by Samantha Wagner, director of outreach, ICMA

How would you describe your work ethic? Who is someone you admire in the profession? What are your strengths? If you work for an organization that gives you some of the responsibility for selecting future local government employees, you have probably asked questions like these to identify the best job candidates. But what are the best questions to ask in an interview?

First, before you even begin to ask questions, it's important to note that your interview will be more successful if you put the applicant (and yourself) at ease. Begin by introducing yourself and using the other person's name right away and continue using it during the conversation. Second, make sure that you phrase questions so that they will give you the information that you need. Third, listen carefully by ensuring that there are no interruptions from visits or the telephone. Lastly, write down your observations promptly after the interview while the conversation is still clear in your mind.

To help give you some ideas for the next time you're screening candidates, below is a checklist of the 12 of the best interview questions from the ICMA publication, Effective Supervisory Practices: Better Results Through Teamwork, 5th Edition.

  • Please tell us why you are interested in this position.
  • Please describe how your previous work experience has prepared you for this position. Please be specific.
  • How do you feel your educational background has prepared you for this position?
  • Although we have reviewed your resume and have been briefed on your qualifications, would you tell us a little bit more about your professional background and interests?
  • What are your three main professional goals for the next five to 10 years?
  • What are your biggest work-related accomplishments? Why were you able to attain them?
  • What are your biggest work-related failures? Why did they occur? What have you done to prevent them from recurring?
  • What are the two most difficult problems you have encountered in your previous positions? How did you solve them?
  • What strategies do you use to anticipate problems? Give an example. If a problem arises that you have not anticipated, how are you likely to handle it? Give an example.
  • Can you give an example of creative problem solving from your past work history?
  • Describe your experience in working with citizens from various cultural backgrounds. What approaches have you used to ensure adequate attention is given to the varying needs of these groups?
  • Describe an ethical dilemma you have faced in the workplace. How was it resolved? What was your role in the resolution? What, if anything, would you do differently if you were faced with the same issue again?

Download Printable Checklist for Free

Quick tip: Avoid questions that can be answered by yes or no, such as "Have you ever done this kind of work before?" "Do you think you can do this job?" The chances are that you will get a quick yes in reply. Ask open-ended questions instead: "What skills do you have that would make you the right person for this job?"

Other Links of Note for Job Interviews

25 Tricky Interview Questions and How to Answer Them. While there are no perfect answers, some thought and discussion about potentially tricky interview subjects can help you avoid disaster. Here is a sampling of interview questions that tend to trip up job candidates. 

You Have the Job Interview Scheduled. Now What? Whether you’re just out of college or looking for a position with another organization, landing an interview takes work. Once you’ve earned that interview, you don’t want to mess it up. Here are eight ways to make an interview a success.

Showcasing Yourself to a New Community. When local government managers look for a new position, they can take several steps to present themselves in the best light. Candidates should prepare beforehand for matters that might come up during and even after the interview, when they could potentially be negotiating a contract with a local government.

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