Jump to content
The Wifcon Forums and Blogs

AZBuman

Interview Guidance

Recommended Posts

Good morning everyone.  I posted a while back about either staying in the Army or getting out.  After a lot of talk with the family and soul searching I believe it is time for me to move on from the Army.  I've learned a lot there, but I feel more drawn to contracting than to doing "Army things."  If I cannot put my heart and soul in the Army then someone who can should take my place. But I digress

Tomorrow I have my first interview for an 1102 position.  It is a GS11grade non-supervisory contract specialist position with a DoD agency.  I have not done an interview in about 15 years so I am a little nervous.  My question is does anyone have any wisdom to share on the interview process.  It will be a telephonic interview.  I've googled "contracting officer interview questions" and found a lot of information, and a couple threads here on this forum.  Has anyone recently been through an interview and have any best practices to share.  Thank you all in advance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just recently interviewed for a new job, but it is an 1101 vs. 1102 position. The job title is "Contracts Advisor". I will say, based on my experience, the interview process appears to be largely dependent on the agency you are interviewing with. This was my third interview for a government job, and the interview was very much different than the first 2 interviews I went through. Past interviews contained a lot of questions about things directly relevant to the jobs I was interviewing for; e.g. a lot of questions about contracting. This most recent interview contained very few questions like that, and a lot of "general" type questions. Some examples were: 1) What accomplishment during your professional career are you most proud of, 2) What makes a good work environment, 3) Tell me something about yourself that is not reflected in your resume, 4) Give me some examples of when you were involved with a team, and the outcomes achieved.  What I did a few days before my interview was to google "government job interview tips", and got some tips that way. My interview was also a phone interview with a panel of 5 people who each had 3 questions. Picking up tips from google helped in that it made me anticipate an interview process that was potentially different than those I had previously experienced. It also made me try to anticipate some of the "non-technical" type questions I may be asked, and allowed me to make notes of things I wanted to discuss during the interview. In the end I did not anticipate most of the questions asked, but having notes did allow me to weave some of my information into answers for some of the questions that were asked. Having the interview conducted via telephone was beneficial to me as I was able to spread my notes out in front of me while the interview was going on.

One thing I picked up on google was that most people think they did not do well on the interview after it was over. That was true in my case as well. The interview was allotted an hour, and was finished in 20 minutes. After it was over I thought of a lot of things I should have said, but didn't. I thought I blew it, but got a phone call a few days later telling me that I got the job.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for your input.  Those are some of the questions that I have been pondering and what I normally find to be the hardest to answer during an interview.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You will almost certainly get at least one question on customer service, and that question will probably have a significant impact on the interview outcome. Think about how you define customer service in a contracting context, and a situation from your past that would be a strong indicator of your customer service abilities. (Leadership cares a lot about customer service because it's what makes them look good to their superiors.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

FrankJon thank you for your input.  That is one area that I have been looking at.  I spent 3 years as an Army Recruiter and I think that has helped me with customer service.  Being in a sales environment is a much different pace of work than contracting.  I am trying to tie that into my contracting experience.  Unfortunately, I feel like I don't have a large amount of practical knowledge even though I am level II certified.  Most of my contracting work, up until last month, has been FAR Part 13 contracting and below the SAT.  That is one of the main reasons I want to move on from the Army.   In 5-7 years I would like to be working on much more in-depth contract actions.  I want to increase my contracting knowledge beyond just what I've read.  Thank you again.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, Gordon Shumway said:

"Walk me through a source selection..."

 

Would you accept an answer that walked you through any acquisition processes and techniques that produced source selection information and is intended to result in the selection of a source?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Jamaal Valentine said:

Would you accept an answer that walked you through any acquisition processes and techniques that produced source selection information and is intended to result in the selection of a source?

Jamaal - That's an interesting point. In my experience with DOD management and leadership, "source selection" has a very specific meaning: trade-offs using FAR 15 procedures. I say that's an overly-restrictive interpretation, and one that over-emphasizes the importance of FAR 15 procedures.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Jamaal Valentine Yep, it's up to you on how you choose to answer.

That's the beauty of the question, it's wide open. Like a case interview for consulting, it allows the interviewer to assess your thought process.

I will evaluate what you say and how you say it, as well as what you do not talk about.

Side note: I actually had this question asked in an interview. It was for a USAID/OPIC/Millennium Challenge Corporation type of agency with a very small contracting shop, where I was applying for the lead role. My interview panel was populated by 1 person from the program office, 1 person from finance, and 2 people from legal. Seeing as how their knowledge of the contracting process was limited (they confirmed this assumption during our pre-interview small talk) I kept my answer pretty high level. I also did extensive research on the agency and had a good idea of what they procured and how, thus tailored my answer to incorporate that information. No need to nerd out on the design-bid-build process if the contracting shop buys everything off of Schedule 70.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm with Gordon -- I like open-ended questions.  But remember, after a source selection is completed, the information is no longer source selection information -- the information might be privileged from disclosure for other reasons, but not for source selection information reasons.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, Gordon Shumway said:

Walk me through a source selection..."

 

5 hours ago, Jamaal Valentine said:

Would you accept an answer that walked you through any acquisition processes and techniques that produced source selection information and is intended to result in the selection of a source?

 

7 minutes ago, Gordon Shumway said:

Yep, it's up to you on how you choose to answer.

That's the beauty of the question, it's wide open. Like a case interview for consulting, it allows the interviewer to assess your thought process.

I will evaluate what you say and how you say it, as well as what you do not talk about.

"Source selection" is the title of FAR Subpart 15.3. Although that term appears in 49 places in FAR, it does not appear in FAR Parts 8, 13, 14, or 16. It appears once in Part 36.601-3, which says not to use source selection procedures when choosing architect-engineer contractors.  If I were an interviewer and asked, "Walk me through a source selection," I would not expect a knowledgeable person to talk about any process other than one of the competitive processes prescribed by FAR Part 15. I would not expect a knowledgeable person to consider the question to be "wide open" to any interpretation. Anyone responding to Gordon's question who walked me though a process under FAR Part 8, 13, or 14 or FAR 16.505 would fail my interview.

53 minutes ago, FrankJon said:

In my experience with DOD management and leadership, "source selection" has a very specific meaning: trade-offs using FAR 15 procedures.

"Source selection" includes both LPTA and tradeoff processes, and various combinations of the two.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Vern Edwards touche Mr. Edwards, I crush people who misuse terminology, as precision is key in contracting. How about, "walk me through the process from requirement definition to award decision..."

To my side note above, the question was "walk me through a source selection" and I did answer with the FAR Part 15 process.

A side note to my side note, I just had a slight panic attack thinking about sitting down for an interview and seeing Mr. Edwards sitting across the table...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
32 minutes ago, Gordon Shumway said:

I crush people who misuse terminology, as precision is key in contracting.

But "source selection" is not defined in the FAR, so is it really a misuse of terminology, or is a term to describe quite literally the act of selecting one source from among several? It may just be a term that requires clarification depending on the individual you're speaking to.

FAR 15.100 - Source Selection Processes and Techniques states: "This subpart describes some of the acquisition processes and techniques that may be used to design competitive acquisition strategies suitable for the specific circumstances of the acquisition." Since these "source selection processes and techniques" are broadly available regardless of which procedures are used, it makes sense to me that any time you use them, that process can be classified as a source selection.

Here is what DAU says: "The term "source selection" is used for referring to acquisitions awarded according to Federal Acquisition Regulation Parts 13 (Simplified Acquisition), 14 (Sealed Bidding), or 15 (Contracting by Negotiation). However, it is most commonly used specifically for FAR Part 15 acquisitions." I would argue that this definition is still too restrictive, as it should include 8.4 and 16.5.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Because words often come with associated baggage, I will never use "source selection" to describe the FAR 8.4 or 16.505 ordering processes, or the FAR Part 13 simplified acquisitions processes, or the Part 14 sealed bidding processes, or any other process outside FAR Subpart 15.3, Source Selection.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Keep in mind that many interviewers today use "performance based questions" (yes, the hair on the back of my neck stood up when I heard that title) where instead of asking you a question like, "Walk me through source selection", what will be asked is something like...  "Tell me about a time when you used source selection procedures on a large contract.  What was that contract for and what processes did you use to accomplish the work".  The idea behind this is to not only find out what you have done, but to get an indication of what you will do in the future.  So if you're the nervous type jot down some large or unique acquisitions you've done so they are fresh in your mind in case you are asked question of this nature.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When I conducted interviews I never wanted to test the interviewee's knowledge. I didn't care what they knew or thought they knew, because I was going to retrain them. I wanted to know about the person and whether they were likely to fit in and live up to my expectations. Are they smart? Are they curious?

My favorite questions:

  1. Name your ten favorite books. (People who read well can probably write well.)
  2. What is your favorite television show? Why?
  3. What's your favorite science (such as physics, botany, biology, chemistry, astronomy, entomology)? Why?
  4. What college class was your least favorite? Why?
  5. What's your favorite sport to watch? Why?
  6. (If they served in the military) What was the funniest thing that happened to you in the service?
  7. What was the worst job you ever had? Why was it the worst?
  8. What was the toughest intellectual challenge you've ever had? What made it tough?
  9. What is your favorite wild animal? Why?
  10. If you had to choose one of the following jobs, which would it be? Why?
  • forensic accountant
  • construction project manager
  • community organizer
  • newspaper reporter
  • college librarian

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you want to set yourself apart, research the place you are applying for by finding slides or info on that contracting office by searching the web and then use FBO to look up current and archived FBO notices to see the type of work they do. A lot of people are just applying these days without knowing much about the office they are applying for. 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've thought quite a bit about how it seems this interview/hiring process is best described as a concerted effort at discovering the "best fit" as Vern indicates above. For the interviewee, having the "right answers" to the most frequently asked interview questions might help you get you in the door, but on that score, it may leave you  and/or your employer soon feeling that you don't belong there.  So, you may want to make a practice on the job and in and out of interviews of being diligent, interested and letting your character and apptitudes show in addition to the experience that already shows in your resume. 

Additionally, strange as it may sound, I believe we can cheat our own self if we are feel too casual and don't act the part, so I would probably dress as I do for any interview (that means a suit and tie for me) even though it takes place over the phone.  

Edited by FAR-flung 1102
To cite Vern's comment above.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The best and only advice I can give is: Be yourself. Answer questions thoughtfully and truthfully, and let the chips fall where they may.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Vern Edwards Where did you get question #10 from? I assume what you chose says something about your personality? I'd pick construction project manager for sure... steel toe boots and 711 taquitos all day!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The choice might give me some insight into personality. If a woman were to say she wanted to be a construction project manager, I'd probably hire her on the spot. But librarian and forensic accountant suggest a reasoning, research-inclined, categorizing, and informative person. A would-be community organizer might be a great negotiator. Newspaper reporter suggests a persistent inquirer, maybe a good cost analyst.

It might be that the most important part of the response is the Why? part of the question. Was the answer based on any kind of reasoning or was it just a spontaneous off the cuff reaction? Can the interviewee explain their choice in a way that makes me understand it?

The question is supposed to be unexpected, surprising, and I want to see how they handle it. Are they completely thrown off and befuddled or intrigued and thoughtful? Do they seem to be trying to figure out what I want to hear? Do they ask if they are strictly limited to those choices? Will they say None of the above?

Amateur psychology, I suppose, but the reaction and response is hopefully more interesting and revealing than the response to What's been your greatest accomplishment?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×