sift score that can be set at is 4 unless the candidate comes under the guaranteed interview scheme (GIS), which can be 3. 

Applicants who score zero in any of the competences or essential skills/experience/qualifications will not be selected for appointment.

Further assessment of suitability 

The board in advance of the interviews may require further evidence to assess candidates for specific posts.  This may be used as a method to further sift candidates or as part of their overall assessment. Should this be the case you will be advised directly. 

Employment support and reasonable adjustments

Disability Confident Interview Scheme   

COPFS is committed to valuing diversity and to equality of opportunity.   

Part of this commitment is that we guarantee an interview to any eligible candidate who has declared a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010, provided that they meet the minimum criteria for the post in question. The essential minimum criteria is set out in the job advert and application pack.   

As a Disability Confident Employer we will make reasonable adjustments to support disabled candidates and give reassurance to those who fall within the Guaranteed Interview Scheme guidelines and meet the minimum criteria set at sift; a guaranteed invitation to interview.   

Great place to work for veterans scheme    

We have opted in to the Great Place to work for Veterans Scheme Office for Veterans’ Affairs | Civil Service Careers (   

For the purposes of the scheme, the minimum criteria to qualify for interview requires adequate demonstration of all required elements and to meet the essential criteria to qualify for interview, as well as the below eligibility.    

To be eligible for this scheme in the Civil Service, you must:   

  • have served for at least one year in His Majesty’s Armed Forces (as a Regular or Reserve); this includes time spent training  
  • be in transition from, or ceased to be a member of, HM Armed Forces  
  • not already be a civil servant, or be employed by a Civil Service Commission accredited public body  

There is no maximum time limit from when you left HM Armed Forces to be eligible for this initiative.  

Further adjustments  

We want to ensure that there are no barriers in our recruitment process for those who wish to apply and welcome any adjustment you might want us to consider that would help you. There will be space within the application form where you can note any adjustments you feel would be useful throughout the recruitment process or you can contact a member of the recruitment team directly.  

An adjustment can be considered to support a disability or meet a reasonable request that is going to help you perform during your assessment. These are often practical and can range from accessibility requests to supporting early arrivals to assessments made in person. You might prefer to have a chance to put yourself at ease before beginning, or you might prefer that our panel avoid small talk if this helps you focus. You might just want to ask that a window can be opened if needed. We can support a diverse range of adjustments. 

If there are any adjustments that would make the recruitment process more suitable for you, we want to support you and provide this where possible

Your interview

When at interview, the selection panel will try to put you at ease. The Chairperson will explain what is going to happen and who will ask the questions. You can also ask questions, seek clarification or add extra information at any time and will be given a specific opportunity to do so at the end.   

The selection panel will comprise at least two members.  If you find that someone with whom you are familiar is interviewing you do not be surprised if they treat you formally, they must treat all candidates equitably and must not give you an unfair advantage through over-familiarity.     

If the person interviewing you is someone with whom you have a personal relationship we ask that you identify this either at the application stage if possible or as soon as you are aware. This will allow an adjustment required to be made.  

For any particular post, everyone’s interview will be similar in that all candidates will be asked the same core questions.  Any follow-up questions will depend on the answers you give and won’t necessarily be the same as those for other candidates.    

The purpose of every interview is to assess your suitability for the role against the success profile for the post.   

Interviews will normally last 30-60 minutes and you may be asked to describe specific occasions when you have demonstrated a certain skill, or behaviour. 

Generally interviews will be face-to-face or via Microsoft teams.

Interview questions 

Competency-Based Selection is based on the underlying principle that past behaviours are the best predictor of future behaviour. If a candidate can demonstrate how they have faced challenges and achieved success with similar issues in the past, they will be able to apply these to the challenges of the new job in the future. 

All questions for candidates will be designed to test suitability based on the knowledge, skills and understanding of the candidate in relation to the requirements of the role and the competencies associated with the vacancy. The candidates should then provide specific examples to demonstrate how they have met the competencies required. 

You will be asked competency based questions and you will be expected to talk about how you actually tackled a real problem. The questions will relate to competencies and essential criteria stated in the advert, therefore the key is to prepare examples from your career that highlight the various skills that you would be required to show in your new job.  You should also be prepared to answer questions about any desirable criteria which is stated within the advert. 

In answering these questions, you should respond by giving a real specific example, ideally using the STAR method.  Candidates are reminder to use ‘I’ not ‘WE’ so that the Selection Panel obtains a full understanding of what you did within a specific example. 

Candidates should be prepared to talk about their example in a lot of detail.  The Selection Panel will ask you probing questions to ensure they fully understand the situation you are describing.  The Panel will also be interested in the outcome of the situation and whether there was anything you learned from the experience. 

There are things you can do to help yourself prepare for the competency interview: 

Read and understand the “STAR” method, this will help you to answer the question correctly, and maximise your score. 

Prepare examples for each of the competencies.  The perfect competency answer may be one element of a bigger picture - if you use too big an example you will just skim over the surface of the actions rather than providing the detailed answers they need to hear.  It may be helpful to have an example of the following sorts of situations to hand:  

  • A situation where you resolved conflict with a colleague 
  • A time you worked to a pressured deadline 
  • The performance or project you are most proud of 
  • A time when something went wrong and what you did to resolve it 
  • An example of working as a team to achieve a common goal 
  • An example of motivating others, if relevant 
  • Examples of showing specific skills relevant for the job you're going for 

Rehearse your answers in front of a friend or family member.  

We would advise that you don’t use jargon unless you are absolutely sure all the members of the selection panel will understand.  

By preparing in this way you will feel more comfortable with being able to perform at your best at interview.  Focus and hone in on your own contribution and ensure that you show yourself in a good light, whilst of course being honest.  

Candidate Notes 

You may bring personal notes to your interview, however these should be used as reference material only. 

Interview scoring

There are 2 forms of scoring at interview – Blended scoring (used for band B boards) and standard competency scoring (used for band C and above.)

For blended scoring each competency style answer will receive a score between 1 and 7 and for competency based interviews they will receive a score between 0 and 3.

The score from any supplementary assessment will also be taken into consideration.  


The selection panel will recommend the candidate(s) for appointment in order of merit.  

Results will be sent via email after all interviews have taken place. Candidates will be able to request feedback on their interview in the form of a candidate rating form.  

Please note that we will not meet any expenses you may incur as part of the application process (tests or interview), nor if you have to relocate to take up appointment (this is also applicable to any current COPFS staff who apply for an externally advertised post).

Civil Service Commission: making a complaint  

COPFS recruitment policy is founded on the principles of selection for appointment on merit on the basis of fair and open competition as stated in the Civil Service Commission Recruitment Principles.    

Where candidates believe that COPFS has breached these requirements, a complaint can be made to the Civil Service Commission directly. Candidates are required to raise the matter with COPFS in the first instance, however if you are unhappy with the response, you may make a complaint to the Commission.    

Further information can be found on the Civil Service Commission website.   

Equality and diversity

We are proud to be Diversity Champions and continue our long term commitment to inclusion within our workplace, and celebrate the diversity of our employees, and the communities we work in.  

As an employer, we provide equality of opportunity and will not tolerate discrimination on grounds of age, belief, disability, gender, gender identity, marital status, pregnancy and maternity, race, sex and sexual orientation – or any other grounds.  

We make everyone feel welcome within the organisation by regularly reviewing and refreshing our policies to ensure we use all-inclusive language, and have a number of network groups within the company which include: Proud in COPFS; Equality Ambassadors and the Staff Disability Advisory Group.  

View further information on the Civil Service’s diversity and inclusion policies, and how equality and diversity are monitored.  

You can read about our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy online. 

Our privacy policy

To learn about how we handle your information during the recruitment exercise, please see our privacy policy.

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