When you interview for a government job—or pretty much any job for that matter—you should always ask questions of the hiring manager or interview panel members. They want and expect you to have well-thought-out questions. An interview is, after all, a two-way street. The hiring manager wants to find out about you, and you want to find out about the hiring manager, your potential co-workers and the organization as a whole.
There are many reasons asking questions benefits you. Questions allow you to show your interest in the job, to show you have researched the job and organization, and to gather information to help you decide whether you should accept a job offer. There are no good reasons not to ask questions. No matter how well you answer an interviewer’s questions, failing to ask questions in return makes you appear unprepared and perhaps disinterested.
Your questions need to be good ones, though. The best questions help you gain a deeper understanding of the job and organization. The worst questions are purely self-centered. Here are some good questions you can ask in your next government job interview.
What Can You Tell Me About the People on the Team?
People typically spend more time with the people they work with than they do with their immediate families. Your co-workers have a huge impact on your life. A good team can fill your workdays with help and encouragement. A bad team can sap your energy and motivation.
Asking about the team sends the message that it is important for you to work with people who form a high-functioning team. Watch your interviewer’s body language when he or she answers this question. It is almost certain the interviewer will say good things about the team if for no other reason than that is what you want to hear. But do the interviewer’s words and body language match? If not, the interviewer is most likely overselling the positive aspects of the team and glossing over the negative ones.
Outside My Team, With Which Parts of the Organization Will I Work Most Closely?
This question shows the interviewer you want to know how your job fits into the grand scheme of the organization. Working well with other parts of the organization is critical to your productivity, the team’s performance and the organization’s success. Knowing these people can give you a starting point for your networking once you’re on the job.
You can find out this information when you begin work, but asking about it in the interview shows you are already thinking about how to integrate yourself into the broader structure of the organization. You want to know where you fit in the big picture so you can maximize your impact on the organization.
How Will I Be Trained?
Training—especially introductory training—is critical to an employee’s success. Is there a structured training program for new hires in this role, or will you learn from your teammates on the fly as tasks and assignments come up? Will you have a mentor? How will you know you have mastered what you are expected to know?
Asking about training shows you are thinking beyond getting the job to how to do the job. You want to know how the organization is going to develop you into an acceptable performer. You want to be assured the organization is setting you up to succeed.
What Does Success Look Like After I've Been on the Job Six Months?
More likely than not, this question will be challenging for your interviewer to answer. There are so many steps in the government hiring process that happen before an interview, and the hiring manager has been jumping through bureaucratic hoops just to get to this point. The hiring manager may not have even thought about this question.
Even so, your interviewer’s gut reaction to the question shows a lot. Whatever few things the interviewer says are most likely the biggest keys to success. In scrambling to come up with an answer, the interviewer may miss one or two, but the response should give you a good insight into the expectations you will need to meet by the end of the first six months.
It is a good question because it shows you are thinking about being successful. Without being presumptuous, you posit your hiring as a given and move the conversation into planning how you will be successful.
How Would You Describe the Organization's Culture?
An organization’s culture is incredibly important. You want to fit well in the culture. You do not have to be in love with the organization right off the bat, but you do not want a gross mismatch between how you work and how the organization operates.
The job may be what you want to do, but you may end up frustrated if you do not fit. If you do not handle pressure well, you do not want to work in an organization that constantly responds to crises. Conversely, you do not want to work in a plodding, uninventive agency if you are a driven person.
This question shows you want to fit with the organization, but you do not come off as needing others’ approval to feel good about yourself. It is a fact-finding question. Over the course of the interview, the interviewer may get an idea of what you want to hear as a response, so watch out for an interviewer twisting negatives into positives when your personality conflicts with an organizational characteristic.
I Saw _____ on Your Website. Can You Tell Me More About That?
One of the best ways to prepare for a government job interview is to review the organization’s website. Some of the information will be easy to understand, and some of it may be so technical; no one outside the organization or the organization’s contractors understand it. When you see something, you partially understand, make a note of it. It may be something you can ask about in the interview.
The information you can understand portrays the organization in a positive light. Even if the organization has settled a lawsuit to pay millions of dollars to a plaintiff, the organization’s website will say how the organization is proactively resolving the problem and is working in the best interest of those impacted by whatever wrong was done to them.
Asking about the information on the organization’s website shows the interviewer you did some basic research. You could ask something more insightful than merely asking for an explanation, but that isn’t necessary. If you have the background to ask something deeper, do so, but if you do not have such a background, stick to an explanatory question.
Who Are the Organization's Most Vocal Stakeholders?
In addition to reading the organization’s website, check what others are saying about the organization. An organization’s critics may be right, but they may also be dead wrong. Most often, critics have legitimate issues, but their proposed methods of addressing those issues differ from what the organization wants to do. Problems are easier to agree upon than solutions.
After the interview, think about how your interviewer answers this question. Is the interviewer’s response well-reasoned? Is the response overtly biased? Does the interviewer acknowledge legitimate criticisms levied against the organization?
An interviewer should never badmouth a stakeholder in front of a potential new hire. Be wary if the interviewer says something disparaging about a stakeholder.
I Noticed in Your Budget You Spend a Lot of Money on _____. Why Is That?
The government runs on money as a car runs on gasoline. How a government organization spends its money shows where the organization’s priorities are. Substantial portions of all government budgets are dedicated to personnel, so instead, look at which programs or grants get the largest pieces of the pie.
If you take the time to understand an organization’s budget, you will stick out from the other candidates in a positive way. Government budgets can be tricky to understand. Do your best to interpret the budget correctly, but if you misinterpret it, do not be hard on yourself when the interviewer corrects your misunderstanding.