In this article, we’re going to cover the top 17 questions asked in government job interviews.
We’ll look at how to answer in the way that government agencies want and mistakes to avoid in your government interviews.
Keep reading for the most common government interview questions asked by various federal agencies.
1. Why do you want to work for the government?
In any government job interview, you can expect a question about why you’re interested in government positions.
If this is going to be your first federal job, you’ll need to explain why you’re choosing to pursue government jobs instead of working in the private sector.
Don’t just say you like the idea of working for the government. That’s easy to say but doesn’t communicate much commitment or passion to the hiring manager.
Instead, talk about your commitment to public service, to serving your country, etc.
You want to talk about commitment, pride, giving back, and public service.
You can say that you admire government workers and those who serve the public and that you’ll find more meaning in a government career.
Or, if the above isn’t quite true for you but you have another genuine reason for wanting to serve the public and work a government job, then name that.
If you served in the military, you can mention this, too. Talk about one or two key ways that you found your military service fulfilling, and then discuss why you hope to continue serving your country in a civilian job.
All job candidates should be ready to clearly answer why they want to work for the government, regardless of background.
I’d prefer to be a public servant and help my country than to simply work for a for-profit company. I want to work for more than just money, and I see government officials as having an important role in the community and society, and a role I admire.
So, I’m focusing primarily on government agencies in my job search because I’m attracted to the public service aspect, the importance of my work to our country, and the meaning I’ll get from my career.
2. When did you realize you wanted a career in government?
You can expect the hiring manager to ask when you first considered a career in government.
It’s best to be honest. If you’ve known you want a federal government job for years, say so, and briefly explain why.
However, if the idea came to you recently, it’s okay to say that as well.
The key is to show you’ve thought about why you want a government job.
In your federal job interview, it’s best to show that you’re focused primarily on obtaining a government job.
There are some exceptions. When I was a recruiter in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry, I’d come across candidates who had never considered working for government agencies, but were open to beginning the interview process to discover more about public sector jobs.
While a hiring manager wouldn’t immediately rule them out if they said, “Actually, I was mainly considering private sector jobs until your recruiter contacted me,” it’s still best to enter your federal job interview with tangible reasons as to why you are excited about and attracted to working in the federal sector.
3. What interested you in our agency?
Along with understanding why you want a government job, federal agencies also want to know why you’re particularly interested in their agency.
You can discuss how their mission and purpose align with your own beliefs.
You can discuss how you saw one or more positions that fit well with your specific skills, and where you feel you’re well qualified.
You can even say a family member or colleague suggested that your skills might align well with the work that this agency does.
Always have a clear and well-thought-out answer to this question, though. It’s an important consideration and you always want to show the employer why this particular agency and opportunity caught your interest.
The interviewer may also ask how you discovered this particular government agency, so listen carefully and be sure to answer the exact question being asked.
Stay focused on answering the precise question asked, and if the employer wants more info after, they can always ask you to elaborate.
4. What attracted you to this particular position?
Next, federal interviewers will want to know why you applied for this specific position.
Show that you clearly reviewed and understand the job requirements.
If possible, show that you’re pursuing multiple jobs of this type. That’s a good way to show the employer that you’ve put plenty of thought into this choice of role.
Sell yourself, too. Discuss how your skills and experience will allow you to step into the job and be successful.
For example, you might say:
I reviewed the different responsibilities on the job posting and felt my background in relationship-building and public speaking would allow me to step into this role and start contributing immediately. I can give a couple of examples of relevant past experiences if you’d like.
Overall, you can discuss any of the following in your response:
- Aspects of the job description that fit your specialized experience/background
- How/why the job interests you and fits your career goals
- Any new challenges that you’re excited to take on, which this job offers
Good preparation can make or break your answer to this question, so never go into an interview without being familiar with the company’s job description.
5. Where did you come across our job posting?
It’s common to hear interview questions about how you discovered a job opportunity.
There isn’t a right or wrong answer here. Your next boss is simply curious about how you’re conducting your job search, how you’re obtaining job interviews in general, and how candidates in the marketplace are finding their job specific announcement.
This isn’t a trick question, and I recommend being honest about how you found out about a position.
It’s acceptable to say any of the following in your government job interview:
- A colleague sent me the position because they thought it was relevant to my skills.
- I saw the job posting online, felt the job duties were relevant to my background, and applied directly.
- A recruiter contacted me about the position.
- I heard about the position at a career fair.
- I saw an advertisement for the position.
These aren’t the only acceptable answers, just some of the most common ones.
Don’t overthink this question. Spend one or two minutes during your interview preparation to remind yourself how you found the role, so you can give a convincing response to the person interviewing you.
6. Can you tell me about your first job working for a government agency?
If this is not your first federal government job, you can expect to be asked a job interview question about how you began your government career, including:
- What was your job title?
- How did you land the position?
- How long did you hold the role?
- What duties did you perform?
- Why did you leave?
Before any government job interviews, brush up on the details above so you can talk confidently about that part of your employment history.
7. Are you a US citizen?
Various government agencies and positions have differing requirements in terms of citizenship and work authorization in the US.
You can always expect to hear a question about this, though, no matter what government agency you’re interviewing with.
So in your first couple of interviews, most likely the phone interview, be ready to answer questions about whether you’re a US citizen or green card holder, or if you have some other work authorization status in the US.
It’s possible that the employer already confirmed this information via your job application, though, so you may not be asked this in your one-on-one interview.
You can also consider including this information on your federal resume when applying for government roles.
8. What’s your highest level of education?
At some point in your government interview, you can expect them to ask about your highest level of education.
Even if this information is listed on your resume/CV, be prepared to respond with a clear answer about your highest education.
In the job interview, many agencies just want to confirm your education level and hear this basic information directly from you as well.
9. Why are you looking for a new job right now?
Next, you can expect a question in your government job interview about why you’re looking for positions in general.
If you’re unemployed, hiring managers want to know why you left your last job.
If you have a job but are looking for something better/different, hiring managers want to understand your reasons for this. They want to know what you are looking for in your next position, too.
You’ll likely face this basic question in your phone interviews but you could also hear it in an in-person job interview.
So practice and be ready to explain your situation and motivations for job hunting.
10. What can you bring to this position/organization?
You should be selling yourself throughout the interview — talking about specific examples of how you can help the company, what you’ve done in the past that’s similar/relevant, and how your training and education have prepared you for this role.
But you may also be asked directly in your interviews, “What can you bring to the company/organization?”
This is the time to be confident and explain exactly how you can help the employer with their needs and workload. Show confidence in your body language and tone of voice and don’t worry; if they invited you to interview, it’s because they liked what they saw on your resume.
Compare your resume to their job posting and point out the key ways that you’re qualified.
There isn’t a right or wrong answer here, but your goal is to highlight your most impressive skills and experience for their exact job.
And always talk about their specific job requirements, with phrases like, “I noticed that the job description mentions ___ and ___. Those are two areas where I feel I’m strong because…”
Take an organized approach, and prioritize talking about your skills and work strengths that fit this job opening.
You don’t have to name every single one of your relevant skills; it’s often more impressive to highlight the two or three that will have the biggest impact.
Similar question to prepare for:
11. What do you think will be the most challenging part of this role?
You can expect this question in a federal job interview and in private sector job interviews.
Think back to the job announcement/description and identify an area where you’ll perhaps have to learn or practice a bit to become great.
You want to sound optimistic in your answer, but simply admit and be honest/upfront that this certain area isn’t a current strength.
Since I’d be moving from an individual contributor role into a managerial position in this role, I feel I’d need to focus most on improving my skills in personnel management.
It’s the direction I want to take my career in, and I know I have the communication skills, technical skills, and personality traits to be a great manager.
However, since I don’t have that prior experience, it’ll be an area where I need to focus and improve.
The employer may also ask about past work challenges you’ve overcome, so prepare for that, too.
12. If there was one aspect of our government you could change, what would it be?
Be careful of badmouthing in your government job interview, even if a question sounds like it’s inviting you to do so.
I recommend answering this question by picking an area of potential improvement, instead of something that you feel is a complete failure or a horrible situation.
Although it sounds like a contradiction, you should aim to sound positive in your answer to this interview question.
For example, you could give a response like this:
I’d like to see our government perhaps spend less on ___ and save money that could be then put toward ___. However, I’m not aware of all of the nuances in how that particular budget is spent and used, so perhaps I’m wrong on this.
I wish our government did more to take care of the health of military veterans. I think we do an okay job, but I have spoken with a few veterans who mentioned feeling that they were left to fend for themselves after retiring from the military.
Don’t get too political in your answer. However, if you do believe something could be done better, and you believe it’s a worthy cause or goal, then it’s okay to speak your mind and say so.
And whatever you say in your answer, be ready for follow-up questions, such as, “Oh, what makes you think that?” or, “Why do you say that?”
You need to be able to back up your statements in the interview. That’s the other key rule to follow with this interview question.
13. What type of work environment do you prefer?
Government jobs typically provide a different work culture and setting than private industries.
So you can expect an interview question about what type of work environment you prefer.
Be sure to give an answer that aligns with the culture and environment of the federal agency you’re interviewing with.
It’s okay to say you do well in a variety of environments, but also give some clear indication that you understand their work environment and are attracted to it.
This is also something to research before your interview. You can often find relevant job-related information on the government agency’s website and also within the job announcement itself.
If you’re attending an in-person interview, you can also gather clues there about what the office or work environment feels like.
14. What type of manager do you work best for?
You’re likely to be asked about what management style you prefer.
As with the question above, it’s okay to say you work well under a variety of management styles, but do give some clear indication that you feel you’ll get along with this particular hiring manager.
Try to get a sense of their style by thinking about any previous interactions you’ve had with them and by researching their LinkedIn profile before the interview.
For example, if you see on their LinkedIn profile that they have a military background, that will give you a clue to how they operate as a leader.
15. What motivates you?
You can expect to be asked a question about what motivates you. What drives you to get up and come to work each day, aside from the paycheck?
This is particularly important when interviewing with government agencies for public service roles.
Make sure to maintain eye contact and provide a convincing, well-thought-out answer here.
You can mention finding fulfillment and a sense of purpose in your work.
You can mention taking pride in public service and helping your country.
If interacting with coworkers will be a significant piece of your work, you can say that you enjoy collaboration and teamwork.
I recommend practicing your response (to this, and all questions) in a mock interview with a friend or family member.
It’s not easy to answer this interview question on the first try if you haven’t practiced at all, so a bit of role play can help in your interviews.
16. I saw you served in the military. What are your thoughts on working in a civilian position now?
If you list military service on your federal resume but haven’t yet held a civilian job, you can certainly expect a question about your thoughts on that transition.
Aim to sound confident and ready for this next step.
Mention applying to multiple civilian jobs if that’s the case, to show you’re sure of this decision.
And consider briefly discussing how you feel your military background will help you excel in your upcoming civilian career.
Turn this question into a positive by talking about how you feel you’ll have an advantage or a head-start in this position because of your background!
17. Do you have any questions for us?
Finally, you can expect to be given a chance to ask questions of your own to end of each of your interviews.
Never treat this as an optional step.
If you have no questions for the interviewer, it can be interpreted as a lack of preparation and/or interest.
Prepare at least two questions to ask each person you’ll be interviewing with.
Quick Review: Federal Government Job Interview Questions
If you’ve read the questions above, you’re a step closer to acing your government interview.
The government job interview process is thorough and involves many steps, from written tests and additional assessments to multiple rounds of interviews.
Stay patient and focus on preparing well, and you’ll land the job you deserve.
Be sure to practice your answers by mock interviewing with a friend or family member before the interview. A quick role play can help you get your mistakes out of the way BEFORE the interview.
Research the government agency before the interview and know their core work and functions.
Write down thorough questions you will ask to show preparation and interest.
Be ready to sell yourself, and be confident when answering their questions. Give answers that are tailored to the job you’re discussing, not generic answers that don’t address the agency’s particular needs.
And finish the process by sending thank-you emails after the interview.
The federal hiring process is competitive and you don’t want to be the one candidate who didn’t write to thank the employer. This last step can be a tie-breaker if the agency interviewed two or more good candidates.
Don’t lose out on job offers due to a small detail like this.