How to Ace Federal Job Interview?

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This topic contains 13 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Andrew Krzmarzick 11 years, 6 months ago.

  • Author
  • #95163

    Daron Jordan

    I have spent my almost 20 year career in local government and non-profit. I am now looking to make a transition to the Federal workplace and have been granted an interview.

    My question – What are the ins/outs/nuances that I should know about interviewing for a federal position?

  • #95189

    Hi Daron,

    Here’s a blog post about the post-interview thank you:

    You may want to search on the forums, because I could have sworn I saw another question like this…I’ll keep searching.

  • #95187

    Daron Jordan

    Thanks Andrew!

  • #95185

    Great chapter in this book, too: How To Land a Top-Paying Federal Job

    Also, see Workshop 4 here: Federal Job Readiness Institute

  • #95183

    Debra Fitzwater

    Hi Daron and congratulations on landing the interview! You will most likely be interviewed by a panel of interviewers—don’t be alarmed. I always tell people to use common courtesy and be prepared. I know this seems pretty basic but you would be amazed at the ill-prepared. Here are a few pointers…

    Prior to the interview:
    1. Preparation is key! Do your homework. If the position is apart of the Department of Defense or the Intelligence Community–understand the bigger picture. Understand the bigger picture regardless. Who answers to who…who does what… and what are the hot/current issues that may relate directly to the position that you are interviewing for?

    2. Understand the position for which you applied to. Review the vacancy announcement and your responses the night before. Think of ways that you could have been more thorough in your responses.

    3. Be on time–be early. Map out where you need to be in advance. Is there security protocol that may delay you for which you need to give yourself additional time?

    During the interview:
    1. Dress the part (suit it up); shake hands confidently, and smile.

    2. Bring a notepad and take notes. If you need to write down questions (because often, they come in packages), do so. Don’t be timid to ask for clarity of the interview questions or if you just need them repeated.

    After the interview:
    1. Prepare to answer some of the basic questions and one’s that are relative to the vacancy announcement and the needs of the organization. You wouldn’t believe how many people screw up here. When you answer a question, always tell the full story… and interesting story! Use the CCAR method. What is the Context of the situation? What was the Challenge? What Action did you take to mitigate/ improve, etc. the situation, and what was the Result of your Actions? Basically, what did you or will you bring to the table? Talk about past employment experiences as they pertain to the question. What makes you better than all the other candidates that will be interviewing for the same job?!

    2. When it’s time to ask questions, ask questions! Make sure they are relative to the position and the agency for which you are being interviewed for. Don’t talk salary at this juncture. Try to find out the “inside scoop” and think of existing challenges and what you have to offer. Come with your questions in tote and a copy of the organizational chart. This will give you an extra point or two depending how good your questions are.

    3. Shake hands and let them know how interested you are in the position. This is the last chance to bring it home.

    4. Lastly, make sure you have the interviewers names and contact information incase you decide to follow-up with a thank you note!

    Best of luck and remember, there are a lot of folks who would love to be in your shoes right now. Please keep us posted on how well you did.

    Debra Fitzwater
    PreEmpt Career Solutions, LLC
    It’s Not a Job. It’s a Federal Career.
    Office: 540-327-7527
    LinkedIn Profile:
    Company CV:

  • #95181

    Steve Ressler

    Half the battle is getting the interview. As you’ve got past that stage, I’d say the interview is probably not that much different than local or non-profits.

    Just general items
    -Do background research (know about agency, the sub-agency, and specific office)
    -Upbeat attitude is always key

  • #95179

    Jill White

    The official job site for all Federal positions are listed on USAJOBS.GOV
    However, there are other sites some agencies use as well, but usually they are always announced on USAJOBS.GOV website.
    Also, one thing different about applying for a Federal position versus private sector, is with resume. If you are applying for a Federal position, you need to elaborate on every duty you’ve had in each position and I mean every little thing. In the private sector, they want you to keep your resume down to 2-pages, at the most; however, when applying for Federal positions, they like approximately 1-page for each position you’re held. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. Good luck!

  • #95177

    Amanda Blount

    As I have said in other areas – My resume was 24-26 pages long (with KSAs) and I was hired. So, don’t be timid with details.

  • #95175

    Amanda Blount


    The one thing I see the most go wrong with people applying for Government jobs, is they don’t know the lingo. With the internet, preparing for a Government Job is easier than in the past. Look at your job announcement, then look at other sites and forums which highlight this job. Learn the names of the regulations you will be following and read a little in them.

    Ok so you are a lead in Program Management, but do you know the financial regulations, and program management regulations you will be following in that position? Do you know the lingo in Program Management in the Government?

    Details, details, details and use the keywords. Some people don’t like the way the Government hires, but as long as they are still doing it this way, do it the way they want, and you will eventually get hired.

    Don’t be afraid to bring in all your certificates and training from your prior positions and TAB them with flags with Government Keywords. You may have received a training certificate in so-in-so at your last job, but you know it fits in perfectly with a particular keyword you see in your application. Tab the thing and hand it to the panel when they ask a question.

    Government people have no reason to fear you stealing their jobs (at least not right away), so they are not going to NOT HIRE you for looking too good. This is your moment to shine. They are not the enemy. Show the panel in many ways how your civilian jobs transfer to your new Government one.

    This is going to sound over the top – but it worked. I helped someone get a Government job once by doing this…

    All she had was all civilian stuff, so we made a three ringed binder of everything she had and divided it into sections; career training, formal higher education, and awards. Then we put sticky notes on each one of them with notes showing where each one fit in with the Government job (using key words from the announcement). She gave the binder to the board, and BAM she was hired. Just like that!

    *** Keep in mind, we also used the same notes and keywords in her resume. I know KSAs are controversial, but make the most out of them. Every single question on the resume gives you one more time to highlight how great you are. Don’t waste it by being lazy.

    On the other hand, I am working with someone right now who does not want to seem egotistical by providing too much information. They are taking a huge risk. You get one time in front of the board. Take the time to shine.

  • #95173

    Daron Jordan

    Thank you for the insight!

  • #95171

    Daron Jordan

    Not being in DC won’t be able to make the training but I did order the book. Thank you for the suggestion!

  • #95169

    Daron Jordan


    Thank you very much for the insight & suggestions. I have a couple of weeks before the interview so I will have some time to work on your suggestions.

  • #95167

    Daron Jordan

    Thanks. So should i wear my govloop lanyard into the interview…lol

  • #95165

    Kathleen Smith

    Congrats on the interview! I have to echo one of Debra’s points: getting the contact information from everyone you meet so that you can send a thank you note. Thank you notes are one of those lost social graces that make a big impact in not only job searching but in business in general. I can’t tell you how many hiring managers and recruiters that I have talked with who say they hardly ever get a followup note and those that they do get, they really remember the candidate.

    Some things to think about with a thank you note:
    Recap an important point in the meeting
    Mention something about the person you met so they know you are truly writing the note to them rather than just a standard “thank you for your time” like I appreciated hearing about the leadership conference you attended at Duke and how that impacted your career.
    Add in that one point that you forgot to add during the interview that you want to share with them. Many times we walk out of an interview and as soon as we get to the outside, we say “darn, I should have mentioned XYZ” Well the thank you note is the great place to put in this extra tidbit.

    As I said thank you notes are a lost art, but they make a big difference throughout many stages of our careers and lives.

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