Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Behavioral-Based Interview: Questions for a Budget Analyst
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by Amin Huffington
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Gone are the days when the interviewer would ask a silly questions such as "Where do you see yourself five years from now?" Today's interviewers are using a new tool to find specific information about you: The Behavioral-Based Interview.

Behavioral-Based Interview Overview Behavioral-based interviews focus on discovering how a candidate performed in specific work related situations.  This interview technique seeks to uncover how a potential employee actually did behave in a given situation; not on how he or she might behave in the future.  The premise behind this technique is that a good predictor of future performance is how someone performed in the past in a similar situation.  Behavioral-based interviews are becoming more common throughout industry and government and many candidates are familiar with this technique and are well prepared for these interviews.  Candidates can and should draw on previous work related experiences as well as non-work related experiences (e.g., school projects, community involvement) that are relevant to the interview questions.

A government Budget Analyst should demonstrate experience in the following competencies:

Budget Calculation: Compiles, analyzes and summarizes probable financial income and expenditures over a specific period, as well as allocates funds for a specific purpose within a given time frame

Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:

  1. How have you used program information, financial statements and related information to prepare a budget?
  2. Describe a time when you had to calculate and recommend a budget for your organization for a specific purpose within a given time frame.  What type of budget did you establish and what guidelines did you follow?
  3. Describe a situation in which you had to apply the appropriate budgeting strategy for a specific purpose.  How did you determine which strategy to use?  What was the outcome?
Key behaviors they will be looking for:

  • Discusses the purposes and benefits of budgeting
  • Explains the planning and control functions of revenue budgeting
  • Applies strategies to analyze financial statements and uses related information in budget preparation
  • Uses guidelines for establishing effective budget objectives
  • Demonstrates knowledge of various types of budgets
  • Identifies the appropriate budgeting strategies for a variety of situations
  • Explains complex budgeting calculations (i.e. pricing indexes)
Federal Budget Process: Understands the Federal Budget process, including budget formulation, presentation and execution

Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:

  1. Describe a time when you used a strategic business plan to support program budget assumptions?  What was your strategy for resolving competing interests?  What challenges did you encounter?  How did you overcome those challenges?
  2. Share a time when you presented program and budget information to a variety of audiences.  How did you tailor your presentation to each audience? 
    What challenges did you face and how did you handle them?
  3. Provide an example of a time when your understanding of the Federal budget process helped you accomplish a task.  What was the outcome?

Key behaviors they will be looking for:
  • Understands the hierarchy of financial authority within the Federal Government
  • Possesses knowledge of current laws, regulations and guidance affecting the Federal budget process
  • Uses written strategic business plans to support program and financial assumptions
  • Uses historical data forecasting assumptions and program knowledge to prepare budget plans
  • Presents the program and budget planning/budgeting process and/or program and budget model to a variety of audiences (i.e. co-workers, new employees, Congress)
Financial Data Analysis: Analyzes quantitative and qualitative financial data effectively to manage and achieve results, and identifies organizational trends through a variety of sources

Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:
  1. Organizations gather and interpret financial data in order to make comparisons and be able to solve complex problems.  Provide an example of how you used financial data from a variety of sources to identify and resolve an issue.
  2. Describe a time when you applied your skills in data analysis to make a recommendation on an issue or decision.  What process did you use?  What obstacles did you face?  How was your recommendation received?
 Key behaviors they will be looking for:
  • Analyzes financial data in order to make comparisons, draw conclusions, and make decisions
  • Uses established financial models and tools for analyzing quantitative and qualitative data
  • Identifies key performance issues and establishes cause and effect relationships to solve complex financial problems for the organization
Financial Management: Acquires and applies critical financial concepts and practices, based upon a thorough understanding of the Federal Government

Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:

  1. Share an example of when you used external financial information and/or other program relevant indicators to make strategic recommendations for your organization.  How did you approach this endeavor?  How did you gain support for this effort?
  2. Share an example of a time when you used financial information and/or other program relevant information to support or drive an organizational decision.  What challenges did you face and how did you handle them?
  3. Describe a time when you had to prioritize activities in order to meet budget parameters.  How did you manage competing interests?
Key behaviors they will be looking for:
  • Establishes and maintains realistic budgets
  • Draws accurate conclusions from program and financial information
  • Uses program, financial and other quantitative information to manage resources provided for a project
  • Interprets and analyzes the meaning and implications of key program and financial indicators
  • Understands overall program and financial performance of the organization and the resulting capacity to manage supported projects
  • Uses program and financial analysis to evaluate strategic options and opportunities and recommend effective and practical alternatives
Organizational Forecasting: Develops models or projections based on studying past results, relationships, outcomes and data

Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:

  1. Describe a time when you were required to prepare a forecast tool and/or report?  What was your approach?  What factors did you consider?  What sources of information did you use?
  2. Discuss a forecast methodology that you have used for an organization to guide the future direction of the program.  How was it effective?
  3. Describe a time you had to implement a forecasting tool and/or communicate a forecasting report you developed.  What feedback did you get?  How did you address the feedback?
Key behaviors they will be looking for:
  • Reviews information and data being used to generate forecasts
  • Conducts analysis utilizing various forecasting tools and methodologies to assess actual performance and quantify risks
  • Reviews forecasts for soundness
  • Prepares forecasting tool to help frame policy discussion
  • Prepares forecasting reports/communications and disseminates them to various stakeholder groups as required

How will I be rated?

While you are answering the questions, the interviewer or panel, will be writing down a number based on your answers.  This number will be between 1 and 5.  At the end of the interview the numbers  are added that this is how the person is chosen for the job.

Score Proficiency Level Description
1 Fundamental Awareness: (basic knowledge)
  • You have a common knowledge or an understanding of basic techniques and concepts.
  • Focus is on learning.
2 Novice: (limited experience)
  • You have the level of experience gained in a classroom and/or experimental scenarios or as a trainee on-the-job.
  • You are expected to need help when performing this skill.
  • Focus is on developing through on-the-job experience;
  • You understand and can discuss terminology, concepts,   principles, and issues related to this competency;
  • You utilize the full range of reference and resource materials in this competency.
3 Intermediate: (practical application)

  • You are able to successfully complete tasks in this competency as requested.
  • Help from an expert may be required from time to time, but you can usually perform the skill independently. 
  • Focus is on applying and enhancing knowledge or skill;
  • You have applied this competency to situations occasionally while needing minimal guidance to perform successfully;
  • You understand and can discuss the application and implications of changes to processes, policies, and procedures in this area.
4 Advanced: (applied theory)
  • You can perform the actions associated with this skill without assistance.
  • You are certainly recognized within your immediate organization as "a person to ask" when difficult questions arise regarding this skill.
  • Focus is on broad organizational/professional issues;
  • You have consistently provided practical/relevant ideas and perspectives on process or practice improvements which may easily be implemented;
  • You are capable of coaching others in the application of this competency by translating complex nuances relating to this competency into easy to understand terms;
  • You participate in senior level discussions regarding this competency;
  • You assist in the development of reference and resource materials in this competency.

5 Expert: (recognized authority)
  •  You are known as an expert in this area. You can provide guidance, troubleshoot and answer questions related to this area of expertise and the field where the skill is used.
  • Focus is strategic;
  • You have demonstrated consistent excellence in applying this competency across multiple projects and/or organizations;
  • You are considered the “go to” person in this area within an agency, company and/or outside organizations;
  • You create new applications for and/or lead the development of reference and resource materials for this competency;
  • You are able to diagram or explain the relevant process elements and issues in relation to organizational issues and trends in sufficient detail during discussions and presentations, to foster a greater understanding among internal and external colleagues and constituents.

When you are working on your resume, don't forget to keep in mind the type of experience that the interviewers are most likely to want to see.  Good luck.

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