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Thread: Common interview questions: entry level

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    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Common interview questions: entry level

    We seem to get a lot of threads on here from people asking what to expect in an interview as far as questions. I thought maybe we could work on creating a clearing house of some of our favorite questions to ask based on the type of position (this one is entry-level). You might add a tag at the end if you would ask the question only in a particular circumstance.

    For those of you reading this, as an interviewer you should not ask every one of these questions--pick & choose. Otherwise the interview will be overwhelming for all involved. You don't want to go too far down rabbit holes on detail & completely miss the big picture of bringing somebody in that can do the job & is compatible with your department. Also, you don't want your interview to turn into some kind of planning trivia game.

    I've written mine from a public sector perspective.

    Entry Level: Planner, Planner I/II, Planning Tech, Assistant Planner

    For mid level, see this thread

    Warm-Up Questions
    Note: these can vary from being very conversational to almost like a pop quiz

    What experience have you had reading, writing, and interpreting administrative regulations?

    Describe your experience in working with Council appointed City Boards or Commissions.

    Describe the kind of tasks you enjoy doing in your ideal job. Rank them in terms of how much your enjoy doing them.

    I see you attended ___________ university. What was your favorite course? Least favorite?

    I see you were a ________ major in college.Why did you select this major? How do you think it helps you with this position? (may only be asked if it is something unusual)

    How does working for _______ as a ________________ fit in with your long term professional goals?

    What experience have you had with the CDBG program? What are the criteria every project must meet to quality for CDBG funding?

    Technology/GIS

    What do your know about GIS?

    How would you go about creating a <some type of thematic map> in a GIS system?

    Process-Orientation

    Land development regulations can be complex and difficult to understand. What would be the steps you would follow if asked to explain one of the City’s ordinances?

    A lot of the work that the ___________ must do is fairly routine with limited opportunity for creative input because of local and state laws. When confronted with a job that has a lot of clerical/administrative aspects to it, how do you keep it interesting?

    What are effective way’s to raise the public’s awareness about a newly started comprehensive planning effort?

    Decision-Making

    Most of us become better decision makers as we gain experience. Tell me how you have improved your decision-making. Give me an example of one of the most difficult work related decisions you have had to make. When did this happen? What was the situation? What factors contributed to the difficulty of the decision? What was the outcome? What did your supervisor say?

    Sometimes we make a decision that we would like to take back. What is the most recent example of this that you can think of? When did this happen? What was the situation? What factors contributed to the difficulty of the decision? What was the outcome? What did your supervisor say?

    Initiative

    Tell us about the last time you had an idea to improve something on the job. What did you do and what happened?

    When beginning a new position, what are the first things that you normally do to orient yourself? Tell me about how you approached your first few days when you began your last job.

    Interpersonal Skills

    In this position, you will interact with a variety of individuals inside and outside of the City on a daily basis. As a result, it is essential that you interact effectively with people. Tell me about two or three key strengths you have in dealing with people. Can you provide a recent example of an incident in which your strengths proved to be valuable?
    When did this incident take place? What possible negative outcomes were avoided by the way you handled this incident? How often has this type of situation arisen?

    In this position, a person is often called on to get cooperation from others where there is no official leverage to be used in getting that cooperation. What similar situations have you faced and what approaches have you used to secure cooperation? Who was involved? What was the official relationship? What were you trying to get from them? What approaches did you use? What outcomes did you achieve? How often have you faced similar situations?

    Customer Service

    Tell me about the most difficult incident you have had to deal with when a user/customer was dissatisfied with a policy interpretation, quality of service, etc. What led to the situation? What exactly was the source of the user's dissatisfaction? What steps did you take to remedy the situation? How effective were you in handling the situation? How many times in the past year did you find yourself in a similar situation?

    What does it mean to you to work in an office that prides itself on providing good customer service? How does it affect your attitude and responsibilities?

    Ethics

    Tell me about the most difficult ethical issue you have faced. What happened? What was established procedure? What was the outcome?

    Some cities have situations where elected officials have tried to influence a staff recommendation. Tell me how you would handle a similar situation.

    Professional/Personal Development

    Name any two books you have read in the past year. How have they influenced you?

    Name a professional development event you participated in during the past year. What did you take away from this training?

    Comprehensive Planning

    Describe a comprehensive planning effort you have worked on. What was your role? What was the geography? How long did the planning process take? What was the outcome of the planning process? What lessons did you learn?

    If you were teaching a course on comprehensive planning to your professionals, what would you stress?

    If you were teaching that same course to planning commissioners, would you vary your approach? If so, what would you stress?

    How should a comprehensive plan deal with implementation?

    Final Administrative Questions

    What are your salary requirements?

    If offered the position, how soon could you start?

    Are you able to attend night meetings?

    Where do you see yourself in two to three years and what are you career goals?

    Potential Activity Elements of an Interview

    Basic GIS assignment, such as creating a notification buffer. Alternatively, you may be asked to use paper maps. (Comfort with GIS, reliance on technology)

    Write a staff report and present it to a fake planning board (working under pressure, writing ability, presentation ability, can you be concise)

    Edit a document for grammar, clarity, etc. (writing ability, concise)

    Take-home written response questions, especially a scenario (analytical ability, writing ability, concise)
    Last edited by Suburb Repairman; 09 Mar 2012 at 10:13 AM.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

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    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    wow, what a comprehensive list, thanks for doing this

    the only thought to add is the work experience ones may not be pertinent to an entry-level job, because such positions don't require experience - perhaps the questions for entry level are more geared to the experience they did get, through an internship, a group project at school, their thesis, jobs they held while in school, etc.

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    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Good point, LP. That was something I should have noted. When you don't have direct experience, you can usually come up with something that still gets across similar information. For example, perhaps you haven't dealt with a city council or anything like that yet, but perhaps a student organization you were heavily involved with had to seek approval of a project from the student government or university directors. Be creative!

    A few more...

    Historic Preservation

    Is it important for cities to conserve historic resources? What is the appropriate role for government in this activity?

    What are effective way’s to raise the public’s awareness about historic preservation?

    You may be asked to review a historic resources survey, identify an architectural type (commercial or residential), write a staff report.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

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    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian View post
    the only thought to add is the work experience ones may not be pertinent to an entry-level job, because such positions don't require experience - perhaps the questions for entry level are more geared to the experience they did get, through an internship, a group project at school, their thesis, jobs they held while in school, etc.
    Thanks. This is what I was wondering. All I have is an internship under my belt. I wasn't faced with a lot of the challenges that some of those questions ask. I would be straight with the interviewer and tell them about my internship.

    However, since I am very raw, should I explain my three years experience working in a high volume national chain restaurant (PF Changs)? We have significant customer (guest) interaction, and sometimes they are not happy. It's our jobs to accomodate them, and fix those situations. Or should I just not even mention my non-planning work experience?

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    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by lamsalfl View post
    Thanks. This is what I was wondering. All I have is an internship under my belt. I wasn't faced with a lot of the challenges that some of those questions ask. I would be straight with the interviewer and tell them about my internship.

    However, since I am very raw, should I explain my three years experience working in a high volume national chain restaurant (PF Changs)? We have significant customer (guest) interaction, and sometimes they are not happy. It's our jobs to accomodate them, and fix those situations. Or should I just not even mention my non-planning work experience?
    You should ABSOLUTELY mention this. Much of what entry-level planners due is customer service driven. If I can relate a story about stocking grocery store shelves to zoning, you can certainly relate PF Chang's to customer service.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

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    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Potential Activity Elements of an Interview

    I had to do a site plan review and an architectural review of some elevations

    Brought portfolio to review with interviewers
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

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    I found this on a job posting for 1-3 years experience.

    1. Knowledgeable of state and federal statutes and how to apply these to the planning process.
    2. Knowledgeable of work program, and financial management systems.
    3. Knowledgeable of and skilled at managing joint participation agreements, and local government grant agreements.
    4. Knowledge and skills to perform technical reviews of consultant and local government work products.
    5. Knowledgeable of and skilled at processing consultant invoices.
    6. Knowledgeable of and skilled at dealing with the public, and outside agency personnel.
    7. Knowledgeable of the correct use of English grammar and punctuation in communicating spoken and written business product.
    8. Knowledgeable of and skilled at creating documents using the intermediate features of the current computer programs.
    9. Knowledgeable of and skilled at organizing, planning and managing time effectively.
    10. Skilled at maintaining and organized filing system.
    11. Knowledgeable of and skilled at establishing and maintaining effective working relationships with others.


    Those first few seem a little stiff for a rookie! How does someone looking for ANY job bother reading up on local statutes for everyone? What is the English translation for all of that? Those first four make me feel

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    I never faced most of those questions and i'm glad i didn't.

    Here are some of the questions i faced when going for entry level positions earlier this year. Hope this helps someone.

    1 - Why are you the best person for the job?
    1b - Why are you interested in this position?
    2 - What is your Planning experiance?
    3 - Why did you choose Planning as a career?
    4 - Where do you think you will be in one year?
    5 - What motivates you?
    6 - What time management techniques do you use?
    7 - What experiance do you have with negotiating?
    8 - When have you gone above and beyond in customer service?
    8b - When have you had to deal with a problem customer?
    9 - When have you had to make a tough decision and then justify it?
    10 - When have you been part of a successful team and what was your role?
    10b - When have you had a problem with a teammate and how did you deal with it?
    11 - What computer applications do you have experiance with?
    12 - What is the most memorable assignment you worked on at uni?
    12b - What is the most difficult assignment you worked on at uni?
    13 - What do you think are the major planning issues facing us?

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    Quote Originally posted by north sydney View post
    I never faced most of those questions and i'm glad i didn't.

    Here are some of the questions i faced when going for entry level positions earlier this year. Hope this helps someone.

    1 - Why are you the best person for the job?
    1b - Why are you interested in this position?
    2 - What is your Planning experiance?
    3 - Why did you choose Planning as a career?
    4 - Where do you think you will be in one year?
    5 - What motivates you?
    6 - What time management techniques do you use?
    7 - What experiance do you have with negotiating?
    8 - When have you gone above and beyond in customer service?
    8b - When have you had to deal with a problem customer?
    9 - When have you had to make a tough decision and then justify it?
    10 - When have you been part of a successful team and what was your role?
    10b - When have you had a problem with a teammate and how did you deal with it?
    11 - What computer applications do you have experiance with?
    12 - What is the most memorable assignment you worked on at uni?
    12b - What is the most difficult assignment you worked on at uni?
    13 - What do you think are the major planning issues facing us?
    Now, THESE are the questions I am hoping I'll be asked in an interview. These sound more on par for someone with just an internship experience fresh out of college!

    From what I am gathering, the person has to 1) make a case why they are good for the job, 2) relate their non-planning work experience to how it can benefit them, 3) be able to show they know about the area.

    I've got #3 down pat for Florida interviews. For some reason ever since I was a child I have been obsessed with anything Florida... taught myself Florida history including histories of towns... driven through all 64 counties of the state... a passion for their highways, and what can be done to improve traffic flow... FLA's pro sports teams... the whole 9 yards. Scary? Maybe. Right man for a Florida job? God I hope so.

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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Great thread but....

    I think I'm going to be screwed

    $40K, two years of grad school, only to find out I don't know shaiza.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

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    Haha, I agree. After going to grad school for 2 years, I feel like I didn't learn anything after reading some of these threads!

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    I feel the same way, 2 years later and loans, and I can't answer most of those questions and perform some of those tasks. At least not without some time and Google.

  13. #13
    Whew, I'm glad I'm not the only one who was sweating...........


    I looked at those questions and wondered, "how the hell am I supposed to know that?" I had to double check to make sure this was the entry-level thread.

    Glad to know that others felt the same way!

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    How does someone looking for ANY job bother reading up on local statutes for everyone? What is the English translation for all of that?

    Actually, any of the questions in this thread are fair game for entry-level planners. Yes, it is a ton, so you need to really rehearse, reheare, rehearse questions prior to the interview. Prior to the interview for an entry-level planner job (that led to my first offer) I spent about 5-6 days a week for about 1 1/2-2 weeks preparing for ONE interview. I rehearsed all of my questions in front of a mirror, including memorizing as much of the municipal code/comprehensive plan. I spent just as much time learning facts as I did practicing my responses, which included intonation, breathing, and body language (posture, gestures, facial expressions, etc.). The hardest part was trying to refine my responses so that they came off naturally rather than appear too canned

    Did I overcompensate or go overboard in this? Yes and no. My biggest problem was revealing too much of the kimono. In previous interviews, I shared too much about myself, which wasn't needed for the job. In this interview, I was competing against several hundred applicants, including 15 other interviewees all of whom had at least a graduate degree (and I only had a college planning degree). The interviewers told me I blew away the competiton so fiercely with my thorough understanding of their needs and problems along with feasible recommendations that no other interviewee even came in close. I did the same method with another planning job in consulting, earned another offer, and have been a planner/designer at this second job for almost 4 years. Students fresh out of school, especially college graduates, have so little to measure up against (even with solid portfolios and internships) that they really need to blow the competition right out of the water by learning as much as they can about the job they are interviewing for.

    Over time this rehearsing becomes more familiar. However, you still have to put in a considerable amount of time to prepare for any planning interview. I highly recommend anyone to purchase a copy of Fearless Interviewing and read everything with a fine tooth comb. I have recommended the book to several people on cyburbia. It paid dividends for me and everyone else who has followed the recommendations. Is it a ton of work? Yes. But if you really want the job bad enough, you really have to put in at least 200&#37; if not more. This profession is growing, but even in good times, there are simply too few jobs and too many qualified applicants.

    Hope this helps-
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

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    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    By the way folks, this is a clearing house of questions. You will not be asked all of these in a single interview, and they will vary A LOT by geography and what that entry-level planner will be doing upon hire. You are less likely to get topic-specific questions (i.e. plat processing, historic preservation, etc.) for a true entry-level position for someone with maybe only a one-semester internship.

    By the way, some folks are mean, like me, and will ask questions we don't think you will know the answer to in order to see how you cope under pressure and whether your default is to make something up or acknowledge that you don't know. The perfect answer is if you are able to respond to something you don't know by saying how you would find out the answer (what would you reference, who would you ask).

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

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    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    When I started out of school, I was asked a lot of the questions listed. They just wanted to test me to see what they were dealing with. The local statutes I learned in school. I hope your school is teaching some of your local laws. Other stuff was just wider knowledge. How would you handle x situations (mostly customer service or angry resident stuff) or what do you know about x (usually the latest planning issue to arrive).

    More important for some, List and play up those internships. I did 2 (1 public & 1 private). Neither were very long, but the city I applied to saw that as a great deal of experience for entry level. I thought it was next to nothing, but it worked out well.

    Also, use your school career development office to help with practice interviews. You can take the questions with you and they'll help craft answers and make you feel more comfortable. Just don't expect them to know the technical details.

    Good luck

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    Cyburbian Montannie's avatar
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    The Wacky Ones

    When I applied for my first job out of my undergrad with a county planning office, I got the weirdest list of questions, i.e.:
    • If you could be a vegetable, what would you be?
    • If you could be an animal, what would you be?
    • If you could be responsible for any invention of all time, what would it be?
    • What do you think of the idea of "planner as god?"
    • Et cetera
    Lesson learned: prepare for the usual ones but also be sure to drink a lot of coffee and have your quick wit and creative brainstorming cap on... The last thing you want to do is sit there and say... ummm... well.... umm... ha.... that's a good one! like i'm pretty sure i did. but hey - i got the job!

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    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    I have a friend who asks questions like that. In the middle of technical questions, he'll throw out something like "What's you're vertical leap?" Just to see how you react and if it throws you off for the next normal question.

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    Cyburbian jdplanner's avatar
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    This thread and similar threads before it were a godsend when I was preparing for my interviews!!

    i haven't had to answer every question in the original list posted, but in every interview I've had I have probably been at least asked half of these questions. I feel it really helped me in landing two jobs (1st job I was laid off from 5 months in) since I recieved my degree in May 08.

  20. #20
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    Glad to Not be an Entry Level Planner in a Public Agency

    Forgive me for being smug but after reading this thread and I am really glad for two things. One, I joined the planning industry over 30 years ago when the person interviewing me just wanted to get to know me and see what kind of a person I was rather than to try to create a mine field of questions that have minimal relevancy to what I would be doing in the office day in day out. Second, I am a planning consultant and haven't had to work in a public agency in over 25 years.

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    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    I would like to let everyone know I used some of these questions for a potential intern and we did not hire him, even though he had a solid resume and was generally likable and below is why:


    The following are some tips on how to interview, even for an internship:

    Always interview for the next position up, meaning, just because you are interviewing for the lowest position in a department doesn't excuse you from dressing appropriately or having general knowledge of the town. Also meaning, no matter what you think about socks, its always good to wear them on a interview.

    Even though you go to college in the metro area, do not tell me this is your first time in my town...act like you know a little about the town, this is a planning job/ internship afterall.

    Always, always send a thank you note, whether a handwritten card or email.

    Bring your resume and work samples/portfolios, you wouldn't try and sell a product without samples and information, it works the same for own skills and abilities.

    Do not tell me the interview questions are tough...you can think it...but its better to keep that thought to yourself. Also, you should expect a question about your career goals!

    Just thought this little rant would help someone out there...
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  22. #22
    Cyburbian kltoomians's avatar
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    is a typed thank letter ok? I prefer not to handwrite anything...

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    thanks for the great tips, just starting my interview career as we speak and definitely will be writing a thank you letter after.
    as for vertical? 2'6"
    I found out accidentally one day, I know my ceiling height, my own height, the pain in my head and crack in the ceiling

  24. #24
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by kltoomians View post
    is a typed thank letter ok? I prefer not to handwrite anything...
    One way or the other, its the thought that counts. I just had to write a rejection email today, I didn't like doing it...but this guy was one semester away from a master's degree, I hope he can brush up on those interview skills.

    Also, we all noticed he didn't have socks on...you don't want the conversation after your interview being about your wardrobe choices, but the skills and attributes you can bring to the team.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  25. #25
    Cyburbian kltoomians's avatar
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    if he didn't have socks, he should have had pants to cover his ankles! I like to wear boots...I tend not to trip as much. I noticed one guy that went ahead of me white-knuckling the chair in the lobby...I wonder how he did for his interview

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