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How to Nail Your Government Job Interview

How to Nail Your Government Job Interview


Government jobs offer some perks that are hard to come by in the private sector these days — namely, a generous pension, regular hours, and great job security. If you’ve got your eye on a nice government job, a Master of Public Administration and Policy (MPAP) degree could be the perfect preparation. But earning the degree is just the first step toward landing a civil service gig — you’ve also got to ace the government job interview.


Know what to expect from your government job interview; you may need to be ready to speak to a panel of interviewers or pass an initial phone interview. Be prepared with research on your agency and your desired position. Learn how to best answer the questions you’ll be asked, and bring some thoughtful questions of your own.


Navigating a Panel Interview

While private sector job interviews are typically one-on-one, government interviews are more often conducted by a panel of interviewers. This makes the interview process more efficient, since three or four interviewers will be able to gather a more complete picture of a candidate’s abilities than a single interviewer, and it can reduce the need for multiple interviews. It also helps eliminate bias in the interviewing process by providing multiple perspectives of a candidate.


If you have a panel interview, your interviewers will speak one at a time and with little to no overlap. You should try to remember and use their names during the interview.


Of course, government interviews can also be one-on-one. A one-on-one interview for a government position may be more formal than a one-on-one interview for a corporate job. That’s because government interviewers often follow a pre-determined interview format, which requires them to ask the same questions, in the same order, of every candidate. If your interviewer seems stuffy, it’s not because he or she doesn’t like you; he or she is just following a script, and doesn’t want to waste any time.


Navigating a Phone Interview

If you’re preparing for a government job and you’ve earned an advanced public administration degree, one of the things you should work on is phone interviewing. Because government jobs can be in different cities than you current live, you may be asked to conduct a phone interview for a government job.


Some agencies use phone interviews to screen qualified candidates for good communication skills. A phone interview can also be an option if you want to be considered for a position, but aren’t able to appear in person at the time the agency is hiring.


It can be easy to be too relaxed during a phone interview, since you’re in your own environment and the interviewer can’t see you. Take a phone interview just as seriously as you would any other interview — most hiring managers will make a decision about you sight unseen, based on the phone interview alone.


Pay attention to your interviewer’s tone of voice, since you won’t have the benefit of visual cues to help you. Pay attention to your own tone of voice, since it can be easy to come across poorly over the phone. Be prepared, and make sure you have good reception. Conduct the phone interview in a quiet place, free of distractions and interruptions.


Practice Answers to Potential Questions

Government interviewers will want to know more about what you’ve achieved in the past than about your personality, although personality is important. Research some of the questions you can expect to face, and prepare thoughtful answers in advance.


Be specific and focus your answers on past accomplishments — goals achieved, money saved, and waste reduced. Always make your answers relevant to the role for which you’re applying. Avoid making negative remarks about your previous boss or company, and when asked what you didn’t like about your last job, make sure you don’t mention anything that will be a part of the role for which you’re interviewing.


When asked, for example, “What is your greatest weakness?” mention something negative, like a lack of confidence, but cast it in a positive light by talking about how you’ve managed to overcome it. When asked, “What is your greatest strength?” make sure you mention something relevant to the role in question. You might have a great sense of humor, but your government job interviewer probably doesn’t care. Instead, talk about your self-discipline or your love of detail.


Ask Questions of Your Own

Many of the questions you might have about the position will be answered during the course of the interview, but you should come prepared with thoughtful questions that show you’re intelligent and passionate about the job, and that you’ve taken the time to research the agency and the position. Don’t ask questions that you could have easily answered yourself in five minutes on the Internet.


Instead, find as much information as you can about the agency and the position and ask questions designed to dig deeper into the underlying reasons for the way things are at the agency, or how you can address possible issues if given the position.


A government job interview can be very different from a corporate job interview. Know what to expect, so you can come prepared to impress and score the government job of your dreams.


Author:  This atricl was contributed by Michaela Kajiwara