Government Interview Tips
This article is an extract from "Get That Job! The Best Guide to Applying for a Government Job" and was published in by IQ Magazine May 2006.
Over the past eight years, interviewing candidates for senior positions with major corporations and the federal government, I’ve been struck by how many candidates who look great on paper come unstuck at interview. Often, very intelligent people can make basic mistakes. Some have obviously made no preparation and appear disorganised. Others assume their record or qualifications will speak for them, or, not wanting to appear conceited, do little to sell themselves.
A candidate who prepares well and presents well will always win out over candidates with similar credentials and experience.
To help you ace your next job interview, I’ve turned the interview process inside out with a list of 30 ‘must do’s’ that will help you woo and win interviewers like myself.
1. Do confirm all important details such as time and location the day prior to the interview.
2. Do some background research, or review the research you have already completed. By the time you attend the interview you should be reasonably well acquainted with the organisation and the type of work they do, as well as the details of the position.
3. Do dress accordingly. While it is true that the rules of dress in the workplace have changed in recent years, in most cases you will still be expected to wear a suit and tie (if you are male) to an interview. I once heard it said that you should dress in the workplace according to where you want to be in the hierarchy, not where you currently are. This is even more important in a job interview.
4. Do arrive 15 minutes early. Not arriving early is considered being late.
5. Do give yourself plenty of time to make the journey and park the car, or if travelling by public transport allow for delays or cancellations.
6. Do stay calm, explain and apologise if you are late. The interviewer would rather hear an apology than nothing at all.
7. Do allow for double the time you are told the interview will take. It is not uncommon for interviews to start late and run overtime. While it’s not reasonable for candidates to be late or ramble overtime in an interview, the same rules do not apply for the interviewer. You should therefore ensure your parking meter is taken care of, and do not schedule appointments directly following the interview.
8. Do switch off your mobile. Or better still, leave it behind.
9. Do shake hands confidently. Handshakes have a far deeper significance than most of us would credit. Never underestimate the power of first impressions.
10. Do be yourself. Don't play roles - you are selling yourself, not something you’re not and can’t deliver.
11. Do smile and be friendly. Try to form rapport with the interviewer. One of the basic rules of human behaviour indicates that someone is viewed more favourably if they are likeable.
12. Do make eye contact. If you are faced with an interview panel (ie two or more people interviewing you), it can be hard to know who to look at when answering the interview questions. As a rule of thumb, focus on the person who asked you the question, however try to address each member at some stage during the interview.
13. Do avoid one-word answers, unless it is obvious that this is all that the interviewer wants to hear. Introduce what you are about to say, and then expand. In my experience, not providing enough information is the biggest mistake made in interviews. If you don’t say it, the interviewer may assume you don’t know it, or can’t do it.
14. Do keep it concise. While it may seem contradictory to the last point, it is important to keep from rambling on. Present all the relevant information while remaining as succinct as possible. Rambling is the second biggest mistake made in an interview. To overcome this, really listen to the question, and answer the question, and answer it concisely. So many applicants get this wrong. They are asked a question, and they go off on a tangent. They might think they are saying what the interviewer wanted to hear, but they didn't answer the question.
15. Do stay positive. Making negative or derogatory comments about your past employers or colleagues will not make you look any better. In fact it will have the opposite effect!
16. Do agree with the interviewer even if you know they are wrong. An interview is not the place to participate in an argument, and in most cases will fast track your application on the bottom of the pile.
17. Do tell the truth. If you’re caught out lying or embellishing you will ruin all future chances with this employer, and may face disciplinary action for fraud if you are already working for this organisation.
18. Do use the word “I”. Always use “I” when describing the work you have done in the past. Using “we” gives the impression that you may not have done the work independently, or that you weren’t even involved in the first place. Hearing “we” rings alarm bells for interviewers.
19 Do use examples. It is one thing to say you can do something, but it is much better to provide an example of where you have done it.
20. Do ask for clarification if you are unsure about what a question means, or what the interviewer is looking for.
21. Do ask questions about the role early on if it is appropriate. Then fit your responses to what you have learned.
22. Do take a copy of your application and the job specification (if you have one) with you and keep a copy in front of you during the interview. Knowing what the interview question is aimed at will help you frame your responses correctly.
23. Do stick to the topic. Don't get off track.
24. Do reflect the interviewer’s communication style. Allow the interviewer to set the tone of conversation. Mirroring their style can vastly improve your chances of making a favourable impression.
25. Do pause to reflect before answering the question. This will avoid an interview full of “umms” and “ahhs”. If you have been given a glass of water, sit, think, reflect and have a drink before launching into your response.
26. Do put together a portfolio of your work to present at an interview. It may not always be looked at during an interview, but presenting examples of your work can strengthen your claims for a position, and it also demonstrates your initiative and innovation. Things to put in a portfolio include reports you have written, screen dumps of computer applications you use, certificates, awards, letters of recommendation, performance appraisals and so on. (Be sure that you are not breaching any copyright, security restrictions or intellectual property before including something in your portfolio).
27. DO ASK A QUESTION! If you are asked at the end of the interview if you have any questions, the answer is always YES! More than anything it shows that you have prepared, and interviewers love to see applicants who are well prepared and motivated about the position.
28. Do remain focussed on what the employer wants. Don’t bring up conditions of service during the interview unless someone else brings it up first. The interview is supposed to be about you being suitable for the position, not the other way around. This is something that you can research yourself as most organisations will have their Award, Certified Agreement or equivalent published on the Internet. If it’s really important to you, ask later, once the selection process is over.
29. While you should avoid bringing up conditions of service, you should know exactly what salary you would like to commence at, as it is likely that this will be asked during the interview.
30. Do stay professional. Each interviewer is going to be different, and every interview experience is going to be different. Some interviewers will be very straight and to the point, while others will be very informal, laid back, and easy going. A lot of applicants make mistakes in this area, they start to feel too comfortable and think, “Great, this interviewer is really cool.” And then they open up and cross the line! Stay professional!
Good luck with your next interview. Like a good boy scout, be prepared, and like a movie star, give your best performance.
Other ways this website can help you with your next interview:
- Sign up to the free newsletter to receive information and advice for your next application and interview. This will also give you free access to our VIP section which contains free articles and applciation templates.
- Use the guide "Get That Job! The Best Guide to Applying for a Government Job"
- Use the quick quide "401 Interview Questions" to help you prepare for your next government interview.
- Read the main article about government interviews here.