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Careers 🎩 Common interview questions: mid-level

Suburb Repairman

moderator in moderation
Staff member
Building off of this thread: Common Interview Questions: Entry Level

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

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

Examples of mid-level positions: Senior Planner, Planner III, Neighborhood Planner, etc.


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

What suggestions do you have for improving the Planning Department’s web site?

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

What’s the most up-to-date GIS software you know about?

Very briefly describe <city> &#8211; any impressions or facts you know.

Decision Making

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

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

What was your greatest failure and what did you learn from it?

What steps do you take when analyzing complex problems?


What is the most recent version of GIS/Design software you've worked with? What others are you comfortable working with?

How would you go about creating a <random thematic map> using GIS?


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

How would you go about establishing your credibility if you were hired for this job?
If you were hired, what would you do for the first month?

Interpersonal/Leadership Skills

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

Explain an instance when you used your leadership skills to solve a problem.
Who was involved? What outcomes did you achieve? How often have you faced similar situations?

How would you characterize you use of leadership and authority?

If you were on the other side of the table and you were interviewing someone for this position, what traits would you be looking for?

In this position, a person is often called on to get cooperation from others where there is no official leverage to be used in getting that cooperation. What similar situations have you faced and what approaches have you used to secure cooperation?

You supervise two younger planners with different strengths, abilities and very different levels of maturity. Things are not working out well between them and you regularly receive e-mails reporting on perceived slights, errors, etc. What would you do and why?

Tell us about a time that your work was criticized.

What would your current supervisor say are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

Have you ever had to make decisions when your supervisor was unavailable? Explain.

How would you organize your staff if you managed the Planning Department?

Are you a better leader or follower? What role do you take in a group situation. Give examples.

What type of supervisor brings out the best performance in you?

What do you do when a citizen comes in and tells you that the Building Official has just turn off his power for no reason?

Tell me a time you had to give someone difficult feedback. How did you handle it? What was the outcome?

Have you ever been on a team where someone was not pulling their own weight, and how did you handle the situation?

Define cooperation.

Describe the ideal supervisor-subordinate relationship.

Describe your approach to management or supervision.

Describe your management philosophy. Have your disappointments helped you improve yourself?

Explain an instance when you used your leadership skills to solve a problem.

How do you communicate with your superiors?

How do you delegate responsibility?

How do you establish rapport with your subordinates?

How do you feel your supervisor could have done a better job?

How would you handle a supervisor challenging one of your decisions?

How would you handle reporting to more than one supervisor?

How would your supervisor describe your leadership abilities?

Tell me about an experience where you had to manage people conflicts at work -- could you describe an incident like this?

Tell me about the worst boss you've ever had.

Customer Service

Tell me about the most difficult incident you have had to deal with when a user/customer was dissatisfied with a policy interpretation, quality of service, etc. What led to the situation? What steps did you take to remedy the situation? How effective were you in handling the situation?

CDBG/HOME Program (if it comes up)

What are the three National Objectives of the CDBG Program? (Answer: Provide a benefit to low and moderate-income persons; Prevent or eliminate slum and blight; or Meet an urgent community need that threatens the health or welfare of residents)

The City&#8217;s HOME grant for Owner-Occupied Assistance specifies a target population that has an extremely low household income.
To qualify as extremely low, the total household income cannot exceed what percent of the area&#8217;s median family income? (Answer: 30%)
Is the income of a 17-year-old child included in the total? (Answer: No, must be 18 or older to be included)
Is the income of an unrelated adult who lives in the house included? Answer: (Answer: Yes)

The City has received applications from a number of City departments for projects including (a) the installation of sidewalks, (b) improvements to a city park, and (c) renovations to City Hall to add more office space. You are reviewing the applications to see if they are eligible for CDBG funding. One of the Priority Needs identified in the City&#8217;s Con Plan is &#8220;Public Facilities&#8221;.

Are all of these projects eligible to be funded by CDBG? (Answer: No &#8211; The City Hall renovation project is not eligible because the building is used for the general conduct of government.)
How would you determine whether the park project could be considered an eligible activity as a LMI Area Benefit? (Answer: This objective is met if the project would benefit only area residents from a service area where at least 51% of the residents have incomes that are low and moderate. The two ways to make this determination are either using the most recent census data or to take a resident survey.)

General Planning Questions

Why does the state legislature limit the regulations which can be used by local government to control the use of land?

What suggestions do you have for improving a Planning Commission meeting?

What is a street section? When deciding how wide a road should be, what factors should be taken into consideration? What mobility elements are in the right-of-way besides the road?

Name five major issues confronting the City of ______________.

Please comment on the Master Plan provided to you before the beginning of the meeting. Assume that your community strongly supports the principles of New Urbanism. What comments would you make to the applicant about this master plan?

Working from memory, please tell us what kind of information appears on a plat and why that information is there.

An applicant calls you and says they want to present a project to you in a preliminary form and get your reaction. Apparently no one in the City heard about this project. Who would you invite to a meeting to review the project? What information would you expect the applicant to present? What information would you convey to the applicant?

Describe the concept of a Transfer of Development Rights Program. How do they work and why would local government have this option in its Code of Ordinances?

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

Describe the relationship among a City&#8217;s adopted Transportation Master Plan and adopted Thoroughfare Plan and the review of subdivisions.

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

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

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

How should a comprehensive plan deal with implementation?

Historic Preservation

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

What are effective way&#8217;s to raise the public&#8217;s awareness about historic preservation?

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


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

Tell us about a time when you had to stand firm and make a tough or unpopular decision.

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

Professional/Personal Development

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

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

Final/Admin Questions

What are your salary requirements?

If offered the position, how soon could you start?

Are you able to attend night meetings?

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

Potential Activity Elements of an Interview

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

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

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

Take-home written response questions, especially a scenario (analytical ability, writing ability, concise)

Scenario Questions

At the last Planning Commission public meeting concluding a long community review process before a vote on the draft Land Development Code, a representative from the Builders and Realtors Association attends for the first time and urges the Commission to postpone any action. More data is needed, according to the representative. &#8220;Give us enough time to analyze the impact of the proposed ordinance.&#8221; A reporter from the Daily Tribune calls you the next day and asks you to explain what is going on and what you think will happen next. How do you answer the reporter?

A young and very eager new hire is working hard, but is unwilling to check with other staff before giving an answer. He is also less than deferential to more senior staff in Planning and other departments which is causing friction. Part of his eagerness sometimes results in jumping in without hearing what others are saying to the planner. You like the planner and think he probably has a real future in the department, but he needs to work on some things. How would you go about counseling this employee? What would you say? How would you set up the meeting?

You are in a meeting with the attorney for one of your applicants. These folks are well known in the community and, over the years, have done quite a bit of development. The attorney asks you to administratively approve a plat for a new lot. This approval would, because of the nature of the lot being platted, clearly violate the intent and language of the Land Development Code. You are trying to consider how to make the attorney aware of your belief when the lawyer reminds you that, should you fail to grant this approval, they will sue you personally as well as the City. Furthermore, he reminds you that in the not too distant past, they sued the City over another development issue. The City Council was not interested in going to Court, at least on that issue, and readily agreed to the terms of a settlement proposed by the applicant. What would you say to the attorney and why?

The deadline for the receipt of information for the Planning Commission packet was yesterday. One of the local engineering firms drops by with a revised master plan and asks to have it added to the Planning Commission agenda. You consider this firm to be highly reputable and you know that in general they do not make this kind of request. You know that making an exception for one might trigger a request for an exception for all. You also know that the City of San Marcos is highly committed to good customer service. What do you do and why?

A local developer's secretary drops by with an impressive basket of cookies for the Planning Department. The cookies are placed in a central work area and shared by everyone. She returns to her car to collect another box which she brings directly to your office bypassing the front counter staff. In the box, which is addressed to you, you find a large honey baked ham. You estimate the cost to be at least forty to fifty dollars. What do you do and why?

You receive a call from the City&#8217;s Building Official. He is under a lot of pressure to issue a building permit to one of the City&#8217;s major employers. The information submitted by the applicant does not include the necessary information about landscaping. Usually these permits are reviewed by one of the planners for adherence to zoning, landscaping, appropriate parking lot design, etc. For reasons unclear to you, it does not seem that any planning staff review occurred on a timely basis. What issues are of concern to you and how would you propose to move forward and why?
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Can't thank you enough for putting this up. Turned out to be timely and extremely good content. Thanks.


Wow Suburb Repairman! What an excellent collection of questions to use to prepare for an interview! You put a lot of thought into this. Thank you!



I feel like I might need to brush up on my planning knowledge just in case someone actually calls for an interview!


I got through my interview ok, but I have a feeling I'm not what they're looking for. Not enough experience managing other planners.

So here are some questions for a Planning Manager position:

Usual tell me about your experience and why do you want this job.
What excites you as a planner?
What frustrates you as a planner? (I'll have to get a better answer for this one - I didn't like mine)
What is the role of planning in government?
Describe your experience training professional planners?
What is you work environment?
How would you build rapport with the new staff?
How have you handled a difficult problem?
What is something you have innovated?
What do you want to do that you can't do at your current job? (I'll need a better answer for that one too - I never really thought about it)
Then I had a follow up question on my plan to manage professional planners since I don't have direct experience in the area.


Here's a line of questions for a senior planner interview if it helps anyone:

1. Describe effective communication.
2. Explain what customer service means and what is your philosophy.
3. What inspires you.
4. Give 3 tips for people to succeed in planning, meeting deadlines, and accountability.
5. Describe a time you analayzed something and made a recommendation. What was your thought process and what were the results.
6. Describe a time you disagreed with your supervisor. What was your approach and what were the results.
7. How did you handle a work related setback.
8. Tell me about a time you had a conflict with an individual.
Here are some questions (paraphrased!) from a mid-level planner interview I attended:

- Describe an example of when you dealt with a customer who has received incorrect zoning information and how you handled it.
- Describe a project with complicated zoning issues and deadlines, and explain how you manage those deadlines.
- How do you present zoning information about a project to lay people? (Based on how they reacted to my answer, I could tell that in addition to talking about your communication style, they wanted to know what presentation materials you prepared.)
- Describe an example of how you handled a delay on a project.