Government Jobs: Top 10 Interview Questions


While every interview presents its own challenges, government interviews will often have a similar set of questions. While preparing for your government job interview, ensure you've at a minimum considered these questions.

As with any interview question preparation, the best way to prepare is to write down your answers, and then practice them with someone. If you don't have someone to practice with, consider recording a video of yourself practicing your answers, and see how you can improve both the answers and your mannerisms (see this article on how to project confidence in an interview).

Related: Search for Government jobs.

Interviews are tough; government interviews can be tougher. Check out these ten tricky questions and how to answer them.

1. Why do you want to work for the government?

Bad answer: "I like the government. It seems like a super cool place to work."

Good answer: "I have always appreciated and admired those who serve their country. That's why I joined the military in the first place, and I'm at a point where I may not want to carry a rifle, but I want to keep giving back."

Don't just say you like it. Anyone can like the idea of working for the government, and that proves nothing. Focus your commitment to public service and respect for government officials and what they are doing. Consider using a couple examples of work government agencies are doing that has inspired you (this can be other agencies than the one you're interviewing for -- remember, we're going for big picture here).

Related: Does your resume pass the 6-second test? Get a FREE assessment.

2. Why do you want to work at this agency?

Bad answer: "Everyone knows your Department is cool, and I think it will look great on my resume."

Good answer: "The work that you did in the Haiti earthquake relief efforts inspired me to study humanitarian issues in the first place, which is why my internship was focused on humanitarian and aid issues. I believe my passion and experience would be a great asset to your agency, and know I would look forward to coming to work each day in a job like this where I know I'm making a difference."

Don't make it all about you, but find a way to spin it so you're telling them why you would make a great contribution to their team and agency.

3. Tell us about yourself.

Bad answer: "I graduated high school and then went into the military, where I was a cryptologic linguist. When I got out I went to college to study Asian studies, then I did a couple internships, one at the Treasury Department and another with State. I also practice trombone ten hours a week, which speaks to my commitment."

Good answer: "I am enthusiastic about Asia policy, which is why I am applying for this position. It started when I was stationed abroad in Okinawa, Japan, and so I studied Asian studies in school and did an internship at the Asia office at the Treasury Department."

Don't just list what you've done, but tell a story with a strong through-line about what you've done and how it sets you up perfectly for this job.

Related: To apply for jobs that match your skills, visit the Military Skills Translator.

4. Why did you leave your last job?

Bad answer: "No one seemed to like me, and they were all jerks anyway." 

Good answer: "I was looking for new growth opportunities, but upward mobility in that role was stagnant. I am excited that this position with your agency offers room for learning and an opportunity to prove myself."

Avoid being negative, because it might set you up in the hiring manager's mind as someone who doesn't get along well with others, or might easily get disgruntled.

5. What do you think of your previous boss?

Bad answer: "She was totally checked out at times, and seemed to single me out to pick on whenever she bothered to say anything. What a jerk."

Good answer: "My last boss was tough at times, but she taught me a lot about myself. I learned to always keep a notebook handy and to reiterate what was expected of me, so we were both clear and there was no room for misunderstanding. She definitely helped me grow in the areas of time-management, as well as understanding different styles of leadership."

Again, you don't want to come across as negative. Even this good answer could be more positive. Remember that the person interviewing you could be your next boss, and they don't want to imagine you going around and talking bad about them someday.

6. This position is less senior than your last one. Are you okay with that?

Bad answer: "No, but I'll figure it out. Maybe I can do something on the side."

Good answer: "If there's one thing I learned during my time in the military, it was how to put my head down and get to work. For me it isn't about prestige right now, it's about pursuing a career that I love, and that's where I see this fitting in. I know that if I work hard and show how passionate and dedicated I am, I can move up the chain in time."

Government jobs often have a certain pay scale they can hire you into. Depending on the agency, going with just a BA degree might land you as a GS-9, while an MA might be GS-11. These are not super high-paying, senior positions, and you have to realize that you have to prove yourself all over again. Get the chip off your shoulder and be prepared to shine so you can move up the ranks quickly, but don't expect handouts.

7. Our culture here is a bit more relaxed than the military. Do you think you'll be a good fit?

Bad answer: "I served my country and proved myself, so… don't you think it's more important that you all fit with me?"

Good answer: "My work history has certainly shown that I can be adaptable. In fact, if you look at my internships you'll see that I have both fast-paced and not so fast-paced work environments.    

Remember that not everyone realizes the military is as awesome as we know it is. Don't come in with a chip on your shoulder. Instead, show that you are adaptable and easy to work with. Some people might be nervous about working with a veteran, because they don't understand what you've been through.

Related: Unleash your career potential and get customized job recommendations based on your military experience and personality traits.

8. This office has its fast and slow moments. Are you going to get bored in the down time?

Bad answer: "I'm sure you'll find something for me to do."

Good answer: "I can always find something to do, even if it's just learning more about my job or background issues related to the job. Plus, I like to keep myself busy outside of work, so down time has never bothered me."

This question is one that definitely gets asked in certain government job interviews, and the key is to show that you're a good fit. They don't want someone who is lazy, but they also don't want someone who will get disgruntled and quit just because there is a slow period.

9. Where do you see yourself in five years?   

Bad answer: "Maybe in the government? But who knows, because after the military I don't want to be tied down."

Good answer: "I am applying for this job because I see huge potential, but also because I believe in the mission of the agency. I hope to grow with your office, but if that does not work out for some reason, I hope to find other opportunities here that relate."

It doesn't have to be this answer, but be sure to show you are passionate about the specific job you are applying for as well as the agency. There is often a lot of growth and movement potential in government agencies, and they like to know that you'll stick around for the long haul.

10. I understand that you were in the military, but most veterans are republicans. Where do you stand on that and the current president?

Bad answer: "Are you kidding? I can't stand either party, I'm such a libertarian anarchist, I'd rather we abolish the government and everything to do with it."

Good answer: "I'm always happy to serve my country, regardless of politics. In the military, the president is our commander in chief, and we all know that he tells us what to do. There's not room for our personal opinions to get in the way."

Trick question! They can't ask you this type of question. The same goes with questions related to your marital status and disabilities. If someone happens to ask this question, probably the best thing to do is side-step it with something along the lines of the good answer example above.

Related: For the latest veteran jobs postings around the country, including jobs related to government, visit the Job Search section.

The Next Step: Find the Right Veteran Job

Whether you want to polish up your resume, find veteran job fairs in your area, or connect with employers looking to hire veterans, can help. Sign up for a free membership to have job postings, guides and advice, and more delivered directly to your inbox.

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