Rock Your Next Federal Job Interview
You’ve completed the self-assessment, submitted your resume via USAjobs.gov, and have been selected for an interview. Now what? Interviewing can be quite nerve-wracking in general, but can be even more so for a Federal job, which is quite different from interviewing with a private firm. Successful planning and preparing in advance will be the key to success… and hopefully an offer for employment. Below are some tips on preparing for a Federal job interview.
Before the interview…
Prepare Using the Job Announcement: You applied and tailored your resume and assessment for a specific job announcement that lists the qualifications, skills and experience that the organization deems necessary to be successful in that role. Prepare in advance specific examples that demonstrate your experience and accomplishments that align with those items mentioned in the job announcement. You want to be able to confidently talk through several of these examples to effectively illustrate why you are the ideal candidate for the job. If you’ve tailored your resume for the job, you can reference the section of your resume where it’s discussed. This gives the interviewer a visual as well as an auditory reference to help them remember your qualifications.
Know the Organization: Do research on the organization. Each agency has a specific mission and it’s important to know what that is. Furthermore, agencies have a human capital plan that often explains skills the agency is most seeking. Click here, to search for missions and human capital plans by agency. Setting up Google news alerts is another easy way for you to stay on top of current events for a particular organization.
For many government employees, it’s not about the money they make, but being a part of an organization that is working hard to do something specific for the public. Prepare thoughtful questions to ask and tailor it to the organization and role you’re interviewing for. This will show the hiring official that you take this interview and job opportunity seriously. In addition, if you know who will be interviewing you, check their profile on LinkedIn.
Arrive Early: You never know what traffic will be like or what obstacles you may face while trying to get to an interview. If you have time prior to your interview, do a “dry run” so you know exactly where the building is, where to park, what metro stop to get off at, etc. Another important thing to keep in mind is that many government agencies have strict security requirements, which may take some additional time when arriving and checking in at the building. Always be sure to bring a government ID with your photo such as a driver’s license or passport. You may also want to leave non-essential items, likely to set off metal detectors, such as a pocketful of change, at home. Many women feel more comfortable bringing in a portfolio with their ID and leaving their purse locked securely in the car. Feeling rushed right before an interview will only add to your stress. Ask the person setting up the meeting if there is anything extra you should know about traveling to their building.
First Impressions: Hiring officials often make a judgment within 15 seconds of you walking through the door, making appearance a critical, although often subconscious, aspect of an evaluation of a candidate. Make the best first impression you can and don’t let anything about your appearance distract the interviewer from what you have to say.
People often say to dress for the job you want. Whereas that may be true when you’re in a role, interviews are different. Even if you’re interviewing for a position, in which you’d wear a uniform (e.g., security), it’s best to dress up for the interview. Moreover, an interview is not the time to make a fashion statement or express your love for REI attire. Dress professionally and be properly groomed. Be polite and courteous to everyone you meet, make eye contact, have a firm handshake, sit up straight, be sincere, and remember to smile, naturally.
Interview Logistics: Bring additional copies of your resume. Make sure that you have a notepad with you to take notes , or to write down names and titles of the folks you meet.
If you need to visually depict an answer for someone, you have a place to do so without scrambling to find paper. If there is a whiteboard in the room, feel free to ask to use that to draw out an answer, especially if there are multiple interviewers in the room it will be easier than everyone crowding around the notepad. Having a notepad with you also allows you to take a look at those questions you’ve prepared to make sure that you are not forgetting to ask particular items.
Interview Questions: Many government agencies use a behavior based interview style, where the hiring official asks questions about past performance in hopes of understand how you will behave in the future. OPM’s structured interview guide goes into great detail explaining what behavior based interviews include and how candidates are evaluated.
You should anticipate tough questions during your interview. Be sure to answer all questions slowly, clearly and succinctly. It’s ok to pause and think before you answer a question. Just say “Let me take a minute to think about that.” Here is where specific examples will be helpful. Prepare a list of potential questions that you think may be asked for this role and practice answering them. If you are having trouble identifying some sample questions, do a quick internet search and you’ll find several reference tools to use. Have someone go through and ask you interview questions so you can practice thinking through and answering questions. The more you can practice answering questions, the more comfortable you’ll be during the real interview. Finally, if you don’t know the answer to the question, don’t make something up. Explain how you would go about getting the answer or solving the problem. For example, “I don’t know how many veterans are in the US, but I would find out by…”
Closing the interview: It’s very important to end on a high note, leaving a lasting impression. Be sure to genuinely thank the interviewer(s) for their time. Have a positive closing statement prepared – reiterating your interest and, why you are the ideal candidate. Be sure to get a business card, if they have one, so that you can follow up with a thank you note.
After the interview…
Say Thank You: Spend some time writing a thoughtful thank you note. I suggest telling the interviewer something you learned about the organization from the interviewer that excited or impressed you, and why you are a great fit for the organization. The key is to reference details of your conversation. This shows that you were really paying attention during the interview and also helps the interviewer to remember who you are.
Spending time to adequately prepare for an interview is really the only way to have a positive experience. Interviews cause so much anxiety as it is, and even more so once you are sitting in the “hot seat.” You want the conversation to flow as naturally as possible. By following the tips mentioned above, you should feel relaxed and confident as you discuss the organization, the position, your experience, and accomplishments — showing why you are the ideal candidate for the job.