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Thread: Common interview questions: entry level

  1. #76
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by schnapple4u View post
    Hi!
    I have an interview for an entry level Assistant Planner position working for a City coming up fairly soon. After reading through this thread, I've found the interview prep questions to be extremely helpful. I noticed that one person had to actually do a site plan review... I will be required to complete a "written plan review exam" myself. I'm hoping someone can help me to get a better idea of what I need to know in order to complete the exam successfully. ???
    I have a degree in Geography and, though I currently work for a Planning and Zoning Department, I only conduct research and, as such, do not actively complete plan reviews on a day to day basis. Any help, information, and/or ideas would be appreciated!
    Thank you!!!
    First, I would suggest exploring that city's website to see if it has a submission checklist for a site plan, as that will tell you what all content is included. I suspect you'll be asked:
    • questions about how to scale something on a drawing, calculate a percent of slope
    • an example of calculating impervious cover/lot coverage/floor-to-area ratio/driveway spacing
    • an example calculating building articulation
    • an example calculating landscape requirements
    • an example calculating parking requirements
    • what can/can't be placed in utility easements, drainage easements, access easements
    • simple ADA questions
    • questions about what types of things should be present on the plan (stormwater faciltiies, etc.)

    If this is a true entry-level position, they aren't necessarily looking for you to get everything correct--more that they want to make sure you understand fundamentals of site plans and are resourceful.

    "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)

  2. #77
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    EPA/rusty on skills

    Does anyone have experience interviewing for the EPA? I am going to interview for a stormwater planner internship position on Monday and I would love to get some input on this.

    Specifically they asked for GIS experience. Although I have some experience it was quite a long time ago (1 year) and only an intro class. Any tips on how to address this in the best way in case they ask about it? Its an extremely important opportunity that I want to make sure I get right.

    Thanks!

  3. #78
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hlatan311 View post
    Does anyone have experience interviewing for the EPA? I am going to interview for a stormwater planner internship position on Monday and I would love to get some input on this.

    Specifically they asked for GIS experience. Although I have some experience it was quite a long time ago (1 year) and only an intro class. Any tips on how to address this in the best way in case they ask about it? Its an extremely important opportunity that I want to make sure I get right.

    Thanks!
    For intern GIS knowledge they will probably look for things like manipulating layers, adding data, basic GIS skills. I don't know if they would get much into the analysis part. If you're not really comfortable with GIS, stay focused on the skills you can offer them.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  4. #79
    Cyburbian Bubba's avatar
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    General advice for entry-level interviews: actually show up for your interview.
    I found you a new motto from a sign hanging on their wall…"Drink coffee: do stupid things faster and with more energy"

  5. #80
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    Any advice on how to pick your head up after not passing the external panel interview?

    I've failed to pass external panel interviews for other municipalities several times(over the past year), but this time it hurts a bit more. I am a contract worker that works at city hall with all the community development employees. I have been basically doing the exact work for the position the city was trying to fill. I spent more time preparing for this interview and even did a mock interview. But I wasn't able impress 3 other people who don't work at this city during that 25 minute period. If the city does hire someone for this position, I will see that person every day. Each morning I will be reminded of my failure and that I am not good enough. The worst part is that all my co-workers thought I would get the position. So it'll be awkward when they see someone new in the office. I am good at compartmentalizing, so this won't affect my work or my work relationships.

    There are other opportunities for me to get a city gig, but in the short term is a huge blow to my ego. Plus i've failed to do well in 4 other interviews. I have this cognitive dissonance that I know I should keep practicing my answers to interview questions, but I associate interviews with failure/bad feelings.

    There is another door that opened for me. The inspectors at this city like me very much, that they want me to apply for the entry level inspector position. I have no experience with that, but I can read plans and am willing to learn and get the needed certifications. The reason why they want me to apply is that I get along with everyone, I am teachable, and I already know most of the bureaucratic system. The pay is a bit less, the work is slightly more demanding since there is a physical component, and it's a different customer base, instead of dealing with architects, lawyers and engineers, I am dealing with contractors, plumbers and roofers. I can always apply for the inspector position to get interview experience, and if I do take the position I can later get "promoted" into a planning position since there's less red tape with internal promotions vs external recruitment.

    Any advice on how to handle this heartbreak? Should I consider the building inspector position? I have so many thoughts running through my head it's hard to think clearly.

  6. #81
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    That is really unfortunate. I can relate to some degree--I was a finalist for a nearby city where I knew the entire staff and they liked me a lot. They knew I was in the running and thought for sure I had it. Turns out I didn't, and it was very close. In my case, it went to someone that technically had more experience, though I was probably the better fit for the staff & community (I get along well with the person that got it). It took me several months to recover from it. I actually did not apply for another position in another nearby city shortly after because I felt I was too shell-shocked to interview well. You situation is a bit more messed up though since you are a contract employee currently.

    Unless it is a director position (and even then, it is questionable), I'm not a big fan of involving outsiders in the interview. Maybe a planning commissioner. Maybe a planner in an adjacent city. We're replacing our city engineer, and I'm having the city engineer from the city next door help with the interviews mainly because the CM, ACM & I lack engineering expertise.

    Don't feel like you have to settle, but the inspection gig might be kind of fun. It would give you a greater level of credibility down the road as someone that has been in the field, and a better understanding of how policy decisions affect technical standards & details. A director early in my career required planners to go out in the field with building inspectors for a half day once a month for exactly that reason. Down the road, it'll allow you to give some advice from your field experience.

    Also, I think there is a real possibility based on your description that you are over-preparing to the point that your answers might seem rehearsed. Since you are a contract employee at the city, you've got better access to people from the interview process. I'd ask them where you might be going wrong.

    "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)

  7. #82
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    That sucks. I've been in a few interviews where I was sure I had it and lost it. All you can do is get up and try again. I would ask someone you trust in the interview panel for some feedback. How could you have been a better candidate? Sometimes like SR they just pick the one with more qualifications or that guy said something that the city keyed in on making him better. You might even consider asking one of the outside panel members for feedback since they can give you an outsiders prospective, but I'd talk to someone you trust first.

    Can't say much about the inspectors job. Sometimes it's nice to have a secure job over the contract position. Just make sure you can go from inspector to planner or wherever you want to go.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  8. #83
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    From my understanding there is a bunch of red tape when trying to hire a non-employee to work as a city planner in this part of California. It’s under the guise of being an equal opportunity employer. It took 6 months from me submitting my application to them letting me know I got selected to interview. Other times it has taken 2-3 months.

    The city advertises the job, and they get dozens to hundreds of applications (I believe this position had 200+ people apply). The senior planners whittle the resumes down to a manageable number so all the interviews can be completed in one day (they probably knocked it down to 8-10 interview candidates). The first interview is the external panel, where people from nearby cities judge you to see if you fit the job description. If you pass that (which I haven’t yet), there’s an internal interview where the employees you will work with interview you. This internal interview happens days later; after they analyze the rankings given from the external interview panel. The internal panel interview filters people out to see if you are a good fit with the employees. If you get selected there’s a background check and a physical.

    This was for a planner II position. I only have 3 years of experience.

    My supervisor ate lunch that day with the external panel (which seems somewhat unethical but I digress). He got their feedback and gently explained why I didn’t make the cut.

    Taking the feedback at a glass half empty approach, I have a character defect. I am not a type A personality. I don’t ooze confidence and sometimes back down when faced with confrontation. The worst part about this feedback is that it is entirely true, I am an introverted person. This is not something I can fix relatively quickly. My personality was probably not as bubbly as the people who made the cut. I didn’t get the job since I was born with this temperament.

    Looking it at a glass half full approach; I did better at this interview than my last couple. I was one person off from making the cut. I managed to make the panel laugh (at something I didn’t even think was a joke). And didn’t stumble or stutter on any questions. Perhaps my eye contact could have been more frequent, but there’s only so much I can remember to do under that high stress situation.

    The immediate benefit of being an inspector is that it will get me out of my comfort zone. Instead of telling people “no” through a computer screen or behind a counter with my co-workers, I have to tell them “no, you can’t cut that corner” to their face by myself. And it gets me a better paying job sooner than later. The negatives are numerous. I have to take a bunch of tests to get the needed certifications. I will be the low man on the totem pole. I will get the most tedious and boring assignments. I am pretty sure one of the things they will get me to do is crack down on parking. I don’t even know if I will like the job. I immensely enjoy my work right now. I am good at my job and I find it stimulating.

    That is a good point about seeing if I can backdoor the inspector gig into a planning one. But I doubt I can get some sort of guarantee other than it’s possible.

    Would you guys recommend something like toastmasters? At least with toastmasters I won’t be in my head all the time.

  9. #84
    Cyburbian kltoomians's avatar
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    Do you work with the public regularly and/or have to present in front of a group regularly?
    "I'm a boomerang, doesn't matter how you throw me
    I turn around and I'm back in the game
    Even better than the old me"

  10. #85
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Extrovert bias... annoying as hell. Being outgoing is such an overrated character trait.

    Toastmasters is worthwhile if only to get out of your head a bit.

    Also, some recommended reading: Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. It talks a lot about adaptive personalities, getting around extrovert bias, etc.

    "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)

  11. #86
    Cyburbian Salmissra's avatar
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    The goal of Toastmasters isn't to turn you into some extrovert, who is happy to be the center of attention all the time, and is a whiz at small talk. But here's what it can do for you:

    -learn to be more comfortable making a presentation
    -learn how to organize, staff, and run a meeting
    -practice different types of presentations (topics, lengths, etc)
    -tips on preparing for a meeting, ie what's your role? Duties? Any extra items?
    -getting feedback on your presentation/role/duty at the same meeting (this is key to improving)
    -interacting with others in the meeting

    As a former Toastmaster, I can tell you that their program is helpful, but you do have to put in some effort. You should look into clubs around you, see if one meets at a time that works for you. You must commit to regular attendance for the program to work.
    "We do not need any other Tutankhamun's tomb with all its treasures. We need context. We need understanding. We need knowledge of historical events to tie them together. We don't know much. Of course we know a lot, but it is context that's missing, not treasures." - Werner Herzog, in Archaeology, March/April 2011

  12. #87
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    Quote Originally posted by kltoomians View post
    Do you work with the public regularly and/or have to present in front of a group regularly?
    I work directly with the public. I meet with architects, engineers, and lawyers. I issue permits over the counter for home owners, expediters, and contractors. Just the other day I met with some old NIMBY couple who didn't like that the house next door to them was being remodeled. They had privacy concerns and thought the house next door had character and was upset that half of it was taken down to the studs. I explained the code to them, the permit processes, and even had some small talk with them to show that I am a human being and not just a robot that approves everything. The couple left somewhat content that the developer who is flipping the house went through the proper steps to obtain their building permit.

    Not having to present in front of a group is a reason why I like my current work. I don't have to present stuff to strangers. When needed, I can make presentations especially when I am really prepared, but it's like pulling teeth for me.

    The position I applied to does not require making presentations. The interaction is mostly 1 on 1 with customers.

    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    Extrovert bias... annoying as hell. Being outgoing is such an overrated character trait.

    Toastmasters is worthwhile if only to get out of your head a bit.

    Also, some recommended reading: Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. It talks a lot about adaptive personalities, getting around extrovert bias, etc.
    Well the issue is the job I applied for requires a lot of interaction with customers. I wasn't able to convince random strangers for 25 minutes that I was the best applicant for this job. Even though I've done the exact job for a year with few complaints.

    It also kind of sucks that my supervisor subtly threw me under the bus when talking to the interview panel during lunch. He did say I do back down when confronted. But maybe he was trying to motivate me? Anyways It's disappointing i am ~95% of their ideal candidate, but they will probably roll the dice to see if they can get someone who is 100%.

    Another problem is that the person who currently has this position (she's leaving to go to another department) is very hard to replace. She is perfect for the job. She is very competent, confident and even more respected by her co-workers. I guess they want to find a carbon copy of her and not "settle" with me.

    Thanks for the book recommendation. Looks like I haven't used my audible trial yet, so i'll use it on this book.

    Quote Originally posted by Salmissra View post
    The goal of Toastmasters isn't to turn you into some extrovert, who is happy to be the center of attention all the time, and is a whiz at small talk. But here's what it can do for you:

    -learn to be more comfortable making a presentation
    -learn how to organize, staff, and run a meeting
    -practice different types of presentations (topics, lengths, etc)
    -tips on preparing for a meeting, ie what's your role? Duties? Any extra items?
    -getting feedback on your presentation/role/duty at the same meeting (this is key to improving)
    -interacting with others in the meeting

    As a former Toastmaster, I can tell you that their program is helpful, but you do have to put in some effort. You should look into clubs around you, see if one meets at a time that works for you. You must commit to regular attendance for the program to work.
    That doesn't sound like it'll do much good for me in the short term. I looked at the site briefly, and a lot of the times were during lunch. There were a few in the evening, but the logistics are a bit awkward for me.



    Maybe I might be better served seeing a shrink.


    Thanks for your guys' input, I really appreciate it.

  13. #88
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    I do strongly recommend that book, partially because it talks about interacting with new people and public speaking as an introvert. Ability to interact with people and ability to speak in public has no real relationship to introversion/extroversion. You might not be "warm" or whatever in your interactions, but you are probably efficient & clear/articulate.

    People on here that have met me in person already know this: I am very, very introverted. I have hidden behind humor most of my life in order to maintain some emotional distance from people (there are some "head case" reasons for why I do that), which gives people the mistaken impression that I am outgoing. But I'm also good at interacting with the public and public speaking. The difference is that doing those things tends to drain/exhaust me and I can't do it for long, sustained periods.

    Toastmasters might not help short-term, but from what you've described I would recommend it as a way to improve/enhance your skills. It isn't a personality transplant--far from it. It simply helps you develop tools to be more comfortable in those settings & comfortable in your own skin.

    Do not allow introversion to be an excuse. Most of the best planners around me that I respect are also quite introverted.

    Personally, I think what happened to you may have more to do with the employer than you. A relatively new person to the profession ALWAYS struggles with confrontation. Even most seasoned planners struggle with confrontation. If I've got a part-time/contractor interested in a job and they've done reasonably well, I'll make that hire every time. But others firmly believe in catching lightning in a bottle--that they can get that 100% perfect candidate. I don't buy into that, nor do most other planning directors. I look for clouds that I think are capable of producing lightning. To quote Ted Kennedy, "the perfect is the enemy of the good."

    "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)

  14. #89
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    Some of the confrontation skills just coming from experience. You need to do it a couple times and you'll know how to handle it so you won't run from it. That's how I learned. I still hate confrontation, but I've learned to cope with it.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  15. #90
    Cyburbian TOFB's avatar
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    you better darn nail, "why do you want the job"

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    I've been told they didn't hire anyone and i'll get another chance to apply.

    I need to buckle down and suck up the torture of practicing these interview questions. Haven't done anything since I got the bad news.

    I also got some guidance/information that this city is very political. I'm going to have a heart to heart talk with my supervisor and my supervisor's boss. Get some brown nosing in and some publicity on my side. Playing this game is awful, but it's a small amount of time for a potentially huge benefit.

    Downloaded Susan Cain's audio book. 10 hours and 40 minutes. Just need to remember to cancel my subscription after I finish so I don't get charged the monthly fee.

  17. #92
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    I'm typically on target with nailing interview questions on the spot, but here's one I just got recently for an entry-level private-sector position that tripped me up and needed to share in case anyone else gets it/anything similar. After spending ~5 minutes explaining my most recent economic development study at my graduate internship, I got asked, "You've explained how you were able to achieve the results of this economic analysis using GIS. Our firm does not have a subscription to GIS. Please explain how you would go about performing an economic impact analysis and showcasing its effects to a client using Excel."

    ...woof. On the spot, I had to come up with an alternate solution for how to accomplish work I'd spent several weeks on.

  18. #93
    Cyburbian Bubba's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SoutheastMCRP View post
    I'm typically on target with nailing interview questions on the spot, but here's one I just got recently for an entry-level private-sector position that tripped me up and needed to share in case anyone else gets it/anything similar. After spending ~5 minutes explaining my most recent economic development study at my graduate internship, I got asked, "You've explained how you were able to achieve the results of this economic analysis using GIS. Our firm does not have a subscription to GIS. Please explain how you would go about performing an economic impact analysis and showcasing its effects to a client using Excel."

    ...woof. On the spot, I had to come up with an alternate solution for how to accomplish work I'd spent several weeks on.
    Consulting 101 - you better be able to think on the fly when a client says "yeah, that won't work for us - what else can you give us?"
    I found you a new motto from a sign hanging on their wall…"Drink coffee: do stupid things faster and with more energy"

  19. #94
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SoutheastMCRP View post
    I'm typically on target with nailing interview questions on the spot, but here's one I just got recently for an entry-level private-sector position that tripped me up and needed to share in case anyone else gets it/anything similar. After spending ~5 minutes explaining my most recent economic development study at my graduate internship, I got asked, "You've explained how you were able to achieve the results of this economic analysis using GIS. Our firm does not have a subscription to GIS. Please explain how you would go about performing an economic impact analysis and showcasing its effects to a client using Excel."

    ...woof. On the spot, I had to come up with an alternate solution for how to accomplish work I'd spent several weeks on.
    Yikes.

    I'm more surprised though that a firm that would do economic analysis does not have a GIS subscription. You can do a lot in Excel with statistical analysis aspects, but without a geographic link they are leaving a lot on the table in terms of product quality & potential services to offer.

    "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)

  20. #95
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SoutheastMCRP View post
    I'm typically on target with nailing interview questions on the spot, but here's one I just got recently for an entry-level private-sector position that tripped me up and needed to share in case anyone else gets it/anything similar. After spending ~5 minutes explaining my most recent economic development study at my graduate internship, I got asked, "You've explained how you were able to achieve the results of this economic analysis using GIS. Our firm does not have a subscription to GIS. Please explain how you would go about performing an economic impact analysis and showcasing its effects to a client using Excel."

    ...woof. On the spot, I had to come up with an alternate solution for how to accomplish work I'd spent several weeks on.
    Just tell them you would introduce the firm to one of the many free versions of GIS and would adapt the information in a graphic form that can impress a client far more than Excel.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  21. #96
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    Quote Originally posted by dvdneal View post
    Just tell them you would introduce the firm to one of the many free versions of GIS and would adapt the information in a graphic form that can impress a client far more than Excel.
    That's almost exactly what I did. I told them about the different programs available through GIS online and how I would use that plus bringing in census data through Excel to achieve similar results. Thankfully it worked pretty well.

  22. #97
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    After a dozen or so interviews over the past couple of years I think I understand a little bit about interviewing. I just got hired in the public sector after working for an engineering consulting firm for a couple years. Maybe I can help somebody that has traits such as introversion and low self esteem. I've only applied to the cities in southern California that are upper class (gentrified places where you may or may not be able to afford rent on a studio apartment with an entry level planner's salary). The competition is tough. I was competing with all the people with USC/UCLA masters, something that I don't have.

    When I kept getting rejected I had to put it into perspective that this is a numbers game. One of the places I applied had a little over 200 people take the first round test. They were hiring for three positions. If I was randomly picked, i had a ~2% chance of getting hired. You just got to keep applying. I don't like interviewing at all; it's way out of my comfort zone. After the 5th or so rejection I associated interviewing with failure. It's tough getting passed over, or getting ghosted by not receiving a rejection e-mail. I didn't let that stop me from applying to cities where I wanted to work. I didn't make it to a second round interview until my ~8th try. And even when I got that second interview I didn't really understand what I did differently than the previous ones. I thought I did and said the same thing as the previous two interviews. I kept interviewing as that was the only way I could get better at it. You can't really recreate that pressure and day of experience even with a mock interview. At the time I didn't have any planning friends that I was comfortable with asking for help with interviewing either.

    If you keep interviewing in a certain region, you will probably hear the same questions over and over again. Write them down later so you can practice the answers to those questions. That gives you a focus for your preparation instead of trying to answer all the hundreds of interview questions posted in the stickies here.

    It wasn't until I talked to my co-worker(and friend) in our firm that I learned I was looking at interviewing the wrong way. I initially saw interviewing as a question and answer thing and not much on the presentation part. I downplayed my abilities/experiences as I thought that was bragging (low self esteem). I assumed my experiences were the same as everyone else. Why bother talking about something that everyone has done? I probably came off as a boring robot that occasionally remembered to give eye contact. When he told me how he answered these questions to the entry level planning jobs I was floored. I really valued his opinion as he's done really well at interviewing. He got runner up at two of the three places he applied. His answers were obviously way more interesting. He had a lot of passion. You need to entertain the interviewers. You have 20-30 minutes to put on a show. Brag about yourself and how you're much better than the other people applying. It's either you get hired or the other people do, so might as well go all out boasting. Tell a good story or two.

    Unfortunately for me (and my co-worker) our work environment is pretty toxic. The City we do consulting for is extremely wealthy, bureaucratic, political and litigious. There are a ton of rules and connected people get to break those rules. Due to this environment staff is on edge all the way up to management. All your flaws are pointed out and you never get complimented. You have to fight with lawyers, rich snobs and expediters telling them they can't break this litany of rules. This situation caused me to doubt my abilities and not use this stressful experience as a selling point in my skills. It took someone else to point that this job is insane and I need to let the interviewers know that I am capable of handling that kind of pressure. If you can't think of things to brag about then you need some outside perspective to aid you. If you don't think what you do is special/important, how will the people interviewing know? From that I thought about my experiences and instead of bitching about how they sucked try to find some silver lining while also figuring out the humor and heart of the event. You want the interviewers to know that you've been through the ups and downs, as they can relate to that. Interjecting some humor makes it more entertaining.

    I incorporated the aforementioned knowledge into my 12th interview (which happened to be a second round interview). At the time I didn't really know if I was doing a good job, as I'm terrible at that eye contact thing. I can't think on the fly real well, so I am reciting all the canned answers I had. It wasn't till the end of the interview that the interviewer said, "the city could use good people like you." After that I knew I crushed it, and weeks later I'm signing the job offer (today).

    To recap

    -Don't be discouraged if you get rejected, keep applying. Lots of people get rejected.
    -Curate a list of questions and answers.
    -Have a couple of stories to tell about your experience. Try to interject some humor in these stories.
    -Have a list of things you want to brag about. If you don't get to those things through out the questioning, then add them at the end when they ask if you have something to add. If you don't have a list to brag about, ask someone close to help you out.

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