How You Can Prepare for a Post-MPA-Degree Interview in the Field

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What do you want to do when you graduate with your Master of Public Administration? MPA earners can use their degrees to pursue a wide range of career opportunities, such as executive director of a non-profit organization, consultant, city manager, marketing director, and many more openings. However, you have to get past the interview stage before you can work in these professions.

Here are 5 tips on how to prepare for your upcoming job interviews upon completion of an MPA program.

1. Embrace internships and networking opportunities

The first tip requires some planning while still enrolled in an MPA program. The interview is all about effective communication and presentation, and the candidates who get hired are the ones who know how to best present themselves in the context of the job opportunity.

Not everyone is well-versed in this facet of interviewing, including MPA graduates who are pursuing non-profit or public sector roles that have requirements and expectations different than their private-sector counterparts.

For example, Ohio University MPA student Thomas Raabe explained that he was initially timid around city officials and mayors, prior to joining the Ohio Mayor’s Partnership for Progress consortium as part of his MPA program. Through his work with the partnership, he was challenged to step out of his comfort zone and collaborate with the same city officials and mayors he was once timid of.

“This year working with senior administrators at Ohio University, it’s made me more confident when I’m going into meetings, speaking up and not being just a shy note-taker in the background,” Raabe said. “I’m voicing my opinions, and getting out of my comfort zone really helped me with that.”
This is one example of how a networking and community engagement opportunity helped an MPA student become a better communicator with city officials and mayors. These are the same officials who could one day be conducting a job interview for a coveted position. Seeking internships or other networking opportunities while pursuing an MPA enables you to become more comfortable speaking with leaders in your desired field.

2. Use the CAR Technique

Context, action, results. This is the foundation of the CAR Technique, a popular interview principle among candidates for high-level or executive jobs. Use of the CAR Technique may help set you apart from less-experienced applicants due to its effectiveness in conveying your contributions to previous jobs and what value you present to your potential employer.
That is accomplished via the context, action and results in the name. When asked a question, first provide the context for your answer. This is often why you were required to act. It could be slipping sales figures, a new client, staff turnover or any other problem. Next, address the action you took to solve this problem: hired more employees, revamped training, brought on a new vendor, updated software. Finally, say the results of your action, such as increased sales, a client upsell, employee retention or improved efficiency. Hard statistics are ideal here, as it helps drive home your contributions.

Overall, the CAR Technique can be applied to nearly any question that isn’t a simple yes or no. Better yet, review the job posting beforehand and prepare some CAR responses that directly address job duties, skills or experience, such as “experience managing team of volunteers in the foodservice industry.”

3. Review your social media and online presence

Have you ever typed your name into a search engine and reviewed the results? If not, it is strongly recommended that you do so before interviewing for a job in the public administration sector or its related fields.

Jobs in the public sector, including non-profit and government roles, place a greater emphasis on the character and history of candidates than some private-sector employers do. You don’t have to look much farther than the many news reports of government employees beset by scandal to see why it is important to present an honorable, ethical portrait of yourself to your employer and the public.
This starts with your social media and online presence. A Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook post you thought was humorous or tongue-in-cheek years ago may be used against you in a job interview. Delete any posts that could even be remotely considered offensive or in bad taste before applying for jobs. Enter your name into a search engine to review the results. Do everything in your power to ensure the results are as positive as possible.

On the flip side, take advantage of volunteer or networking opportunities to get your name in the press in a positive light. Potential employers will scan your online presence and run background checks, and it’s a plus if the results turn up volunteer work and other positive news articles. This is then an item you can highlight during the interview.

4. Be ready for job-specific questions

Interview questions can deviate considerably based on the career that you pursue. It’s essential to be prepared to answer these queries from your experience and demonstrate your knowledge of what the position entails.
A non-profit director might be asked the following questions:

      • Can you cite an example when you got your team to go above and beyond in solving a problem?
      • Are you passionate about our mission?
      • How would you help appease an upset donor? Would your response change if that was a small donor or a large donor?

In contrast, those interviewing for a communications director might be asked the following:

      • What is your experience in crisis communications?
      • How do you communicate with different generations in the workplace?
      • How do you ensure that your message is clearly communicated?
      • How do you clean up an organization’s image that has been tarnished?

These types of specific questions will largely hinge on your ability to think on your feet as well as your past experience. Dig into your available skills and ideas to give the best answers possible and reveal your true potential as an asset to the organization, and consider the CAR Technique during your responses.

5. Use MPA resources

Ohio University offers a number of resources for its online MPA graduates to help prepare them for interviews after earning their degrees. Two of the biggest resources are our alumni network and faculty. Alumni are often working in the jobs coveted by current students, so connecting with them prior to graduation can provide a valuable resource during the job search. They can either recommend candidates for roles or provide insight into the hiring process.
Faculty can do the same and should be consulted prior to applying to jobs and throughout the process. Our online MPA program enables students to build skills and put big ideas into action. Our faculty know the field’s obstacles and how to navigate them, providing important resources to MPA students.
Now that you know what you can do to get help during the interview process, connect with an enrollment advisor today to learn how to get started on the path to an online MPA degree from Ohio University.


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KOYA Leadership Partners, “Tips for Surviving a Group Interview”
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The, “How to Prepare for a Government Job Interview”