There is often a lot of nervousness around interviews, and the worry is entirely justified. Sure, some people can do a bad application, simply because they don’t know what a government application requires, but once you learn that, you should be able to get screened in for anything that you have sufficient experience for which to apply. For the written exams, it doesn’t look a whole lot different from a school test, so people know how to study. In other words, you can control your performance in a fairly predictable fashion and with some practice, get a good or at least passing mark. But interviews are often viewed as a different beast.

Some people think it is because the interviewer is trying to “trick” them, but that’s rarely the case in a government interview. There are no “tricks or traps” at the sub-EX level, and while they are more difficult to prepare for, you CAN indeed improve your preparation so that your outcome is also improved. But nervousness, and the artificial nature of government interviews, often means you can be perfectly prepared and yet still bomb the interview. It happens.

In my view, most of that nervousness comes from worrying beforehand about what questions they’ll be asking and what they’ll be looking for…yet both are entirely knowable.

Five types of interviews

There are five types of government interviews, ranging from the casual up to the very formal.

  1. Informational Interview – where you are asking for a meeting with someone, and you have no idea if they have any jobs available;
  2. Casual Deployment Interview – often when people move around in government, they do so because they have heard that manager x or y is looking for someone, or that manager already knows you and has reached out directly, and so you’re having a casual conversation about what they do and what your interests are, just seeing if there is mutual interest;
  3. Formal Deployment Interview – this is where the manager has announced a position at level, and you have formally applied, often without knowing the manager or other staff in the area;
  4. Formal Competition Interview – this is the “full” interview that most people fear the most, and will be the main focus of this chapter; and,
  5. The Best Fit Interview – this is after you have made a “pool” and you are meeting with a hiring manager to talk a bit informally about the exact position and your interests (looking very much like a hybrid of the second and third ones above).

A. The Informational Interview

For those not recognizing the term, an informational interview is where you basically want to talk to someone about their area of work to find out what life is like working in that area, if there are jobs available, or what openings might be coming up, etc. So you have cold-called (or cold-emailed) them and asked if they would be free for a meeting for coffee. Or got a friend to introduce you and then you asked if they have time for a chat.

Now, let`s be frank. Most people asking for informational interviews are really saying, “Hey, wanna hire me?”. But they have learned, or been advised by people like me, that if you ask to meet with someone to talk about openings in their area, the person will usually decline to meet with you. They’re not being rude, they’re being practical. If they had an opening, they would advertise it, and you would have to apply through the main system; if they don’t, they can easily say “no, we don’t have anything available” and avoid wasting their time and yours.

By contrast, if you contact them and ask for a chance to meet with them to get some advice from them, the person might find it hard to say no. Partly because THAT response is kind of rude, partly because they remember when they were in the same boat and someone gave them info they didn’t already have or met with them to give them some insights, and partly because people like talking about themselves and you’ve already flattered them by suggesting they are worthy of meeting with to pick their giant, knowledgeable brains!

Plus, if you are in government, there is a component of your job that is supposed to be about building the public service so there’s almost a values-and-ethics component that encourages you as a manager to say yes to these types of requests. No, that doesn’t mean the Deputy Minister or CEO of a crown corporation will meet with anyone who asks, i.e. they’ll almost always delegate if you waste your time even asking, but managers and middle managers often (almost to the level of “usually”, but not quite) will say yes to a request for an info interview.

Remember though that you are asking for an info interview…so what are you going to get out of that? Information and advice.

To make sure you get the most out of the interview, you should do some basic research into what their organization does, and if you can, what their own group does. Do NOT go into the interview knowing nothing about them. You need to show you invested some time in preparing (not to impress them, just so you look professional). Some people think, “Oh, if I can ask 500 Qs about the area, I’ll show how interested I am” but what you’ll really show is how unfocused you are. Figure out what areas you want to ask about in advance, particularly in case the person throws the ball back to you and says, “So, what do you want to know about?”.

Depending on how advanced your career is at this point, you have two choices for an opening gambit:

  1. If you’re already in government and have been for a little while, you can start with a very short “pitch” about yourself to say, “Well, I’ve been in government for x years now, and mostly doing [x]. I really enjoy [aspect y], and I think I’ve developed some degree of skill at [aspect z]. But I’m thinking ahead to the types of areas I might want to work in some day, and your area seems like one where I might be able to build on those experiences and skills. So I was mostly hoping you could tell me about the type of work that the units in your area do, and if I’m on the right track with my background so far.”

I have to confess, I love this opening. Obviously, based on your research, you’re going to have chosen examples for [x], [y] and [z] that not only reflect your skills and experience but also link directly to their work. You did your research, you have some idea what they do and need, at least at a high-level, and you think you might be a fit. On top of it, you have said “SOME DAY” to take the pressure off that you’re looking for something NOW, which allows him or her to be more open if they wish. In addition, you have given them three openings [x, y, z] for them to talk about how they fit within their area. It gets them talking. Plus, you asked them to tell you if you’re on the right track.

  1. If you are new to government or outside government, you can start with a short pitch about yourself to say, “Well, I have a background in [x] and some work experience in [y]. I really enjoy [x2, y2] and they seemed like areas that I might be able to use in your area. Unfortunately, I’m having trouble breaking in, partly because I don’t know enough about the type of work that is done on a day to day basis, or where I could aim to start. So I was mostly hoping you could tell me about the type of work that the units in your area do, and if I’m on the right track with my background so far.”

This one is really challenging to nuance. Why? Because you’re being self-deprecating to get them to give you targeted info, but at the same time, you want to impress them enough that they think highly of you in the future. Most important, though, is that you are not saying “How can YOU help ME break in?”. You’re just asking for info and advice.

At this point, you have accomplished the trifecta for getting good info and advice from them — your personal profile + your skills/competencies/interests + their knowledge of their area.

Note that it’s good if you can make it a real conversation rather than an interrogation, and while you are often trying to fake your way into a job interview, you should try to keep your personal “pitch” about yourself relatively short. You’re there to listen, not talk about yourself or show off what YOU know about their job. If they want to know more about your experience, they’ll ask. One key take-away that you’re likely to get, if you focus correctly, is a better understanding of what other skills you might need to get into the industry. If the conversation stalls, you can even prompt to say, “What other skills, beyond the ones that I mentioned, do you think people entering your area should have?”

The other tip for the conversation is you want to be able to ask some intelligent questions…preferably one that shows some relatively straight-forward linkage. It’s good, for example, to ask how some of the research they might describe gets translated into recommendations — is it done by the same team, or is it handed off to someone else? Or if it was about Gs&Cs, does the same team do the review of proposals and the monitoring of projects (i.e. like CIDA) or is it separated (i.e. like most other departments who have separate delivery arms)? Do NOT try to come up with some brilliant question that you know nothing about just to use some big words…”So, I see you have a lot of technology supporting your delivery…how are you set up for block-chain conversion?” might be a great question in the right context, but just throwing it into your conversation willy-nilly will likely just make you look like an idiot. If in your research, you found out their program was recently in the news, and you both read and understood the articles, you can make a small leap to draw linkages to it, but I wouldn’t go much further.

So now you have covered “you”, “what the jobs require”, gaps you might need to fill, and ensuring it all ran like a normal conversation.

That only leaves one area remaining — asking advice on how to proceed. Now, obviously, if they just said “you need experiences [a,b,c]” you don’t want to say “So what should I do next?” as an open-ended question. But you can say, “So, I need to expand into experiences [a,b,c]. Are there areas where others on your team have gained those experiences where you think I could follow in their footsteps?”. It doesn’t have to be that precise, it depends on the conversation, but it should be somewhat pointed. You want specific advice, so you should try to be specific.

As a final tip, you also want to try to manage the duration of the meeting and respect their time. If they say they’ll give you 30 minutes, keep it to 30. You want to end smoothly, not like a timekeeper who blows the whistle and then rushes out the door, but do try to respect the duration and manage your time accordingly. You will also likely be able to tell if they’re feeling rushed to do something else or not. Take their cue. And I will readily confess that this is a “do as I say, not as I do” type tip. I regularly get involved in great conversations with future bosses, and what should have been 30 minutes is now an hour or more, just because we got into the issues. I like to think if they were hating the conversation they would shoo me out, and they didn’t. But they’ll also respect you more if you respect their time.

And when it’s over, if you want to follow-up, do so with gratitude, not a bunch of requests.

I know, I know, a lot of people told you to do the interviews to network, to build your contacts. And the secondary purposes of the interviews — gain exposure, build a contact network, or even leverage it towards a job — are all possible, but you need to manage your expectations. After all, you started the conversation by asking for information. Sometimes, that’s all it will turn out to be.

Yes, you made a contact. But not every person you meet will create a “lasting relationship” or a lasting network contact. Nor are they automatically your BFF, so don’t start spamming them. You’ll know (or should know) if the person is open to further contact or not, or if you felt a connection or not. Sometimes you’re going to meet with someone where there’s no connection, no chemistry, and it’s just not a good fit. Maybe they’re busy, maybe they’re not very friendly, maybe they’re just plain jerks. Or maybe they just don’t like you. It happens.

But you didn’t ask them on a date looking for lifelong romance, you asked them for information and advice. And, hopefully, if you manage it right, that’s what you got.

B. Casual deployment

Once you are in government, people often move simply through deployment. Deployments are lateral moves exactly at level i.e. no promotion involved, and because of that, it is a lot less complex and formal than some of the other types of moves. You are already “appointed” at level, i.e. someone already ran a competition and appointed you at that level so the “proof” of you meriting that level has already been done…the only paperwork to do in a deployment is for the manager to say how you meet the criteria.

Of course, just to confuse things, you can find out about deployments either through a very formal process (such as it being advertised) or just generally through the grapevine. For example, you hear that a manager is looking for someone at your level. Or perhaps a former boss told you there was someone looking. Either way, you want the job.

Reaching out to them is a lot like the cold-call process, although you might use a bit of a hook if a friend or colleague or former boss is referring you to them. You’ll provide a copy of your resume, express your interest in the position or at least in having a conversation with them if they’re interested, and you’ll give them a short email to grab their interest. Preferably something like “I have 3 years working in a similar job and I’m looking for a change”, and then a few lines explaining the type of work you are doing that is similar to their opening.

Chances are that they are going to be interviewing several people, and I hesitate to even call them candidates because it is all informal. No rating guide prepared, no formal job description, no formal questions. Really, they’re just meeting people to see if there is a match of interest. If there is, they’ll check some references, maybe ask for a writing sample, etc., narrow it down a bit more. But they are only going to do that if there was a match, or to use the official parlance, a “right fit” between you and their opening.

The interview is going to be very informal, and will run one of two ways:

a. They’ll start by telling you what the job is, and then you’ll describe how some of your experience relates to it; or,

b. They’ll let you tell them something about yourself, and then they’ll tell you about the job.

I know, I know. You’re thinking the second option would be stupid. Except you are reaching out to them. They think you already know about the job, or you wouldn’t be interested. Ninety percent of the time, you’re going to start by asking them to tell you a bit about the job, and then you’ll be back in option (a). Which sounds normal, safe, logical. You may not want that option though, and I’ll explain later why.

First, let’s assume they describe the job. It’s going to look a lot like they’re writing Statement of Merit Criteria for a formal posting. They’re going to mention, for example, that you’ll have to do a lot of writing of different documents, maybe some briefings, lots of working as part of a team, etc. Which if they were writing a SOMC would be the essential experience requirement. But instead of writing a cover letter, you’re now going to tell them orally how you have experience that meets those requirements.

The position requires a lot of writing of different documents? You’ll outline the different types of writing that you have done and for whom. The position requires teamwork? Well, you’ll tell them about your experiences working as part of a team.

Seems straightforward, and on the surface it is. They ask you basic questions about your experience, and you answer them. No difficult questions or scenarios, it is all about your past experience. With a very open-ended question like, “Tell us about your experiences.” It will likely be that informal.

Under the surface, it is a bit more complicated. While you are talking, they are asking themselves three questions…first, of course they are seeing if you have the experiences they require. Second, they are asking themselves if you’re someone they want to work with in the future. Simple personality aspects. And third, are you a good fit for the team and the work?

Let me give you an example. I’ve been working in planning for awhile now, as well as lots of work in horizontal policy coordination. Lots of people with evaluation or research backgrounds often gravitate towards the area when they are looking for a change. Except the work environment is quite different. While an evaluator or a researcher might work on files with similar content, they often have one or two large projects and a six-month window (or longer) to deliver. The corporate policy and planning world is more dynamic. It has work schedules and file priorities changing rapidly and often. Which, to be honest, a lot of evaluators and researchers not only do not enjoy, but they also are often ill-suited to the work pace. It’s not their strength, experience or training. Some of them can do it, some of them can even do it well, but many are not happy doing it. Because it isn’t just a matter of “coping” with the high degree of uncertainty and change, as if it happens a couple of times a year, it is potentially several times a week.

So, when I am hiring, I often tell people that about the work we do. And see how they react. If they are stressed by the description, they will not be a good fit. If they tell me they can “cope” with it, I probe harder. I need to see some examples of where they have done it before and thus not only know what it’s like, but are still seeking to do it again.

For me, that’s a key “fit” variable. I need to know too that they will fit into the team, flexible, willing to share files, willing to cover for people if priorities shift. For my type of work, ownership of a file is frequently an illusion. For someone who likes having a project all to themselves, my team isn’t the right fit for them, and they are not the right fit for my team.

That isn’t cut and dried by any imagination of course. It’s more a feeling of whether they fit. Combined with the way they interact on an interpersonal level. How they describe their former jobs. What animates them in their descriptions, what they shy away from in other descriptions.

I absolutely need to know they can handle the job, sure, but I also need to know if I want them in the team at all. I’ll be even a bit more blunt. There are people who would be aces for the work content, but are absolute jerks to work with on a day-to-day basis. They’re borderline toxic. Why would I risk putting one of them on my team? It’s a lateral unadvertised deployment. We’re just having a conversation. I won’t pursue it, because I will see who else is out there.

Equally though, if you prefer solo projects and your potential future boss tells you the jobs is highly variable for work loads and file priorities are constantly changing, then that team is probably not right for you either. You’re also evaluating them…would I like the work? Would I like to work with this boss? Would I like to work with this team?

Now, as I said, the questions are almost going to be entirely about your past experiences. Which is a giant danger, because it can be rather dry and formal if you let it. You want this to be as close to a conversation as it can be. You want some back and forth. You want it to stay informal, because that’s how they’re going to see if you would work as part of the team.

Which brings me back to the reverse situation where they ask you to tell them about yourself before they tell you about the job. I mentioned you can invert that, put them back in the lead, and that works if you are risk-adverse.

Why might you leave it inverted? Because it is a highly-effective sales strategy to tell them about yourself and your interests before they tell you about the job. I call it the “reverse sell”, and I found it by accident.

About ten years ago, I was looking around for a change. I wasn’t a planner by trade, but I had done it in previous jobs, and I heard about a manager with an opening in another branch. I didn’t know them, they didn’t know me. I sent him an email, said I heard he was looking for a manager on the corporate side, and gave him a brief hook or two of things I had done, plus my resume. He suggested we meet, and it was right away. I agreed to meet, but I was taking a huge tactical risk — I knew very little about their exact work, or even their branch. I had some idea, but normally I would have done more research before going in to see him. With little time, I went in cold.

And he started with an inverted opening for me to tell him about myself. So I did. I talked about some of my previous experiences, and anticipating some of the type of work the jobs in his area would do, I mentioned things that I had enjoyed in previous jobs that were similar, without pointing it out. For example, I noted that I really liked the link between policy and programs. I had been doing high-end policy work for awhile and was looking for a change, something with more ties to programs, but I wasn’t looking to move into the “weeds” of running programs. All of this was true, I wasn’t lying, but I was selecting it because I knew that corporate planning often intersects with both policy and programs. And so I said I was looking for that and enjoyed it.

As he responded, he said that he too liked that aspect, and it was exactly what his division dealt with every day. He went on to explain the work they did, and how it related to what I said, and part of me was thinking, “Well, duh. That’s why I said it.” It was almost like I was applying to work at a carnival selling peanuts and I had said I liked selling things, particularly food, and the boss was explaining to me how that would be a good fit for me. Of course it would be, that’s why I said it.

Except a funny thing seemed to happen. While he was “selling me” on the job and how it fit my needs/desires, he was also selling himself on me. By inverting the order so I went first, the “selling” job was all his by going second and making the linkages for what the job was that he had to fill. He sold me, and he sold himself on how I would fit. It was the easiest interview I have ever had. I barely had to tailor any of my experiences to the job, other than presenting it well up front.

I have used the same technique in other situations, and it actually has some validation by classic “sales” techniques that are taught in business schools. But I just found it by accident, I wasn’t trying to game the interview. It just worked out really well.

So that’s it. You find out about a job opening at level, you see if they’ll meet with you, and you tell them about your experiences in as conversational a tone as possible. Maybe there’s a good fit, maybe there’s not. Or maybe someone else is a better fit.

If the fit happens, they can deploy you relatively quickly. Far faster than formal processes, which is why the option is so popular.

C. Formal deployment

The formal deployment interview is where the manager has advertised a position at level, and you have formally applied, often without knowing the manager or other staff in the area. The easiest example of this is where a manager at another department, say Environment Canada, has announced an AS-04 position as a deployment and it is open to those at level who work across the National Capital Region, and you work at perhaps Foreign Affairs and want to apply.

Maybe you have always wanted to work at Environment Canada; maybe you live on the Quebec side and would rather not commute across the river any more; maybe the AS-04 has some supervisory functions that you want to add to your resume. For whatever reason, you have applied because you are already an AS-04 and would like the job.

You will do the full cover letter approach described earlier — you will explain how you have the experience they are looking for, you meet the eligibility criteria, you have the education required, etc. But this is where it gets weird for the manager.

It isn’t a competition — you are already at level, so there is no “proof” required to show you merit the level, that’s already done. And, to be honest, it would put the government potentially in a weird position to have people go through a reassessment of their abilities again anyway … what would happen if you fail? Does that mean the competition was flawed, or that you really aren’t at level, or was it just you having an off-day? None of those are good outcomes. So you are already at the same level, full stop. The manager moves to the “best fit” criteria, right?

Which would mean they would call you in, ask you some informal questions (like the previous post), decide if you’re the right fit or not, and select someone. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Which is also why deployments are popular with managers. They’re supposed to be easy.

Except I just ran an EC-06 full deployment process. I was fortunate enough that there were only a handful of viable candidates, and I interviewed all of them. No “screening” process — if they were initially eligible, as they were, I gave them a shot at the interview. Think of it as a very low bar on the experience criteria. I did have a fairly straightforward set of questions, three of them, and I asked each of them the same ones. Not formally written-out like a full rating guide, but they all got the same three questions. While all of the candidates were possible, i.e. they could all have done the job, one of the candidates was by far the most qualified for what I was looking for in this specific instance. I still had all three give me writing samples and names of references. I reviewed the writing samples, and the “strong” candidate was still in the lead, so I moved on to reference checks — which I only did for him. Because it is not a competition, I didn’t need to fully assess all the candidates.

In fact, I technically wasn’t assessing them at all. Not their knowledge, abilities, or personal suitability. They are already at level. So as a manager, I’m not supposed to “re-evaluate” them and asign scores.

Yet when I was done everything, and went to select the strong candidate, HR started asking me for copies of my rating guide, my score results, all the things I would do if it was a competition, but it wasn’t. I pushed back, and they said, “Oh right, you don’t need that, but it’s a good idea anyway, so give it to us anyway.”

And that is the weird part for the manager. I am legally barred by regulation and tribunal decisions from re-evaluating candidates, yet I also am supposed to provide some sort of formal “non-evaluation evaluation process” to select the candidates. Most HR people have no idea what that actually means so they default to asking for all the things in a competition. Equally, many managers get their advice from those same HR people and end up doing what they’re supposed to avoid — formally evaluating the candidates.

A friend of mine just went for what I thought was a competition, and I was advising her on all the steps (see next section) for a formal competition. Then, she said it was deployment at level. So I told her the steps from the previous section (informal). She did a hybrid of both, and it was a good thing because one of the first things they asked her was a very formal knowledge question. Something they are NOT supposed to do. If it even hints at a process that is re-evaluating candidates at level, it’s grounds to have the whole process tossed.

Yet many managers do it anyway.

Here’s what you SHOULD prepare for if it is a formal deployment interview:

  1. Review the knowledge elements and do some basic prep (sort of a lite version of the next section);
  2. Review the abilities and personal suitability elements, and have an example to use in conversation if they ask you about your past experiences (again, sort of a lite version of the next section); and,
  3. Prepare a couple of speech modules of your background — perhaps a 5 minute version and a 2 minute version of your “elevator pitch”.

Will that cover all scenarios? Not completely. If it is a job that you REALLY REALLY REALLY want, do the full prep of the next section, just in case. But most often, this should cover you in case the managers don’t know what they’re doing and “test” you on elements anyway.

D. Formal competition

When I started this chapter, I said there were five types of interviews. While that is true, it is also true that each of the five are variations on a theme — or, alternatively, across a spectrum. The formal competition interview is at the most extreme end of the spectrum, and requires the most preparation.

Normally, a “full” interview is when you are doing a full competition to get a job at a level higher than you currently are now or perhaps at the beginning of your career in order to get into the public service. Since you are not at level, the competition has to test you on all the elements in the poster to show you that you are capable of meeting each of the criteria.

As outlined previously, most of the “experience” and “eligibility” elements were tested during the upfront application process. Some of the knowledge was likely tested through a written exam, and some of the personal suitability elements will be tested through reference checks. This means that the interview is primarily about testing your abilities, as well as some personal suitability factors and potentially some knowledge.

But before you prepare for the content, you need to think about what you are about to do. They are going to ask you questions and then you’re going to answer, that’s obvious. And they’ll mark your answer, which is also obvious.

While the goal is always to make the interview seem like a comfortable conversation, remember that you are being marked for what you say. It is very formal. You can’t assume someone already knows something — if you don’t cover it, they don’t hear it to mark it. Take for example a situation where you have been giving briefings for some time. And you know that one of the most important things in briefings is to tailor your presentation to the audience. So you’re fully prepared to highlight that in your interview.

Then you get in there and realize one of the interviewers is an old boss from another division. One that trained you on how to do presentations, including to always tailor presentations. So you relax. They know you. They know your history. And so, if you are like most people having a conversation with someone you know, you may tend not to stay the obvious things that you both know to be true. You may even feel a little silly to say to an old boss, “Well, I believe the most important thing is to tailor a presentation to your audience.” Because he or she already knows that you know it. Which means, like many candidates in interviews with people they know, you may forget to mention something obvious. But if you don’t say it during the interview, you don’t get any marks for it. You are marked ONLY for what you say during that time.

And most important of all? It’s going to seem like a monologue. They ask you a question, and when you start talking, they shut up. They take notes on everything you say until you tell them (or it’s clear) that you’re done answering the question. It will NOT seem like a conversation, and the people doing the interview may not even make eye contact because they’ll be busy taking notes. It is very unnerving for some people. You need to know they aren’t being rude, they’re just taking notes. And they are NOT allowed to prompt you very much. If you miss a small element, they might prompt you to elaborate on something. But here’s the thing…if they prompt YOU, they have to ensure they prompt everyone. Or the process won’t be fair. So, rather than risk unfairness, they will NOT prompt you if you miss something, even if it’s obvious.

However, they do sometimes ask you if you have anything to add. That is NOT a prompt for you to actually keep talking or that you must have missed something..it’s more often than not just them making sure you are done with that answer and they can move to the next question.

So think about that…formal questions, formal answers, and you doing a lot of talking, likely with little interactions with the members of the board. Assuming a standard interview, your answer to an individual question will last somewhere between 5 and 8 minutes. Which means you are going to talk for on average 6 minutes without them saying anything. Can you do that without practice, in an organized fashion, without repeating yourself?

Most people cannot do it. They talk in circles. They get nervous. They repeat themselves. They start digressing. They repeat themselves again. And all the time the markers are listening to your answer and awarding points.

There are only three strategies to manage this challenge:

  1. Practice…you can practice talking about an area (see below) on your own or with a friend, you can participate in multiple competitions so you get experience in doing it, or you might even try joining something like ToastMasters;
  2. Prepare…you will see lots of explanation below on how to prepare your answers in advance so that you’re not trying to think on your feet; and,
  3. Structure your answer.

If structure is king for a written exam, it is queen for an interview.

You want to give an answer that is logical, easy to follow, detailed, well-developed, and answers all the elements that are needed for that question to get full marks. The markers need to take notes, and they’ll award your score based on the notes they take. If they have trouble following you, any trouble at all, you lose marks. It is that simple. So you need to always be clear with your answer — where you’re going, what you’re saying, when you’re done.

For example, if you start your answer by saying you have four parts, three phases, five elements, or even eight, they know that you are now going to tell them 3, 4, 5 or 8 things. And they are structuring their notes accordingly. They’re probably even organizing them already with numbers in order for 1, 2, and 3. You have already given them a logical, easy to follow structure. That’s half your marks right there. Now all you have to do is populate your answer. (To be frank, if you are going beyond 4 or 5 things in ANY answer, you’re likely too far into the weeds, but you get the picture.)

But fear not, intrepid candidate. Candidates have been given a small advantage since about 2004/2005. Since then, candidates are usually invited to arrive about 30 minutes ahead of the interview. What happens in that thirty minutes? They’ll put you in a room, take away your notes and any cell phones, etc., and they’ll let you look at the questions for 30 minutes. And let you outline your answers a bit, take some basic notes to guide your answers. Everyone thinks this is all about helping the candidate, but it is mainly to help the markers.

Before the candidates were given this type of 30 minute preparation/review period, they would just get the questions cold in the interview room. Spontaneous, everyone said. Deadly, the markers said. Why? Because people would do the same three things when the question was asked.

  • Stall. Say things like, “That’s a very good question, thank you for asking. I think that is one of the most important questions you could have asked me. I’m really glad you asked me. In fact, I would have been surprised if you didn’t ask me that extremely interesting question. I think it is the core of the job, that question there.” Were they really that bad? Not all of them, but some were. They were just talking to fill space while they thought of what their answer would be.
  • Pause. Some would also punctuate their answers with “er” and “um” as they stopped talking to think about what they wanted to say next.
  • Repeat. This would be kind of like them saying, “Thank you for that question. I think the three most important things are A, B and C. So, yes indeed, A is important. B is important too. And so is C. Yes, C is very important. Linked of course to A, which is also important. But B is in the mix too. Yes indeed, C, B, and A are important. Did I mention B enough?” I exaggerate of course, but sometimes marking “spontaneous” answers seems a lot like that. They aren’t saying anything, they’re just repeating everything they already said. It still happens for another reason with the current process, but I’ll deal with that element later.

For now, rest assured, a good structure to each answer not only helps you as a candidate but also reduces the pain for interviewers of watching a candidate flounder simply because they didn’t have a good answer on the spot when they were in an artificial environment, under the spotlight, and nervous.

Let me digress to tell you about my interview with Foreign Affairs and how I found out about the importance of structure. It was under the old style, questions were not seen in advance, you just went in “cold” to the room.

I was given a scenario question where I was the Public Affairs Officer in Bonn, Germany, Rick Hansen was coming to town, I needed to organize an event, and I had no budget for it…what would I do? I started with the simple stall as I desperately tried to think of what to actually do. So I started with, “Well, I think the first thing I would do is check our files for similar events in the files to see if we had previous situations like this and how we handled them.” A nice conservative start, I thought. Except there was a woman on the board whose body language was EXTREMELY overt and easy to read. I actually saw her roll her eyes, so I knew it wasn’t the answer that they wanted.

I zigged sideways and started again. “Now let’s assume that I check the files, and I find nothing. No ideas at all, and I’m starting from scratch.” The woman almost dropped her pen. She smiled, looked up at me, clearly now interested. I had taken the question out of the comfort zone, and she was now ready to hear what I would really say.

Confession time. I might have zigged out of that first stalling hole, but I had NOTHING. No idea whatsoever. So I reached into my bag of magic tricks and said, “Let’s look at the question a little more closely. I have to have an event, and I can’t pay for it. But that can be nuanced three ways, and it gives me some ideas. First, one interpretation is that I can’t be the one to pay for the event, but perhaps I could find a sponsor. Perhaps there’s a disability association in Germany who would like to honour Rick’s work. Second, another interpretation is that I can’t pay for the event, but perhaps there’s an event we’ve already paid for where we could add Rick in some capacity. Perhaps there’s an event celebrating Canadian-German relations, and our special guest for the evening could be Rick Hansen! Third, if I go with the basic interpretation, i.e. that I can’t pay for it, and I can’t find a sponsor or another event, then it would have to be some sort of free event — which likely means something outside. Perhaps I could talk to the City of Bonn, try to recreate Man In Motion through the streets of Bonn, and get them to give Rick a key to the city.”

I confess, at the time, I thought that was the STUPIDEST answer I had ever given to a question. You might be thinking it’s actually not a bad answer, but I was already working for the department on contract and I knew lots of creative public affairs officers who would have laughed those options out of the room. So I knew the content was actually kind of weak, but I had nothing else to offer. Yet the woman with the expressive body language kind of nodded her head, and we moved on.

I didn’t make the pool, and when I went for an informal afterwards to get feedback on my performance, we came to that question and I cringed. I figured I might have got 3 or 4 out of 10. I was gobsmacked to find out my score had been 10/10.

I was pretty candid with the HR person giving the feedback and bluntly asked, “How is that possible?”. He looked over the notes and he told me that he remembered my answer as the ONLY one in more than 500 interviews that he had been part of where the candidate had actually had any sort of logical structure to their answer. He admitted that other people had more creative solutions, some had really grandiose plans, some were really impressive even. But it was like watching some sort of wild brainstorming exercise, thoughts all over the place. The interviewers often had trouble taking notes because they had no idea where one partial idea ended and the next partial or full idea started.

I had a good structure and somewhat average content, and I got 10/10.

Others had a bad structure and great content, yet failed the question.

Wow.

Such results aren’t often as startling now that people get questions in advance for 30 minutes, since they can use that time to create at least a basic structure, but structure still reigns. Repeatedly in interviews where I had weak content, I made up for it with a near-perfect structure. And received high marks because of it. And from the other side of the table, well-structured answers look downright awesome. As an interviewer, I sometimes feel like someone gave a great answer, yet afterwards when I look at only the content in my notes, it isn’t always as good as I first thought. But my first impression was that they had given a solid answer, easily passing the mark for that question. And I have never first thought someone passed and then subsequently failed them on secondary review. I might have lowered their mark from an 8 to a 7, but never below the line. And since marks are usually a consensus of the board, that isn’t just me being an easy marker…the other members of the board thought they were clear passes too, but in the final review, we might downgrade them to a more appropriate grade. Still a “pass”, but with some of the shine removed from a great structure. And some boards don’t even do that secondary review, they just go with their first impression.

Structure is queen, all hail structure.

However, once you understand those upfront elements, you need to prepare for four things in the interview preparations — knowledge, abilities, personal suitability, and what I call “extra” modules.

For the knowledge, it is exactly like the preparations previously described for a written exam. You’ll read the Departmental Plan (formerly Report on Plans and Priorities) to find out what is going on in the department. You may read recent statements by the Minister, particularly if they did any overview speeches with Chamber of Commerces. You’ll also need to refresh your memory of any of the special content / background documents you reviewed. However, there is a difference between the written and the interview. While the goal of the written was to have really detailed knowledge ready to “dump” into written answers, you are going to be using the info in the interview to populate some “extra” aspects of your answers. So you might get a question in the written exam where you have to explain the mandate and current priorities of the Department in detail in a memo, but in the interview, it is more like you will be asked to respond to a scenario of a new priority and how to handle it, and in your answer, you MIGHT want to drop in a reference to how this new priority fits within the existing priorities. You may not be getting a lot of points for “knowledge” in this part, but if you can throw it in, your answers are just automatically richer in content, and your overall score will go up. You’re just making your answers that much more concrete than without the knowledge. But if that is all you need, i.e. context, you’re more trying to drop in big headings in the interview, not the detailed sub-knowledge of each priority.

I do have one very large caveat to this comparison. I am basically saying that the written requires heavy knowledge content, almost an info dump, and the interview doesn’t, more the headings to help populate your answer a bit, make it richer. In the first instance, knowledge is the main course; in the interview, it is more like a mere spice to enhance flavour. However, this assumes that your competition had a written component that was separate from your interview. In other words, it assumes that by the time you get to the interview, you have already been tested on knowledge…but if you WERE NOT tested previously on knowledge, all bets are off in the interview. In that case, you WILL need to know all the detailed content.

When I applied to CIDA’s post-secondary recruitment, there was no written exam, and the first three questions of the interview were basically data dumps by the candidates to show the interviewers we had read all the priorities and could regurgitate them back in some form. And yes, that is as deadly as it sounds for both the candidates and the markers. Listening to the same answers over and over and over. It was even worse though because we didn’t get the questions in advance, it was just “enter and answer”. The first question I got was to outline CIDA’s six priorities. No indication of depth of answer required, no indication of what was to come. So I started answering. And I spent about 3-4 minutes on each of the six priorities to explain them in detail. Regurgitating what I had memorized. A complete brain dump. After my 15-20 minute answer, seriously, I stopped. I had no idea if that was too much or too short. They then said, “Okay, Question 2 is to take one of the six priorities and explain it in detail. You’ve already answered that, let’s go on to Question 3.” Oops. And Q3 wasn’t too far off some of the stuff I had already said too…I almost answered all three with my first answer.

Which is one of the reasons you get the questions in advance to review, so you can balance your answers better, but this type of answer is what I mean by the content required if you don’t have a written exam. If you have a written, that’s the spot for the detail; if you don’t have a written, the knowledge detail will be required in the interview.

For abilities and personal suitability, the possible questions seem endless. For example, if I’m running a competition and I’m marking initiative, and I ask you about a time where you demonstrated initiative, you might think that because everyone will have a different example, it’s impossible to figure out the question in advance. At first glance, lots of people think that way — because everyone has different answers, the question must be impossible to predict.

But it isn’t. It’s the same question. I’m marking X so I ask you to tell me of a time when you did X. And when five candidates answer that question, I am going to hear five different answers. But my marking grid, which I have to create in advance, has what I think is a generic answer that will allow me to mark everyone’s answer. For example:

  • Did something that wasn’t assigned to them i.e. they initiated the activity;
  • It wasn’t something they were expected to do as part of their job i.e. it was above and beyond or separate from their current responsibilities;
  • It took some effort to do i.e. they had to figure out a way to do something or to do it better, something that wasn’t obvious, preferably something with options, and they had to make a choice / can’t be something really simple or obvious;
  • There has to be a better result because it was done i.e. not just doing something different but actually improving something / so what; and/or,
  • It challenged the status quo or was innovative.

So that’s my marking grid. Because that’s what initiative means. Which means when I hear the five different answers, I’m looking to see how many of those bullets you have. One or two? You probably fail. Three or more? Probably enough to pass. All five? High scores all around, well done!

Now let’s digress for a minute to look at those five bullets. Where did I get them from? Did I have some magical resource that exists only for managers? No. I have the same resources you do. Dictionary.com. Google. Thesaurus. Websites like Treasury Board’s that explain what initiative means as a competency or ability. And after you look at a few, you see some common denominators.

Initiative requires that YOU initiate. Lots of people will tell me of a project they led or we’re in charge of, and all the great things they did. Except they were told to do it by their boss. That’s not initiative, because you didn’t initiate; you maybe demonstrated management or leadership, but not initiative. The number of people who give leadership examples is astounding…close to almost 70% in my experience give a leadership example as they have never thought about what initiative actually means.

Or they say that they came up with a way to track all the correspondence in their unit in a special spreadsheet. Great. But what was their job? Correspondence manager. Someone who was expected to track the correspondence. It’s their job. So yes you came up with a tool, but you were kind of expected to do that anyway. It’s not anything “special” or “unique” or you showing initiative, you’re simply doing your job.

Often, too, people will talk about this fantastic thing they came up with as an idea, and yet it is extremely simplistic. For example, they were designing a new tracking system for urgent files, and they came up with the idea to use blue tags for correspondence and red tags for memos to allow people to triage the files quicker. Total time to come up with the idea and implement it? Thirty seconds. It was a good idea, but there was no effort involved. There were no real obstacles to overcome, no planning involved, you didn’t have to work at it. Which means as a demonstration of initiative, I simply don’t care about it.

Or the worst scenario? They’ll tell me how they completely revamped a system, because they thought it was fun to do, and when they were done, it made no difference whatsoever. No better outcome. No improvement in speed or result. No result other than that they did something different to fix something that was working just as well previously. I’ve even had people admit that after they left, their replacement dumped it and went back to the old way.

However, one thing that always looks good is if you were challenging the status quo or truly being innovative. Yet without those other four elements above, why will I care as an interviewer? Did you do a lot of work to improve something, or are you just someone who likes to spin their wheels doing things differently because they hate whatever is already in place and they just want to be “innovative” for no reason?

Ultimately, look at the answer grid. If you tell me that you set up a new colour code system because your boss told you to do it, it took you thirty seconds, it was different than what went before, but two months after doing it, they dumped it because it didn’t matter, how is that an example of initiative? Contrast that with an example where you’re perhaps in charge of finance, but you’re pretty good with Excel; you aren’t involved with the correspondence system, but you know they are over-worked and having trouble finding time to triage files properly or come up with a new tool; you suggest to your supervisor that perhaps you could take this on as a special project, and you study it for a couple of days or weeks and come up with three or four options but recommend one particular one that involves a new Excel file that you design and train people to use, along with a new colour coding system; it’s completely unique in the branch; and it works so well that response times are cut in half, your group is suddenly meeting all of its correspondence deadlines, you have a tool that generates reports for management, and other directorates or divisions are asking if they can have a copy of the tool to use in their offices.

If you contrast those two examples, which one do you think demonstrates initiative? As a marker, the second one gets 10/10, the first one perhaps 1 or 2, nowhere near a passing grade.

Now, you might suddenly say, “Yes, but I’m a junior employee, I don’t have the opportunity to demonstrate initiative, all my files are assigned to me.” That is absolutely a common problem. But it doesn’t mean you can’t give me an initiative example. You may have to give me one that was assigned to you, true. And as such, you’re not getting the points for coming up with it on your own. But if it took effort, if it was innovative, if it produced a good result, if you went above and beyond the tasking, then you’ve demonstrated the other four elements pretty well and you’ll get a good mark. Just be aware that in an ideal world, you don’t start off with that spot if you can avoid it. Or if you do, make sure you hit the other marks as best you can.

Going back a few steps though, the question was about initiative, but the context was whether or not you can predict the question in advance. Some people will tell you of course not, you’re not a mind reader.

But you don’t have to be. Here’s the magic trick. In almost 95% of all interviews that are asking about abilities or personal suitability, there are only three types of questions I am likely to ask you. Some call it past, present and future; some call it applied, situational or theoretical. I prefer to think of them as experience, process, and principles.

  1. Experience (or past or applied) — Tell me of a time when you’ve demonstrated strong interpersonal skills?
  2. Process (or situational or present) — Here is a specific situation, tell me how would your strong interpersonal skills help you to deal with it?
  3. Principles (or future or theoretical) — Why are strong interpersonal skills important to being part of a team?

When I do my presentations, people are almost shocked that there are only three types of questions. So they start trying to come up with scenarios or questions that would be a fourth type. Go ahead, do it yourself now. I’ll wait.

Now that I’ve hummed the complete soundtrack to Jeopardy, what have you got? Now take that question and ask yourself this…is it REALLY any different from one of the above three? Remembering too that the situation could be different, or your past might be different, or it says in a group instead of a team, but ultimately they are asking you to talk about interpersonal skills.

Remember above where I said they had a generic marking grid? They have it here too. For interpersonal skills. So no matter which answer you give vs. the next candidate’s answer, they can still mark both. So they googled “interpersonal skills” and came up with some headings. Like showing respect. Listening. Working together. Building trust. Clear communication. Transparency. And another four or five other possible headings.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that I as the marker only decide to list three things about interpersonal skills — respect, trust and communication. Now, ask yourself…what is my marking grid if I ask you to tell me about a time when you demonstrated good interpersonal skills?

  1. Shows respect for others
  2. Builds trust with other people
  3. Clear recognition of the importance of communication

Now ask yourself…If I give you a situation where you are in a new team, there’s been some conflict, and I want to know what you’ll do to demonstrate good interpersonal skills, what does my rating grid look like?

  1. Shows respect for others
  2. Builds trust with other people
  3. Clear recognition of the importance of communication

Hmm, looks familiar. Now what if I ask if you think that good interpersonal skills are an important aspect of teamwork? What does my rating grid look like?

  1. Shows respect for others
  2. Builds trust with other people
  3. Clear recognition of the importance of communication

You’re not seeing double or even triple. It’s true. My rating guide for all three of those questions is (probably) identical. Oh, sure, I might have said “showed respect” in the first, and “shows respect” in the second, and “important to show respect” in the third, but it is the SAME rating grid.

Now, at this point, you know there are only three types of questions and you also know that I’m going to mark whichever one I ask (almost) exactly the same as the other two.

Doesn’t that sound like a question you can predict in advance?

Of course it does. Because I, as the hiring manager running the competition, am not a rocket scientist. I am not gathering magical information from the Oracle at Delphi to populate my rating grid. Instead, I’m basically doing the same thing you’re likely to do. Google it. Talk to other people about what it might mean. Come up with some headings. Put together an outline of possible things people may say. Call it done.

In the above example and summary, I keep saying that all three are “almost” identical, and they are. But there is a slight nuance difference.

In the first form of the question about experience, I need you to give me an example that shows those headings. In the second form of the question about a situation, I’m looking for the steps in a process that you’ll follow to show that ability. In the third and final form of the question, I need you to talk more about the principles involved.

But if you combine all three, you can create a single answer that answers all three and actually gives you more points for any of the three. Let me show you.

Suppose for example I ask you to tell me of an example where you demonstrated good interpersonal skills. You’re likely to immediately start with the context, what you did, etc. and tell me you showed respect, built trust, and emphasized communication.

But what if you started with, “I think the most important element of interpersonal skills is respect for other people. So the example I’m going to give you…”. Instead of starting with the details of what you did previously, you already are creating a great structure that says, “respect for others” and now your example is evidence of how you have done that exact heading. Then, as you go along, you might say. “After setting up those first few meetings and respecting what the others had to say, I felt it was important to start building trust with others.” Now you’re pulling from the process type response. And perhaps you finish with the experience example, “I really learned from  this interaction the clear importance of communication, and I try now to incorporate it in all my interactions.” Wow, all three elements in the same answer.

Why would you do that? Because the first one is a basic answer. The second one is much more robust, more comprehensive, gives concrete examples, talks about principles and what steps you would take again, etc. And more robust while still maintaining a good structure means higher marks. Instead of getting 6 with your first example, you’re up into the 8 or 9 point range with a full answer.

Remember back in Chapter (x) where I said there was Secret Template #1? It is time for Secret Template #2. For every element that they are marking in the interview, you’re going to fill out the following table with short bullet points.

 ExperienceProcessPrinciples
Ability 1Position / Project 1

 

Position / Project 2

(Work / academic / volunteer)

Step 1

 

Step 2

Step 3

Principle 1

 

Principle 2

Principle 3

Ability 2Position / Project 1

 

Position / Project 2

(Work / academic / volunteer)

Step 1

 

Step 2

Step 3

Principle 1

 

Principle 2

Principle 3

Ability 3, 4, 5…Position / Project 1

 

Position / Project 2

(Work / academic / volunteer)

Step 1

 

Step 2

Step 3

Principle 1

 

Principle 2

Principle 3

Personal Suitability 1Position / Project 1

 

Position / Project 2

(Work / academic / volunteer)

Step 1

 

Step 2

Step 3

Principle 1

 

Principle 2

Principle 3

Personal Suitability 2Position / Project 1

 

Position / Project 2

(Work / academic / volunteer)

Step 1

 

Step 2

Step 3

Principle 1

 

Principle 2

Principle 3

Personal Suitability 3, 4, 5…Position / Project 1

 

Position / Project 2

(Work / academic / volunteer)

Step 1

 

Step 2

Step 3

Principle 1

 

Principle 2

Principle 3

See Annex 2 for a sample blank layout that you can use to populate your own info. Note that you do not want a lot of information, as you won’t be able to memorize it. I’ve listed 1 or 2 projects for experience, but ideally you can get it down to one really solid one that meets all your headings. For processes, I think in some cases it might be 4 or 5, but again, will you be able to remember them all when you get in the interview? And for principles, I like to stick to the rule of 3, as it is easier to remember those than it is for 4 or 5. And often if you are trying to do 4 or 5 principles, you’re too far into the weeds. Plus, if you did it right, you’ll be able to pull from ALL THREE columns for your example to create a really rich and robust response to whichever form of the question you get asked. So you won’t have room for two examples, five steps, and five principles in your answer. Keep what works, drop what doesn’t.

You’ll see in the above table that I have taken the identical approach to abilities and personal suitability. Some managers have noted that abilities tend to emphasize the experience and process/situational columns more so than principles, while personal suitability tends to use principle questions more often than experience or process. I tend to believe that is generally true, but I have no quantitative evidence to prove it one way or another. However, both abilities and personal suitability CAN ask any of the three types, and you need to be prepared, so I don’t recommend shifting emphasis in that fashion. Note too that you can expand the table if you want to include rows for the essential experience and knowledge, but the three columns don’t work as well for that. Essential experience is covered by the application, and you have a separate table to cover all the “experience examples” in more detail. For knowledge, you could put the knowledge factors down the left hand column, but usually you would be only using the process or principles at most, and highly dependant upon the type of job you’re doing (an FI might have some examples of where they used legislation, or the steps they used, or the principles behind the legislation, whereas an AS might have steps only). I think knowledge prep is mainly about the different types of documents referenced earlier, not putting it into a table like the two secret templates.

Finally, I said at the beginning of the chapter that there were four areas to cover and the one that is left is a heading for “extra” modules. If you did the work above, you know how to answer questions that fit 95% of the form you’ll see. Past, present or future, for example. You’re good to go.

Then you get in the interview and they ask you something weird. Something you are totally not expecting. And it doesn’t look like anything you have prepared. You start to panic. What do you do?

Well, remember how I said structure was queen? You need a structure to answer the question. Because a good structure is going to give you something to say, and it might be enough to get you half-way to passing the question. But what structure do you use for a question you weren’t expecting?

You are going to use one of the extra modules you can create to handle the unexpected. For example, if you google “problem solving cycle” or “steps”, you’ll see there are tons of examples. I like to cheat and look at the images tab to see what diagrams people have posted on various websites. Some will have 4 steps, or 5 steps, or 10 steps. It doesn’t matter which one you choose, as long as it is one you can understand and remember easily. I tend to think of problem-solving as having five steps:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Analyse the problem
  3. Develop options and choose one
  4. Implement the chosen solution
  5. Evaluate the solution

Now, if you are doing policy work, you should have the policy development cycle too. Search the same way. Guess what you find? The policy cycle looks pretty similar. Define, analyse, options, implement, evaluate. If you’re in project management, look at the project management cycle. Hey, almost the same. It’s not rocket science, they’re all pretty general and generic. So, how do you use them?

Let’s look back at that example of Foreign Affairs where I asked how to have an event for Rick Hansen when I had no budget. I had no idea how to answer, so I reached into my bag of magic tricks and pulled out the problem-solving cycle.

  1. Define the problem — Have to have an event and I can’t pay for it;
  2. Analyse the problem — Three possible interpretations — I can’t pay for it because I have no money, I can’t pay for this event but could pay for another, or I can’t pay but someone else could;
  3. Develop options — Free event, merge with existing event, find a sponsor

I didn’t have to implement or evaluate the options for that question, I just had to give ideas. But it was an unexpected question and I needed a good structure — so I used my “extra” problem-solving module to give me the headings to use.

While problem-solving, policy development or project management are relatively the same, there is no universal set of headings to “choose”. The five part option listed above is pretty standard, but if a model that has only four elements works for you, use that instead. It isn’t about the right answer per se, it is about you having some headings that will let you give a good answer to an unexpected question.

There are lots of little cycles like this that are good for various types of jobs. If you are applying for a stakeholder relations job, it is a good idea to memorize steps in a consultation process. If you are in HR, maybe the steps in a general job process. If you are in finance, maybe the headings for the typical budget cycle. A researcher might have headings around managing a research project. Things that resonate with them and they can adapt to other unexpected questions on short notice.

I also like to have in my backpocket some sample answers to weird and wonderful questions that someone might use as an icebreaker or part of another question. They can ask:

  • How you are the best candidate?
  • What is your past experience?
  • What are your personal strengths?
  • What are your biggest achievements>?
  • How would this job relate to your career goals?
  • What is your biggest weakness? (Very rarely asked, as difficult to mark) and what you are doing about it (obviously you will not give an example that something needed / relevant to the job!)
  • What is a challenging project or situation with a difficult employee that you have dealt with?
  • Do you have any good examples of teamwork or partnering?
  • Tell us about your leadership style / communications style / personal values and ethics?

These questions are generally answered badly by everyone, so most managers never ask them. However, if used properly by the hiring manager, they can be good questions to use as icebreakers or just to see how they answer a difficult question in terms of communication styles, etc. I wouldn’t spend a lot of time on them, but their worth reviewing every so often.

For the summary of yourself or your experience, it can be the same summary for best candidate, past experience, personal strengths, achievements, weakness, etc. It’s up to you to decide how you want to respond, and again, they are not likely scored so there are no wrong answers in terms of an answer grid. They are really just trying to get to know the real you. And to make sure you’re not a general whackjob who says their greatest weakness is poor integrity or low attention to detail for a job that requires high values and integrity and a lot of precise details.

For me, I’m a manager, so I often get asked a general question about my management style. I’ll embellish a bit, and make it a bit more hypothetical, but I could say. “You know, I think my management style is tied tightly to my values and ethics and how I deal with other people. For me, it starts with respect for others. Embracing diversity, the use of french and english in the workplace, and a strong commitment to lifelong learning. But I think my biggest accomplishment as a manager has been tied to transparency. I focus heavily on sharing information when I can, and using that information to create a shared vision with my team that is clear and open, and I feel like I have had a lot of success with this in my last 10 years as a manager.” Off the top of my head, is that a perfect summary? No. But I can tweak it, practice it a bit, improve on the structure and then voila! I’ll have a handy dandy little speech module that I can use in different ways depending on what “weird” or “unexpected” question comes along.

Interviews are complex, and you need to be ready for all the parts that come your way.

E. Best Fit

At the beginning of the chapter, I mentioned there were five types of interviews, and the one that is left is what is called the “best fit” interview. This is the interview where they are seeing, amongst a small pool of fully qualified candidates, who is the best fit for the team.

Let’s go back for a second to an earlier example. Let’s say someone has a bunch of tech support workers working for them, and also say that they have three areas to cover – mainframes, PCs, and Macs. So they have an opening and run a selection process looking at experience in providing tech support, knowledge of various elements of different systems, abilities to be a front-line service worker and the personal suitability factors for dealing with a lot of different types of people all coming to you for help. Now suppose they have an opening, and have found three really good candidates who have been tested, evaluated, all good – any one of them could do the job. But there is only one position available. And you have to choose one that will fit well with your needs.

Suppose for example that you have existing workers who are really good with mainframes and PCs, but you’re a bit weak on Macs. And one of the three candidates is REALLY strong with Macs. Then you might choose them as the best fit for completely legitimate operational – yes, all of them are qualified, but this one brings a little extra experience with Macs to the table, and you’re short in that area. Tomorrow, someone might leave from the mainframe team and suddenly you’ll pull a mainframe person off the pool.

That’s partly what best fit is about – seeing which candidate fits your basic and extra needs the best.

But I need to warn you of something else. That previous example could have probably been decided just on paper. So why an interview? Often the processes are large and complex undertakings with lots of managers doing the interviews. So it is quite common for a hiring manager not to have seen EVERYONE that was interviewed earlier. They may not have met YOU for example. So if they are good managers, they’ll narrow the pool down to a potential sub-list that looks good and then call 3-4 of them in for a quick conversation.

What are they looking for? They’re making sure you’re not a whack job, for one. I’m not joking. Just because someone passed an interview or wrote a test doesn’t mean necessarily that you want to work with them on a day to day basis. Anyone can clean up nice for a formal process, answer the right questions in the right way, and maybe no alarms go off. But they’re a whack job. Look around your own work unit…chances are there are a couple of people you would rather not work with, but hey, somebody hired them.

The “nicer” way of thinking about this best fit interview is partly just getting to know you and partly to see how you interact on interpersonal skills in an informal setting. Are you shy? Are you aggressive? Are you constantly joking, are you deadly serious? They just want a feel for who you are, what you’re like.

Another area they want to gauge is how interested you are in the job. I know what some of you are probably thinking…what do you mean? We applied for the job, of course we want it, doesn’t every one of us want it the same? The short answer is no.

Some people applied just to be in a competition and hopefully make a pool so their own manager could pull them and appoint them where they are working now. They don’t want the job AT ALL. They’re just playing the game to get promoted.

Some other people are victims of time…they applied nine months ago but since then, their lives have changed. Maybe they have a divorce in the works, or a new baby, or a new boss, and they don’t want to move right now after all. They want to stay put. Or their boss has offered them another opportunity. Or they made another pool somewhere else, or are about to make one. Lots of things could cause them to change their minds since they first applied.

Are managers going to outright ask you if you still want the job? Probably not. They’re instead going to ask you to tell them a bit about why you want the job. Maybe ask you what elements in your past experience make you think you’d be a good fit. Ruh roh. Yeah, that’s right, it is still an INTERVIEW. And you need to be ready.

Your main focus is different though. Instead of knowledge or abilities or personal suitability factors, they’re mainly judging two factors – indirectly your experience (it will be what you use to populate your stories and flesh them out) and more directly your interpersonal skills.

But you have to make a choice at this point in how you choose to respond.

Some people will say, “If you want the job, you have to be the duck.” Just like in the rest of the competition. Don’t deviate from that message. What do you like about the job as a duck? Being able to quack. What did you like in your past jobs? Whenever you got to quack. Quack, quack, quack. You’re still going to answer the questions, but every third sentence should be about quacking. It’s safe, it’s conservative, it’s traditional.

However, what if you’re actually a swan? Then you have three options.

First, if you REALLY want the job no matter what, just quack. Less risk.

Second, if you want the job but you also want to be yourself, quack and also show off your swan features. Let your wings unfurl. Strut a bit. It’s a compromise of being true to yourself while still pursuing the job strongly.

Third, if you are interested in the job, but you aren’t going to be happy if you can’t be a swan, then fully unfurl and strut. You have to. Because you don’t want them thinking you’re a conforming duck and hire you into a job that is a bad fit for you.

But this also leads to some good news.

You get to interview them too. You can ask what it’s like to work in the unit. Chances are they will tell you anyway before you ask. They’ll often describe the job in detail, or the division, or the branch. They’ll give you a bunch of info you didn’t get reliably earlier…and you may or may not like it.

Some people have thought the job was like X and then found out in the best fit interview that it was mostly about Y. Which they had no interest in, and now they’ve wasted a huge amount of time to get that far and they’re not interested in the job anymore. It happens. Mostly to people who applied for anything and everything without finding out what the job was about at least in general terms.

You also get to see the manager and / or director in an informal setting and see if you want to work for THEM. You can see how they describe files, people, the work, etc, and decide whether there is a whack job in the room, and it’s not you.

Those are the basics, and the challenge for giving advice on this section is so many of the questions you might have are “what if…” scenarios. Too many to address in their entirety, but I’ll attempt to address some common general themes.

Option 1: What if I’m invited but I actually don’t want the job?

Remember all those other factors I mentioned above? Life happens. You can politely decline the best fit interview and say you’re not interested in the job at this time, with or without an explanation, no harm, no foul. They might be a little annoyed, but they’ll get over it. If you have something else, just say so and move on.

However, I advise against declining. First of all, they ran a competition, invested a lot of time and resources in it, and you DID apply. The least you can do is here their pitch at the end.

Second, you actually don’t know what they’re considering. Tons of pools get used to fill OTHER jobs than the first one posted. You might think it is about training programs, and you’ve decided it doesn’t interest you in general, but in reality, they have a new initiative looking at training geared towards gender equality that is one of your passions. You don’t know, and you won’t know unless you go and have that little interview. And after you hear from them, if you don’t want it, email them the next day and thank them politely for their consideration but tell them it doesn’t seem like the best fit for you at this time. Even if they offer you the job, you CAN say no.

Option 2: I had the interview, seemed to go well, and I want the job. Now what?

Ideally, they offered you it on the spot and you said, “Quack yeah!”. More likely, they said, “Thanks for coming in, we’ll let you know.”

But you should also give them an extra bit of info – you WANT the job, now that you’ve heard more about it and met your potential bosses. So email them the next day and say thank you for considering me, and that you remain very interested in the position if they think you would be a good fit in the team. Lots of people think this is redundant, but the reality is that it is new info for them. They may THINK you will say yes if offered, but they don’t know for sure – they know you’re interviewing them for best fit too. So telling them you’re interested (or very interested) lets them know that for sure if they offer you the job, you’re going to say yes. You’re a sure thing. All uncertainty is gone. And there is a small psychological element in there too – just like in dating or friendships, it’s nice to be wanted, and you’re telling them you want to work with them.

On both the upside and downside, their response will likely tell you which way they’re leaning. Now they may have to interview lots of others too, you can often tell by their response if it is GREAT, thanks for letting us know, or just okay thanks.

Option 3: I had the interview and I don’t want to even KNOW them, let alone work there

So email them the next day and politely tell them it doesn’t seme like the right fit for you at this time. No harm, no foul.

Option 4: I want the job, but one detail is a dealbreaker for me, when do I tell them?

The short answer is whenever you feel comfortable raising it. Not very helpful, I know. So let’s tease that out a bit more. It depends a bit on what the detail is about.

If it is about the job, you need to at least raise it as a concern in the best fit interview because that is pretty clearly linked to your best fit. For example, if you hate public-speaking and you find out that there is a component of that in the job and you didn’t realize that previously, try and probe a bit to find out how extensive it is. They’ll be able to tell that you don’t like or have a problem with that component and the conversation will address that to some extent.

Or perhaps there is a need to do a lot of outreach during the week, but every Tuesday at lunch, you are doing Toastmasters. You could mention that as something you do, and ask if that would likely be an issue. You aren’t trying to say “no”, because they’re not offering you anything yet to say yes or no to anyway, you’re just working out the ramifications of the job and another commitment you have. You can do all of this in the best fit interview.

However, if the detail is something about YOU, not the job, then you can wait for an actual offer before raising it. They’ll call you to let you know they want to choose you, at which time you can ask to meet to discuss a couple of issues you just want to clarify before you say yes fully. You’re still telling them it’s a likely yes, you just want to mention a couple of things.

Some of these things might be highly personal. For example, suppose you have to pick up your son every Tuesday at 4:00 without fail. It’s not an everyday thing, as that could have been discussed at any time in terms of the workhours for the team, etc. Instead, this is a dealbreaker for you. Will that be a problem? Usually it isn’t. But you want to know before you say yes.

Or perhaps you have a one-week trip planned in six months where you’re taking your great grandmother back to the home country. It’s planned, booked, and you’re going no matter what. If it is that important to you, you may say, “Is this oging to be a problem?”. Usually not, particularly with advanced notice, but this category is about something YOU decided was a dealbreaker for you, so you need to know if it is a problem or not.

After that, there are a huge number of potential really personal issues you might want to raise. Maybe you have a religious ritual that you do at certain times each day, and while they’ll accommodate you, maybe you want to know it isn’t simply accommodations but they are actually supportive and would never ask you to do it after you finish some urgent task. Many of these areas could even get into questions of human rights, but you want them to know before you start.

Which takes me back to the original response. Tell them what you want to tell them when you feel comfortable doing so.

Now, lots of activists out there will tell you that you don’t need to share, and I agree. You don’t HAVE to tell them. But you also don’t want to necessarily be faced with having to fight for something with neanderthal bosses…you want to know their views before you accept.

For me, it is the blog I write. I tell them in my best fit interviews, if not earlier, that I have a blog. And give them the URL if they want to check it out to see the types of things I write. Am I allowed to have a blog? Yep. Does that mean a boss might not give me a hard time about it? No, they could, and if that’s their attitude, I want to know that before I agree to work for them…mostly because I won’t accept the offer. I’m also going to feel them out about HR, training supports for employees, ways to approach certain types of situations. And all of that will be informally during the best fit because that is where I feel comfortable sharing it. Others might wait for an actual offer, but to me, that’s a waste of time. But I’m also not looking for just “any job” or trying to get a promotion. I will only accept jobs that are the right fit for me.

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Lex
8 days ago

Hi Paul. Thanks for your guide, it really helped me through competitions!

One thing I’m struggling with is sub questions – such as when a question has multiple questions under it, and you have to tackle every element. It is sometimes difficult to combine that with a STAR approach, without going all over the place. What would you recommend?

Guest
Zado
9 days ago

Hi Paul,

Thank goodness I found your blog ,right after my application was retained. Nevertheless, I started reading from the introduction on…Now I am called to a pre recorded interview ! 1st time to hear about that. I am nervous and not sure how to prepare myself. You spoke about many qualification points It’s a EDS 3 Job. assessing:
Ability to communicate effectively orally
Ability to collaborate with internal and external partners/stakeholders
Ability to apply adult learning and instructional design principals in designing learning interventions
Judgement
Initiative
Creativity
Strategic thinking

SOS please ! suggestions, examples and recommendations are appreciated. THANK YOU!

Guest
Jason
10 days ago

Hi Paul

Thank you very much for your guide. I wonder if I could pick your brain on an interview process.

Have you heard anything about the RPL (recruitment of policy leaders) interview process? My understanding that is very unique and different from typical interviews. Can you potentially share how to best approach something like this, or how to be the best version of myself in this process? E.g., supplementary readings, variance in your interview guide vs. this unique situation? There isn’t much information on this.

Guest
Bubu
12 days ago

Hi Paul

Thank you so much for this. I feel like I just hit the lottery finding your post. Reddit can sometimes pan out, sometimes. I have a few questions: I have a formal interview in 2 weeks. This whole process is entirely new to me and as you already highlighted in your post, I’m a nervous wreck. Criteria to be assessed:

1.       Thinking things through 
2.       Demonstrative integrity and respect  
3.       Working effectively with others 
4.       Showing initiative and being action-oriented  
5.       Ability to communicate effectively

I have been able to follow your rubric and come up with example for criteria 3 & 4 and I guess 5 will be assessed during the interview. I’m struggling with 1 and 2 and for the life of me Google is not helping me with these criteria. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions? Also, do the interviewers judge demeanor or pace of speaking? I’m a really fast talker and nerves make it worse and I use a lot of filler “erms” and “ums”. I’m so worried this would affect my overall performance. Thoughts?

Guest
Renu
27 days ago

Greetings Paul,
Can’t thank you enough for the wealth of knowledge that you shared with all of us through this website. Appreciate it.
I have an interview coming up early next week. I understand how to structure my answer around important headings if given a situation-based question, however, I’m struggling with the “experience/past” type of questions. For example:
Tell us of a time when you had to work with a difficult coworker/boss. (Competency: Working with others)
or Tell us of a time when you demonstrated client focus. (Competency: Client focus)
Given the very limited amount of professional experience I have, I literally can’t think of any experience worth sharing in the interview and I don’t want to make up a story. My mind just goes blank. Do you have any insights for a person like me on how to approach these questions nicely when lacking actual examples? I apologize if this seems like a silly question to you.
Any help would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks.

Guest
Eric
28 days ago

Thank you for this information, it has been really helpful! I have an interview for a development program and the competencies being evaluated are: * Humility: You are open to new and better ways of doing things even when you have developed comfort with the current method, and you are aware of and consider the impact of your words and actions on others.
* Collaborative: You share information and include relevant parties, you establish relationships that built on mutual trust and benefit, you seek consensus in a constructive fashion, you value and seek diverse perspectives, and you aim to co-create solutions and give credit to those involved in the process.
* Respectful of Diversity: You value differences; you seek different perspectives; you build on the strengths of others and find commonalities to achieve shared goals; you understand and value inclusion of all peoples, no matter how divergent their views.
* Analytical: You ask questions, you think about underlying assumptions, you create, gather, and summarize data in all its forms (quantitative, qualitative), you have strong observational skills, and you take a critical approach to understanding and solving problems.
* Oral communication: You breathe life into information to inform the public and engage or support the decision-making process. You have strong oral communication skills.
Can you help me think of examples?

Guest
Tina
26 days ago
Reply to  Paul

I’m believe this is for the PARDP program at Natural Resources as I’m currently in the same boat as Eric! I also wonder if these interviews follow the same format as regular government interviews.

Guest
orchid
30 days ago

Hi Paul, I am ashamed to say that I have a kind of a simple question that puzzles me. I am trying to prepare for being evaluated in regards to my “Ability to plan, analyze, and make recommendations”. Would this be the equivalent of “thinking things through”, “judgment”, “analytical thinking” or does it refer more to something more encompassing (in my opinion), like “strategic thinking”. Apart from using the policy cycle to frame my response, I am not sure exactly what to include under this umbrella topic to be concise enough yet touch upon the main aspects required by the topic. I feel like you already have answered this on the website, but I cannot seem to retrieve this information. I am wondering whether I am not overthinking this. Thank you so much! Orchid

Guest
orchid
26 days ago
Reply to  Paul

Hi Paul,
Thank you so much for your useful and detailed response, I appreciate it! Very interesting distinction among various forms of what I had thought was the same competency/concept! Some more food for thought for me, but for another day:)

For now, I will try and keep things simple.
Have a nice weekend!
Orchid

Guest
Nina
1 month ago

Hi Paul,

Your insights have been extremely useful for my competition prep (huge thanks!). I recently interviewed for an EC-05 position and they had standard behavioral questions. I prepared really hard and thought the interview went well. To my surprise, I received an email that screened me out of the competition as I did not meet the passing mark. I am shocked and angry given I am usually scared of written exams, but not interviews. I immediately wrote them back to ask for feedback and perhaps a re-evaluation (if possible). Do I have another recourse? Good thing is that I am working for the same department as a term where I applied. Not sure if that means anything (perhaps not given competitions are transparent).

Best regards,
Nina

Guest
Ryan
1 month ago

Hi Paul,

A quick thank you for this tremendous resource! It is comprehensive and extremely valuable.

I had a question I was wondering your thoughts/opinions on. I recently got into a pool for a position and was contacted by a manager for an informal ‘fit’ interview. It went well and I was told I would hear back in about a month. Fast forward – I have heard back. In short, they informed me that they did not receive the approval they had anticipated to fill the role that I interviewed for and that the process is now on hold.

My question is two fold: a) What are the odds (in your humble opinion) that they may eventually get their funding and contact me again; and b) Is there a chance I can capitalize on the fact that I am in a Pool to find a different position?

Thanks again for all the time you dedicate here to the community!
Sincerely
Ryan

Guest
Noreen
1 month ago

Hi Paul,
Firstly, thank you for putting together such an incredible guide; it has been an invaluable resource, shedding light on aspects of the interview process that are rarely discussed.

I recently applied for a position through a competitive process, and the hiring involves multiple positions at the same classification across several different streams. During the application, I had to choose a specific stream and address their essential qualifications. I received an invitation for an interview. In the invitation, they outlined the specific abilities they’ll be assessing: thinking things through, ability to work in a team, promote innovation, and guide change (for supervisory positions only), as well as mobilizing people (also for supervisory positions only).

Here’s my concern: I didn’t choose streams specifically designated for supervisory positions. I’m wondering if the interview questions will still touch upon these supervisory skills or if the invitation wasn’t tailored to my chosen stream.

Thanks in advance!
Noreen

Guest
Noreen
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

Hi Paul,

Thanks for getting back to me. Although I lack supervisory experience, I’m going to prepare examples I can use where I emulated those competencies on projects, however I certainly don’t have the required depth and breadth they were looking for on the job poster.

In the interview, if I’m asked supervisory position questions and get screened out, would challenging the process be appropriate? I reviewed the job posting and I didn’t find any mention of a requirement for experience in all the streams to apply and I definitely meet the requirements of the streams I selected.

Thanks again !

Guest
Cameron
1 month ago

Hi Paul,

I am currently preparing for an interview and have found your guide super helpful so far. I am struggling a bit to study however, as I have no idea what the job is. The interview is recorded through vid-recruiter, I have no clue how many questions there will be, how long I have to answer each question, how many attempts I have at the recording, etc. The only information I have on the position itself is what sector it’s in. I don’t know what I would be working on, or even whether the position will be in the field, in the lab, or in the office.

The merit criteria is also super vague and I’m having a hard time taking notes for a few of them. Specifically regarding “demonstrating integrity and respect”; I am very much early career and haven’t really had any instances where I had to exhibit integrity in the face of an ethical dilemma. How would I incorporate this competency into my answer?

Is it typical to be far enough along in the process to be offered an interview and still be so much in the dark about the job description? I’ve spent many hours at this point preparing for the exam, writing the exam, and now preparing for this interview, and I don’t even know if the job they are considering me for is something I would be interested in.

I appreciate any insight that you can provide me regarding these questions!

Guest
B B
1 month ago

Hi Paul,

Long time reader, first time commenter, but I’ll always be indebted to your guide for helping me improve significantly as an applicant.

I’m currently in a process where, if I actually pass my virtual solo interview (fingers crossed!), I may be invited to do an in-person group interview. The only things I know about it at this time is that it’s scenario-based and the specific competencies being tested will only be disclosed on the day of.

Perhaps because group interviews are a rare kind of assessment, I haven’t been able to find much substantive information online on tips and strategies for preparing for it. I did see your discussion with a commenter a year ago (https://polywogg.ca/hr-guide/interviews/#comment-1473) on how group interviews may be structured (roleplay vs group simulations) and tips (eg keeping your eyes on the prize; interaction process > proposed outcome), which is really helpful for imagining what this assessment might look like. But at the risk of counting unhatched chickens, I’m really interested in knowing what (if anything) can I do to prepare ahead of time for group-based scenario interviews, without knowing the format, size and composition of the group, and expectations for what they’re evaluating (process vs outcome)? What else could I expect in the format, and accordingly what are some strategies for making use of any prep time given before the interview, and for dealing the group interview and fellow participants? As well, if it’s a group simulation exercise and participants end up being as zero sum cutthroat about “winning” as in your example, do you have any advice for how a taciturn introvert can ensure my voice and input get heard by both the group and the assessors?

Thank you so much in advance for any sagely advice you may give!

Guest
B B
10 days ago
Reply to  Paul

Hi Paul, a belated thank you so much for your thorough and thoughtful advice. It turned out that the group interview was a group roleplay/simulation like the one you described, and contrary to the preliminary information I heard, we did get a list of competencies as well as a scenario prompt ahead of time so we can prep for presenting and debating our positions during the simulation. I also prepped a bit with some of the contingencies and approaches you recommended, but luckily, all the fellow interviewees had studied the competencies so they knew the “assignment” was to be as agreeable and constructive as possible, so it was on the whole a pretty friendly and pleasant environment. I’m still waiting results but either way, I’m really glad I got a chance to experience this interview format. Thank you again for all your help for both this interview and countless other application processes!

Guest
Christine
1 month ago

Hi Paul,

Your guide has been very helpful, thank you for all this very useful and timely advice. I recently passed screening and a written exam for a government position (I’ve spent my career in industry up to now) and I have an in-person interview next week. (I get the questions half hour ahead of the interview). The interview will be based on 4 competencies. I’ve read up on all your suggestions, used the definitions of the competencies that were given on my written exam to come up with behavioral indicators that I should use in my answers, made lists of possible questions that could be asked for each competency in order to come up with some brief answers to expand on in the interview and I feel decently prepared. I have a few questions though. If they ask for a behavioural example related to a work situation and I absolutely cannot come up with anything from my work experience, but I would have a good example from a personal situation, would it be acceptable in an interview to say something like ‘This situation has never happened to me at work, however I have a personal experience that would demonstrate the competency well’ and go on to describe the situation? Also, they haven’t given me any idea of how long the interview is set for – is 45min to 60 min a reasonable assumption? (It’s for an EG-05 position). Thanks in advance!

Guest
Christine
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

Thanks for your prompt reply, and yes, I agree, I would add extra information about how a work situation would be different if I end up using a personal experience in an answer. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Guest
Christine
1 month ago
Reply to  Christine

Oh, I did think of one more question. Do you know what the chances are that the questions will be labeled with the competency that is being tested? (not the definitions though, just a heads up that this question is about competency XXX). I’m asking because some questions can be somewhat ambiguous and I’m worried that I might end up answering as if it’s for one competency and not the one they are actually testing on. For example a question about an employee conflict could be about being a team player, or managing people or building trust through integrity.

Guest
Christine
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

Thanks Paul, that’s great advice to not spend too much time stressing about what competency I think they might be testing me on (if it’s not immediately obvious) and to just answer the question with my best response!

I’m spending some time looking at interview Qs for each of the different competencies to have a better picture about what might be asked and just have something prepared for each, but in the event of real surprise question, I’ll just go with my gut.

Guest
Christine
1 month ago
Reply to  Christine

Hi Paul, I had my interview today and it went well. It turned out that they did clearly lay out which competency they were testing (including the definition of it on the interview question sheet) which made things much clearer for me. And there were no surprise questions, just the competencies they said they would test. It was really similar to my written exam, just talking about the experiences and situations instead of writing them down.
I was given 30 minutes to review the questions and take notes that I could have with me in the interview. And since I’d prepared well with all your tips, I felt quite relaxed and believe I acquitted myself well. It also turns out they are hiring for 2 positions (the job description had said 1 position and 1 possible 2nd position but I guess the funding for the 2nd position was approved) so that doubles my chances. Now I just have to wait for the reference and security checks. I’ll check back in if I get a job offer 🙂

Guest
Emily
2 months ago

Hello, could you please help me? For an interview, I just wanted to ask you if you could give me two examples for the following topics:
1) Initiative and self-management
2) Information-seeking and learning
Thank you

Guest
Loulou
2 months ago

Hi Paul,
I know you’ve gone through those questions but I just wanted to be sure.
I’ve been invited to an informal interview to discuss work arrangements at the end of my application process with Service Canada. I’m curious what kind of questions they will ask considering I’ve already completed all online tests, references, fingerprinting, and an online interview on situational questions.

Guest
Lou
2 months ago

Hi Paul!

Thank you so much for your valuable resource.
Thanks to your guidance and the Reddit I felt super prepared for my application and an external applicant for a specific appointment, and subsequently made it passed the interview stage into a pool for GT03. It is not fully accessed as they haven’t even asked about references yet. However, I have a second interview coming up, via video call. I assume this is a “best fit” type interview but I’m not sure, the email just said it would assess my suitability against the specific position. But it wouldn’t be a “test” again, right? Since they have already assessed me against the Statement of Merit and determined I was “essentially qualified” (to quote the email)?
Additionally, I have scoured your website and the Reddit, as well as reviewed the job posting vs my resume again to make notes. Is there anything else I should be prepared for or any recommendations?

Guest
Lou
2 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Thanks so much Paul. Very detailed and helpful as always.
Based on your comment vs the email I received I think I fall into Type C. So I’ll definitely work on my elevator pitch 😉
Thanks again! Will keep you updated.

Guest
Lou
2 months ago
Reply to  Lou

Hi Paul, just wanted to give you an update. I got notice today that I did not get the position. The second interview completely threw me for a loop so I suspect that was the reasoning. They asked me very specific questions about asset qualifications, some were on the job posting and some were not so I do not think that I meet some of the needs. Also they asked me questions like “tell me a time when you did exhibited X” and I assumed at this point they wouldn’t ask those questions, but I should have prepared myself more.
I have asked for feedback, so hopefully something valuable is there.

Anyway, I really appreciate all the effort and support you put into this.

Guest
Lou
2 months ago
Reply to  Paul

How confusing, haha. It definitely feels as though the stream could have been more defined like you mentioned above.

I did get a response saying I did well in both interviews, it was a pleasure meeting with me, and they (panel of 3) thought I was qualified well BUT they went with someone who had 2 things that I did not. Unfortunately, neither of those things were listed anywhere on the job description/posting and neither of those things had anything to do with what I was told the job would be. In fact, one of those things is a dead skill which the hiring manager even pointed out. I can’t imagine they would have any benefit in lying to me but the job I applied for is pretty niche and the reasons I didn’t get the job don’t really have anything to do with that niche job. At least not traditionally.

Anyway, it is what it is, maybe it won’t work out with the other person, you never know. I would still be interested in working there so I made all my correspondence incredibly professional and kind with the hopes it helps me in the future somehow. I am going to assume (maybe at least to soften the blow to my ego haha) the fact I didn’t get the job because of mystery unknown assets means I was one of the top candidates, just not THE top candidate.

Side question: when they say they’ll keep my application on file, does that even mean anything? Is it just because the pool is still open? It feels like a generic response, something we’d here in the “regular” world as a gesture to soften the blow. Just curious if you think it’s the same in regards to government correspondence?

Guest
Fatema
3 months ago

Hi Paul,

Do you have any advice regarding video interviews? It seems almost too good to be true to have 2 tries and prep time for each question so I was wondering if I should just prep based on your notes and/or if there is anything else to consider.

Current plan of action: assume 3 types of questions for each criteria (mine are effective oral comms, thinking things through, attention to detail, and working effectively with others) and prepare structured responses to potential questions that could be asked for each?

Thank you!

Last edited 3 months ago by Fatema
Guest
Aimar
3 months ago

Good morning Paul,

Thanks for putting across such a fantastic guide for people trying to get into the public service. I cannot count the number of times i read and re-read parts of your website over the last 4 years whenever I have participated in a public service competition. I have cleared a few of them, but the golden snitch that had been elusive all this while is now just within my grasp, all thanks to your Rosetta Stone of getting into public service!

So i’ve been chasing an ENG-04 position and I have just been invited to a 2 hr long interview plus case study exercise. The interview seems to be planned along expected lines i.e., designed to test a few competencies, but the case study has had me stumped. I could find almost no information anywhere that could help me prepare for the case study, and as such, I’m a little nervous not knowing what to expect. The case study is expected to assess:

* Ability to analyze and interpret complex technical documents related to continuing airworthiness of aeronautical products.
* Ability to communicate effectively orally.
* Ability to develop corrective action using safety intelligence information such as accidents, occurrences and in-service difficulties,

While I do understand and appreciate that the case study might be a bit more technical than a generic interview/ written exam, I would truly appreciate any insights you may have on how one can prepare for the case study presentation.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Guest
Aimar
2 months ago
Reply to  Aimar

Hi Paul,
I believe you forgot to reply to my message, or you may have replied but the message didn’t get posted. I would greatly appreciate your help!

Guest
Aimar
29 days ago
Reply to  Paul

Hi Paul,
Many many thanks for the fantastic response and advice on the case study, and I’m happy to say your extrapolation wasn’t too far off the mark! You should look into practicing aviation law! I specifically kept in mind the 3 options (corrective, preventative and awareness) while giving my answer and I feel it greatly helped put things in perspective.

I wouldn’t say it was my best interview, but the panel did mention only the successful candidate’s references will be contacted. Here’s an update on what happened after the interview:

I was definitely dreading the email announcing that I had failed my interview, and I had frankly given up hope. I asked for interview feedback a week after they completed my interview (too early, I know, but I wanted to grieve and move on quickly over the holidays), and I was told any feedback would only be given a month later once they finished with other candidates interviews, and the HR advised me to fill out the Secret security clearance forms that were sent just prior to the interview.

I went ahead with filling the forms and getting my fingerprinting done. I even had an interview with a security officer, which was quite intense. I was a little surprised that the process was still going on (and obviously consuming some security personnel resources) without an interview outcome, but I didn’t think much about it. At this moment, I’m sure its still in the process, but I haven’t followed up to request timelines.

A month out from the interview, the hiring manager reaches out for references directly (by email one evening and by phone the next day) as he was presumably left trying to run the process to completion on his own. He mentioned that the HR personnel handling the process had left the role. He verbally mentioned that I had cleared the interview stage and wants to move to the reference check phase, but he couldn’t access the references I had submitted to the HR prior to my interview.

Here’s where things got interesting: He mentioned over the call that the reference check phase was going to be a “very formal” affair, and they will be calling the references up. I can’t quite recall if he mentioned there will be a panel (maybe, maybe not, I cannot definitively recall), but there was something along the lines of “..getting two other approvals before sending them off to the HR..”.

Just as you advised in the reference section, I did send both my references an email with my latest resume and some highlights of the work we did together. I was a bit surprised at his “very formal” reference check wording because I had assumed he would just forward a questionnaire to fill up, so I ended up searching what a structured reference check looks like on the TBS website, and wow! There’s a complete PROCESS about how to do a reference check (for the hiring manager) including the script to use while on the call with the referee!

Here are my questions:
1. As far as i can tell, all SoMC have been addressed during the test and interview phases. Usually it happens that one personal suitability SoMC would be assessed during the reference check stage, but it doesnt appear to be so in this case. All SoMCs such as Knowledge, Competencies and Abilities were assessed during the test/ case study/ interview phases. Is the hiring manager partially assessing some of the SoMC during the reference check stage? What usually is the weightage in these cases? If the weightage is, say 70:30 to the interview, and I have “passed” the interview, would I still fail to meet the SoMC criteria?

2. Have you ever come across a reference check being done by a panel (of hiring manager + one or two others), or is it usually just the hiring manager? I have obviously not asked my references to share any details of what is being asked of them, but I cant help feeling this reference check sounds more like an interview about me but without me and this is stressing me out as I have zero control over the outcome at this stage.

I would greatly appreciate your insights into this unusual reference check phase. Thanks once again for the millions of hours you spend answering all our questions.

Last edited 29 days ago by Aimar
Guest
Aimar
8 days ago
Reply to  Paul

Hi Paul,
Thank you very much for the guidance on the references!! There was indeed a panel and it appears that I have passed the reference check, although I haven’t received any confirmation from the HR that I’ve completed all assessments and I’m found fully qualified in a pool.

Yesterday, the hiring manager reached out to me and mentioned that his colleague would like to chat with me about an opportunity in his team. I realized this might be the “best fit” interview, but without a solid confirmation that I’m found fully assessed, I didn’t want to take any chances. I also read about someone who went into the interview assuming it was a best fit interview only to be asked scenarios based questions like an actual interview.

I did ask if I would be assessed against any merit criteria, but the manager replied that there wouldn’t be any assessment: instead, it would be an informal chat to get to know me, my background and talk about the position he has on his team. I’m anyway preparing answers to the back-pocket questions and bracing myself because I really want this job!

I’m writing to you because I’ve been in this situation before, although in the private sector. I’ve passed the main “interview” only to be invited to “meet the team” and I’ve never received an offer after that point, and it was quite frustrating. I don’t want to lose this opportunity, so I’d greatly appreciate it if you could give me some pointers on what NOT to do or say or ask in a best fit interview – that is – how to improve my likability apart from quacking? I am reading up about the kind of work the department does on the website so that I don’t go in blank but I certainly wouldn’t have the insight an internal candidate might have.

Also, is it possible that the hiring managers who interviewed me, aren’t likely to offer me a position, because I was directly “offered” to a third manager who did not participate in the staffing process.

Please help!

Guest
Karim
3 months ago

Hi Paul,

I recently stumbled upon this page and found it incredibly valuable. However, I must admit I’m feeling a bit desperate. I’ve dedicated 14 years to the public service, currently holding the position of EC-06. My goal is to make a lateral move to gain more diverse experience for future advancement. Given my age, I feel a sense of urgency.

Over the summer, I participated in nearly 10 fit interviews, but unfortunately, there were no positive outcomes. This setback is a combination of factors, including a lack of confidence due to being a francophone (among other personal reasons) and my background in “niche” work as EC since the beginning of my career . Consequently, I find myself in a position where I appear too generalist, akin a B+ in various areas, without being an A+ specialist in policy or data like those skilled econometrists who excel in data manipulation. As a result, I struggle to effectively market myself in any specific domain.

Despite these challenges, I want to emphasize that I possess other valuable qualities that could contribute significantly.

I also find it challenging to answer questions about my career aspirations in the next role. There have been instances where I turned down EC-06 positions in the past simply because I didn’t resonate with the nature of the work. I wonder if employers can trust my intuition when I express interest in a role, even if I struggle to articulate precisely why.

Thoughts to motivate me ? If not, no problem. I enjoyed reading some of the advice.

Guest
Karim
3 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Ha ha! Appreciate this. It’s genuinely helpful. I’m gradually distancing myself from 40 🙂 I excel in what I do now—perhaps even a bit too much. Yet, for reasons I can’t disclose, advancing further seems almost impossible. Nevertheless, I’ll heed the advice and contemplate my next steps.

Guest
Joel K
3 months ago

Hi Paul, hope you can see this before Friday !
I got invited for a written exam this Friday November 17th. It is casual CR- 05 position. The interview process (written exam and interview) will assess the following
qualifications:
o Ability to work effectively with others;
o Ability to communicate effectively in orally and writing;
o Client service orientation;
o Judgement;
o Attention to detail;
o Dependability.

I am trying to get my foot in the government so Any suggestion for me will be really appreciated

Guest
Joel K
3 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Thanks Paul