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Have you ever wondered why your classmate landed the job of her dreams and you’re sitting there depressed about having bombed your recent interview? Well, it’s happened to many of us, and chance are it will happen to you at some point. Try not to despair and don’t beat yourself up.

As with many things in life, preparation is key. We see how much work elite athletes do to stay “on top of their game”. In preparing for interviews, we should emulate elite athletes and practice, practice, practice, and keep practicing until we are doing the best possible job we can do. We will do a better job handling interview questions when we practice them.

Anticipate getting some of the following questions during an interview:

  1. Why do you want to work here? For this one, you’ll need to make sure to do your research about the organization. Check out the organization’s website and recent news coverage about it.
  2. Why do you think you are a fit to work here? Again, as with the prior question, you’ll need to do some research about the organization and craft your answer accordingly to show that you’re a fit for the organization.
  3. Tell me what you know about this organization? Yes, again, you’ll need to do the research about the organization. Too many job candidates fail to do basic research about the organization. Those who do the research will stand out.
  4. What is the most recent book you’ve read? This isn’t a trick question. Just make sure to have the name of a book you’ve read recently and be prepared to talk a little about it. When possible, try to show some humor or how your reading might relate to either the person you’re talking to or to the organization.
  5. What tasks do you do well and what tasks do you find challenging? This is the time to really focus on what you do well and show some enthusiasm and passion for working.
  6. Tell me about yourself? Yes, they’ve usually read your resume in advance, so try to come up with some information about yourself that is positive and shows your interests.
  7. Where do you see yourself in five years? This question is really old and can seem annoying. Just say you’d like to grow in the current role you’re interviewing about. You want to learn as much as possible.
  8. Tell me about an experience where you successfully responded to a question, dealt with a rude client, had to tell your boss some unpleasant news? These types of questions are designed to see how well you can relate your experiences to your work and they do take some practice. For these, you might want to role play with a friend or family member to be able to come up with believable answers.
  9. What did you learn in your coursework that you think would help you to do this job? At a recent Capitol Hill lunch, one of our Hill alums did the best job I’ve seen on someone weaving a discussion of their coursework into her job role. This question will take some time to think about. Start by recording all of the courses you’ve taken and then think about what you learned that would be applicable in a job.

Fortunately, there are several resources available online to help you prepare for interviews. You can watch sample You Tube interviews, you can go to for interview tips - and you can explore other career sites such as Glassdoor -

In addition to anticipating and practicing answers to some potential interview questions, make sure to put your best self forward in the interview. Dress to impress. Show interest in the job, don’t come across as a “know-it-all”, be yourself, and show your appreciation to the interviewer. Good luck, and practice, practice, practice.

Margaret “Mag” Gottlieb is the Career Director at the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University. Connect with Mag via email at and on LinkedIn at

Hi y’all, Zach Barnes here. Growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, my father instilled in me a love for American history, and politics just kind of clicked for me while taking AP Government in high school. I am a 2014 graduate of Wofford College with a degree in Government, and I do what I can to catch every Terrier game during college basketball season.

Following graduation, I spent about two years working on Republican political campaigns in Ohio and South Carolina, before making my way to DC about two and a half years ago. I knew that I wanted to continue my education, and GSPM offered the opportunity to earn a master’s degree at night while picking up skills and connections that I could take to work the next day to advance my career.

When I started work on the Hill, I did what we all do – I grabbed coffees with my peers and with any senior staffer willing to sit down with me. I quickly realized that in the eight years prior to 2017, Republican staffers really only had the opportunity to gain Legislative Branch experience. During the Obama Administration, an entire branch of government was kind of closed off from Republican staffers. One connection led to another and I found an opportunity to work in a Cabinet agency. I jumped at the opportunity, if for no other reason than to add a bit of diversity to my government experience. Well, that and the fact that Executive Branch hours and pay are an improvement!

My work now still revolves around Congress. At the moment, I serve as the primary point of contact for about 180 House and Senate offices, in addition to pinch hitting on coverage for state and local elected officials on the Intergovernmental Relations side of our team. While covering those offices requires a firm grasp on a wide swath of HUD’s policies and programs, I’ve had the opportunity to step up and take ownership of HUD’s engagements with the Hill on topics such as carbon monoxide and disaster recovery, which I didn’t even realize HUD did! It’s been incredibly rewarding – at HUD, I’ve worked on policy and been in the room with Secretary Carson as he’s briefed Members of Congress on decisions that have a positive impact on the communities that I have called home.

Working in the Executive Branch has enabled me to specialize in a more narrow policy area than I would be able to on the Hill, where I covered what felt like 50 topics in my House Legislative Assistant portfolio. I think that the experience is complementary – I’ll be able to take the in-depth policy knowledge and the perspective of how Executive Branch agencies actually implement legislation with me should I eventually return to the Hill.

Ultimately, GSPM has given me a significant leg up through each of my career transitions. While on the Hill, I took “Advanced Legislative Procedure” with Professor Martin Gold, which gave me the tools to punch above my weight class, so to speak, during fights over amendments to the few “must-pass” bills the House pushed out in the 115th Congress. Taking “Executive-Legislative Branch Relations” with Professor Fisher in the summer of 2018 forced me to assess the successes and failures of the Congressional outreach efforts of past Presidential Administrations as I was making my transition into an Executive Branch congressional relations shop. While I still had a lot to learn on the job, knowing what to avoid doing during those first few weeks was invaluable, both in terms of saving time, and in building relationships. Courses like “Parties and Elections” with Congressman Martin Frost and “Managing a Congressional Office” with Professor Mark Strand have prepared me for an eventual return to Congress, should my career take that path.

So, knowing all of that, how could I not become a GSPM Ambassador? GSPM provided me with opportunities to learn from some of the best political practitioners in Washington, to get to know some of the brightest young operatives on both sides of the aisle, and gave me the tools that made me better at my job! As a GSPM Ambassador, I’ve been able to share my experience with prospective students, and I’d like to think I’ve done a pretty good job! It seems like each semester, I found myself working on a group project with a student who I’d met for coffee when they were exploring the program just a few months ago. Now that I’ve finished my final semester, I think I’ll miss seeing that transition from prospective to current student the most.

Zach Barnes is a 2019 graduate of the GSPM Legislative Affairs master's program. He is currently an advisor at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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