Interview Overview and FAQ

Basics of Interviewing with the Government of Canada

  • Come prepared with examples in mind of your past experiences that best represent your knowledge, skills and abilities that relate to the position you are interviewing for.  
  • Interviews are “Merit Based” in the Federal Government. Meaning you are assessed on how your experience best fits the requirements of the positions Statement of Merit Criteria.
  • All interviews differ across departments. Processes follow a similar structure but the order of screening/assessment events and questions asked of you in the interview may be different from those in another Government of Canada department or position.
  • Ask for clarification on a question or for it to be restated if needed before answering to ensure you are fully answering the question.
  • Know Behavioral vs. Situational Questions. Behavioral questions enable candidates to explain their specific actions taken in a particular situation:  something that you have already done – a past experience. Situational questions require you to respond to how you would handle a particular situation:  something you may not have actually done – a future scenario.
  • Use the STAR method. To fully answer questions give interviewers context of the Situation, Task, Action and Result that directly relates to the
  • Use “I” statements to give as much context to your own behavior and focus on what you did, not the “we” commonly used when talking about a team.
  • Understand the competency being evaluated.  The Public Service Commission has published lists of common competencies for most postings and Key Leadership Competencies for managers to executive levels. Competencies being evaluated will be listed on the Statement of Merit Criteria on the application.
  • Additional testing may be required at any point of the selection process.
  • Security clearance is required for all Government of Canada employees. Security level required depends on the position.

The Interview Process

The content that follows should be used as a guide only.

Accommodation during assessment

During the assessment stage of the selection process, accommodation is designed to remove obstacles that are presented by the method of testing, without modifying the nature or level of the qualification that is being evaluated. Accommodation can include such things as provision of sign language interpreters, information in alternative formats, reader services, technical support or attendant services.  Accommodation needs to be requested prior to the administration of assessments by contacting the hiring department.  For additional information, please consult the hiring department, the Public Service Commission or the Treasury Board policy.

How will I be contacted if I am selected for an interview?

Most likely you will receive an email to attend an interview either in-person or over the phone. This invitation this could come from an administrative assistant, the manager, or someone else. Be sure to read the email thoroughly and ask about anything that is unclear.

Interview Panel and Structure

The composition of the interview panel will vary, but generally it is comprised of two or more people. They may be the supervisor or manager of the position being filled, human resources representatives, clients, or others.

Interview Length

On average, interviews are 30 to 60 minutes in length.  Simulations may be longer.

Interview Preparation

Sometimes the hiring department will provide candidates with the interview questions immediately prior to the interview to enable candidates to prepare their responses. There is no legislation or policy that requires candidates to be given preparation time. Just be aware that sometimes it is provided and at other times it is not.  If you are provided with preparation time before the interview, best practice is to first skim the questions.  Then, in point-form, jot-down the points you wish to cover in the interview.  During the interview you will be permitted to refer to your notes. After the interview, you will be requested to turn in your notes to the interview panel. 

Interview panel note taking

In order to ensure a thorough and comprehensive assessment, the interview panel will usually take notes. Consequently, eye contact will be minimal, but rest assured, the panel is listening to your responses.

Seeking clarification about a question during the interview

If during the interview you need to have a question repeated, you can ask the interview panel to do so. However, to ensure fairness and consistency throughout all interviews it is uncommon for interview panels to rephrase or give examples of possible responses to interview questions.  If you are “stuck” on a question, ask if you can move on to the next question and come back to the question you are stuck on.

Interview question types

There are different types of questions you could be asked in an interview.  Typically, they are categorized into closed-ended, open-ended, behavioural, and situational questions.

Closed-ended questions require simple, informational answers, and sometimes just a yes or no. These questions can help the interview panel quickly gain factual information. For example, "How many years did you work for your last employer?"

Open-ended questions are those that do not have specific direction and cannot be answered by "yes" or "no".  Open-ended questions require thought and require the candidate to reveal attitudes or opinions. Examples of open-ended question are "Tell me about yourself?", “What interests you about this position?”, “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?”

Behavioural questions focus on your past performance as they are intended to measure past behaviors as a potential predictor of future results. Behavioral questions enable candidates to explain their specific actions taken in a particular situation.  To respond to behavioural questions, consider examples of work you did and try using the STAR method below when responding. An example of a behavioural question is "Can you give an example of how you dealt with a difficult client in the past? What was the situation? What did you do? What was the outcome?" 

Situational or hypothetical questions require you to respond to a situation or scenario so the interview panel can determine how you would handle a particular situation.  For example, “What would you do if you realized at deadline time that a report you wrote for your supervisor was not up to par?”

Responding to questions

Although it is natural to be nervous, try to relax. Keep in mind that the interview panel is not trying to trick you with their questions. Their goal is to learn more about you and what you have to offer. They want you to do well.

  • Be aware of your body language.
  • Be honest. The interview panel may ask your references to verify the experiences you have shared.
  • Speak normally, clearly and concisely.
  • Give as much context to your own behavior and focus on what you did, not only your overall department or team success.
  • When explaining your examples include background details such as where you were working and what your role was.
  • Use "I" statements and not "we" statements as the interview panel wants to know what you did; not what others did.
  • Try to use different examples for each question and always keep in mind which competency is addressed in preparing your response.

Will all questions be job specific or will there be some personal questions?

Questions asked during the interview should relate directly to the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies identified in the Statement of Merit Criteria. If there are personal questions they will be only used as an icebreaker question and should not factor into your assessment.

Is oral communication assessed during the interview?

It is common for the interview panel to assess oral communication skills during the interview. Oral communication usually assesses the following: actively listens and seeks a comprehensive understanding of the issue under discussion; communicates clearly, concisely and transparently; distinguishes between essential and non-essential details; and is adept at tailoring their communications to meet the needs of their audience.

How many interviews will I have?

There is usually only one interview. However, hiring departments may conduct pre and / or post interviews. Interviews may be conducted via phone, video-conference, and/or in-person.

How should interview questions be answered (short vs. long answer)

The type of answer (short or long) depends on the type of question. Your response should be long enough to enable the interview panel to complete their assessment and address all parts of the question.

When do I need to provide references?

References will normally be requested at the end of an interview process, and occasionally during the application process. 

What is the timeline to hear back about my results?

This timeline can vary depending on type and number of assessments being conducted, as well as number of applicants being assessed. You can check your application status on the application portal, or the hiring department may follow up by email.

Can I ask for feedback if I am screened-out?

If you are screened-out of the process you can ask for feedback on your interview; however, providing feedback for students or external processes is not a government requirement. It is only required for internal processes.