We’ve looked at some great places to work in the Federal government. We’ve look at great places for Baby Boomers. Now, imagine you have your interview at one of your own top three agencies. It’s show time.

Inevitably, the interviewer will ask, “So, what would you like to know about us?” If you haven’t thought about that question ahead of time, you may be in trouble. Telling the interviewer that you really don’t have any questions about the company dooms you. If you’ve only thought about how to ask something that sounds impressive for the sake of being impressive, that’s transparent and you’re still doomed.

The ideal question is one that is genuine, that might make the interviewer pause and think about something valid, one that clearly reveals something important about your work ethic, and one that gives you some information that could help you with your decision about accepting or rejecting an offer.

PERFECT QUESTIONS

You can devise some rather perfect questions that go to the heart of what Federal managers are finding important these days in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS). Remember, the FEVS “measures employees’ perceptions of whether, and to what extent, conditions characterizing successful organizations are present in their agencies.” The questions nearly half a million Federal employees answered, that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) asked, are right there in FEVS’ Appendix B, and with FEVS, you already know how employees rated the agency where you’re interviewing.

You already know how well an agency performed on the Employee Engagement Index (EEI), so you can use that information to frame your questions. If the agency did well in a particular area, acknowledge that success, and then ask how the organization plans to maintain or do even better? If the agency didn’t do so well, acknowledge that, too, and then ask about their plans to do improve. You could even suggest you’d like to be a part of the solution. Whatever the question you’d like to ask about the organization, if the question is rooted in FEVS, you have some excellence open source intelligence background into the heartbeat of the agency.

A RANGE OF POSSIBILITIES

FEVS offers six specific topics worth asking an interviewer about. Employees responded to questions about their work experience, about their impressions of the agency’s workforce, about work-life programs, about supervisors, about leaders, and personal satisfaction related to training, policy, recognition, and promotion. And remember, for each of these areas, you already have some insight into both the status quo and trends—FEVS itself reports trends, and there are nearly ten years of old reports available, too, if you’d like to do some of your own analysis.

If you’d like to know something about the kind of work experience you can expect, you might reasonably ask, “Could you talk with me about how supervisors tie performance appraisals to actual employee performance and, then, how performance can directly impact promotion?”

If you seriously want to work somewhere you can have a positive impact, you could ask about how managers are tying organizational goals and priorities and outcomes to performance appraisals.

And if you believe flexibility in the workplace is fundamental to a pleasant work experience, tee up a questions about work-life experience—ask about telework, childcare, health and wellness programs, or any number of other related topics.

DEPTH OF KNOWLEDGE

Tactfully demonstrating to the interviewer that you know what his or her agency is about, that you genuinely want to be a part of organizational success or a bright future, and that you are interested in the interviewer’s own responses will set you apart, way apart from the guy who says, “Well, I don’t really have any questions. I’d just really like to work here.”

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.
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