Landing a Federal Job Tips and Tricks

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Pass Your Interview With Flying Colors by Being Prepared

If you do get called for an interview, first take a moment to be proud! Statistics show that each corporate job opening attracts approximately 250 resumes, yet only four to six applicants will be called back for an interview. So how can you prepare for your job interview and put your best foot forward?

By making sure you don’t commit these common interview mistakes.

If you plan ahead, you can avoid some of the most common interview mistakes. Do your homework in the days leading up to the interview so you can let your expertise shine:

  •  Know where you’re going: Make sure you understand how to get to the interview location and how long it will take you to get there.
  •  Be on time: Punctuality is important for an interview. If you’re going to be late, call the interviewer immediately.
  • Do your research: Study the agency to which you’re applying so you can speak knowledgeably about it during the interview — you’re bound to be asked what you know about the agency.
  •  Prepare paperwork: Bring extra copies of your resume, any relevant work samples and any application materials that you’ve been asked to complete and bring.
  • Exude confidence: Use confident body language, including eye contact, warm smiles and firm handshakes.
  • Interact: Always come prepared with smart questions about the position and agency.
  • Follow-up: After your interview, be sure to send a thank-you note to all who interviewed you. You may consider sending an email, a handwritten note or a formal card. Your interview will help you determine the best method for follow-up communications.
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Understand the Interview Style You Can Expect

Different interviewers have different styles and expectations. It’s both fair and expected for you to ask the human resources specialist for interview information in advance. To have a better understanding of their expectations, ask such questions as:

  • How will the job interview be conducted: In person, by phone or by video?
  • With whom will I be meeting? The hiring manager? A panel of employees?
  • How long will the interview last?
  • What interview format should be expected?
    • Behavior-based interviews: This style is one of the most common, especially for federal agencies. It focuses on previous employment behaviors. Hiring managers use an applicant’s answers to determine if they’d be a good fit with the position’s requirements.
    • Situational-based interviews: In contrast, these focus on future-oriented behaviors. Expect an interviewer to pose hypothetical job challenges and ask how you would handle them.
    • Structured interviews: These are more objective interviews. Each applicant is asked the same questions, in the same order. Interviewers have already determined acceptable responses to these questions and they evaluate candidates and their answers on the same rating scale.
    • Unstructured interviews: These are more subjective. Each candidate may be asked different questions, and there isn’t universal agreement among interviewers as to the right answer.
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Be Prepared to Answer a Range of Interview Questions

Expect to be asked a wide range of questions, ranging from past experiences to future goals. These questions will often fall into such categories as:

  • Work history and current employment
  • Understanding the operation of the federal government and the agency to which you’re applying
  • Interpersonal skills, such as how you work in a team, interactions with supervisors and your strengths and weaknesses
  • Examples of successes and failures, goal-setting and troubleshooting

Answering these questions can be intimidating. They’re meant to be challenging and are designed to ensure you have the right skills and the right qualifications for the position.

But you can walk into the interview feeling confident and ready to handle any question that’s thrown at you. The key is preparedness. By reviewing commonly asked interview questions — and understanding the best way to answer them — you’ll be ready to shake off any nerves and let your skillset shine.

Mastering the Top Interview Questions

Every interview will be different, but you’ll find that there are several questions you’ll almost always be asked. Don’t be caught off-guard. You can’t waste any time in making a great first impression. Out of 2,000 bosses surveyed, 33% said they know within the first 90 seconds if they’ll hire you.

To help you make the best first impression possible, we’ve listed some of the most common interview questions below, along with smart responses:

Although the question seems simple enough, it’s easy to give the wrong answer. You may want to reply with a long explanation of your personal or professional history, combined with your hobbies and interests, but that’s not really what the interviewer wants.Instead, weave an abbreviated version of your story — highlighting your most significant accomplishments and experience — into a sales pitch for how you’re ideal for this position. Make the interviewer want to know more about you.

Don’t start a lengthy list of the things you think are your strengths. Instead, think about the strengths the company is looking for. What do they need in an employee to accomplish their goals? Reframe your goals to fit the position and then narrow them down. Being clear about how you’ll use your skills in a professional setting will give you a strategic advantage.

Be careful! Saying you have no weaknesses isn’t true — everyone has areas in which they can improve. But don’t give the interviewer a laundry list of red flags. Think about an area you’ve been working on, like time management or perfectionism. Tell them why you feel it’s a weakness, but also tell them what you’re doing to improve.

First, make sure you really are interested in the position. Indifference will show no matter how well you answer the questions. Next, explain why this role is a great fit for you. Highlight a few of the attributes you’ll bring to the table and how you’ll use those attributes to benefit the company. What about this particular company appeals to you? You’ll win points by demonstrating your knowledge about the company and the role and showing how you’ll make a positive impact.

This question, while intimidating, offers you the perfect opportunity to sell yourself. When posed this question, tell the hiring manager about the qualifications that set you apart from other candidates, your ability to deliver proven and measurable results, and how you will help the company achieve its goals.

As you do with your overall tone for the interview, keep your response positive. Rather than focusing on an irritating co-worker or on feeling stagnant, mention that you’re interested in learning new skills that complement your current skills. If you were let go, be honest, but you don’t have to elaborate.

Again, be honest. But let the interviewer know what you learned from the experience and how it’s changed your perspective.

Interviews are your chance to shine, so don’t be shy. Boast about the things you’ve accomplished, especially if you have the metrics to back them up. Stuck on what to say? One easy way to self-promote is by using the STAR method:

  • Situation and Task. Explain the task you had to accomplish, including any relevant background information.
  • Action. What you did to accomplish the task.
  • Result. What you achieved. If you can relate this to actual numbers — the percentage increase in sales you achieved, how much you saved the company, etc. — even better!8. Why should we hire you? This is a great opportunity to make one final pitch for yourself. Sum up your qualifications and achievements and tie them in with what the interviewer is looking for in their next employee.

Explain how you would get ramped up, including any training that would be helpful. How could you start contributing, however small, right away? If you can show the interviewer you’re excited enough about the job that you’ve already started to think like an employee, you’ll impress them.

Use this question to demonstrate how you handle pressure and can think outside the box. The situation could involve changing deadlines or expectations, making the decision to fire an employee or restructure a team, or handling a displeased client.

Elaborate on what the mistake was, why you made it, how you rectified it and what you learned from it. Everyone makes mistakes — employers want to know how you handled them and what your biggest takeaway was.

While it’s easy to talk about your favorite parts of a job, you need to be delicate when talking about the negatives. You don’t want to come across as having a negative attitude or being unwilling to do certain tasks. One of the best ways to address the negatives of a current job is by discussing how previous roles have prepared you for new and more challenging ones. It’s important to keep a positive attitude and be respectful of your peers and superiors.

Think about the process you use to work through challenges. How did you manage them? What did you learn from them? How did this challenge shape the way you approach future situations?

Obviously, you don’t want to speak negatively about these individuals. Phrase the disagreement in factual, objective terms and then outline your problem-solving strategy. How did you use that to manage future interactions? Let the interviewer know what you learned and how you’d apply that in other situations.

While there’s no right or wrong answer, the job you’re applying for may require a lot of interaction or it may require that you be an independent self-motivator. It’s best to show examples of how you successfully worked in both types of scenarios.

Questions like these help an interviewer understand if you will be a long- or a short-term employee. Are you focused on helping the company grow and improve, or will you move on to another opportunity with another organization as soon as it presents itself? Think about how this position might evolve over the years and combine it with your ambition level. Then, focus your answer on the job you’re interviewing for and the company you’re interviewing with.

Interviewers are looking for concrete answers. Explain how you achieved past goals and then discuss how you will use those same skills to set and achieve future goals. Most employers appreciate employees who are dedicated to their professional growth, so consider talking about how you leverage continuing education to make your goals a reality.

Continuing Down the Path of Success

Interviews aren’t easy, but they’re also not supposed to be. This is the hiring manager’s chance to evaluate how successful you’ll be as part of their team by asking questions that require your insight and thoughtful consideration. Before you sit down for your next interview, ensure you’re prepared. Pay close attention to the skills in the job requirements and think about how your experience can apply.

Preparing to answer interview questions is one key to a successful interview. But it’s not the only key. Make sure you also come equipped with a resume that highlights your skills and attributes that will make you an asset to every company you join. If you’re interested in making sure you’re putting your best foot forward, contact us for a Quick Quote to learn more about our process and approach to helping you be your best.

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  • We guarantee that you will love your new resume.
  • We guarantee your Return on Investment (ROI).
  • We guarantee that you’ll get excellent service.
  • We guarantee you will work with an industry-leading team of resume writers and career advisors.
  • We guarantee your privacy.

At CareerPro Global, Inc., we’re committed to your success: 85% of our clients land interviews, and that’s because, since 1986, our team has consisted of unparalleled resume writers and career coaches. Our 99.6% customer satisfaction rating and myriad awards — such as the TORI Award’s “Best Military Transition Resume” in 20111 — proves that your business is our business. It’s what we do, and what we do well.

Good luck!

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