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How to Prepare for a Government Job Interview

by Charles Crawford, studioD

Thorough preparation increases a person's chances for success in a job interview. This is true for government jobs as well as those in the private sector. Candidates can benefit from learning as much as possible about the hiring agency and what kind of person it wants for a particular opening. Would-be interviewees should also assess their personal knowledge, skills and abilities with a view toward the requirements of the open position.

The Hiring Agency

Learn as much as you can about the agency or department that is advertising an open position. Many federal and state entities have websites with extensive information. Find the mission statement and become familiar with the aims of the organization. Identify current issues and any relevant media reports or analyses. If you have shown enough interest to become up-to-date with the agency's activities, your interviewer will likely notice it during your conversation. Read up on the agency's history -- especially why it was created and notable events. If there is a public blog, review recent posts.

The Vacancy Announcement

When you applied for the position, you followed instructions contained in the hiring agency's vacancy announcement. Read it again prior to your interview. The duties of the job holder as well as the requirements of the position are exactly as they are stated in the announcement. Examples of such requirements are good writing skills, good verbal communication skills and good interpersonal skills. Your interviewer might use the vacancy announcement as a guide during the conversation.

Interview Style

It is acceptable to contact the agency's human resources unit prior to the meeting to ask what you should expect -- the length of a normal interview, the format and whether there will be one or more interviewers. In most cases, you can anticipate a behavior-based interview -- one that sees past performance as an indicator of future results. Be prepared to discuss instances from your past working life that demonstrate your usual behavior and skills. An effective way to prepare for the interview is to list the qualifications you provided on your application -- your knowledge, skills, abilities and accomplishments -- and practice discussing them.


The interviewer's questions will likely center around the required skills, experience and competencies for the open job. Your interviewer might ask how you handled various situations in previous jobs. Some examples: Tell me about a time you had to make a difficult decision at work. Tell me about a project you initiated. Tell me about a time when you volunteered for additional responsibility. The interviewer might even ask what you did to prepare for the interview. Try to imagine work-related situations that you might have to face. A good way to respond to such questions is with stories, several minutes in length, taken from your experience in a previous job.

About the Author

Charles Crawford, a former commercial banker, has been a business writer in New York since 1990. He has produced marketing materials for an executive outplacement firm, written the quarterly newsletter of a medical nonprofit organization and created financing proposals/business plans. Crawford holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Science in international affairs from Florida State University.

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