Federal Careers

By Nancy Segal, Solutions for the Workplace, LLC

Most government managers rely heavily on interviews when assessing candidate suitability for an employment relationship. A recent Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) study showed that over two-thirds of federal managers reported they use the information gathered during an interview to a “great extent” when making employment selections. Since there is such a heavy reliance on interviewing during the candidate assessment process, it is important to spend the time preparing to do it right. Interviewing is not the time to wing it! Most of the information in part 1 of this article, is equally applicable to preparing to interview for the private sector.


Many people are nervous about interviewing while others believe that “if I can just get an interview, I can get the job…” Whichever camp you’re in, the first thing in you should in preparing for an interview is to think about the worst thing that could happen and then calm yourself and your fears. Whether you are worried about whether you can answer the questions, concerned whether you might start laughing or coughing uncontrollably, or find the interviewer rude, identify your fear and plan to address it. Just have a potential response will make you feel better.

Another simple thing that is often overlooked is your first impression. No, not your clothes or what you look like, but your voice mail message and email address. Make sure your voice mail message is professional and if you are using a home phone, rather than a mobile, make sure that your message clearly identifies that you live there and eliminate any background noise from children or pets. Likewise, your email address should be professional too. If you are using your personal email address (rather than your email) as your contact, keep it simple—with your name. Email addresses that are “cutesy” or refer to personal hobbies or interests are not recommended. While hiring managers should not take your message or email address into account, recognize that first impressions count!

While federal office attire has gotten more casual, interviewees should not assume that the same level of casualness is meant for them. Even if you work in the office where you’ll be interviewing, “stepping up” your daily attire is appropriate. A suit or sport coat, or appropriate equivalent attire for women is expected in a professional environment. Old unpolished shoes, too much jewelry, cologne/perfume, and jeans should be avoided, even in the most casual atmosphere. And, if possible, you may want to consider covering tattoos and removing multiple piercings, especially if you are interviewing for positions which require public interaction. While again, hiring managers should not take any of these factors into account, they can be a distraction, at the very least.

You should also plan your transportation to the interview itself. Not only is traffic / public transportation unpredictable, actually getting into a government building can take time. Even if you are a current government employee, your ID card may not work, depending upon the level of security at any given building. Unless you are familiar with the building where the interview will be held and enter it frequently, you should plan up to 30 minutes just for getting through security. And, be sure you have a contact phone number in case you need to reach anyone.

Nancy Segal is a federal career and job search expert. Following her own senior-level federal HR career, she founded Solutions for the Workplace LLC to provide HR management perspective to astute applicants to U.S. government positions. Nancy is also one of our premier management and career development trainers for our online webinars.

If you have any questions for Nancy concerning your federal career or the federal job search process you can email her at fedcareer@fedweek.com.