3 Steps to Interviewing Like a Pro


Staying in the same job for your entire career is not a typical scenario for most government workers, making interviewing for jobs a necessary evil. Believe it or not if you prepare correctly, you can blow away the competition and never again be caught unprepared during an interview. In last week’s post about writing a rock star resume, we talked about taking a few minutes every quarter to keep your resume in showroom quality. Today, I’m going to give you some tips for using the information you gathered for your resume updates to pre-prepare for your next interview.

Last week we talked about keeping a folder in your desk to gather your accomplishments and data over every three-month period to use for updating your resume. At the end of the quarter, when you go through your folder to make your updates, you might find several notable accomplishments that do not rise to the level of adding to your resume. These can be put to excellent use for your interview portfolio.

Step one in building your interview resources, is to start by writing down typical behavioral-type questions you are likely to be asked. Behavioral questions are the ones in which you are asked to describe what you would do or have done in a specific situation. Write down every question of this type you can think of. Here are some examples of frequently asked questions:

• How would you handle a conflict with a coworker
• How do you deal with quickly changing priorities
• Give an example of a mistake you made that had repercussions

Step two is to come up with real life examples of how you have handled each situation in the past. For each question, try to come up with at least two or three examples. Now, write out your example, formatted as an answer to the question. Your answer should include key points like what you did, why you chose that action, what other actions you considered, the outcome, and what you did for follow up. Your answer should also relate to a specific job on your resume. An example would be: “When I worked for XYZ Company in 2010, a co-worker and I had a disagreement about how we should do a task, and the deadline was approaching. We agreed to each do a cost-benefit analysis of our methods and compare the results. We would choose the one that seemed to be the best fit for our resources. By using a fact-based comparison to choose our method, the co-worker and I experienced increased professional trust between ourselves and completed this task prior to the deadline”.

Each example you have collected in your resume folder can be put to good use as responses to interview questions. Questions that are not behavioral in origin should also be answered by giving an example which highlights your skills. For instance if you are asked whether you work best independently or in a team, have an example ready that showcases your teamwork skills such as negotiation, compromise, and mission-oriented focus.

Step three: organize your interview resource and start practicing! To make your interview reference book as useful as possible, I recommend using a binder and a set of tabs to break your information into sections. Use one page for each question and example-containing response. Print your pages and organize them in your binder, in sections for particular types of questions, or sections that highlight particular behavior. By using the binder, you can reorganize your pages until they make the most sense for you. Now, practice giving your examples out loud until you can deliver them smoothly and with confidence. One of the most effective ways to become polished at giving impromptu responses is to practice in Toastmasters. This is a great group to practice your interview answers on and receive feedback to help you be even more effective.

What tips do you have to interview like a pro? Comment below!

Brenda Dennis is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Francesca El-Attrash

Brenda, thank you for this post! I love the binder idea for references to previous work experience! I’m’ gonna have to try that.

Brenda Dennis

Yes I’m sort of old-school on the binder thing, but it helps to rearrange for specific skills, or interviews, or to update certain things. It just didn’t work as well in an electronic format for me.

Christine Burke

Great advice Brenda! Here are some more common questions that I use to prepare for an interview:
• Why did you apply, what appeals to you about the position?
• What’s been your favorite project to work on and why?
• What kind of office culture do you like to work in? Where do you thrive?
• What accomplishment are you most proud of?
• What was the most challenging that you had to deal with professionally?
• What was it like working with your last boss? What will he/she tell me if I called them?
• What are your biggest strengths and biggest areas of improvement?
• What have you done to prepare for this interview?
• What are your career goals?
• What are you really good at professionally?
• What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?

Brenda Dennis

Thanks Christine!
These questions are great for somebody preparing for an interview. I really love the last one, although I have never been asked that, I sure wish I had the chance to answer it sometimes!

Joe Record

Great information Brenda,

I have three additional recommendations:
1. Prepare for the interview by doing research on the company or organization that you are applying to and have specific examples of how your experience can assist them in meeting their Vision, Mission, and Goals. This shows that you see yourself helping the organization move forward.
2. In your research, identify areas where the company or organization ties to your career aspirations and mention those at the interview. This shows that you are looking forwarding and considering “your future” within this organization.
3. Have a list of two to three questions that you wish to ask the interviewers (i.e., does the organization have tuition assistance or reimbursement for job related college courses?). Also, if these questions are answered through the course of the interview, still bring them up at the end and acknowledge that they answered these questions. This shows that you were prepared to ask “and” that you recognize that they answered them without you having to ask.

Good Luck To All!

Brenda Dennis

Thanks Joe, these are great recommendations! I especially like the first one about researching the mission, vision and goals of the agency you want to work for. Since everything they do should point toward those principles, it gives the applicant an excellent start in making sure that their examples also point toward those principles.