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CA Department of Insurance

Civil Service Exam Process - Part 3

Examination Interview

The Interview

The State Personnel Board is responsible for ensuring that the selection process is void of discrimination or bias. Members of oral examination panels must conduct interviews that pursue a line of questioning that is job related and contributes to the objectivity of the interview process. The following is a list of candidate's rights during the examination interview:

Right to a complete interview. Every candidate should receive a complete interview. All questions should be covered.

Right to confidentiality. All discussions about candidates are confidential and must remain solely among the interview panel members.

Right to a job-related interview. Each candidate should be questioned and rated solely on the ability to perform the job effectively, based on what is presented during the interview.

Right to reasonable accommodation. A candidate with a disability has the right to request and receive reasonable accommodation to enable him/her to participate. If the panel has not been alerted to the need for special arrangements before the interview, the interview chairperson should reschedule the interview to accommodate the special needs of the candidate.

Right to be rated on the same scale as all other candidates. Every candidate has the right to be rated solely on standard job-related factors with no consideration for race, color, religion, sex, age, ancestry, sexual orientation, disability, past or present military status, or any other non job-related factors.

Right to challenge a panel member. If a competitor believes an impartial interview from a panel member is not possible due to past or current relationships or conflicts, the competitor may challenge that panel member, requesting removal from the interview process.

Right to hear reservations and give rebuttal. If any panel member has reservations about a competitor's eligibility or competitiveness in a certain area which could lead to disqualification in the examination, the competitor has the right to hear the reservations and respond to them.

Right to discuss supervisory reports before the interview and prepare rebuttal if desired. When reports which include input from supervisors are used in examinations such as the Promotional Readiness Examination (PRE) report, the competitor has the right to review the report, discuss it with his/her supervisor and, when physically present, sign the report before participating in the interview. If the candidate does not agree with the comments or ratings of the supervisors, he/she has the right to prepare a written rebuttal and submit it to the examination staff before the interview.

Right to appeal. Competitors who wish to appeal the results of their examinations must file a written appeal with the Appeals Division of the State Personnel Board within 30 days after exam results are mailed. See Examination Appeal Process.

The Panel

The interview panel is composed of the chairperson, one or more state service representatives, and, possibly, a public member. The chairperson has been trained to make sure that the interviews are administered in a fair and equitable manner, and the state service representatives usually work in the program area where the classification is used and are considered experts in the field. A public member is someone from the community who is knowledgeable about the classification being tested and/or about the community from which many of the applicants have been recruited.

The panel will conduct the interview according to instructions and standards prescribed by the State Personnel Board. The interview panel carries out its part of the procedure by evaluating how well your experience, education and personal qualifications have prepared you to perform the duties of the position and how your overall qualifications compare with the qualifications of other competitors. The interview panel must also determine whether your education and experience meet the MQs. (At the time applications are received, reasonable doubts as to possession of the required minimum education and experience are resolved in your favor in order to let you participate in the examination. The matter then is subject to review by the interview panel.) If you believe that one of the panel members may be bias against you or your qualifications, you may ask that member to withdraw PRIOR to your interview. You will be asked to state the reasons for your beliefs. If your reasons are sound, the challenged panel member will withdraw and will not participate in the evaluation of your qualifications.

Evaluation Criteria

The acceptance into the interview process does not guarantee that you will have a place on the employment list. It is up to the interview panel to decide whether or not a candidate actually meets the minimum requirements and is competitive. The interview panel makes this decision based on the following:

  • The information that you provide concerning the breadth and depth of your knowledge, skills, education, and work experience.
  • Your ability to analyze situations and develop an effective course of action as it applies to the classification for which you are being examined.
  • The extent of your understanding of the interview questions being asked.
  • Your ability to communicate.
  • The directness and thoroughness of your response to questions.
  • Your knowledge of the classification for which you have applied.
  • Your display of genuine interest and enthusiasm for working in the classification.
  • Your attitude toward and aptitude for accepting increased responsibilities.
  • Your ability to relate experience to the testing classification.
  • Your ability to perform the critical class requirements as stated under SCOPE on the examination bulletin.

Preparation Prior To Your Interview

Keep a copy of your application and review it carefully before the interview. This could be the only document that the interview panel has when the interview begins. Panel members often use the application as the starting point of the interview. They may begin by asking you to summarize your education and experience. Make sure that you are able to state the sequence and dates of the education and experience you have listed on the application. You should also be prepared to summarize those aspects of your background that you think make you a qualified competitor in that examination. You may wish to take your copy of the application with you to the interview in case you think you may not be able to remember all of the details.

Study the examination bulletin and/or class specifications. The interview panel will have both of these documents to guide them in evaluating your competitiveness to perform the functions of the classification being tested. The position, knowledge, abilities, skills, and special personal characteristics needed for the classification for which the examination is being given are stated in these documents. These are the areas in which you will be asked questions.

Never go into an interview without any knowledge of the duties and responsibilities of the classification for which the examination is being given. Talk to people who work in the classification, their supervisors, and others who have knowledge about the work of the classification concerned. Show that you are genuinely interested in performing the duties of the classification.

Think through each qualification required. Try to think of the kind of questions you would ask if you were a member of the interview panel; and how well you would be able to answer those questions. Try to appraise your own knowledge and background in each area as measured against requirements of the classification concerned. If you have weaknesses in some areas, be prepared to discuss what you are doing and have done to overcome them.

Do some general reading in areas in which you feel you may be weak. For example, if the job involves supervision and you have no experience supervising others, some general reading about supervisory methods and practices may be useful. It may also be helpful to study departmental procedures or manuals.

Practice your presentation. Effective communication skills are the result of practice, feedback, self-assessment, and more practice. During the interview, the panel will be assessing not only what you say, but how you say it. Your "body language" (the non-verbal gestures you make during the interview, such as your posture and visible reactions to questions) also influences the impression the panel forms about your overall presentation. Through practice, you will develop the skill and confidence necessary to be successful in the interview process. During your interview practice efforts, remember:

Think positive. Remember, you requested and were granted this opportunity to prove your readiness to take the examination.

Be natural. Be enthusiastic and confident. Smile, relax, and use your hands naturally. The interview panel is interested in an honest and positive presentation.

Speak clearly and make sure that everyone can understand you. As you speak, articulate your words clearly. Keep your department's technical terminology, abbreviations, and acronyms out of your replies. Some members of the panel will probably not understand what you mean. If you have to explain a technical point, do so in the simplest way possible.

Do not use slang or use words improperly. Many good replies have been weakened by the injection of slang or other language faults.

Get a Good Night's Sleep and Watch your General Health and Mental Attitude. You will want a clear head at the interview. Take care of a cold or other minor ailments. Do not take any stimulants or medication before your interview unless it has been prescribed by a doctor and you are sure it won't have a detrimental effect on your presentation.

The Day Of Your Interview

Give yourself plenty of time to get to the interview. Plan to arrive somewhat ahead of the scheduled time, particularly if you are unsure of the location. You may want to take along a copy of your application to review as well as reading material in case you have to wait. In any event, try to relax and compose yourself. Remember that even the calmest, most self-assured people are usually somewhat nervous before an interview.

Personal appearance is important. You are not given a score for appearance, manners, or expressions. However, they are important in determining the interview panel's overall impression of you. Give careful attention to your personal appearance. Dress your best.

When you arrive at the interview location, note the names of the panel members for your interview. Names and titles are usually posted near the interview room. For future reference, you will want to remember who were on your interview panel.

During The Interview

When your turn for the interview comes, you will be greeted by the panel chairperson, who will escort you to the interview room. There you will be introduced to the other panel members and asked to take a seat. Inform the panel chairperson if you discover that you are related to a member of the interview panel by blood, adoption, current or prior marriage; or if you and a panel member are or were cohabitants. The panel member will be excused during your interview and will not participate in your rating as a competitor in the examination.

The chairperson will explain the interview procedures. You will probably notice that your interview is being recorded. The recording is required by law and it also helps the panel members to better evaluate your answers to the interview questions.

The interview is now under way. The panel members will ask you questions that they feel will give them the best idea of your potential to perform at the classification being tested. Questions may be patterned or structured. (Patterned questions are used more often.) Interviews in which patterned or structured questions are used are similar in that the interview consists of several predetermined questions that are asked of all candidates, who are then rated competitively. However, when patterned questions are used, candidates are presented with the questions for the first time during the interview. When structured questions are used, candidates will be given questions to answer or problems to resolve at the oral interview site prior to the interview. They will then be asked to present their responses during the interview. All examination interview questions are developed from the knowledge and abilities stated under Scope on the examination bulletin. After the patterned or structured questions, you may also be asked additional questions about your background and/or employment history.

As the interview proceeds:

Remember that the interview panel's job is to help you do your best. Panel members are obligated to make a fair and impartial appraisal of each candidate's qualifications. The panel members will strive to bring out your strongest attributes, as well as create a comfortable interview environment. While the panel is evaluating your education, experience, and answers to the questions, they will also be assessing your interpersonal skills, behaviors, and overall presentation.

Be attentive. Maintain good eye contact with the panel members and listen carefully throughout the interview. When a panel member is presenting a problem or a question, give that person your undivided attention; address your reply to that person but do not exclude eye contact with the other members of the panel.

Do not apologize for your weaknesses. Keep your attitude enthusiastic and confident. Try to bring out your strong points. If you are not reasonably confident that you can do the job, do not expect the interview panel to be confident either.

Be comfortable but do not lounge or sprawl. Seat yourself appropriately. Do not fuss with your clothing, pencil, or any papers you might bring. Your hands may occasionally be useful to emphasize a point, but do not let your hands detract from your presentation by becoming a point of distraction.

Be pleasant but do not wisecrack or initiate extensive small talk. This is a business situation and your attitude should show that you consider it as such. Further, the interview panel's time is limited; the panel does not want to waste it, and neither should you. However, participate appropriately if a panel member chooses to make small talk at the beginning of the interview to make you feel more comfortable.

Do not dominate the interview. Let the interview panel do its job. Do not assume that you have to do all of the talking. Realize that the panel has a number of questions to ask of each candidate. Do not try to take up all the interview time by showing off your extensive knowledge. Be sure that you are prepared to present the highlights of your strengths to the panel when you are asked to do so. Or, if not asked, present your strengths at the end of the interview.

Do not interrupt. During the oral interview, a panel member may be stating a problem for you to analyze. The examination questions will follow the problem statement. Let the panel member state the problem first, wait for the question and; if necessary, ask for clarification.

Make sure you understand the question. Do not try to answer until you are sure of the question. If the question is not clear, restate it in your own words or ask the panel to repeat or clarify it for you.

Reply promptly and keep your replies to the point. If you want to offer an illustration from your personal experience, be brief and make sure your point relates to the question. It is acceptable to pause for a couple of seconds before answering. A brief answer is proper as long as it is complete.

State the duties of your present job briefly. Do not dwell at length on your present job. During the interview, you may be asked to describe your present position. Answer the question by citing the highlights of your job but do not go into an extended discussion of every job duty assigned to you. You are being examined for a new classification, not your present one. Try to phrase all of your answers in terms of the work of the classification for which you are being examined.

Do not exaggerate your experience or abilities. The panel may know more about you than you think, having information from your application, resumes and other sources such as the self-assessment report. An experienced interview panel is rather adept at spotting such a situation. Do not take this chance.

Present your strengths in terms of how you could be of benefit to the department, if selected for the job. Do not emphasize "what is good for you".

Leave your exhibits at home. The interview panel does not have time to read every word of your letters of reference or copies of new procedures you have devised. Do not hand this material to the panel members but be prepared to tell them briefly about those items most closely related to the classification for which you are being examined.

Before the end of the interview, the chairperson or panel member will give you an opportunity to present anything you believe important which may not have been covered earlier in the interview.

If it seems appropriate to shake hands with the members of the interview panel, it is fine to do so. If it would be awkward or uncomfortable for you, then you would probably be better off not to do it. A smile and a simple statement, such as "thank you" should end the interview on a positive note.

Candidates often ask, "How are interview questions developed?" The questions for an examination are developed by subject-matter expert(s) at least one level above the classification being tested. Because all candidates are asked the same questions and are then rated competitively, it is extremely important that candidates keep the questions confidential. If interview questions are disclosed to candidates who have not yet been interviewed, all previous scores can be adversely affected. This breach of security is considered to be extremely serious. If it is proven that a candidate has disclosed interview questions, he or she may be removed from the list or even barred from participation in future examinations. In addition, the examination may be canceled and deemed invalid.


After you leave the interview room, the panel members will review and evaluate your qualifications. If the panel members believe your qualifications meet the published entrance requirements and that your overall qualifications also meet competitive standards, you will be assigned a qualifying score. If you had previously taken the same exam, your rating this time may be either higher or lower than before. Such a change may be due to differences in the quantity and quality of the other competitors, changes in your own qualifications, or changes in your presentation of your qualifications in the interview.

If the interview panel determines that a competitor's education and experience do not meet the announced entrance requirements, or that the competitor has not developed at the time, the qualifications which meet the competitive standards for this examination, the panel is required to assign the competitor the disqualifying score of 65%. Disqualification in one examination does not lessen your chances in the future. In fact, the experience you have gained in the examination process may be very useful in long-range planning for your career. If you should receive a disqualification rating of 65% and you believe that: 1) the panel failed to follow prescribed standards or procedures or, 2) misinterpreted the minimum qualifications prescribed for the class or, 3) if you can demonstrate that the rating was the result of fraud or of discrimination within the meaning of Sections 19702 or 19703 of the Government Code or, 4) other improper acts or circumstances occurred, you have the right to file an appeal with the State Personnel Board. The appeal must be filed within 30 days after the notice of examination results were mailed and must state the facts, information, or circumstances upon which the appeal is based. For more information, refer to Examination Appeal Process.


Examination Results

You will receive a notice with your examination results within four to six weeks from the date the examination was completed. If you are successful in the examination, you have now obtained list eligibility. Placement on an employment list does not guarantee job appointment. The department that examined and established this eligible list may use the list to make hires. An examination does not necessarily mean that there are existing vacancies, but the examination was conducted to establish an eligible list from which hires for future vacancies may be made.

Term of Eligibility. You will remain eligible for state employment in the classification being tested as long as the employment list on which your name appears is in existence or until you are appointed from the list, whichever comes first. The life of the employment list is indicated on each examination bulletin and on your notice of examination results.

When a vacancy does occur, candidates in the top three ranks on the list may be contacted to determine their interests in the vacant position. Answer all requests for information within the time frame established. Generally, those candidates interested in the position are scheduled for a hiring interview and a selection may be made from among the interested group of eligible candidates.

Waivers. In the event you are offered temporary or permanent employment which you find impossible to accept or in which you are not interested, you may waive the appointment. Candidates on open lists are permitted three waivers of appointment to positions in any given class, after which their names are permanently removed from the list for that class. Avoid waivers and possible loss of eligibility by advising the testing office immediately of:

  1. changes in your address; or
  2. changes of locations where you will accept employment; or
  3. whether you will accept permanent
  4. or temporary position.

Inactive status. Circumstances may develop which make it impossible for you to accept State employment. In this event, you must write to the testing department and request that your name be placed inactive, providing the list is still in existence.

Note: Your ranking on the employment list may vary from day to day as a result of various factors. For example, appointments are made, candidates may go inactive, return to active status, or change of location choice. These are just a few of the circumstances which could change your ranking on the list. Therefore, the testing department is unable to provide you with your ranking on a daily basis.

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