How to Prepare for a Government Job Interview

Business executives listening to the interviewee
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Preparing for a government job interview is not difficult, but it takes time to research the organization and position, anticipate interview questions, and prepare questions to ask the hiring manager. Following some specific steps can help you to be sure you are ready for the interview.

Devour the Organization’s Website

Researching information on the organization’s website helps you gain a broad understanding of what it does, who it serves, who occupies executive positions, the latest information the organization has put out, and what is happening right now.

Remember that this information is biased, and the organization will put itself in a positive light. Information from other sources will give you a complete picture. Look at how the agency presents itself in comparison to what other sources tell you. Hopefully, they are similar, but if there is a large difference, the agency may be trying to spin a story when it should be owning up to mistakes.

A government agency's website should have hyperlinks to the agency’s enabling statute and administrative rules. Depending on the position you apply for, it may be helpful to review these. You can get the gist of them in layman’s terms elsewhere on the website.

Information on the organization’s website helps you develop questions to ask at the end of the interview. Asking a well-researched question at the end of an interview is a great way to leave a good impression. Such a question shows you did your homework and are genuinely interested in the organization and the position. It does not have to be anything earth-shattering. Just asking what a set of statistics, a chart, or a law means can be impressive.

Read the Press Clippings

Search the internet for news stories about the agency. This will help you learn about the issues the organization is facing, who is involved, and how the agency is responding. Press clippings can help you see where there are disagreements between the agency and lawmakers, interest groups, or individuals.

Look at the balance of good press vs. bad press. Too much bad press is one of the signs a government agency is in trouble. Be cautious when considering employment with a troubled agency. You do not want to leave a stable situation for a rocky one.

If the agency is experiencing a reduction in force, avoid that agency unless you have no other options. It is usually the most recent hires who are let go first.

Look for Clues in the Job Posting

A government job posting is usually good about telling you exactly what the agency wants in the person it hires for the position. This is because subsequent documents in the interview process—such as personality testing, in-basket exercises, and interview questions—are based on the job description. The job description should be highly similar to the position’s performance plan and evaluation criteria.

You already should have gone over the posting in great detail when you applied for the job, but it may take a while for a government agency to go through all the steps necessary to make a list of finalists to be interviewed. Go over the posting again. Spend even more time with it than you did when you applied for the job.

The posting will tell you the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that you need to demonstrate. Think about each of these items in relation to your professional experience. The best indicator of future performance is past performance. Relating the KSAs to your personal life is acceptable, but it is better to relate them to paid work experience.

Anticipate the Interview Questions

Many of the interview questions will be derived from the job posting. For instance, a job posting may list one of the required abilities as the ability to communicate effectively verbally and in writing to diverse audiences. If you flip the required ability into an interview question, it would be something like this: In your previous experience, how have you communicated effectively to diverse audiences?

If you flip around each KSA into a question, you can prepare yourself for many of the interview questions you will be asked.

Prepare Questions to Ask Your Interviewer

As you prepare for your interview, you will come across things that confuse you or do not make sense. Perhaps there is a report on the agency’s website or a KSA that could be interpreted several ways. Think of some questions to ask during your interview. Make sure your questions are not self-centered. Do not ask about pay, benefits, holidays, or vacation. These items can be discussed once you have a job offer. Avoid questions about job advancement unless they are absolutely necessary. You want to show your interviewer that you’re interested in doing this job well more than you are about finding the next job.