Making it through the online application process and into the interview round is an impressive achievement—but not a guarantee. You can be included among a dozen or so applicants who are vying for one position, and the final selection will be based on several rounds of interviews.
With this guide, we’ll cover all the ins and outs (and do’s and don’ts) of the federal jobs interview process to help you be prepared and confident.
Awaiting the Call for Your Interview
After you have submitted your application, the type of follow-up you receive will vary. Some agencies send e-mails to kick off the interview initiation process (Others will give you a congratulatory call.
If you receive a call for an interview, you still have work to do. Be sure to write down the following information before the caller hangs up:
- Name of the caller, their title and agency
- The return phone number
- Confirmation of the job title (if you applied for multiple jobs)
- Time and date of the interview (or tentative dates if still scheduling)
- Location of the interview
- Any other items you need to bring (such as writing samples) besides your resume
- Additional assessments you may need to complete during the interview (such as a writing test)
You should also attempt to gather the following information over the phone or via e-mail from the person arranging your interview:
- Name(s) of interviewer(s)
- Interview format
- Security/access requirements and the time required for getting on site (it often takes 15 to 20 minutes or more to get through a federal building’s security process)
- Parking or transportation instructions
Types of Government Interviews
There are many ways an agency might test your skills, strengths and general professional abilities through the interview format. The most common are through either a standard one-on-one interview or the federal version of a panel interview, although phone and video interviews happen as well.
As the name implies, this is an interview between one jobseeker (you) and the hiring manager or another decision-maker. Be aware that this may entail a series of one-on-one interviews with various people in that agency or department before a job offer is made. Whatever the case, keep this information in mind:
- One-on-one interviews are used to find out more about you as a person (how will you interact with your colleagues?) and as a professional (have your prior experiences prepared you for this job?).
- Although it is called a one-on-one, you may be observed by others during the interview.
- Each one-on-one interview is a new interview, so you should treat it as such. Even though you will say the same thing multiple times, keep in mind the information is new and important to each interviewer.
- Hiring managers are making increased use of a “structured interview” format, during which they ask each applicant the same series of questions. This is intended to consistently draw out relevant job-related information about each applicant. Don’t worry if the interview seems rather formal; it may simply mean this is a structured interview and the interviewer is not wasting time talking about sports or the weather.
- Some agencies take the opportunity to interview potential employees at career fairs or other public events (typically for jobs that the agencies have permission to fill outside the usual competitive process). These are generally one-on-one interviews and should be treated with as much professionalism as any other interview.
Panel interviews are preferred at some agencies because multiple team members can learn about the candidate at once, making the decision-making process more efficient. Of course, for the interviewee, it can be intimidating to sit in front of a panel of people who are there solely to judge you. (No pressure.)
Here are a few elements that make panel interviews a unique experience:
- You will have to answer questions in a way that’s relevant for different people with different responsibilities.
- You will have the opportunity to ask several people questions about the job and the organization to help you decide whether it’s the right fit for you.
- You will be well served if you can remember names during and after this interview. Generally, all the panelists will already know each other. Thank them and address them by name—you’ll make an impression for holding your own.
Many agencies use a phone call as an initial screen to save time and/or money and learn some basic information: Can this person answer our questions? Do we want to take the time to speak with this candidate in person?
Phone interview advantages:
- Phone interviews can help you stay in the running if you aren’t able to physically come in to interview when the agency is scrambling to start meeting candidates.
- You can take notes while talking, refer to materials on hand, and generally control your environment.
Phone interview challenges:
- You will need to pay special attention to people’s voices and listen carefully. You will not have the advantage of observing body language or other visual cues to guide your responses. Phone interviews are still real interviews and hiring managers or HR professionals will decide if you move forward in the application process based on this interaction.
- Tone of voice can be misinterpreted. When you practice for your phone interview with a mentor or peer, ask what impression they have of you based on what they hear.
- In addition to being well prepared for your phone interview (you should be just as prepared as if it were an in-person interview), make sure you have good phone reception or use a land line in a quiet place to reduce the risk of static, background noise, interruptions or other distractions.
Some agencies may choose to conduct interviews via live video conference, especially if you or any of the interviewers have significant travel barriers. You may be asked to come to a federal office building local to your current area to take part. This is a great way for the agency to save money while widening the pool of potential employees. Panel interviewing allows multiple decision-makers to “see” the interviewee. Treat this as an in-person interview in both your preparation and your professional dress.