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Correct response to APS interview question?

By Rollersk8r - 13 January 2011 22

Being a new year, with new hopes, I wanted to canvass the correct answer to a very standard APS interview question.  I’ve been in the APS long enough to know I should see this coming and slam dunk it several times over – but seemingly I’ve been unable to.

The question is: “The minister’s office (or someone suitably important) rings and urgently requests some information. Your manager is away and there is nobody else you can go to for authorisation. What do you do?”

I’ve taken a few different approaches but they seem to want a rock-solid no exceptions answer rather than a flexible case-by-case response.

In summary my answer has generally been that this has never happened to me, because it honestly hasn’t. I follow this by saying that while you might think you can make a judgement, if it’s sensitive enough to need authorisation (and there are no other options for authorisation) then the bottom line is you cannot give out the information. I then might add there are usually standard procedures for giving out information and you could try to assist the person requesting the information by using those correct channels.

I assume the question is about whether you are capable of making decisions and also whether you are aware what you can and can’t do at various levels within the APS?

The above response appears to amuse interview panels –and also sounds like you like to pass the buck.  They will say “So the minister urgently needs something… and you’re NOT going to give it to them….???  Ok….  Ok….  Hmmmm…”

Any ideas?  What’s the right thing to say?

What’s Your opinion?


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22 Responses to
Correct response to APS interview question?
Cordelia 5:07 pm 13 Jan 11

Rollersk8r said :

Cordelia said :

Answer: “Depends on the information. If it’s simple factual information, I would send it straight up. If it’s more sensitive, before locating and sending the material I would advise the minister’s office on email first that I would have to send it up without formal authorisation in the circumstances and outside the normal protocols, and wait for their reply on email so that the information goes up in response to that email. I would have gone outside my direct line of command and to a manager in another area, including corporate areas, for authorisation if at all possible.”

Thanks for the reply. I have suggested getting authorisation from an appropriate person in another area – but this is met with “How can someone in another area approve it if they’re unfamiliar with the subject matter?” It still leaves me stuck between wanting to demonstrate initiative and sticking to a decision, while also trying to follow proper procedures.

Followup if the interview panel cite that: “If a senior manager in another area isn’t able to case my knowledge of the subject with me and make a decision, I wouldn’t be expected to send up the information, as it could pose a risk to my manager on his/her return.”

dustytrail 4:51 pm 13 Jan 11

Actually, the staff who work in the Minister’s Office aren’t all that important and are inclined to panic, big time, should they think that The Minister “needs” something.

Having worked in an area that dealt with the Minister’s Office on a daily basis, it would be most unusual for the Minister’s Office staff to demand, in all seriousness, that you reply on behalf of the Section Manager, unless you were the 2IC. I’d tell them to call the Big Boss if it was so important that they needed a decision right away. The Minister probably just said “get me that stuff from ……….” and there was no urgency, at all!

Whether that would get brownie points at an interview is doubtful.

st 3:45 pm 13 Jan 11

Have you considered the case when the Minister’s advisor is intentionally fishing for information when it is not really urgent? Lack of distrust between the Minister and the Department, and intentionally using a lower level APS employee to get around the problem? You may not be aware of all the sensitivities that are associated with that information.

JessP 9:44 am 13 Jan 11

Your response is – You do it. You seek to get assistance (advice, support, authorisation) from someone else in the department but at the end of the day you are there to serve the Minister (sorry general public).

By all means make reference in the email to the fact that there is no one else there to give approval, checking or whatever if they are trying to impose that scenario.

I have have had this question many times, generally it is about there is no one in your team, the branch manager isnt there. You can then use the response of going to another section manager, branch manager for approval/clearance. Or its about the request being lots of work and there is no one in your team to help you, what do you do? (its for the Minister Office for goodness sake!) Then you use the line of getting assistance from other sections, areas, stopping other less important work and doing it !!

Minister is god and our customer. God help us all.

Hosinator 9:42 am 13 Jan 11

Rollersk8r said :

Cordelia said :

Answer: “Depends on the information. If it’s simple factual information, I would send it straight up. If it’s more sensitive, before locating and sending the material I would advise the minister’s office on email first that I would have to send it up without formal authorisation in the circumstances and outside the normal protocols, and wait for their reply on email so that the information goes up in response to that email. I would have gone outside my direct line of command and to a manager in another area, including corporate areas, for authorisation if at all possible.”

Thanks for the reply. I have suggested getting authorisation from an appropriate person in another area – but this is met with “How can someone in another area approve it if they’re unfamiliar with the subject matter?” It still leaves me stuck between wanting to demonstrate initiative and sticking to a decision, while also trying to follow proper procedures.

You can reply by saying that you would provide the reviewer with your research material and they can decide based on that information and again reinforce your DRAFT response tag line.
Friends and family who are in the APS have advised me to use the word DRAFT, it’s like Caveat Emptor.

trevar 9:39 am 13 Jan 11

The APS is not a really public service, as its name would suggest; that which we call a ‘public servant’ is actually a servant to the Almighty minister. Thus, if the Lord minister calls for something, s/he gets what s/he wants.

My suspicion is that the answer they’re looking for is a more politically correct way of saying that you protect your work team from the wrath of the Almighty Minister by providing a response that doesn’t reveal anything they wouldn’t want revealed while also letting the minister’s office believe that they have, in full and without reservation, the information they asked for.

p1 9:32 am 13 Jan 11

Cordelia said :

Answer: “Depends on the information. If it’s simple factual information, I would send it straight up. If it’s more sensitive, before locating and sending the material I would advise the minister’s office on email first that I would have to send it up without formal authorisation in the circumstances and outside the normal protocols, and wait for their reply on email so that the information goes up in response to that email. I would have gone outside my direct line of command and to a manager in another area, including corporate areas, for authorisation if at all possible.”

Best answer yet, and pretty much what I was going to say. If it is someone suitably senior asking for it (the sort of person you can’t say no to) then get them to send an email request, and explain the situation in your response. Arse covering maybe, but it is my arse.

However this will never really happen. As said by someone, if it is factual information they want, then you just give it and name the source. If what they want is a decision about something, and you are not authorised to make such a decision, then tell them to make it themselves.

troll-sniffer 9:30 am 13 Jan 11

The information belongs to the minister. If the request came from the minister’s office, your duty is to fulfil that request. No ifs or buts. What happens to the information is their responsibility.

Requests from other areas would of course be subject to protocols and security implications. Normally if the requester should have the information, they will have access to the drive or folder where it is stored and can access it themselves.

Simply put, if the information is known to be sensitive, you need to go as high as it takes to get authorisation from someone holding the minister’s delegation.

Hosinator 9:29 am 13 Jan 11

After my short rant I forgot to answer the question you asked.

I was asked a similar question in my last interview, for a job that I was offered.

“I would forward the question to the authorising managers in my team to let them know that this question had been posed and that unless otherwise directed I would respond with a DRAFT answer and seek authorisation from another area within my department.”

At this point in time the interviewing panel may or may not reinforce their question and say that no other person is available for authorisation, even from another area.

I continue my response by “Replying to the minister’s office via email copying the authorising personnel and in the body of the email I state that due to unforseen circumstances there are no authorising personnel available to review and authorise this DRAFT response and as such there is a risk of the information not being accurate.”

Now the ball is in the court of the minister’s office to decide on whether to use the information or seek authorisation once there is someone able to do so.

Rollersk8r 9:24 am 13 Jan 11

Cordelia said :

Answer: “Depends on the information. If it’s simple factual information, I would send it straight up. If it’s more sensitive, before locating and sending the material I would advise the minister’s office on email first that I would have to send it up without formal authorisation in the circumstances and outside the normal protocols, and wait for their reply on email so that the information goes up in response to that email. I would have gone outside my direct line of command and to a manager in another area, including corporate areas, for authorisation if at all possible.”

Thanks for the reply. I have suggested getting authorisation from an appropriate person in another area – but this is met with “How can someone in another area approve it if they’re unfamiliar with the subject matter?” It still leaves me stuck between wanting to demonstrate initiative and sticking to a decision, while also trying to follow proper procedures.

Cordelia 9:08 am 13 Jan 11

Answer: “Depends on the information. If it’s simple factual information, I would send it straight up. If it’s more sensitive, before locating and sending the material I would advise the minister’s office on email first that I would have to send it up without formal authorisation in the circumstances and outside the normal protocols, and wait for their reply on email so that the information goes up in response to that email. I would have gone outside my direct line of command and to a manager in another area, including corporate areas, for authorisation if at all possible.”

S4anta 8:49 am 13 Jan 11

Quote ‘Yes Minister’ i.e:
“I advise you consider your position carefully, perhaps adopting a more flexible posture, while keeping your ear to the ground, covering your retreat and watching your rear. “

Hosinator 8:46 am 13 Jan 11

This is the problem with public servants; you refuse to work outside of your autocratic guidelines in fear of failure and retribution.
That’s why you hire us privateers on non-ongoing contracts to fix your mess.

Jimbop 8:42 am 13 Jan 11

I personally would have likely given the same response. While my interviews with the APS have been fairly limited, it’s a common interview technique to try and throw you with a follow up question that makes you doubt your previous answer. Kind of a way to see how you handle yourself, and if you’re willing to stand your ground. If you give an answer, and then they challenge it, and you start to doubt yourself on your answer, that shows a different character aspect than if you were wrong, but stand by your point. If you’re operating within the guildelines of your role and your authorisation, I think that’s better than someone who would have just made a snap decision to take it into their own hands.

Having said that, I have no idea what answer they do look for in that question. But I’m pretty sure you took the safest option you could.

MissPeaches 8:38 am 13 Jan 11

surely you must have an escalation point that you can speak to. Or your Ministerial team for advice and guidance? I think in a question such as this the panel is seeking to find out if you have the iniative to look beyond your normal processes to resolve a problem…

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