6 Common Questions Asked During a Government Job Interview

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You probably know the standard questions to expect when you show up for job interviews. You prepare answers to questions such as why you want the job, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and what you bring to the table. While no two interviews are alike and you never know exactly what you’ll be asked, you can expect something pretty close to the standard. 

What if it's a government job you’ll be interviewing for? How are the questions different?

Below, you'll find some of the most common questions specific to federal job interviews. If you need help getting ready for this important day, consider our mock interview service. Not only will we run you through typical federal job interview questions, but we’ll also give you detailed feedback on your performance and provide tips to help you improve.

Let’s take a look at what government recruiters commonly ask candidates.

1. Are you a citizen of the United States?

While different agencies may have different citizenship requirements, you should expect to hear this question in all interviews for government positions.

The agency will want to know whether you’re a U.S. citizen, a green card holder (i.e., permanent resident), or a person with another type of authorization to work in the United States. Get one step ahead of this standard inquiry by including the information in your resume. They may still ask for details during the interview, but clarifying your status up front will reflect well on you.

2. What would you change about the government if you could?

This one is a bit tricky—it’s kind of like the infamous question “What’s your greatest weakness?” Now is not the time to air all your grievances, go on about how the government isn’t governing to your liking, or complain about the current president—you want to answer honestly, but not too honestly. 

Essentially, you don't want to be talking smack about the government. Instead, find an aspect of it that you believe could use some improvement, but recommend a solution in a positive and respectful way. 

Here’s an example of what you could say: “I believe more should be done to help preserve our national parks while also raising more awareness about them. A good solution might be a more active presence on social media to reach our younger generations. However, I don't know what the current budget provides for, so I'm not sure if this would be a viable option.” 

With this answer, not only have you identified an area where you believe the government could do better, but you’ve also offered a simple and realistic solution. In addition, you’ve communicated your understanding that the government’s power is limited by its budget.

3. What makes you want to work for the government?

This question is similar to what a private sector recruiter will ask when you interview for a job at their company. However, it applies to working for the government in general. Why do you want a government position instead of a job in the private sector?

Prepare well for this question, and be ready with a genuine answer. Is it because you want to help your fellow Americans? Is it because you've always admired government employees and their sense of pride in doing meaningful work? Perhaps you feel called to give back and serve your country? Of course, it might just be because government positions are stable and come with great benefits, but that’s not a good answer, so dig deep for other reasons why you’re interested in working for the government. 

You’ll also want to be ready to explain why you think a federal job is a good fit for you since that’s what they’re really interested in.  

4. How long have you been interested in a public sector career?

Whether you've always dreamed of working for the government or it's something you only recently started considering, answer this question honestly and thoughtfully, explaining the reasoning behind it. If your story boils down to “I needed a job and saw a vacancy,” as with the previous question, come up with other reasons why you’re motivated to work for the government.

Whatever the case may be, make sure to convey that you're currently laser-focused on pursuing a government position and not just trying to land any job available out there. Hiring managers want to know that you're committed to and excited about a public sector career.

5. Have you ever worked for the government before?

If this is your first attempt at securing a government job, prepare an answer that conveys why you're interested in it now, as mentioned above. You want to express your enthusiasm and excitement about the position because passion may not be as important as qualifications, but it can certainly help you get an edge over other candidates. 

If you have previously been employed by the government, you might get asked about your very first job at a federal agency. Be ready to share where you worked, what your first position was, how long you stayed at the job, what your responsibilities were, and why you ultimately left. Make sure to touch on what you loved about the position and mention your biggest successes during your time there. Go over the details of your past employment in advance so you can speak confidently during the interview.

6. If you've served in the military, how do you feel about a civilian position?

Even if this is your first interview for a civilian position, stress how your background in the military gives you an edge over other candidates. Share your confidence that your military experience will help you in this particular government job, and note that you’re ready for your transition to civilian employment. Describe how the various skills you acquired in the military can help you succeed in the job you’re applying for.

In a nutshell, you should prepare for a government job interview much like you would for one in the private sector. Know how you'd answer typical questions, such as what type of work environment you prefer, why you're currently looking for a job, and what you think will be challenging about this position. In addition to those, study the commonly asked questions above that are specific to government job interviews so you can show up confident and ready to shine. If you need help preparing for this milestone in your job search, check out our mock interview service

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