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Thread: Scored interview questions (may be CA specific)

  1. #1

    Scored interview questions (may be CA specific)

    I've been taking a lot of interviews (in CA) for planner 1 level and sub-planner level jobs like permit technician over the last few months. Most have been fine and I've clearly just been beaten out by people with more experience. A few have been confusing and worrisome, though, so I'm hoping someone in the public sector who does hiring might be able to shed some light on this.

    The majority of interviews have been panels and the interviews have been referred to as "tests." Stock questions they ask everyone and they score the answers. I've interviewed at the state, county, and city level and I'm starting to suspect there may be a few packages of questions and grading rubrics out there that public agencies draw from for their interview processes. Maybe they don't all use the same package from the same source, but they all certainly seem to be drawing from some outside resource (or maybe devising their own based on established packages).

    Is this the case?

    I ask because I have no idea how I'm being graded in these interviews. The other day responding to a question I said the word "eager" and the interviewer wrote that and nothing else down. Why? It's starting to seem like they're simply waiting to hear certain key words or phrases, and each of those gets a point, and if I don't bark out enough of them I don't score well. This is worrisome because… well, that's awful.

    But it makes sense from a logistics standpoint. Different people interview different applicants using the same questions and it's hard to imagine it's all arbitrary and subjective. It's also hard to imagine that the agency spends several hours training each of the planners that are doing the interviewing so it won't be arbitrary. The simplest way to make it more objective would be to hand out grading rubrics.

    It makes way too much sense and it's really bumming me out. Of course any system like this there'd still be room to go outside the rubric, but that's almost worse. Extra points to the cute 20-something because the dudes interviewing her would rather sit next to her all day than some dude.

    So yeah, anyone with actual insight into how these scored interviews operate, your thoughts would be appreciated. Like I said most of my interviews have been good and it's been clear that I did well but there's planners with years of experience competing for the same job. But a handful of these interviews have just really wigged me out.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    A lot of interview it depends on the position and the place on what they ask about. For instance an interview in Arizona asked me more about master planned communities, where I work now asked me more about floodplains. It's the topic of the day in those places.

    Most places I've been create a list of questions to ask everyone. We pull our list from the managers sitting in a meeting and pull some from the internet. There's a thread somewhere with tons of entry level questions, most of which I've seen before. I wouldn't be surprise if some cities and agencies share questions, but it's up the the place to come up with them. As far as scoring, it depends on the people, they either just check that you answered the question well or not or maybe try to score you like gymnasts and give you a 9.5. I like to just check yes or no myself. Then the group will give some weight to certain questions, especially those that are local issues. There's also a section where our group makes an attempt to rate the "other" stuff like do you appear confident, overall sense of presence, do you fit in with the corporate culture, that kind of thing. My best advice is to make an impression that helps the interviewers remember who you are. If they can say that guy answers this well your more likely to stay in the running.

    Good luck
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    I work as a County Planner and serve on the county's interview panel. I'm not sure if this will help you or not, but I'll go through our process since it sounds like it MAY be similar.

    When we hire for any position in the county, everyone has to go through at least two interviews. The first is a general panel interview and the second is the interview with the person's direct supervisor/department head. In the panel interview, we are given a list of questions and ask each candidate the exact same questions. I personally jot down notes about what each person says to help me remember their responses. Using the answers to the questions, we then give candidates scores in several different categories (education, experience, leadership, initiative, creativity, problem-solving, responsibility, communication skills, composure, etc.). Again, these categories are consistent regardless of what position someone is applying for (custodian to administrative aide, to a mid-level position such as mine). Each category is weighted equally. We then determine the average score of each the applicants, HR factors in other things that might give people hiring advantages (veteran status, for example), most candidates take some sort of test to ensure that they really have the basic competency to do the job, and then those scoring the highest overall get sent along to the department supervisor for final interviews. The interview process with the supervisor is a lot more subjective since the department head may have specific personality traits or qualitites that they're looking for.

    If you're really concerned/curious about the process, you have a right to view your own HR files. So you could go to a couple different localities and request to see your interview file. They will keep all the notes that the interviewers took and you'll be able to see any sort of scoring system that they used. Because that information is available to the candidates upon request, many of us take very limited notes when we interview candidates, but you should be able to see how the scoring works at least.

    Good luck!

  4. #4
    This is how it works in my county:

    A panel of three interviews candidates in order to establish an eligibility list. The list has the top five ranked candidates and only these names are forwarded to the specific department that is filling the position. This first interview is often called an "exam." There are approximately 8-10 questions, most of them generic, along the lines of "Tell me about your education, training, and experience that qualifies you for the position of Chief Wanker." Or, "Tell me about a problem that arose in a project; how did you handle the situation?" For every question, you are scored 0-10. Equal weights, simply added up, and that's your score. Then HR averages the scores across all three panelists, identifies the top 5 (or top 6 if there was a tie). You have to score consistently above a certain threshold in order to "pass" the exam, but need to come out among the top 5 in order for your name to be forwarded to the hiring department. If you pass the exam, but do not score in the top five, better luck next time. If you pass the exam, score in the top five, but are not selected for the position, you are still on the "list" for a period of 6 months or whatever, and you could be contacted if they for some reason need to hire for the same position again. This latter scenario does not happen very often. The reason being, that once they've interviewed those top candidates, and made their choice, unless you were a close second, they probably don't want you and will run out the clock so that they can go out and establish another list and start from the beginning. The list gets stale, people move on and find other jobs.

    The exam questions, as I've said above, are mostly generic, but tweaked a bit for the position at hand. That's why they feel canned. Also, the panelists are not provided any materials about you, no resume, no cover letter, nothing. This exam is meant to be somewhat "objective," even if that's not really possible. In my opinion, there are just too many inherently subjective elements to judging a person for anything to be truly objective. So let's say you knock it out of the ballpark on all your questions, providing thorough, responsive answers demonstrating subject matter expertise in your field. You could still be dinged on something like alluding to a negative circumstance at your last job that forced you to look for other work. In reality it may not have any true relevance on your ability to perform in a new job, but if something rubs the panel the wrong way, they'll start doubting their own judgment on scoring. For example: "I like that other guy better, so I'm going to go back and lower this dude's score so the previous guy comes out ahead of him." Is that objective? Probably not, but that's human nature.

    For me, it really comes down balancing what they bring to the table with my intuitive sense about them. Completely objective? No. But it's served me well in getting some awesome candidates new jobs and avoiding misfits. I think other panelists who try to be 100% objective actually miss the mark more often. "Objective" in this case being: "I'm only going to score this person based on what s/he tells me, nothing else, not on their appearance, their manner, the style of response, eye contact, etc. I won't holistically evaluate this person from the moment he walks in the door because I believe that I would be judging them on their appearance and that makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong." We have our right brain for a reason, so we should use it.

    Again, this "exam" interview is just the first interview stage. The people you are interviewing with are probably not the people you would be working for, at least not directly supervised by. Your direct supervisor, and/or the person making the hiring determination, will be at your second interview, if you've made the list.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post

    The exam questions, as I've said above, are mostly generic, but tweaked a bit for the position at hand. That's why they feel canned. Also, the panelists are not provided any materials about you, no resume, no cover letter, nothing. This exam is meant to be somewhat "objective," even if that's not really possible. In my opinion, there are just too many inherently subjective elements to judging a person for anything to be truly objective. So let's say you knock it out of the ballpark on all your questions, providing thorough, responsive answers demonstrating subject matter expertise in your field. You could still be dinged on something like alluding to a negative circumstance at your last job that forced you to look for other work. In reality it may not have any true relevance on your ability to perform in a new job, but if something rubs the panel the wrong way, they'll start doubting their own judgment on scoring. For example: "I like that other guy better, so I'm going to go back and lower this dude's score so the previous guy comes out ahead of him." Is that objective? Probably not, but that's human nature.


    Again, this "exam" interview is just the first interview stage. The people you are interviewing with are probably not the people you would be working for, at least not directly supervised by. Your direct supervisor, and/or the person making the hiring determination, will be at your second interview, if you've made the list.
    What he said. This is pretty much the norm for every agency I have interviewed for, include my own. As a part of the panel we ask questions and score folks based on their answers and previously submitted materials. Then we add up point totals, and then listed in numerical order, only bringing in the top 2 or 3 for 2nd/final interview.

    You will have interviews that seem very rigorous. I had one interview that had 20 questions and 45 minutes to answer them. Very robotic, and not enough time to let personality shine. I have been on a few interviews where outside agencies do the interview and when the ask you if you have any follow questions you are like, "what the eff, all my follow up questions were agency specific". At you look at them blankly.

    It is subjective and about finding fit. The 1st round weeds out those that are not a fit and those that my fit what an agency is looking for. Good luck.
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  6. #6
    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    This is how it works in my county:

    A panel of three interviews candidates in order to establish an eligibility list. The list has the top five ranked candidates and only these names are forwarded to the specific department that is filling the position. This first interview is often called an "exam." There are approximately 8-10 questions, most of them generic, along the lines of "Tell me about your education, training, and experience that qualifies you for the position of Chief Wanker." Or, "Tell me about a problem that arose in a project; how did you handle the situation?" For every question, you are scored 0-10. Equal weights, simply added up, and that's your score. Then HR averages the scores across all three panelists, identifies the top 5 (or top 6 if there was a tie). You have to score consistently above a certain threshold in order to "pass" the exam, but need to come out among the top 5 in order for your name to be forwarded to the hiring department. If you pass the exam, but do not score in the top five, better luck next time. If you pass the exam, score in the top five, but are not selected for the position, you are still on the "list" for a period of 6 months or whatever, and you could be contacted if they for some reason need to hire for the same position again. This latter scenario does not happen very often. The reason being, that once they've interviewed those top candidates, and made their choice, unless you were a close second, they probably don't want you and will run out the clock so that they can go out and establish another list and start from the beginning. The list gets stale, people move on and find other jobs.

    The exam questions, as I've said above, are mostly generic, but tweaked a bit for the position at hand. That's why they feel canned. Also, the panelists are not provided any materials about you, no resume, no cover letter, nothing. This exam is meant to be somewhat "objective," even if that's not really possible. In my opinion, there are just too many inherently subjective elements to judging a person for anything to be truly objective. So let's say you knock it out of the ballpark on all your questions, providing thorough, responsive answers demonstrating subject matter expertise in your field. You could still be dinged on something like alluding to a negative circumstance at your last job that forced you to look for other work. In reality it may not have any true relevance on your ability to perform in a new job, but if something rubs the panel the wrong way, they'll start doubting their own judgment on scoring. For example: "I like that other guy better, so I'm going to go back and lower this dude's score so the previous guy comes out ahead of him." Is that objective? Probably not, but that's human nature.

    For me, it really comes down balancing what they bring to the table with my intuitive sense about them. Completely objective? No. But it's served me well in getting some awesome candidates new jobs and avoiding misfits. I think other panelists who try to be 100% objective actually miss the mark more often. "Objective" in this case being: "I'm only going to score this person based on what s/he tells me, nothing else, not on their appearance, their manner, the style of response, eye contact, etc. I won't holistically evaluate this person from the moment he walks in the door because I believe that I would be judging them on their appearance and that makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong." We have our right brain for a reason, so we should use it.

    Again, this "exam" interview is just the first interview stage. The people you are interviewing with are probably not the people you would be working for, at least not directly supervised by. Your direct supervisor, and/or the person making the hiring determination, will be at your second interview, if you've made the list.

    This makes perfect sense and would explain everything good and bad associated with the interviews I've had. Basically it's all utterly subjective but under a conceit of objectivity what with the stock questions, lack of background, and scoring system.

    One thing's for sure- it's awful. At least it's free from those "what color is your brain?" type of questions, I suppose.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Raf View post
    You will have interviews that seem very rigorous. I had one interview that had 20 questions and 45 minutes to answer them. Very robotic, and not enough time to let personality shine.
    I hate these interviews. Everyone seems to have a very similar stock answer for your stock questions. It does weed out the ones that can't answer, but it doesn't allow the person to show off.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  8. #8
    It's maddening because whether or not the interview is "fair," for lack of a better word (that is assesses your fitness for the job about as well as can be within 30 minutes) completely depends upon the skill of the interviewers, and many, if not most, simply have no skills. And I don't mean this just for the planning discipline, anywhere you go interviewers rarely have any skill at interviewing.

    It seems like most think their job is to assess your ability to interview according to some traditional notion of what is good or bad interview etiquette, or they think it's your job to say the things they want to hear, essentially guess what they want to hear, and if you don't you did poorly.

    Recently had an interview where they asked me a question about GIS with the lede of 'no need to get technical or specific,' and the question was something extremely simple that anyone with any GIS training would know, so I basically said "oh that's very basic…" and described, in general strokes, one way to do this thing they asked about. After the interview I showed them some GIS maps I made, and one was essentially the same thing they asked about, in fact a more complicated vector analysis than what they asked about. Anyway they didn't hire anyone they interviewed because none of us knew GIS well enough, so they said. If that's true I guess there's two options: either they genuinely think I don't know GIS well enough, or they don't know if I do but rather feel I didn't sell my knowledge of GIS well enough. Whatever the case it's my fault, by default, because it's an interview and therefore by definition if I don't sell them the car I've failed.

    Of course they could have just given me more information regarding what kind of GIS work they need, or asked me more specifics about what I know and actually figure out if I know GIS well enough, but that would be insane. Because the way most interviews work is: Give the interviewee little to no information and see if they tell you what you want to hear.

    Yeah, I needed to vent.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally posted by TimJ View post
    This makes perfect sense and would explain everything good and bad associated with the interviews I've had. Basically it's all utterly subjective but under a conceit of objectivity what with the stock questions, lack of background, and scoring system.

    One thing's for sure- it's awful. At least it's free from those "what color is your brain?" type of questions, I suppose.
    Some people are amazing workers, but horrible interviewees. Interviewing well is, in itself, a talent to be cultivated. I think the most important yet precarious balance to be struck while interviewing is being confident but not coming across as cocky. Everyone acts different when they are nervous. For me, I just throw myself into a question, focusing on the answer and nothing else. The panel may as well not even be in the room, I'm just talking to a blank wall. Seriously, practice in front of a mirror. If you can deliver to yourself, you can deliver to anybody. Always do your research and know your audience (Public Speaking Rule #1), but at the end of the day, it's about YOU. That's the attitude you need to have to be able to throw yourself out there again and again. A nervous person trying hard to be confident won't come across as cocky--you'll hopefully strike a balance. Smile. You're a rockstar. And if you don't get the job, it wasn't meant to be and they can go fuck themselves.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    Companies can just be weird sometimes. Sometimes you were great, but someone else was just a little better, sorry. Sometimes your just not the right fit, whatever that means. I've had people give me technical interviews about what to review on a plat for a senior management position, which tells me you wanted a worker not a manager (I was right). I've had technical interviews where I was asked to draw a simple floor plan as a drafter and figured out their dimensions didn't jive, I couldn't close the box (another company I didn't want to work for). I even had one who offered me the job as a drafter, but at the pay of a delivery driver, because they just promoted the driver and they were still driving, but needed a drafter and couldn't afford to pay drafter's wages, but they promised to be a good company! I walked out on that one.

    For other interviews, I think I was passed over because I was out of state, or moving within the state, but slightly over qualified and they thought I would just run to the next good job. I had one that I thought I would be perfect for, but I was just passed by, maybe it was me, maybe someone was better, but most likely I just wasn't the guy they were looking for. You never know, so take CCs advice, fuck 'em and move on.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  11. #11
    Though I am getting a little frustrated in general I think I usually do OK in interviews. A couple of interviewers were willing to share their criticisms and neither really had any, so I feel alright about my overall composure and that sort of thing. It's on a… I dunno intellectual level, for lack of a better term, that's most annoying. Learning later they wanted to know X or Y but didn't ask me about X or Y is just totally nuts. I had a prof whose tests were extremely vague and general questions because he thought if he gave any clue about what he wanted he'd be giving the answer away. So the test was really always about 'did you correctly guess what he wanted?' It was b.s. and interviews like that are too. Uhg.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TimJ View post
    Recently had an interview where they asked me a question about GIS with the lede of 'no need to get technical or specific,' and the question was something extremely simple that anyone with any GIS training would know, so I basically said "oh that's very basic…" and described, in general strokes, one way to do this thing they asked about
    Not to pick you a part, but as CC mentioned, there is a difference between cocky and confident, which is an panelist turnoff. When someone says, "oh that's very basic" it comes off as cocky. Compared to saying, "I have a tremendous amount of experience in doing that" or something that casts your experience in a different light. See the difference?

    I know the "oral" exam is a good portion, but at the same time, resume has a lot to do as well. It's not an exact science. Sometimes we get it wrong. Rather than dwell on what might have been, look to how to improve and land the next job opportunity you see.
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  13. #13
    Look at it this way. We have 25 minutes to try to figure out who you are. We're looking for anything and everything that will help us in that determination. Hundreds of factors from the moment you walk in the door, and much of this is, of course, subconscious. Of course we're gonna get it wrong sometimes. Maybe something totally inadvertent on your part came across the wrong way and one person on the panelist picked up on it. That's why it's so critical that you focus on the questions and be yourself to the best of your ability. Your natural self is at least 42% better than your manufactured self, the one you create for others when you go job hunting.

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