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Common interview questions: entry level

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Cyburbian
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Thank you

Thank you for this list. Its been really helpful. Please continue to reach out and cultivate young planners. For those of us who are the first generation of "professionals" in our family, we could always use the mentorship and advice. Interviewing is very difficult, and its not something for which formal education prepares you. Again, on behalf of the young planners, thank you!:)
 

Kingmak

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So just had my interview today with a mid-sized Texas city. Most of the questions were behavioral-based such as "describe a time when..." or "can you think of a situation where..." I was prepared for the common "tell me about yourself" and "strengths/weaknesses", but felt I did a good job at throwing them in where I had the opportunity. The thing is I'm graduating in June with my Masters but they said that it would be desirable for the person to start ASAP. So I don't know...I guess if they want me they'll wait.
 

Suburb Repairman

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I like to check in on this thread periodically and offer any additional thoughts.

RE: the "do you have any questions for us" question...

nrschmid had a good response--directly ask if you need to clarify anything discussed and whether they have any concerns about your experience/qualifications. A good interviewer will give you a straight answer, which provides you an opportunity to address them.

Also, remember that the interview is not just about them evaluating you--it is also about you evaluating them to determine whether you are compatible. Some questions I like to ask or be asked:

Since you've been working here, what is the accomplishment you are most proud of?

While I see __________ as a big challege to ______________ <city interviewing you> from my brief time here, what do you see as a significant challenge?

What are some projects the department will be taking on in the next year?



Also, I'm seeing a trend in interviewing away from some of the trivia-like questions, with a lot more emphasis on personality, quality of past experiences & interpersonal communication skills. I've got a feeling this might be related to morale issues at many cities following the economic downturn, along with increases in overqualified individuals applying for lower positions (they are doing so begrudgenly and will leap at the next better opportunity). I've seen a lot more questions popping up regarding longevity in a position once you get it, etc. If you are a job-hopper, that trait can negatively affect your consideration. Also, as somebody with maybe less experience going up against these overqualified persons, you need to emphasize things like creativity, energy, long-term goals at the employer, QUALITY of your past experience, etc.
 
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I would just like to say thank you to all of you for your advice. I've got an interview tomorrow for my "year in industry" placement as part of my University degree and this has helped me to no end!
I'll update this thread tomorrow evening with the interview questions and how I think it went; returning the favour I suppose!
I have just one question for the interviewers - are there any mistakes which tend to crop up again and again with interviewees?
 

Jazzman

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Random question that may or may not belong in this thread -

I'm interviewing for a position in a few weeks, and since the deadline for the job has passed of course, the agency has taken down the job description from its website. Problem is, I'd like to have a copy of the job description so that I can review it in preparation for the interview. Would it be weird or otherwise reflect negatively on me if I e-mailed HR asking for a copy of the job description? I know it might sound like I'm kind of overthinking things, but I really want this job and if I don't get it or if I'm written off for any reason, I want it to be because of something related to my skill set and experience, and not because I committed some sort of job interview faux pas or whatever.
 

kltoomians

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Random question that may or may not belong in this thread -

I'm interviewing for a position in a few weeks, and since the deadline for the job has passed of course, the agency has taken down the job description from its website. Problem is, I'd like to have a copy of the job description so that I can review it in preparation for the interview. Would it be weird or otherwise reflect negatively on me if I e-mailed HR asking for a copy of the job description? I know it might sound like I'm kind of overthinking things, but I really want this job and if I don't get it or if I'm written off for any reason, I want it to be because of something related to my skill set and experience, and not because I committed some sort of job interview faux pas or whatever.
I've been in your situation before. My strategy is to google search it and look at the cached version of the website. You can PM me if you need assistance...
 

Kit

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Two colleagues and I just went through the interview process (we direct separate agencies). We compared notes on our respective interviews, but not interviewees since there may be overlap. Here are some tips from the interviewer's perspective:

1. All three of us prefer a somewhat relaxed interview atmosphere. It helps the interviewer to see the person, not just the skills and knowledge. So take a deep cleansing breath and relax before entering the interview.
2. It helps to know a bit about the area and agency you are interviewing for, and demonstrate that by weaving it into your answers.
3. All of us ask an off-the-wall question to see how you 'think on your feet'
4. Do not try to read ahead on the interviewers list of questions. Engage the interviewer with your answers. The next question will come soon enough.
5. Engage everyone at the table, even if there is a primary interviewer.
6. Most will ask about a planning project you have worked on . Use a studio class project, internship, independent study, thesis, or whatever. Surely if you have a planning degree you had some kind of planning work that went into that degree.
7. Allow ample time. If the interviewer does not tell you how much time to allow, ask. My interviews go about a half day; one colleague allows 90 minutes, and the other an hour. I know of another agency a few miles up the road that takes an entire day for each interview. The amount of time will allow you to see how much preparation needs to go into the meeting.
8. Remember that we as interviewers need to assess not only your skills and knowledge, but also if you will fit into the existing team at the organization. To do that we need to see the "real you."
9. For entry-level, all three of us include a site review exercise in the interview to ensure you know your way around a plan.
10. A follow up note is always appreciated. In one case among us, it will be making the difference between two otherwise-equal candidates.
11. Even if you do not land this particular job, you have made a professional contact (or several) that you can build your network on. In every case between us (there were over a dozen interviews), we expect to see the candidates in the field, and be able to call on them or assist them as professionals in the future.
12. Bring work samples that can be left behind.

There are probably more, but that covers the bulk of what is on our collective minds.

Kit.
 

dundermifflin

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Thank you all for contributing to this helpful thread! I've carefully copied and pasted all of your responses for future references :)
 

chocolatechip

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I think interviewing comes down to three things: Competence, fit, and temperament.

Competence: do you have the relevant skills/experience?
Fit: Will you be a good fit for the organization; with others in the office; in your role?
Temperament: Will you be "in balance" with expectations and the pace/nature of work? Even if you are competent and may get along well with others, can you adapt to a different way of doing things? Can you lead and follow?

Competence is probably the easiest to measure, and what most people think they'll be interviewing about. But interviewers really bring you into the office to weigh whether you'll be a good fit and if you have the temperament they are looking for.
 

Backstrom

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The thing to remember is by the time an employer gets to interviews, or at least the final v
I think interviewing comes down to three things: Competence, fit, and temperament.

Competence: do you have the relevant skills/experience?
Fit: Will you be a good fit for the organization; with others in the office; in your role?
Temperament: Will you be "in balance" with expectations and the pace/nature of work? Even if you are competent and may get along well with others, can you adapt to a different way of doing things? Can you lead and follow?

Competence is probably the easiest to measure, and what most people think they'll be interviewing about. But interviewers really bring you into the office to weigh whether you'll be a good fit and if you have the temperament they are looking for.
The thing to remember is by the time an employer gets to interviews, or at least the final interview round, all the remaining candidates are probably more than qualified for the job, which means everyone will probably do well in those three criteria. You can't count on the other candidates flaws or flubs, so it's important to just stand out and make yourself unique.
 

Backstrom

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Just curious-- what does everyone consider to be entry-level?

I was always under the impression that entry-level is 2 years experience max, but mostly tailored toward new grads. But the other day, I found a planning position that was listed as "entry level" but the experience requirements was 4 years for a Bachelors and 2 years for a Masters.
 

Suburb Repairman

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Just curious-- what does everyone consider to be entry-level?

I was always under the impression that entry-level is 2 years experience max, but mostly tailored toward new grads. But the other day, I found a planning position that was listed as "entry level" but the experience requirements was 4 years for a Bachelors and 2 years for a Masters.
If it requires more than two years experience, it is not a true entry-level position. Maybe a journeyman, but calling that entry-level is not accurate.
 

dw914er

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Just curious-- what does everyone consider to be entry-level?

I was always under the impression that entry-level is 2 years experience max, but mostly tailored toward new grads. But the other day, I found a planning position that was listed as "entry level" but the experience requirements was 4 years for a Bachelors and 2 years for a Masters.
The "new normal" has skewed that perception...
 

Jazzman

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This question doesn't really pertain to interviews specifically, but it didn't seem worthy of a whole other thread either.

Just out of curiosity, when employers post jobs with a deadline (say, 4 weeks from now), do they review applications only after the deadline has passed, or do they review applications as they come in, in spite of the deadline? In other words, if a position has an application deadline, is there still any advantage to sending in my materials as early as possible?
 

mike gurnee

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No advantage for being early. The decision maker does not see applications until past the deadline. The decision maker does not want too see any before the deadline. Hopefully the decision maker asks for all the applications, not just the ones HR "recommends".
 

NHPlanner

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No advantage for being early. The decision maker does not see applications until past the deadline. The decision maker does not want too see any before the deadline. Hopefully the decision maker asks for all the applications, not just the ones HR "recommends".
My process is pretty much exactly as Mike puts it. I get all of the applications from HR, but not until after the deadline has passed.
 

kjel

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This question doesn't really pertain to interviews specifically, but it didn't seem worthy of a whole other thread either.

Just out of curiosity, when employers post jobs with a deadline (say, 4 weeks from now), do they review applications only after the deadline has passed, or do they review applications as they come in, in spite of the deadline? In other words, if a position has an application deadline, is there still any advantage to sending in my materials as early as possible?
It depends on how hierarchical the hiring process is. Most of the public sector has a date where apps have to be submitted to HR, then HR may or may not review them for minimum qualifications being met, then they actually go to the department that's hiring. Private sector and non-profits often review applications as they come in, we do, but we won't start scheduling interviews until the closing date.
 

Backstrom

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This may have already been discussed but I'm wondering what the makeup of the interviewer groups have been for people.

Most of all the public-sector planning jobs I've applied to have all led to a big panel interview, with between 3 or 4 interviewers at one time (once had 5! that's ****ing ridiculous!). But I've noticed that I'm FAR more comfortable interviewing with only one or two interviewers. Does anyone feel the same way? I'm guessing that's the case with most people.
 

mike gurnee

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This may have already been discussed but I'm wondering what the makeup of the interviewer groups have been for people.

Most of all the public-sector planning jobs I've applied to have all led to a big panel interview, with between 3 or 4 interviewers at one time (once had 5! that's ****ing ridiculous!). But I've noticed that I'm FAR more comfortable interviewing with only one or two interviewers. Does anyone feel the same way? I'm guessing that's the case with most people.
In my last two towns HR liked the panel format. But most often one person (the Planning Director/me) orchestrated the whole thing. I wrote the questions and the panel took turns asking them. Basically the others were there only for decoration. In my ideal world, I would prefer a panel to pick the top 2-3, then have a one-on-one follow-up interview.
 

Suburb Repairman

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In a larger jurisdiction, I would assemble a 3-person panel to interview applicants. They were allowed to come-up with their own questions and ask follow-up questions in the interview. It would typically be myself, someone that will be the applicant's peer in the department, and ALWAYS the department secretary. We would narrow it down to the top 3, and I would do one-on-one interviews with them typically off-site in a more casual setting (I think I'm unusual in that regard).

I liked to include the department secretary because she had an outstanding feel for the personalities in the department and how well an applicant would fit in.
 

ppark31

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I have recently registered and cyburbia has already been so helpful.
I have a phone interview tomorrow for a Planner I position and this thread has guided my preparation.

Thank You
 

jmtetzlaff

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Random question that may or may not belong in this thread -

I'm interviewing for a position in a few weeks, and since the deadline for the job has passed of course, the agency has taken down the job description from its website. Problem is, I'd like to have a copy of the job description so that I can review it in preparation for the interview. Would it be weird or otherwise reflect negatively on me if I e-mailed HR asking for a copy of the job description? I know it might sound like I'm kind of overthinking things, but I really want this job and if I don't get it or if I'm written off for any reason, I want it to be because of something related to my skill set and experience, and not because I committed some sort of job interview faux pas or whatever.
That happened to me once already. Since than for every job I have been applying to in preparation for graduation in May, I have saved a PDF copy of the job description along with the exact cover letter/resume I sent to that particular agency. This way I know exactly where they are coming from and what they see. If I have an new experience to add, I can be sure to address it in the interview.
 

schnapple4u

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Written Plan Review Exam - What Do I Need to Know???

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!!!
 

Suburb Repairman

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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.
 

hlatan311

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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!
 

DVD

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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.
 

Bubba

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General advice for entry-level interviews: actually show up for your interview. :-@
 

rickster

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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.
 

Suburb Repairman

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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.
 

DVD

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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.
 

rickster

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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.
 

Suburb Repairman

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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.
 

Salmissra

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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.
 

rickster

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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.

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.

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.
 

Suburb Repairman

moderator in moderation
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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."
 

DVD

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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.
 

rickster

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26
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2
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.
 

SoutheastMCRP

Cyburbian
Messages
53
Points
4
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.
 

Bubba

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4,363
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24
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?"
 

Suburb Repairman

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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.
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.
 

DVD

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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.
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.
 

SoutheastMCRP

Cyburbian
Messages
53
Points
4
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.
 

rickster

Cyburbian
Messages
26
Points
2
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.
 

queenOdawg

Member
Messages
22
Points
2
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 think your perspective is a bit too altruistic about the hiring procedures in municipal planning departments. In all honesty, most (but not all) Directors have a candidate in mind before the job is posted. They then have a quota of X candidates to interview. Candidates they see as weaker, many directors hen peck, belittle, or are just outright rude to job candidates because they are disgruntled they are required to interview so many as required by the HR department. I have interviewed for literally hundreds of planning positions and this was a pattern I noticed, even when I was well-prepared for the interview. They will add a question in the mix such as "why haven't you had a job in planning right after graduating with your master's degree?" Its basically a rhetorical question to the candidate that say "we think you suck and we don't want to hire you".

Most large jurisdictions will not give feedback to a candidate not selected after an interview because they are afraid of getting sued.

Remember, insanity is doing the same thing over-and-over again and expecting different results. If you want to get into municipal planing, but hit a wall, try a new strategy. You could try working in private development and apply that experience in an interview after gaining experience dealing with code.
 
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DVD

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Maybe I'm lucky, but I can usually get someone to give me some feedback. Most of the time it's support for my strengths. Lines like, "We really liked your skill in, attitude, whatever" I don't get weaknesses very often. No one wants to talk about the negative. When I do get it it's more often what you're talking about. They have someone and just want to get rid of you. I like to ask two questions when they give me the sorry you're not the one line:

1. What really stood out in my interview? What areas did I really come across as knowledgeable? - I usually get some kind of answer to this. Not always direct, but they liked my attitude or thought I had great skills with whatever.
2. Was there anything in the interview that just killed my chances like showing up in a Hawaiian shirt? - I usually get a laugh, but the answer is always some vague thing about the other candidate was just better. Sometimes I get an answer. I've had everything from not enough managing professionals (tell my inspectors they aren't professionals, I dare you) to not enough experience with "big" projects.

I just use each interview as another round of experience. Sometimes I can read the interview process early and figure out things like:
They just want someone to process paperwork.
They're interviewing me just to fill a quota.
They're interviewing me because they're curious about the out of state applicant.
They're interviewing me as a courtesy, because they know me or I have a good reference.

At the same time, I've made it pretty far in some great interviews only to be passed over for a better candidate. I know a couple that were picked because the winner was just as experienced as me, but they were local or at least lived closer and didn't have to move.
I know I've lost some because the timing of moving didn't work out for the agency. I had one I couldn't convince I could afford to live there. You never know what the other side is thinking, but I just treat them all as practice and when the right position comes along I'll nail it.
 
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