How to Prepare for an Oral Exam
What is an Oral Exam?
The Oral Exam, also known as an oral board, structured interview, qualifications appraisal interview or technical interview, is the most commonly used assessment procedure. An oral exam is designed to predict future job performance on the basis of applicants’ oral responses to structured questions. You can expect to be asked job-related questions by an exam panel, often consisting of at least two people. The panel may include experts in the field for which you are applying, and/or a Human Resources representative.
Oral Exams generally last about 30 to 60 minutes. During this process, the exam panel will ask you and all the other candidates the same set of structured job-related questions. At the completion of your exam, the raters will evaluate your responses and behavior during the exam relative to preconstructed rating standards. After all candidates have been scored, the panel is “debriefed” by CEO staff and ratings are reviewed. At this time, candidates are considered in relation to one another, and adjustments may be made to the scores made throughout the day. When multiple panels are used, variations across panels (if any) are discussed, and ratings may be adjusted based upon clarification of the rating standards.
Oral Exam Panels
Oral Exam panel members must qualify for their roles by having relevant training and expertise in content areas to be assessed, and they must have no prior relationship with a candidate that may influence their assessments. With some exceptions, exam panels will consist of a minimum of two raters. Often, three raters are scheduled to allow for panel members to excuse themselves if they feel they cannot impartially assess a candidate. If this is the case, the remaining two raters constitute a complete and valid interview panel. If a minimum of two raters are not available to conduct your exam, you may be rescheduled, and/or your exam may be video-recorded and assessed at a later time by a qualified panel.
Types of Oral Exam (Interview) Questions
|Type of Question||Summary||Example(s)|
|Situational Interview Questions||A situational question focuses on what a candidate would do in a particular situation. These questions are based upon goal setting theory, which assumes that intentions are related to actual behavior.||Suppose you are hired as an Office Manager and your first task is to prepare a system to categorize requests for information to ensure they are received, tracked and processed in a timely manner. What steps would you take to create such a system, who would you involve, and what would it look like?|
|Behavior Description Interview Questions||A behavior description question focuses on what a candidate has done in a particular situation. These questions are based upon the premise that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.||Describe a time you provided great customer service that went above and beyond expectations. In your response, be sure to explain the situation, your specific role, and the outcome.|
|Technical or Job Knowledge Questions||When one uses technical questions, candidates are asked questions in which answers require the demonstration of job knowledge.||Explain the essential components of an efficient system of internal controls.|
|Background Interview Questions||These questions focus on the candidate’s background in terms of previous experience, education, training, licenses, certificates, other qualifications and work history.||Describe your education and experience as it relates to the position.
Describe your experience making HVAC fittings.
How do I prepare for the Oral Exam?
- Find out about the department or agency. Find out as much as you can about the department in which the vacancies exist. This will show that you have initiative, are truly interested in the work the organization does, and understand the services it provides. This information will be useful throughout the selection process by helping you to see the relevance of some of the questions and to enable you to frame your responses to be most relevant to the needs of the organization.
- Review the position requirements from the Job Bulletin. The position requirements provide a detailed description of the job requirements of the position for which you are applying. The questions will likely be related to the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform the job.
- Think about types of questions you may be asked at the interview (Refer to Types of Interview Questions Above). Candidates may be asked questions related to their past work experience. For example, “Tell us about your experience and background that has prepared you for this position.” Be aware of what areas will be assessed. You can find that information in the recruitment bulletin and in the job description available through the County website. Make sure that you have reviewed your application prior to your Oral Exam appointment and that you are ready to answer any questions about your career background.
- Leverage the STAR Technique. A growing body of research has demonstrated that this technique facilitates enhanced performance. You may read more about it here.
- Practice, Practice, & Practice. Find a person to assist you in preparing responses to questions you anticipate being asked. At a minimum, rehearse the responses in your head so you are prepared to present your background and qualifications.
During the Oral Exam…
- Responses to the questions should be organized and complete. Keep in mind that the raters have no prior knowledge of your capabilities and cannot read your mind or draw conclusions based on vague or general statements about your accomplishments or capabilities.
- Responses should be focused and succinct. Keep in mind that you and the raters have limited time to cover several areas in the Oral Exam. Rambling or repetitive responses (maybe due to nervousness) will affect the time budget of the process and tend to create a negative impression of your communication skills.
- If you do not understand a question, ask the panel members to repeat the question. However, for the sake of consistency, the raters are limited in the extent to which they can re-word or re-state the question.
- Some Oral Exams may provide the candidate with a printed list of questions (usually placed on the interview table for your reference during the interview.) If the questions are available, be sure to refer to them to help you remember the questions and to help you pace answers so you can answer all of them with a minimum of repetition.
- You will present your qualifications in the best way if you provide specific examples of your experience which relates to each question. For example, to answer questions regarding your ability to get along well with others, responses such as: “I always get along with everyone”, or “Everyone likes me”, do not provide the raters with sufficient information. Cite examples of how you have handled difficult situations.
- When necessary, pause briefly and think before you answer. You can sometimes get a little room to think by rehearsing some lead-in statements to your response, such as: “That’s a good question, and I know the importance of that topic in… [organizing my day, approaching a project, motivating a team, handling a complaint, etc.] Let me give you… [my approach, the steps I would take, a good example, etc.] Of course, don’t overuse this device or use it at all if it doesn’t come naturally to you. Nevertheless, practicing this type of dialogue with someone before the interview will help and may also help reduce some of the nervousness you may have during the interview.
- Provide only information that is related to the qualifications of the job. Do not volunteer unrelated information such as marital status, religion, health conditions, hobbies, views on news and current events, etc. Make eye contact, smile appropriately, and speak in a friendly yet professional manner.
- Be well-groomed and dress for a business situation, not a casual or social event, or a club or party. Take your cue from the type of attire that would be worn on the job and raise it a notch. If you are not sure, ask the analyst conducting the examination.
Most important, be honest and be yourself. GOOD LUCK!