Just like any other job interview, government job interviews require solid preparation. Taking your time to research the specific organization and position you applied for is key. An organized approach is the best way to prepare for your government job interview.
The interviewer is looking for the right person for the job and who fits the agency culture the best. As with any interview, it’s unlikely that you will know all the other candidates, and therefore is there no way to know whether or not you’re the best fit for the position. The only thing that you can control is what you do and how you prepare.
Even though job interviews for government positions can be a little intimidating, good preparation will make sure that you make the right impression. If possible, start at least a couple of days to a week before your interview to make sure you come as prepared as possible.
In this article, we discuss what interview questions you’re most likely to encounter and how you should answer them. Furthermore, read more about frequently asked job interview questions here and check our job interview preparation checklist.
Government job interview process
After you make it through the online application round you, and probably a dozen other applicants, will be invited for the next step in the process. There are several elements to take into consideration when you’re invited to a government agency job interview. First of all, there are different types of government job interviews. One or more of the following interview processes can be conducted when you’re applying for a government position.
Interview invitation call or email
Some government agencies will use emails to clarify and kick off the interview process. Usually, these emails contain the information you need and what the next steps in the interview process are.
If you receive a call for an actual job interview, it’s important that you pay close attention. In most cases, you will get an additional follow-up email that provides you with the information you need about the actual job interview.
However, to be sure, write down the following information before you end the call:
- The name of the person you spoke to on the phone, their agency, and title.
- A phone number you can call if you have any further questions.
- Confirmation of the title of the position in case you applied for multiple jobs at the specific agency.
- The exact time and date of the interview
- The location of the interview
- Who you will be interviewing with and the format of the interview.
- Any items that you should bring to the interview, besides your resume
- Information on additional assessments you might need to take during the interview. Think, for instance, of case study, writing test, psychometric test, etc.
Screening government job interview
This can be considered as the first round of the interview process. Government agencies use this to filter out the candidates whose skills match the job requirements and invite them to an on-site job interview.
In general, these conversations are relatively short, and you will be asked several interview questions about your background and qualifications that are relevant to the job. It’s also possible that the interviewer asks you about your salary requirements and your availability to work.
Based on the initial screening, government agencies decide which candidates will move on to the next round of the interview process.
The goal of this step in the interview process is to find out whether or not you have the necessary skills and abilities for the job and if your salary expectations match what the agency can offer you. In this early stage of the interview process, interviewers are already focussing on finding the person that is the right fit for the job.
During this interview, you can expect basic interview questions such as:
- Can you tell me about yourself?
- Describe your work history.
- Why do you want to work for this company?
- Can you tell me about your salary requirements?
- Specific competency-based or skills-based interview questions.
Tips to ace a screening interview
- Thoroughly analyze the job description to make sure you exactly understand the requirements.
- Make sure you know your resume and what details you have included.
- Read into what a phone interview entails, what is expected of you, and how you should prepare.
- Be honest and straightforward to the interviewer. You have little time to make a great impression.
- If applicable, follow-up with a thank you note to the interviewer.
You can read more tips for phone interviews here.
On-site government job interview
The traditional job interview on location is still the most common type of interview used by government agencies. In this setting, you, the interviewee, and the interviewer are having a conversation to discuss the job you applied for. This type of interview is also called a ‘one-on-one interview,’ ‘traditional job interview,’ ‘individual interview,’ or ‘face-to-face job interview.’
Typically in this interview, you get to sit and face one or more interviewers and answer interview questions. So although it sometimes called a one-on-one interview, it’s possible that you’re observed by others.
Interviewers are usually human resource employees or other representatives of the agency. This type of interview allows interviewers to ask more in-depth questions to the applicant to assess their skills and abilities. Furthermore, it allows them to analyze body language while being able to dig deeper into their personalities as well.
The advantage for you as a candidate is that you can prepare and practice specific answers to questions that you anticipate based on the job description. This means that you get an opportunity to demonstrate that your skills and abilities match the requirements for the job.
In general, interviewers use a structured interview format approach. This means that each of the job applicants will get the same type of questions. This is done to consistently get relevant job-related information about each of the applicants.
Commonly asked government job interview questions are:
- Tell me about yourself
- How would you describe yourself?
- What are your career goals?
- Why do you want to work here?
- What interests you about this position?
- Why are you leaving your current job?
- What is your greatest strength?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- Tell me about a challenging work situation and how you overcame it.
- Why should we hire you?
- What did you like most about your last position?
- What did you like least about your last position?
- How do you handle stress?
- What is your greatest accomplishment?
- What motivates you?
Phone government job interview
Employers usually use phone interviews in the early stages of the interview process. It’s a similar kind of interview as the earlier discussed screening interview. Usually, phone interviews are scheduled in advance by email or via a phone call.
Phone interviews are used as an initial screening of applicants to ensure that the candidates that advance to the next round at least meet the minimum job requirements.
A phone interview is probably the first time you directly talk to a representative of the hiring company. There are companies that use one phone interview, but there are also companies that use two or even three different calls before you get an invitation for an on-site interview.
It’s important to realize is that you cannot use your body language to get your suitability across during a phone interview. Therefore, focus on your tone of voice and ensure that you speak calmly and clearly. Also, use this position to your advantage. During the call, pay special attention to the voice of the interviewer and listen carefully. Just like the interviewer cant observe your body language, you can’t observe theirs.
If the call is scheduled, you can prepare for questions you expect in advance. In other words, you can have all your notes in front of you that you have used to prepare to make the best impression possible.
Tips to prepare for your phone interview:
- If the interviewer calls you at a time that is not convenient, always ask to reschedule. This way, you can increase your chances of making a great impression during the interview. However, only do this if the interviewer calls you at a time that was not agreed on via email or phone before.
- Make sure that you clear the room that your in of any distractions. A quiet room is the best way to keep your focus during the interview.
- If you have a call scheduled, make sure you have a list ready for answers that you want to give the interviewer to demonstrate your suitability.
- Always have your resume and cover letter nearby in case the interviewer wants to discuss these with you.
- Have a pen and paper nearby to take notes.
Your preparation for a phone interview is similar to preparing for an on-site or face-to-face interview. Basic questions that you can expect during a phone interview are for instance
Background and experience questions
Job profile and government agency questions
Questions about yourself
Besides answering questions, make sure you have some questions to ask the interviewer as well. This will show that you have thought the position through and that you are well-prepared.
During a panel interview, you are being interviewed by multiple interviewers at the same time. This might feel intimidating, but remember that these people are here for you too. They see potential in you as a candidate; else, they would not have taken time out of their day to interview you.
The panel you’re interviewing with usually consists of representatives from different levels, units, or departments of the company. Think, for instance, of an HR manager, department manager, and team leader. Because all panelists come from different backgrounds in the government agency, every one of them will probably consider your resume, cover letter, and answers to questions differently.
Find out before the interview who your interviewers are. By doing so, you can research each of them to find out who they are and what they exactly do within the agency. This will give you the ability to prepare better because you can make an educated guess about who will ask you what kind of interview questions. Furthermore, during the interview, you can call all panelists by name. This way, you will leave an impression of holding your own during the interview.
For government agencies, a panel interview is an easy way for a group of people in the organization to get to know you better quickly. The panel interview, therefore, replaces the multiple individual interviews that you would normally have, which saves the company both time and money. In short, a panel interview helps to make the interview process more efficient.
There are several reasons why panel interviewers are unique. For starters, you will have to answer to interview questions in a way that is relevant for different people with different responsibilities in the agency.
Because you’re interviewing different people, you will also have the opportunity to ask them questions about the position and the organization in general. This way, you can decide for yourself if the agency and job you’re applying for is the right job for you.
Example Government Job Interview Questions & Answers:
- Give us an example of how you effectively communicate at work.
- Why do you want this position in this company?
- How do you adjust to changing situations that you have no control over?
- What are your future plans if you get this position?
- What have you done to improve yourself in the past year?
- Give me an example of a time you had to adapt to a change in the workplace.
- What accomplishment are you most proud of? Why?
- Tell me about a time you had to think outside of the box to solve a problem.
- Describe a time you had a conflict and how you resolved it
- Have you ever had difficulty working with a manager?
- Tell me about a time you managed an important project
- How have you motivated others at work?
Video conference interview
Video conferences are used by different government agencies. They can, for instance, be used if you or any of the people interviewing you have travel barriers. Depending on the agency, you might be invited to come to a local federal office building to take part.
However, it’s also possible that you can interview from home. If you have a video conference call scheduled, make sure that you’re in a quiet room and that you have access to a connection that will deliver an uninterrupted experience.
These types of interviews are a way to save money while widening the pool of job candidates. Just like a panel interview, it’s possible that there are multiple interviewers.
How to prepare for a government job interview
Preparing for a government job interview at any agency takes diligence, preparation, practice, and persistence. There are several steps you can take to make sure you have a solid preparation to make the best impression possible during the interview.
Do your homework and research
These are the first basic steps of your preparation. Study the job description thoroughly. Also, research the agency where you’re applying for a job. Find out what the goals, mission, and challenges of the organization are. Read everything you possibly can about the agency or organization. Start with the website of that particular agency and read into the leadership, culture, news, reports, and everything else you can get your hands on.
Based on your research, you can already come up with some questions that you can ask the interviewer during the interview. Your research also allows you to identify the needed competencies, skills, and abilities to successfully work within the agency and position.
Make a list of required competencies, skills, and abilities
During the interview, it’s important that you demonstrate that you possess the needed competencies, skills, and abilities to successfully perform the job. Based on your research, you can make a list of the ones that you think are important for the position you’re applying for.
Next, you can make an educated guess about the interview questions that you can expect during the interview. This way, you can prepare example answers to these questions to make sure that if this question, or a similar or related one, comes up, you have an answer ready.
Think of past experiences that relate to the position you’re applying for
Create a list of past work experiences that could help you demonstrate that you’re the right person for the job. Highlight successful situations you were in that show professional behavior and skills related to the requirements for the job.
This will help you provide concise and to-the-point answers during your job interview.
Prepare answers that include successful and challenging situations
Based on the questions that you expect from your research on the required competencies, skills, and abilities, you can start preparing answer scenarios. Just like you should be able to discuss successful work situations from your past, you should also prepare to answer questions that regard challenging situations.
Think, for instance, of the commonly asked interview question ‘Tell me about a time when you had to perform a task in which you had little or no experience in doing. How did you approach this situation, and what did you learn?’ This question is called a behavioral job interview question.
These types of strategic interview questions require you to provide the interviewer with an example situation that you experienced in professional work environments. Behavioral job interview questions focus on work situations that you experienced in the past and how you responded to them. The way you respond to these questions tells the interviewer more about your work methods and ethics.
Ensure that you prepare examples of situations in which you faced a challenge but came out successful. These specific examples should tell the interviewer what situation you faced, what actions you took, why you took those actions, and what the results were. Furthermore, explain what you learned from the situation. The best way to respond to behavioral interview questions is by using the STAR interview technique.
STAR interview technique to answer behavioral interview questions
Familiarize yourself with the STAR method to structure answers to behavioral interview questions. The STAR method allows you to concisely provide the interviewer an answer by logically walking them through the situation. Below the STAR method is discussed step by step.
General elements to consider when structuring your answers to questions that you’re expecting:
- Give the interviewer an answer in the form of a ‘story’ and structure this story logically. Use the STAR interview technique to do this. STAR is an acronym that stands for a situation (S), your task (T) in that situation, the actions (A) you took, and what results (R) you got based on your actions. These are the basic steps you take in your walkthrough.
- Display the skills and abilities that are needed for the job you’re applying for and that the interviewer wants to see. Make sure you match your qualifications to the job and skills, as mentioned in the job description.
- Be honest. Interviewers will notice if you make a story up. Also, they will ask follow-up questions to go more in-depth into the situation you provide them with. Make sure to prepare several example situations of skills and abilities that you think will be discussed based on your research.
Practice, practice, and practice some more
When you think you’re ready, it’s time to practice mock interviews. You can do this by yourself by, for instance, recording yourself on your computer or mobile phone. However, the best way is to practice with a friend or relative. Let them ask you common interview questions and questions that you’re expecting based on your research and answer them.
This is the perfect way for you to polish your answers and presentation. Practice until you’re confident enough to naturally bring across your answers.
Government job interview questions & answers
Below you can find commonly asked government job interview questions and answers to them. The answers below are general example answers. Make sure that you create and structure your own answers and tailor them to the required knowledge level, skills, and abilities, as stated in the job description.
1. Why do you want to work for the government? And why this agency?
‘Personally, I have always admired those people that serve the country. I believe through civil service, I can impact people’s lives directly, and I’m willing to take that responsibility. My previous work experience allowed me to develop great communication and teamwork skills that I think could benefit me in this position.
Furthermore, the training and development opportunities within the government and especially within this position will help me advance my skills to do just that.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- This example shows that you understand what the job entails and that your skills match the requirements of the job.
- The provided example is related but also relevant to the job. It show’s that you see a future in this position and that you’re planning on staying and developing yourself there.
2. Have you ever had difficulty working with a manager?
‘In my previous position, I worked with a supervisor, where I initially had some challenges getting along with. Regarding my job performance, I got less feedback than I got from other managers in my career, which made it difficult to meet expectations at times. This made it hard for me to evaluate my performance, as well. In the beginning, we had some disagreements, but these were based on misunderstandings.
I requested a meeting with him and asked if he could provide me with more direct and specific feedback on work that needed to be done. He understood what I asked him, and from that day on, we were on the same page in terms of expectations. We had a successful working relationship for over three years after that meeting and worked together on multiple projects. Eventually, he got promoted, and I got a new manager to run the team. What I learned from my previous experience is that I should take time to discuss management styles with new managers and make sure that expectations from both sides are clear.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- This example shows that you are self-aware and have self-knowledge.
- Furthermore, the answer shows that you’re proactive in solving challenging situations.
- The answer is directly related to the question and provides a specific example of you facing a challenge with a manager.
3. Tell me about yourself
‘I’ve been working as an administrative coordinator for over five years now. In my current position in the finance department of a large corporate, I’m responsible for handling clerical and administrative duties but also for analyzing and improving office processes and policies. Furthermore, I coordinate schedules and meeting plans for three executives.
I’m an experienced team player and known for being organized and detail-oriented. In my career, I never missed a deadline, which I’m very proud of. My clear and friendly verbal and written communication skills allow me to multitask and coordinate interdepartmental communications, which are essential is this job.
With my years of work experience, I’m looking for a new opportunity to take my career to the next level. This position allows me to do just that with a new set of responsibilities. Furthermore, this position within the government allows me to work for the benefit of the people, which is something that I’m passionate about.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- This example explains your work experience and your strengths.
- Furthermore, the answer links your strengths to the job requirements, which gives it extra weight.
- The answer shows your commitment to the job and demonstrates that you’re well-qualified for your target position.
4. Why did you leave your last job?
‘The main reason for leaving my last job is that I got an opportunity to advance my career. I started at the organization right out of university after I did my graduate thesis there.
After a one year internship and five years of working at the company, I was offered a promotion at another company, which allowed me to lead my own team. This experience in a new professional environment gave me room to continue to grow.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- This example explains in a short and concise way why you left your last job. It directly relates to the question asked by the interviewer.
- The reasons for leaving your job are all valid. Every employer will understand that as a professional, you need to grow after a certain amount of time in a position, especially at the start of your career.
5. Who was your best boss, and who was the worst?
‘I’ve always been able to get along with my bosses. This includes my current boss. Professional settings such as the workplace require from you that you get along with different types of people and personalities. This goes for your co-workers as well as your managers and bosses.
In general, sometimes you have to share ideas and be open to input from others, while other times, you just have to agree to disagree. The goal should always be to put the interests of the company ahead of any personal feelings. Whenever you leave a discussion or conversation, it’s important to be focused on your tasks and making sure that the actions you take are done to meet your objectives and goals.’
Example of discussing your best boss:
‘In my previous job, my boss really helped me develop as a professional which I will always be thankful for. As I gained more experience in my position, she enabled me to take on more responsibilities.
After three years, she promoted me to the position of team manager and taught me how to acknowledge and recognize the strengths of individual team members.
She also helped me in the initial years to structure my team and to apply each individual’s strength to the fullest extent. To this day, I apply this philosophy of trying to get the best out of people and understanding that everybody has something positive to add to a team effort.’
Example of discussing your worst boss:
‘I once had a manager that used a very different style of communication. Even though we worked together well and finished our projects on time, the feeling was not the same as with other managers I had in my career.
We were not really able to create a bond, and I sometimes had some trouble understanding what he meant because he was hard to gauge. Due to the communication not being clear at times, we had a rocky start, but that was just because the expectations were not always clear to me.
As time passed, I got more used to this and could adapt to the situation. I was able to stay focused and work together on a professional level to complete the needed objectives and tasks.’
Why these are strong answers:
- All three examples are suitable to discuss with an interviewer; they directly relate to the question.
- The given answers are all professional in nature. Never badmouth a past employer or let emotions get in the way when answering. Stay professional.
- Of course, discussing your ‘worst’ boss is the most challenging. Even though the example highlights what you found challenging, it also demonstrates that you dealt with that challenge as a professional, which is what interviewers are looking for in answers.
6. What are your career goals?
‘One of the reasons I applied for this position at this Government agency is because I find the opportunities that it offers to develop myself exciting. The mentorship program is unique and nothing like any other program I’ve seen before.
It sounds very attractive to me in order to progress my career and knowledge levels. In five years, I want to be an expert in my field and add value to the agency by leading my own team in some capacity.
Also, I want to become a person that others can go to, to discuss ideas and strategies. Furthermore, I would like to develop myself as a professional that can help and mentor co-workers and be a part of the mentorship program myself.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- This answer shows that you’re aware of the training and development opportunities at the government agency.
- Furthermore, the answer shows where you will see yourself in the longer term and explains what the training will bring you.
- The mentioned career goal is realistic and relevant to the position, which gives it more weight. It shows your commitment to the agency for the longer term.
7. How do you see yourself contributing to the mission of our agency?
‘I see myself contributing to the agency’s mission by using my skills and abilities to help achieve the goals and objectives of the organization. Furthermore, I am committed to public service and am excited to use my skills and experience to make a positive impact on the community. In my opinion, my ability to work well in a team, strong communication skills, and dedication to customer service will all be valuable assets as I support the agency’s mission.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- The answer addresses the question and provides specific examples of how you see yourself contributing to the agency’s mission.
- It demonstrates your commitment to public service and desire to make a positive impact on the community.
- Also, the answer highlights specific skills and experiences that you have that would be valuable to the agency, such as the ability to work well in a team, strong communication skills, and dedication to customer service.
- It shows enthusiasm for the job and a desire to join the agency’s team.
8. How do you handle difficult or challenging situations?
‘I approach difficult or challenging situations with a calm and professional demeanor. Firstly, I try to stay focused and not get overwhelmed by the emotions that may be involved. I also try to gather as much information as possible about the situation to understand it and identify potential solutions fully. Once I have a clear understanding of the situation, I work to develop a plan of action to address it. This may involve seeking guidance or support from my supervisor or colleagues or finding creative solutions on my own. Ultimately, my goal is to find a resolution to the problem that is fair, effective, and respectful to all parties involved.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- It demonstrates your ability to remain calm and professional in difficult or challenging situations.
- It shows that you can gather information and understand the situation before taking action.
- The answer highlights your ability to develop a plan of action to address the problem and find a resolution.
- The answer shows that you’re proactive and look for ways to solve problems rather than simply reacting to them.
- It indicates that you are respectful and fair when dealing with difficult situations.
9. What are your long-term career goals?
‘My long-term career goal is to continue learning and grow as a professional to use my skills and experience to impact the community in a positive way. I have committed myself to public service and am passionate about working toward the greater good. I see myself eventually taking on leadership roles within the organization in the future, which allows me to mentor and guide other employees as they develop their careers. In the long run, I hope to make a lasting difference in the lives of the people I serve and to be a valuable member of the team within the agency.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- It demonstrates your commitment to public service and desire to make a positive impact on the community through your work.
- The answer shows that you have a clear vision for their long-term career goals and is committed to personal and professional growth.
- It highlights your desire to take on leadership roles and to mentor and support others.
- It demonstrates a commitment to being a valuable team member and making a lasting difference in the lives of the people served.
10. Can you provide an example of a time when you worked effectively as part of a team?
‘One time I worked effectively as part of a team was during a project at my previous job. I was part of a cross-functional team that was responsible for developing a new training program for our organization. We were all working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was important that we effectively communicated and coordinated our efforts. I took on the role of project manager and worked with team members to develop a project plan and timeline. I kept everyone informed and on track by regularly holding virtual meetings and check-ins. In the end, we successfully developed and implemented the training program on schedule, and it was well-received by our employees. This experience showed me the importance of clear communication and effective teamwork in achieving our goals.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- It provides a specific example of a time when you worked effectively as part of a team.
- The answer highlights your role as a project manager and your ability to develop a project plan and timeline.
- It demonstrates your ability to keep the team informed and on track through regular meetings and check-ins.
- The answer shows that you were able to adapt to remote work and effectively communicate and coordinate with team members.
Red flags: Government job interview questions & answers
Below we discuss a couple of red flags that you should avoid during your government job interview. You want, of course, to make the best impression possible during your government job interview, so make sure you do not fall for these common pitfalls.
Not providing enough detail
If you cannot provide specific details or examples about what you claimed in your resume or cover letter, this can be considered a red flag. If you, for instance, claim that you have successfully led a team in the past, you better be able to back this up through clear examples. Failing to do so could lead to a quick elimination of your candidacy for the position. If the interviewer has trouble verifying your employment history, this could be a warning sign.
Failing to respond effectively
If your answers or example situations indicate that your behaviors, values, beliefs, and attitudes do not align with the aspects of the job as well as the company, this can be a dealbreaker.
Also, if you fail to respond effectively to a follow-up question, this can come across as weak. It’s therefore important that during your interview preparation, you already think about questions that you can be asked and any follow-up questions that can follow based on your answers.
Because you already know what the scenario in your answer will include, if you prepare the right way for questions you’re expecting, you can figure out which follow-up questions are likely to be asked. For instance, if you’re preparing for the interview question ‘Describe a time when you had to work on a task outside of your job description?‘ you can expect the interviewer to follow up with ‘How did you approach this situation?‘ and ‘What was the result of your actions?‘
Not taking responsibility
If the interviewer asks you about certain work situations or asks you to provide examples of how you have handled situations in the past, take responsibility. This goes for successes that you accomplished but definitely for questions or situations that regard mistakes or projects that may have failed.
If you don’t take responsibility for your actions, this can be considered a warning sign. Self-awareness and being to reflect on situations is an important characteristic to possess in any workplace.
Employers want to hire candidates that are able to admit errors or who made thoughtful mistakes in the past and tried to fix them. The interviewers know that the candidates are human and make mistakes; everybody does. It’s important that your answers show that you take responsibility for situations and describe the actions you took to fix any problems or challenges.
Including negativity, too many emotions, or badmouthing past employers will be considered a red flag. If you’re talking bad about others now, who is to say that you won’t do the same about the people you will work with in this position? Stay professional and focus on your goal, landing that government job.
Negative undertones never impress interviewers the right way. Therefore, focus on yourself and make sure to make a great and positive impression.