I Interviewed for a Gig in the Private Sector. Here’s What the Public Sector Can Learn.

Posted on November 26, 2020


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The hiring process in the public sector is (can be) notoriously awful. One of the first jobs I applied to after graduate school had a very long online application process, followed by a month of silence, a shotgun interview, more months of silence, and finally an email offering me the job (yay!) The whole thing took about 6 months to complete. Fortunately for me, it led to one of the most fulfilling jobs of my career, one with lessons learned I still use today.

In early 2020, I received a seemingly suspicious email in my inbox from a tech company about a job. Why was a tech company emailing me? That’s weird. That’s suspicious. I didn’t think I was at all what they were looking for and I told them as much. I even Googled the guy to make sure it was legit. The next day I had a quick 30-minute phone interview at the end of which I sent them the names of several other people they should be talking to instead. They called me back and asked for my resume. I sent them my resume and the resumes of others who I felt would be more qualified. Rinse and repeat. Within a couple of weeks, I had somehow moved along in the process, had several phone and Zoom interviews, and was booked a flight to the west coast.


Alas, COVID had other plans and the trip was abruptly canceled and replaced with a virtual set-up. During my final interview, my 5 year old son popped in and informed a VP of his name and several embarrassing facts that I thought would either seal the deal or immediately eliminate me from the process. The latter prevailed (along with several other qualifications as to why I wasn’t a good fit) and that was that. But the learnings from that experience, and how enjoyable it was, live rent free in my mind.

Keep it short and sweet. All in all, the process took no more than a few short weeks. It was glorious, a welcome change of pace. I never felt like my time was wasted and there was a lot less bs.

Nix the online form application. Do we really need these? If I can pull the exact same information off of your resume or LinkedIn, I don’t need it in a third spot.

Get a relevant writing sample. Not only will this show you that the candidate can write a complete sentence, but it will also give you a taste of what their job performance might look like in the wild. Fast-paced environment? Give them a shorter time frame to complete it and see what happens.

Handle all the things. I simply provided my availability and everything else was taken care of: meeting invites, flights, hotel, transportation, they even had a temporary debit card for my expenses. I have worked places where logistics took months to finalize, even for simple travel requests, because everything – even minor changes – had to go through the governing body. Not only did this make my life much simpler, but it also made me feel like they wanted me there. Plus, they were (likely) able to save some travel costs by booking as quickly as they did.

Talk to people. Learn about life at the organization. What do people like? What don’t they like? Ask bold questions. If it isn’t a fit, you want to know that before you jump all-in. It is okay to say, “no, thanks.” On the flip side, if it is a fit, you’ll feel empowered and excited going into the interview and on your first day.

Get (and give) feedback. I am a feedback junkie. Good, bad, indifferent, TELL ME ALL THE THINGS. Do I have food in my teeth? Tell me. Project sucked wind? Tell me. Negative Nancy? Tell me. How else am I supposed to get better if I don’t know? These conversations are hard, but they are absolutely necessary (and they need to be a regular thing).

Don’t ghost. Ghosting has never been cool, especially now. There are so many amazing, knowledgeable, talented folks looking for work and local government has a bad habit of simply not following up with candidates to let them know they didn’t get the gig and why. It is time we change that.

Be yourself. One thing that made this interview process memorable was the fact that I was 100% myself the whole way through. Part of this was the luxury of having nothing to lose; it had all started from a call I wasn’t expecting to get and I love public service. That said, I completed the process with zero regret, got some much-needed interview practice, and learned a ton.

There is no doubt that some local government processes need to take a bit longer than a few weeks, especially executive-level positions; however, even the majority of executive-level positions I have applied for started off as a resume and a cover letter vs. a full-blown online application with endless attachments. Ask questions. Have conversations. Trust your gut. Do the thing. And hire (or interview for) the next great local gov gig.

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