Preparing for the interview

In this module, we learn about what to expect from a federal government interview and how to prepare

Key takeaways and extra info

Keep a record of examples

Write out at least 7-10 examples of scenarios/activities that you could use in an interview in great detail. Make sure you pick scenarios that cover a wide variety of skills. 

Prep the interview templates

Ahead of time, fill out the interview templates with prompts for different examples and keywords related to the skill you are being assessed on. Once you receive the questions, pick a scenario and fill out the STAR format section. 

Practice saying your examples out loud

The interview will be more of a monologue than a conversation, the interviewers can’t ask you follow-up or clarifying questions. It can feel awkward to speak for so long non-stop, so you should practice saying your examples/answers out loud from start to finish. This will help you organize your thoughts ahead of time.  

Types of questions

There are three main types of questions that you can be asked. Using attention to detail as an example:

  1. Experience — Tell me of a time when you’ve demonstrated attention to detail?
  2. Process — Here is a made-up situation, tell me how you would deal with it? Using your attention to detail skills
  3. Principles — Why are attention to detail skills important to writing briefing notes?

You can also be asked knowledge-based questions where you will be asked to outline your understanding of government policies or legislation. For example - what do you know about the Income Tax Act?


Here is an interview notes template, use this to structure your answers. 

Information on using the STAR format

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Hello, bonjour friends, and welcome to module four, and my favorite part of the job application process - the interview. So it might sound crazy that I actually like interviews, but the reason is, is because, in government interviews, I believe you can prepare a lot more thoroughly than in a more traditional interview.

Now everyone's main concern when going into an interview is being asked a question that you don't know the answer to. And thankfully, this is where government interviews are easier. You'll be given the questions in advance or at the very least told what qualifications will be assessed. For example, I've received interview requests that state this interview will assess the following qualification and then list five things like judgment or working well with others.

If you do get the full questions in advance, unfortunately, it can be hard to know whether or not you're going to get them an hour in advance or a full day, which obviously can make a big difference in how you prepare. Thankfully, we do have our trusty job postings to help guide us. 

Now, let's have a look at this policy analyst, job posting, and I'll show you where to look to find out what will likely be on the interview. So if we scroll all the way down to the essential qualifications, remember that these will be the things that will likely be in the screening questions. So that means the assessed at the later date section is where we're looking. 

Now, this will likely be something that you would get in your written interview. And these ones down here, which are kind of more abilities or skills, this is what the interviewers will be looking for. So you're most likely going to be asked questions about time, where you showed initiative, where you had to show judgment, interpersonal relations, and attention to detail. So that means you can start to prepare general answers in anticipation of those more full questions that you'll receive closer to the interview.

So there are three different types of questions that you will be asked in a government interview. The first one is around experience. So if we use the qualification of attention to detail, that would be, tell me a time in which you used attention to detail. 

The second type is a process question. So that's where you get, here's a made-up situation. How would you deal with it using your attention to detail? 

The third type of question, which is a bit less common is the principle question. So that's asking - why is attention to detail important to, for example, write a briefing note? 

Let's talk about structure now. So unlike traditional interviews, this is not going to be a conversation, it will be a monologue. The interview will read out a question and then it's your turn to talk. They can't prompt you or ask any follow-up questions. They might not even be looking at you in the eye because they're furiously taking notes. Once you're done answering the question, then you'll say that's all, or I'm ready to move to the next one, and then they read out the next question. 

So that means you're going to be talking four to eight minutes nonstop per question. And it's really important to remember that you are 100% responsible for managing your time. This can feel very awkward the first couple of times you do it. But my best advice is really to embrace the awkwardness and just prepare as much as you can in advance.

Now, let's talk about how to answer the questions. So your answers to the interview questions have to follow the same rule as with the screening. The people conducting the interview cannot infer anything from what you're saying, they can only give you points based on the exact words that you say. So that means it's up to you to prove without a doubt that you meet that requirement.

So you likely heard of the star format, which stands for situation, task, action, and result. And this is a perfect format to use for government interviews and what I personally use. But basically, you just need a framework that organizes your thoughts and your examples in a logical way. 

Within the star format, a lot of people get lost in the situation and task part of the answer. Don't do this, give the interview the minimum amount of context that they need to understand what you're talking about, and then move on to the action and results. 

If you're answering an experience type of question, it's always good to add something at the end around reflection of what you could have done differently or better in that particular situation.

If you're answering a process type of question, so answering something about a made-up scenario, you can still use the star format, but make sure you outlined any assumptions you're making when providing your answer. 

When you're deciding what kind of examples to talk about in your interviews, make sure you're picking situations where you had to plan something, there was an obstacle in your way and you overcame it, you went above and beyond, or it was a new task for you. Basically don't pick something that was kind of a business as usual, just a normal part of your work. It has to be exceptional insight. 

Okay, so let's put it all together and I'll show you my process for preparing for interviews.

The first place I go to is this little booklet where I've written out 10 different examples of projects, accomplishments, or tasks that I did at work that I believe are really strong examples of things that could be used in any interview. The reason I did this is because I want to make sure that I remember all the little details of those accomplishments. Because if you're preparing for an interview and you have to remember something that you did two years ago, it can be really hard to think through all of the steps that you took with those accomplishments. This helps you structure the event in your mind and having it on file saves you a lot of time for re-remembering things.

So after I've either been provided with the qualifications that I'm going to be assessed by, by the competition, or I've gone onto the job posting and had a look about what I think I'll be assessed on. I start to prepare my interview notes templates. I provided these templates for you to be able to use in your next interview, but I'll show you how I fill my now. 

I'll create one template per qualification. So for example, one for attention to detail, one for judgment, one for analysis, one for whatever. And there are two main elements that you can prepare in advance of the interview. 

So the first section I focus on is the keyword section. And this is where I'm going to Google or use the competency dictionary that we talked about in the screening questions module, and fill it with words that have to do with that essential qualification that you're going to be assessed on. 

For example, if I am looking for attention to detail, then I'm going to Google that and write - attention to detail in a job interview or something like that. Based on those results, I'm going to input little keywords, bullet points on things like is thorough or whatever else. Just basically little prompts for me to remember during the interview on things that I need to say out loud for the interviews to be able to give me those points. 

The second thing I do is pick out three to four examples from my little journal filled with examples that I think would best fit that particular qualification. Having those three to four examples ready to go means that when I get the actual question and if, for example, I only have half an hour to prepare, I can just pick the best one that I think, and start to fill out the STAR section. 

Okay, so now I'm going to show you exactly what it looks like in practice. I'll show you some of my actual interview notes from past interviews. 

So here we are, as you can see super messy, but honestly, it works. You'll see that I have one for analysis, problem-solving, and client focus.

So these are the keywords. For example, for analysis, I have the whole process of analysis from defining the problem to implementation and monitoring, and evaluation. And then I also have my examples that I think might be good for this. 

And then based on that, you'll see that I picked my example of history in school, so I worked on a policy project about implementing history in school. And then once I had my actual question, I was able to quickly fill in the star format and you'll see this it's really just bullet points. You don't want to be writing out a script because you still want the interview to be natural. You want to make sure that you're not tripping over your words. You just want to make sure that you have the information that will prompt your thinking and put it in a logical way, right in front of you. 

So in some interview processes, they might not let you bring your notes, but it's always good to ask. I've personally never been told that I can't use my notes that I brought in, but I was really, really conscious to make sure that I wasn't reading off in the notes, just glancing to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything. Because I am definitely a person who forgets absolutely everything when I get nervous, my mind just goes blank. So having these sheets right in front of me is more just like a comfort thing than something that I actually needed to answer the question. 

However, if you are told that you can't bring in outside notes, remember you will get at least a little bit of time with the questions before the formal interview starts. So I would personally invest in quickly whipping up these templates for each of the questions that you're going to be asked, just to make sure that you are taking a structured approach to answering the question. 

So now, you know what to expect from a federal job interview, as well as how to prepare.

When I graduated from university, I was extremely shy and the thought of having to carry a conversation with people, I didn't know, for an hour during an interview, just absolutely made me incredibly nervous. That's why I liked the government interview process because it takes away a lot of that social pressure of the interview.

While you obviously want to make a friendly and good impression. It's really more about what your experiences than whether or not you can charm the interviewers. So introvert, this is your time to shine. 

Now, before you move on to the final video, I want you to write out three to four examples of different accomplishments or projects that you've worked on that could be used in any interview.

And other than that, let me know if you have any questions and I'll see you in the next one. 

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