Six Best Interview Tips for Civil Services

Civil service jobs exist in every form across local, state, and federal government and the public sector. Whether you’re looking for a job as in the federal government, an independent agency such as NASA, as a public school teachers, social workers, or first responder, you may have to go through a rigorous interview process. 

What are the best interview tips for civil service jobs?

1. Research everything.
2. Consider questions you have for them.
3. Practice.
4. Be flexible.
5. Dress for the job you want.
6. Get there early.

Before you read on, it’s important to understand the civil service, what it does, and the process you’ll have to go through to even get to an interview. 

What is the Civil Service?

The United States Code defines “federal civil service” as “all appointive positions in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the Government of the United States, expect positions in the uniformed services.” What this means is that the United States Federal Service is made up of non-military, non-partisan, non-elected employees. 

But the definition varies between localities, so not everyone has the same definition of “civil servant” and “government employee.” Civil service jobs also fall into two categories: “professional” and “sub-professional.” Professional positions are typically what federal jobs are considered, mostly under the government and independent agencies. Sub-professional positions rank below most professional jobs. 

How do I become a civil servant?

Six Best Interview Tips for Civil Services

There are two ways you can become a civil servant in the Federal system—either through the competitive service or the excepted service. The excepted service are jobs handed out through merit or different criteria than the competitive service. This includes Federal Bureau of Investigation positions, the foreign service, the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, foreign service professionals, lawyers, and judges, to name a few. 

Most civil service jobs, though, are through the competitive service. This is like your typical job search, but much or rigorous and a longer application process. 

Also important to note is that if you decide to become a civil servant, you will have to take a civil service exam. These agencies typically administer their own if they are federal, and most local governments require some sort of test as well. Test requirements can be found at the Office of Personnel Management website.

Depending on the position you are applying for, you may have to take a physical exam or a psychological test before you even get to the interview process. There are also a few things that you should do before going into your interview—while some of them feel like no-brainers, note that a civil service interview is a bit more in depth and rigorous than your typical interview. Read on to find out how you can best prepare. 

So, what exactly is a Civil Servant job?

Research everything. 

Six Best Interview Tips for Civil Services

Going into a civil service job is not for the faint of heart, so the first thing interviews are going to want to know is how well you know the position, the agency you are applying to, and important questions about local and current affairs, anything going on in politics (if applicable), and your job expectations.

Some potential research questions can include:

  • History of the organization
  • The size and demographic breakdown of the organization
  • The names and positions of the people who are in charge, including if it is a government-run organization and answers to a politician
  • Issues that have affected the organization in the past or potential future issues

Heading into an interview without an understanding of the position is key to show the interviewers that you are serious about the position and know what is expected of you. It’s also important to show your interest in the position outside of the pay and benefits. 

Consider questions you have for them. 

Six Best Interview Tips for Civil Services

While the interviewers are asking you questions to see if you fit into their wants and needs for the existing positions, make sure you also have a list of questions for them to answer. 

Remember that if you are attempting to get a federal or government job, many of those salaries and benefits are set and cannot be negotiated. 


Six Best Interview Tips for Civil Services

Find a friend or practice your interview questions in front of a mirror. Not only will it help with your confidence but running through the information will help you understand the information better, so you use less filler words during your actual interview. 

This is the point where you should be researching potential questions that your interviewers may ask you. Prepare your typical interview responses, but the following questions are unique to civil service positions and are worth considering:

  • Can you share difficult news and information?
  • Was there a time when you questioned your morals or ethics?
  • Can you effectively work under pressure?
  • Can you maintain confidentiality?
  • What is your experience working with difficult customers, civilians, stakeholders, etc.?
  • Are you affected by negative or positive portrayals of this position by the media?

One way to prepare your answers is using either the STAR method or the CAR method. STAR stands for situation, task, action, and results while CAR stands for context, action, results. You can formulate your answers concisely by following those processes—explain the situation briefly, explain what you had to do and what you had to do to fix it, and what the results were.

Be flexible

The civil service hiring process is already more rigorous than your typical hiring process, so make sure you stay patient. Interviewers may have to jump through certain bureaucratic hoops to get you to that point, so understanding that and being flexible will go a long way in getting a position. 

They may be required to structure your interview more like a panel, with three or more people interviewing you at one time. This is sometimes a requirement for the position, so prepare accordingly. 

Dress for the job you want. 

Six Best Interview Tips for Civil Services

While this may be something you already thought of, remember that being well-groomed and looking appropriate is key in gaining that first impression. The first thing the interviewers are going to consider is your appearance, as that is the first thing they see, so make sure their first impression is a good one. Also consider whether they have any sort of requirements or rules about appearance and start following those rules during your interview. 

Get there early

Six Best Interview Tips for Civil Services

Prepare for any sort of traffic or delay and make sure you get to the interview location early. Plot out how you’re going to get there to make sure you know where you’re going, and if you expect yourself to be late, make sure you call ahead. 

To get started on the process of becoming a civil servant, visit to apply. You will have to create a profile and then they will bring you through each step, including what test you need to take, before you are considered for an interview. Like most interviews, maintain eye contact, be aware of your body language, and be courteous to your interviewers. 


Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to hold a civil service position?

Only U.S. citizens and nationals are permitted to hold any federal civil service job, unless there are no qualified citizens who apply. There are also certain agencies that are restricted from hiring non-citizens. For more information, visit the Office of Personnel Management website

How long do civil service interview last? 

Because they are typically more in-depth interviews, expect a civil service interview to last between a half hour and an hour. 

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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.