An abundance of articles have been written on job interview do’s (do be on time, do maintain eye contact) and don’ts (don’t chew gum, don’t criticize former supervisors). However, there seems to be far less written about preparing for the actual interview questions and exchange. Many candidates arrive for the job interview meticulously following prescribed do’s and don’ts but fall down noticeably when it comes to the substantive elements of the test. Particularly as it relates to researching the agency and community they wish to join.
Distinguishing yourself in a field of applicants requires strong preparation for the interview. Even candidates with a depth of experience, storehouse of subject matter knowledge and a gift for speaking extemporaneously should spend time preparing for the interview. Over the years, sitting on selection panels and speaking with hiring authorities, I have found the following preparation measures to pay rich dividends in results:
Read the job announcement carefully to understand as fully as possible what the duties and responsibilities are of the position you are seeking. Many positions share similar job titles but are different in nuanced, or even major, ways. Job announcements may also include valuable information about the community, organizational cultural, prominent management style, and pending major projects and challenges.
If the recruitment is being handled by an Executive Recruiter, supplement the above by speaking with the recruiter. They have consulted with electeds, top management and members of the community to learn the same kind of information you are seeking. In the absence of an Executive Recruiter, learn more about the agency and the position from the H.R. Department.
Study the agency’s website thoroughly. Pay particular attention to mission and values statements, governing documents such as charters, municipal codes, labor agreements, committee reports, the budget message and budget reports.
For executive and upper management positions ask to meet with the Mayor, Council Members and City Manager prior to your first interview. This is perfectly ethical as long as they make their accessibility for such discussions available to all candidates. They will likely decline to speak with candidates if they have roles in the selection and appointment process, but will surely admire your initiative and may refer you to others who can help.
Review as much as a year’s worth of the governing body’s agendas and minutes.
Review as much as a year’s worth of local newspaper articles pertaining to local government and community issues.
Seek out and speak with community leaders in both elected and appointed
positions at the School District and Chamber of Commerce, as well as other
intergovernmental agencies, civic and community groups.
Make social media and professional association inquires of your network. You might connect with a current or former employee of the agency that will be interviewing you. This could be good or bad, but will certainly be enlightening.
Be able to articulate in a meaningful way why it is you want to work for this agency over others.
Anticipate key interview questions in general, and specific questions about your background and experience. Formulate the key elements of your responses, avoiding sounding too rehearsed.