Flying While Building the Plane

When someone thinks about interviewing for a new role or position, the mind enters a panic mode. This often results in a fight or flight mentality that produces a feeling that can best be described as an interrogation. There is a simple solution: preparation.

During the last three years, I have had the luxury of being on the other side of the table as the interviewer instead of the interviewee. The most common issue surrounding interviews in the public sector is a lack of interview preparation on the part of the interviewee. I often face someone sitting in front of me that is almost literally melting in their chair, unable to put simple phrases together to form a coherent idea. It’s like they are trying to fly while building the plane.

Now, these people are not uneducated. In fact, they are often some of the most educated in their field. What they are is ill-prepared. Simple prep work can help ease tension and help an interviewee achieve a more sentence structure friendly, conversational interview. When asked, I usually explain three simple steps to interviewing effectively: practice, remember applicable experiences and make sure each question has a beginning, middle and end.

Practice entails going over one of the most common questions asked in the public sector, “What education, skills or experience do you have that would make you the most qualified for this position?”

The question comes in many variations, but is often the first question asked. This question should be already answered, a hundred times over – to yourself – by the time you walk through the agency’s doors. Reciting your answer in the shower, in the car, before bed or in the morning will help ensure your answer is more like a song you remember on the radio and not a robotic answer. Also, saying the answer aloud will help with syntax and ensure your answer is palatable to the ears.

Remembering experiences that entail a challenging situation, a difficult customer, a difficult co-worker, or an ethical dilemma will guarantee you have answers at the ready. The topics are regular questions throughout interviews. Remembering and reciting these experiences will assist in ensuring you have applicable material and are not left with the dread of a silent room. Additionally, having these experiences at the ready, allows you to pull from them for other various questions that might be asked. As an example, the experience about a challenging co-worker may also apply to an ethical dilemma you faced.

Thirdly, ensuring your questions have a beginning, middle, and an end will ensure your answers are engaging. Nothing is more engaging to an interviewer than having a story to listen to, especially if the story is well thought out and has a beginning, middle and an end. Captivating the interviewer with such answers will ensure they are listening to your answer and not counting how many small holes are on the ceiling tiles.

Interviewing doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t have to be scary. What interviewing need to be is engaging. With proper preparation, one can hang their hat on the fact that they did the best they could, and not live the regrets of what should have been said.

Submitted by Richard Daniels, MPA (


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