You've submitted your application and made the list of best qualified candidates — now you've landed an interview for a federal job. Think the most important part of the application process is over? Think again. Federal hiring managers do not merely conduct employment interviews; they rely heavily on them to identify the best candidate.
So how can you best prepare for them? First realize that most federal agencies use a behavior-based interview style. This form of interviewing relies on the premise that past performance is the best indicator of future behavior. During the interview, you will be asked to speak about specific instances when you demonstrated particular behaviors or skills that are key to performing your desired job. Then, you will be graded on your responses. Although these interviews can be stressful, practice and preparation can pay off.
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Here are seven ways to prepare:
1. Ask About the Interview Before the Interview
The human resources specialist who sets up your job interview will probably give you information in advance. Just in case, ask questions about the interview: How long will the interview be? What is the interview format? Will the interview be with one person or a panel? Who will be on the panel? Will the interview be in person or by phone?
2. Find the Vacancy Announcement and Study the Job Duties
Analyze the duties carefully and create a cheat sheet of the top skills necessary for the job. The interview questions will probably be based on the skills and competencies listed for the target position. For example, the duties section for an administrative officer announcement could state:
Performs tasks in the administrative management of the organization. This may include interpreting administrative policies, developing and implementing organizational policies, defining administrative requirements, and/or providing advice to management on related issues.
So possible structured behavior-based interviews questions could be:
Can you give me an example of a time when you interpreted administrative policies, developed organizational policies and defined administrative requirements?
Please give an example of a time when you provided advice to management concerning administrative policies and procedures?
3. Find Your KSA/Essay Narratives and Resume
Use these documents as references to prepare a list of accomplishments and projects to use as examples in the interview. Write your projects and accomplishments on separate pieces of paper, and practice summarizing and talking about them. Memorize the examples and be ready to speak with fluency and confidence.
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4. Know the Position's (and Your Own) Core Competencies
Core competencies are different from skills; they are sometimes referred to as soft skills. Basically, each core competency demonstrates your ability to combine skills and apply them to unique scenarios.
For example, you may receive a question that asks how you solve management problems or how you inspire others to persevere on a difficult assignment. You can prepare for core competency questions by understanding the nuances of the prospective job. In addition, be ready for a question that relates to working effectively in a tense climate, crisis or stressful situation. Government agencies are under significant pressure to perform services with decreasing budgets and a changing workforce. Be ready to talk about your flexibility and ability to work through change.
5. Learn About the Agency
Study and memorize the agency's vision, mission and strategy for the future and recent initiatives. Be ready to talk about future challenges, change, growth and how you can contribute.
6. Cultivate a Message
Be prepared to provide a brief summary of whom you are and your career goals. Federal interviews often give you the opportunity to provide a brief introduction. This message can include your overall mission, top-level skills and interests. What are you dedicated to? What are your most significant skills? Be ready share your message at the beginning or end of the interview.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practicing with a video or audio recorder is extremely helpful. The best answers include examples that are compelling, succinct, on-target and spoken with interest and some enthusiasm. This takes practice. When speaking, don't hesitate to lean forward. A senior manager at the Defense Logistics Agency once claimed he never hires anyone who is not leaning forward. Check your posture at a table and lean forward to demonstrate interest in the position.
Don't be afraid to convey that you want the job or that you consider yourself an excellent candidate and believe in the agency's mission. Federal hiring managers would like to hire people who want the job and who will be dedicated to its customers and goals.
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