Their are two primary federal job interview types that you will encounter during your government 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 against other applicants. The person with acceptable qualifications and the ability to impress the interview panel, gets the job.
Even under the best of conditions, federal job 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 helps applicants cope with the interview.
Prepare in advance before the interview. The better prepared that you are, 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.
The first step is to call agencies in your area and ask to talk with a supervisor who works in your specialty, i.e.; administration, technical, computer operations, etc. If an immediate supervisor isn't willing to talk with you in person, ask to talk with someone in the Human Resource department. Briefly explain to this individual that you are investigating government careers and ask if he/she would be willing to spend fifteen minutes talking with you in person about viable federal career paths with their agency.
On a personal note, as a manage with the FAA, I personally granted numerous informational interviews. I met perspective candidates at my office, participated in career days at various schools and colleges, provided facility tours, and answered their many questions about future job opportunities. A number of those that I talked with ended up eventually applying for and being accepted for government jobs. One of the individuals was hired the same day and on the other extreme, one technician that applied for a specialist position accepted a position five years after our initial discussion. This individual only wanted to be hired at one facility and was willing to wait for scarce openings to apply.
If you are uncertain whether or not your job skills are needed by an agency, contact the personnel or Human Resources Department and review the qualification standards for positions that interest you. Also locate and thoroughly read job announcements of interest. Secretaries can often direct you to individuals that can help. If an informational interview is granted take along a signed copy of your employment application or federal resume and a cover letter describing your desires and qualifications. The informational interview will help you investigate available employment opportunities in many diverse agencies. You will need to identify candidates to interview through the methods mentioned above. You don't have to limit your informational interviews strictly to supervisors. Any individual currently employed in a position you find attractive can provide valuable insight and information. The outcome of these interviews will help you make an objective career decision for specific positions.
There is one key element you must stress when requesting an informational interview:
- Place a time limit on the interview. When contacting supervisors, request the interview by following the above guidelines but add that you will only take 15 minutes of their time. Time is a critical resource that most of us must use sparingly. When going for the interview you should be prepared to ask specific questions that will get the information you need. This should be brought to their attention immediately after requesting an interview. Many supervisors and employees are willing to talk about their job even when no vacancies exist. These interviews often provide insight into secondary careers and upcoming openings that can be more attractive than what you were originally pursuing.
Informational Interview Questions
Experience and Background
1. What are the training and educational requirements of this position?
2. How would you suggest that I prepare for a career in this field?
3. What experience is absolutely essential?
4. How did you get started?
5. What do you find most and least enjoyable about this work?
How would you rank these items with respect to their importance concerning a position with your agency?
2. Special skills
3. Former work experience
5. Organizational knowledge
6. Other (name specific skills)
1. What advice would you give to someone interested in this field?
2. How do I find out about available jobs and how they are advertised?
3. Does this agency hire from regional offices or does it hire through the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)?
4. Does this position have career development potential, and if so, what is the highest grade achievable?
5. What are the travel requirements of the job?
6. Is shift work a requirement? If yes, what are the shifts?
1. As a result of our conversation today, who else would you recommend I speak with?
2. May I use your name when I contact them?
If an interview is not granted ask permission to send a federal style résumé for their prospective employee file. If a position opens up they can notify you when the job will be advertised. Positions created through these methods bring aboard highly desirable employee prospects under future competitive announcements.
It is hard to imagine the diversity of jobs needed by most agencies. Don’t exclude any agency in this process. Most agencies hire a broad spectrum of skills and professions. When going for the interview, dress appropriately for the position applied for. You can expect numerous rejections while pursuing these methods. Don’t become discouraged. Good managers, in industry, as well as the federal government, are always on the lookout for qualified employees. If you present yourself in a professional manner, demonstrate a good work ethics, and have the appropriate experience and educational background, you will make a connection. Persistence pays off when dealing with the government. Many promising candidates give up prematurely before giving their efforts a chance to work. You must realize that it may take some time for a desirable position to become available.
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. “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.
- 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.
There are several different types of interviews which you may encounter. The most common is the structured interview however in the federal sector you may encounter one of the others depending on the occupation you are entering. Generally, you won't know in advance which type you will be facing. Below are some descriptions of the different types of interviews and what you can expect in each of them.
- Screening Interview. A preliminary interview either in person or by phone, in which an agency or company representative determines whether you have the basic qualifications to warrant a subsequent interview.
- Structured Interview. In a structured interview, the interviewer explores certain predetermined areas using questions which have been written in advance. The interviewer has a written description of the experience, skills and personality traits of an "ideal" candidate. Your experience and skills are compared to specific job tasks. This type of interview is very common and most traditional interviews are based on this format.
- Unstructured Interview. Although the interviewer is given a written description of the "ideal" candidate, in the unstructured interview the interviewer is not given instructions on what specific areas to cover.
- Multiple Interviews. Multiple interviews are commonly used with professional jobs. This approach involves a series of interviews in which you meet individually with various representatives of the organization. In the initial interview, the representative usually attempts to get basic information on your skills and abilities. In subsequent interviews, the focus is on how you would perform the job in relation to the company's goals and objectives.
After the interviews are completed, the interviewers meet and pool their information about your qualifications for the job. A variation on this approach involves a series of interviews in which unsuitable candidates are screened out at each succeeding level.
- Stress Interview. The interviewer intentionally attempts to upset you to see how you react under pressure. You may be asked questions that make you uncomfortable or you may be interrupted when you are speaking. Although it is uncommon for an entire interview to be con-ducted under stress conditions, it is common for the interviewer to incorporate stress questions as a part of a traditional interview. Examples of common stress questions are provided in The Book of U.S. Government Jobs.
- Targeted Interview. Although similar to the structured interview, the areas covered are much more limited. Key qualifications for success on the job are identified and relevant questions are prepared in advance.
- Situational Interview. Situations are set up which simulate common problems you may encounter on the job. Your responses to these situations are measured against pre-determined standards. This approach is often used as one part of a traditional interview rather than as an entire interview format.
- Group Interview. You may be interviewed by two or more agency or company representatives simultaneously. Sometimes, one of the interviewers is designated to ask "stress" questions to see how you respond under pressure. A variation on this format is for two or more company representatives to interview a group of candidates at the same time.
Many agencies have quality of work-life and employee involvement groups to build viable labor/management teams and partnerships. In this environment agencies may require the top applicants to be interviewed by three groups. There are generally three interviews in this process, one by the selection panel, and the other two by peer and subordinate groups. All three interview groups compare notes and provide input to the selection committee.
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