By Al Malinchak

Reinventing and translating your public service accomplishments and metrics to reflect your value during the interview process is paramount to getting to the next level in the public to private career transition. The pre-interview stage involves research of the company to arm yourself with knowledge of their operations and prepare questions for their hiring manager regarding their culture to insure this company is the right fit for you; the interview stage is your demeanor during the discussions, and, the post-interview stage reflects establishes your future interactions and level of patience involved before a decision to hire is known.

An organization, company, non-profit – wants to interview you – this means you are GENERALLY qualified for the position. The interview process is how companies determine which candidate is the MOST qualified for the position. Companies use the interview process to drill down into the depth and breadth of your experience as compared to other candidates relative to the role and responsibilities that are required and preferred.

This is a weeding out process and there are tricks to stay on the shortlist and make it to the finish line.   There are typically 3 or more interviews before a decision to hire is made and there are usually multiple people being interviewed by a hiring manager. Bottom line – the interview process may take as short as 2 weeks or as long as a year – recall the length of time from when you applied to become a public servant and your actual date of hire.

As well, some companies require personality or skills assessments to ensure there is a deeper dive into your skill set as well as a cultural fit. During your public service career you may have taken various personality diagnostics, e.g., Meyers-Briggs, MMPI, DiSC, to learn more about yourself and the importance of positioning yourself in how you communicate when you were interviewing or interrogating witnesses and/or subjects of an investigation. Unless you are applying for an investigative or security related position, interrogation is out. However, the need to understand how to communicate with the hiring manager conducting the interview is essential. Bring all your knowledge and experience to the interview process as you traverse the pre-interview, the interview and the post-interview phases in the very competitive interview process.

Pre-Interview Preparation

Once invited for an interview, you need to prepare and conduct as much research about the organization – your future employer – as possible. There are many websites that provide both formal and informal information about the company, and possibly about the hiring manager who will be conducting the interview. First, determine if the hiring manager has a LinkedIn account on and consume every detail about that person and data mine the hiring manager’s connections to learn more about who he/she is as a person and a professional. Know more about the hiring manager than the hiring manager knows about you. Prepare a list of questions for the hiring manager – about the company, about the position you are applying, about the peers, subordinates and superiors you will be working with; ask how long the hiring manager has been with the company, what drew them to the company – during the actual interview let the hiring manager respond to your questions, you LISTEN, and respond accordingly. Secondly, research various websites about the company, its culture and its current employees who may be posting what they love or dislike about the company, e.g., or Consume this information and incorporate it into possible responses to questions you may be asked or into questions you have the opportunity to ask. If you know someone employed at the company, reach out and engage them in a conversation – first level source information is always the best. Thirdly, research the company website – dissect every page. Read their annual report, read the Wall Street analyst reviews, read the bios of key executives and highlight reasons why you want to work for this company. You will impress the hiring manager if you can speak to why you are attracted to working at their company.

Prepare for the interview – practice your verbal skills and improve your body language – although you are the one being interviewed, you can impress the hiring manager by your confidence and knowledge of the company. Develop a list of practice questions regarding the company and the position. Write out your responses. Concentrate on the HOW and WHAT in your anticipated question/answers and anticipate a behavioral based interview. Self-practice the interview. Practice your verbal reply noting voice control, confident tone, and whether/when your voice cracks – a good indication you are not confident in your response. Practice sitting, leaning in – mirroring the behavior of the hiring manager. We all dressed professionally during our public service careers – it is as important now as then. Update your wardrobe – you are not dressing for this position, you are dressing for the next position beyond. Of course, if the hiring manager advises you to dress casually, do so – it may be their hint to the cultural environment of the organization. Verify it through your research. Lastly, always bring a hard copy of your resume to the in-person interview to provide to the interviewer at the conclusion of the interview.

Green (2011) offers some suggestions on questions to consider during an interview which remain relevant today such as: What interests you about this position? Why do you want to work here? And, What do you know about our company? Etc.

The Interview

Know that the interview process can vary widely; take days, weeks, months – dependent on how many candidates the hiring manager wants to evaluate and scheduling of associated travel. If you are the first candidate interviewed, this could be a long wait as the hiring manager may need to interview enough people to get a good representation of the talent in the marketplace prior to a hiring decision. Most companies will have a candidate interview with several people within the organization beyond the hiring manager. Those interviews could be completed in one day either back to back or as a panel interview, or one at a time over the course of a week or more. Initially, expect a phone and/or a Skype interview prior to an in-person interview – both may last between 30-60 minutes.

Always be both personable and professional and if the hiring manager asks if you have anything you would like to know before the interview begins, ask the interviewer to articulate what the key criteria they are looking for in the ideal candidate. This will provide you with an immediate opportunity to verify the research you conducted in the pre-interview phase and bolster your confidence you possess those characteristics and capabilities.

When the interviewer asks questions – BE CONCISE AND ANSWER THE QUESTION asked, do not provide any monologue or long dissertation discussion. Remember – it is always about what you can do for that company, not what that company can do for you. At the conclusion of all interviews, the hiring manager will ask if you have anything else you would like to ask. Always have one or two key questions that are well thought out to ask the interviewer – this is very important. And before you finish the interview, there is a final set of questions you need to confirm with the hiring manager:

  • Am I missing any key criteria or competency for the role that I could expound on now?
  • Do you have any concerns regarding my candidacy?
  • How many people are you interviewing for this position?
  • How do I compare with other candidates in consideration for this position?
  • Where are you in the interviewing process?
  • When do you want/need this person in place?

Finally, ask the interviewer for their business card and/or contact information and is it acceptable to stay in touch for follow-up.

Just as a reminder, avoid these common mistakes during the interview:

  • Answering your cell phone or accepting a text – shut it off before the interview
  • Appearing Disinterested or Overconfident or Arrogant
  • Dressing Inappropriately
  • Talking Negatively about previous or current employers
  • Chewing Gum or Tobacco
  • Smoking and Not Freshening Your Breath
  • Don’t Be The Person Who
    • Brings a Book/Magazine or Laptop into the interview
    • Ask the interviewer what the position is that you are interviewing for
    • Cites promptness as a trait in your application or during the interview, especially if you show up late
    • Refer to yourself in the third person
    • Take your shoes, belt, tie off during the interview
    • Say Stupid Things – this is why you need to practice!

The Post-Interview

Immediately after the interview, write down all the information about the interview and what you believe was most important during the interview. Dissect your comments – where were you strong, where did you fall short – learn from the experience.

Within 24 hours, send an email to the hiring manager and all those who interviewed you. If you are comfortable doing so, send a hand-written thank you note to them within 72 hours – it’s rare for potential candidates to go that extra mile and it will be noticed. Lastly, follow up every 2-4 weeks with the internal recruiter and/or the hiring manager to reiterate your interest and obtain a status on your candidacy – remember, you asked them if it was appropriate to follow-up during the interview. Companies like to interview several candidates before making a decision so if you are one of the first candidates it can often be weeks or months before you know whether you are a finalist – while you are waiting, prepare for the finalist interview by dissecting all the comments made by the interviewer and determining what are the most important traits, characteristics and capabilities they desire in the ideal candidate. That final interview will involve negotiations you will need to become familiar with. Stay Focused and Good luck.

Green, A. (2011). The 10 Most Common Job Interview Questions. Retrieved from