Federal job interview preparation tips
There are two primary interview types that you will encounter during your job search—the informational interview and the employment interview. The informational interview—initiated by the job seeker—is a valuable networking tool used to explore job opportunities. Employment interviews are initiated by prospective employers to assess your ability and weigh your strengths and weaknesses with other applicants. The person with acceptable qualifications and the ability to impress the interview panel gets the federal job.
Even under the best of conditions, interviews can be intimidating, and going to an interview without knowing the “rules” can be downright frightening. Understanding the interview process will help you throughout your career and just knowing what to expect will improve your mental stability as well.
Prepare in advance. The better prepared you are for your federal job interview, the less anxious you will be and the greater your chances for success. There is an old saying in the real estate business that value is determined by three things: location, location, location. In interviewing, it’s preparation, preparation, preparation. One very important consideration in your preparation is the role that stress plays in these situations. They say that public speaking is the most stressful situation for the majority of people. Well, interviewing for a career position is a close second, so let’s talk a bit about stress and what you can do to ensure that stress works for you rather than against you.
Some level of stress will keep you focused and alert, while chronic stress can be a killer. Having those “butterflies” in your stomach is not a bad thing. If you feel they are getting the best of you, try some of these techniques:
- Take long, slow, deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 10, then slowly exhale through your mouth for the same count. Do this repeatedly and watch how much you calm down.
- Repeat to yourself some positive affirmation statements. Such as “I was successful in my interview because I was prepared and confident.” Positive affirmation statements always focus on the outcome, not the approach.
- Stay focused in the present. Don’t frighten or alarm yourself with what “might” happen.
- Get comfortable. Avoid sitting on wallets or keys.
- Engage your sense of humor. Laughing releases tension and increases chemicals in your brain that enhance well-being.
- Stay fit! Exercise and eat a healthy diet. Your body cannot cope effectively with stress if it doesn’t have the tools (nutrients) it needs. Follow the food guide pyramid.
- Role play. Find someone to role play the interview with you. This person should be someone with whom you feel comfortable and with whom you can discuss your weaknesses freely. The person should be objective and knowledgeable, perhaps a business associate.
- Use a mirror or video camera when you role play to see what kind of image you project.
The job interview is usually a two-way discussion between you and a prospective employer. The interviewer is attempting to determine whether you have what the agency needs, and you are attempting to determine if you would accept the job if offered. Both of you will be trying to get as much information as possible in order to make those decisions. Ask your interviewer if you may take notes. (I’ve never heard of anyone who got a no to this question.) This lets your interviewer know that you are interested in learning and connecting with the process. You will certainly hear some terms or conditions with which you are not familiar. Rather than interrupting your interviewer, jot them down so you can ask the appropriate questions at the first available opportunity.
Make a good impression. You only have a few seconds to create a positive first impression which can influence the rest of the interview and even determine whether you get the job. The interviewer’s first impression of you is based mainly on non-verbal clues. The interviewer is assessing your overall appearance and demeanor. When greeting the interviewer, be certain your handshake is firm and that you make eye contact. Address your interviewer by name and thank him/her for the opportunity. Your initial conversation might go something like this: “Thank you, Miss Henderson, for taking time from your schedule to interview me. I am very interested in learning… (more about your agency, this position, etc.) …and how I might be able to help you achieve your goals.” Wait for the interviewer to signal you before you sit down.