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If you’ve been applying for government jobs using selection criteria you will have addressed more than a few relationship building key selection criteria. Most position descriptions have at least one criterion for relationships. This can also be stakeholders, emotional intelligence, ability to negotiate and influence type skills. Have you ever wondered why that is the case?

That criteria gets asked with a very specific intention. Relationships and using them to achieve outcomes, or, manage stakeholders, or, influence decisions, is all about achieving outcomes when you don’t have situational power. That is what the question is asking you to give an example of!

In modern organisations, government and private, the traditional line control structure of “I can tell you what to do” has changed significantly. Organisations are flat structures, line and content reporting relationships (matrix management) occur. Most of the time you are working on any significant piece of work it requires more than just your team.

When they ask the relationship building key selection criteria question, they want to know you can get things done without having established situation power.

That alone should start to guide your thinking but let’s investigate it some more.


What Types of Power Exist?

If you have done any study of organisational behaviour you will have come across these concepts before. If you have done training courses on your personality type and how that affects your work (such as Meyers Briggs, DiSC assessment, or, your animal personality “Lion, Otter, Golden Retriever, or Beaver” [taken from]) you will probably have also come across them.

This is just contextual to what I’m talking about next to try to give you a visual of what’s going on with the “relationships” question.


Image that says The Bases Of Power and explains 5 power types

Power Types

Before discussing relationship building key selection criteria, I’ll quickly touch on the 4 traditional types of power in organisations. If you want to jump ahead to the relationship bit them jump to the next subheading.

There are any number of power type descriptors, this one is a common five type based model



A few brief notes on them, styles of leadership and management you will have come across before in any workplace.

  1. Position – based on the status
    • This is your direct line supervisor type management relationship
  2. Reward – capacity to assign material or psychological compensations
    • Not big in government in terms of financial rewards as there is very little scope to negotiate on salary (thought there is some, I’ll discus that another day).
    • Psychological is recognition, awards, achievements and celebration in the workplace. It’s getting noticed for what you have done, something we all like from time to time. These are things that will make good examples as I discuss in the Cataloguing Your Career
  3. Knowledge – related to relevant expertise for the job.
    • These are your subject matter experts. As I discuss in the Frameworks Blogs, some roles are appointed for their specific individual skills sets and are called individual contributors. These people may not have traditional rank or line management power but may be respected/employed specifically for their knowledge and advice in decision making. Think legal counsel, bridge engineers.
  4. Coercion – based on fear to ensure compliance
    • Hopefully not big where you work but some organisations maintain power over others by creating an environment of fear and unwillingness to speak out against what is happening. This is not a healthy or appropriate form of power and control and if you are in this situation your best goal is to leave as soon as you can.

This blog is primarily about relationships and what the almost ubiquitous selection criteria asking you to talk about your experience in building and maintaining interpersonal relationships; and how to answer it.


Relationships & Interpersonal Competence

Looking at the six leadership styles shown above, there are two more that I haven’t mentioned, and I want to talk about in depth. These are:

  • Support – based on the ability to stimulate the involvement of peers, superiors etc. in organisational endeavours, and,
  • Interpersonal Competence – based on communication skills, empathy, authenticity, caring, respect, trust and capacity for intimacy. Primarily involves the informal web of relationships.

I’m going to discuss them as one thing because they are effectively the same; engaging people, ideas, using interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence. I am also going to discuss them as one thing because they both relate to responding to an interpersonal relationship skills criterion.


Examples of Relationship Building Key Selection Criteria

Shown below are some common ways you’ll see this question worded just so you get the idea. Maybe you’ll have some flashbacks to when you’ve seen these before and perhaps how you answered the question:

Builds and sustains relationships to enable the collaborative delivery of customer-focused outcomes

Reads contentious and sensitive situations and responds appropriately to manage relationships

Builds and sustains positive relationship with team members and stakeholders. Is responsive to changes in client and stakeholder needs and expectations

Acts in the interests of the community and organisation through the cost-effective commissioning of goods and services, using best practice procurement processes and appropriate supplier relationships

Sound familiar yet?


What Is This Question Looking for as an Answer?

The essence of this question as I said before is achieving outcomes when you don’t have situational power. It’s asking you for an example of how you get stuff done when you can’t:

  • Tell someone,
  • Bribe them,
  • Baffle them with science, or,
  • Threaten them.

Paraphrasing the four “traditional” power types

To ask the essence of the question another way “Tell me a time when you have had to use your professional relationships or network to get something done“. An even better example is when your relationship/skills were the only reason it got done.

The best example you can have for this is when a project or a major piece of work was off the rails, over time and over budget, about to fail or some other catastrophe. You and only you got it all back because you know people and can work a relationship, call favours, get support when formally you’re on your own. All legally and ethically of course.


Have a look at the example criterion again through that lens

With that in mind read the criterion again:

  • Builds and sustains relationships to enable the collaborative delivery of customer-focused outcomes
    • When have you come into a new piece of work or project and formed relationships, and how did you use those to deliver outcomes for customers?
  • Reads contentious and sensitive situations and responds appropriately to manage relationships
    • When have you dealt with stakeholders, internal or external, in difficult, sensitive or conflict situations and come through those with the relationships intact or stronger?
  • Builds and sustains positive relationship with team members and stakeholders. Is responsive to changes in client and stakeholder needs and expectations
    • When have you formed relationships, internal or external, and over time maintained those as business context, deliverables and/or personnel have changed?

Does it make a bit more sense now?


Links to Insight Driven Organisations

Organisations are becoming increasingly insight driven, in the form of decisions being made on the advice of data analytics which are heavily based in technology. While technology will keep advancing, businesses still need “Purple People”

They are people who:

“possess a mix of business and technology skills…a mix of business and technology skills that enable them to excel in business intelligence and analytics”.

Technology drive and advancement in data analytics will drive the need for good thinkers. People good with relationship skills who can influence decision makers to make better decisions.

This type of influence is also mixing with the traditional “knowledge – related to relevant expertise” kind of power. If you are someone in your organisation who can both interpret data, and, use relationships to achieve objectives; you are a valuable commodity.


What It Means?

All of this translated into your next relationship selection criteria response means give examples that show you are a person who can use relationships. Show you have people skills to get positive outcomes when you otherwise have no authority to.

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