When it comes to the hiring process in a government job, most people think the main hurdle is meeting the minimum qualifications (MQs) for a position. That means you possess:
1. the number of years of experience that is listed
2. the type and level of education listed, and
3. any additional skills or certifications needed (ability to lift 50lbs, a driver’s license, etc.).
Great, you met the MQs, you submitted your application, and now you’re looking forward to your interview which you will surely ACE since you’ve studied up on several interviewing techniques, best answers, and even practiced in front of the mirror a few times.
That’s where you are misguided.
The first hurdle is getting your application through (meeting the minimum qualifications AND showing that you meet them on your application so that the analyst reviewing them will move you to the next step. The second hurdle is passing the exam with a high score so that you can be in the top ranks or “reachable ranks”. Depending on the agency or department you must be in the top 3, 6, or 10 ranks to even be CONSIDERED for an interview. The third hurdle is sailing through the hiring interview.
So let’s talk through each hurdle.
Getting Your Application Through
When you’re in job search mode, you’re likely to be doing mass application submission which generally means a lot of copying and pasting. In the government world, there is nothing worse than an application that says, “see resume.” Analysts generally just mark those applications as not qualified, even if the resume is beautifully crafted and lists all the qualifications the hiring manager is looking for. So make sure you spend time completely filling out your application with the exact terms the job announcement lists in the job description and the minimum qualifications section. If it states you need supervisory experience, write that you have supervised staff. Even a phrase that isn’t clear, such as, “oversees a unit to complete x,y and z,” can be rejected because the term ‘supervised’ is not used. You don’t want the analyst screening applications to guess whether you have supervised or not.
Acing the Exam(s)
The public sector calls the first part of the hiring process by a few different names that can throw you off. They might call it an exam, a test, or a selection process. And it can consist of 1, 2, or 3+ components depending on the level of the job and the people involved with building out the exam process. Components can include one or more of the following:
• In-Person Panel Interview
• Multiple Choice Test
• In-Person Writing Exercise
• Supplemental Questionnaire (basically short essay questions that you attach to your application when you submit it)
• Work Sample
• Job Questionnaire (you check off the skills needed for the job and get scored on how many you check off).
In order to do well for the exams portion, you MUST find out what components are part of the screening process for the position you’ve applied to. It’s listed on the job announcement. Then you can also do a Google search for practice questions and answers for the specific KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities) listed on the job announcement. Write out the potential questions you’ll be asked and practice ideal responses prior to the exam. You can even call the analyst in charge of the job recruitment and ask if there are exam practice materials.
Passing the Hiring Interview with Flying Colors
The hiring interview occurs after an eligible list is established. Only candidates scoring the highest on the eligible list are invited to a hiring interview which typically involves the actual hiring manager. This is the first time you’ll meet anyone that might be working with you. The hiring questions are often “behavioral interview questions” that are designed to get you to talk about your specific knowledge or skills (competencies) that you can demonstrate from your past experience. For example, instead of asking, “why do you think you would be a good team player?” they might ask, “tell us about an experience in your past work history that demonstrates your ability to collaborate well with others.”
Using these important tips in preparing for a government job, you’ll have a step above others who are using the techniques they use to apply for private sector jobs and getting nowhere.