Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Behavioral-Based Interview: Questions for a Contract Specialist

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by Amin Huffington
Dreamfedjob - Turning unemployed into employed.
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 Contract Specialist should demonstrate experience in the following competencies:

Acquisition Management: Manages post-award contract activities through contract close-out

Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:

  1. Give an example, from either your professional or personal life, that demonstrates your ability to juggle several tasks and keep track of multiple deadlines at one time.  What was your strategy? What challenges did you encounter?  How did you overcome those challenges?  What was the outcome?
  2. Discuss a specific occasion when you had to confront someone who was not living up to their agreed upon responsibilities.  How did you approach the situation?  What challenges did you face and how did you handle them?  Looking back, what could you have done differently that would have improved the outcome?
Key behaviors they will be looking for:

  • Serves as primary point of contact concerning contractual matters
  • Works closely with customer/partner to ensure terms of contracts are fulfilled in compliance with the terms of the contract and applicable laws and regulations
  • Plans, directs, coordinates, and manages the various contracting functions, including administering, modifying, closing out and terminating contracts
Acquisition Planning: Develops and guides customers/partners through a comprehensive plan for fulfilling acquisition needs in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost in accordance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and Departmental and agency regulations, policies and procedures

Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:

  1. Provide examples of how you demonstrated an analytical approach to assessing the acquisition (buying) requirements of a customer. What was your role? What challenges did you face?  How did you accomplish your goal?
  2. Summarize a situation where you were responsible for developing a strategy for fulfilling the acquisition needs of an organization. How did you handle this situation?  What was your approach? What was the result/outcome?

Key behaviors they will be looking for:
  • Analyzes and assesses customer/partner acquisition needs
  • Develops and documents the overall strategy for managing the acquisition in coordination with the customer/partner
  • Collects and analyzes relevant market research information from Government and non-government sources to facilitate development of the acquisition plan
  • Uses the appropriate sourcing approach and defines solicitation terms and conditions based on the business strategy
  • Defines and prepares the requirements document
Contracting Financial Management: Understands and applies financial management concepts and practices related to contracting

Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:
  1. Describe a time when you had to track and monitor expenditures of a contract (or project) to ensure compliance with the agreed upon terms. What tools/systems did you use?  What obstacles did you face? How did you overcome them?
  2. Share an example of when you had to analyze financial information/data.  How did you approach this endeavor? What recommendation did you make, based on your analysis, and why?  If your recommendation was implemented, what was the outcome?
 Key behaviors they will be looking for:
  • Works with project officer to develop cost estimates
  • Uses financial analysis to evaluate cost and price proposals
  • Selects the appropriate contracting financing terms and /or conditions for a given contract
  • Tracks expenditures to ensure compliance with contract terms
  • Analyses and renegotiates cost/price of contract as appropriate
  • Understands cost accounting and reporting systems
  • Understands and monitors the overall financial performance of the contract and draws accurate conclusions from financial information
Contract Negotiation and Source Selection: Facilitates discussions between customers/partners and potential vendors to agree on contract terms and evaluates bids or proposals to make contract award decisions

Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:

  1. Describe an instance in which you were the pivotal person to negotiate a resolution to a situation or dispute.  What was your strategy for managing the conflicting priorities?  What obstacles did you face?  How did you overcome them?
  2. Describe a situation where you have reviewed bids from outside sources to reach a favorable outcome for your agency/firm/organization.  What was your strategy?  What were your decision criteria?  What was the outcome of the process?
Key behaviors they will be looking for:
  • Understands customer/partner’s scientific and technical requirements
  • Gathers information to make sound decisions
  • Employs established processes and techniques (e.g., tradeoffs, lowest price technically acceptable) to make well informed source selection decisions
  • Guides customers/partners through the review, negotiation and evaluation of bids and proposals process
  • Makes award decisions that meet the mission needs of the organization
  • Works with customers/partners and vendors to craft mutually agreeable contract terms, conditions and price
  • Documents source selection decisions and drafts contracts that include the agreed upon terms, conditions, special provisions and negotiated price
  • Engages in other source selection activities where required (e.g., debriefing offerors, responding to protests)
Quantitative Analysis: Examines and evaluates numerical data to manage and achieve results

Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:

  1. Describe a time when you were faced with a complex problem and the steps you took to simplify it to achieve the desired result.  What were the major roadblocks in simplifying the problem?  What was the outcome?
  2. Organizations gather and interpret numerical data in order to make comparisons and be able to solve complex problems.  Provide an example of how you used data from a variety of sources to create a tool for analyzing quantitative data and identifying trends.
Key behaviors they will be looking for:
  • Analyzes data in order to make comparisons and draw conclusions
  • Uses established data analysis models and tools for analyzing quantitative data
  • Identifies cause and effect relationships to solve complex problems for the organization
  • Gathers and interprets pertinent data from a variety of sources and identifies trends available through regular channels and alternative sources
Federal and Departmental Acquisition Policies and Procedures Knowledge: Understands the Federal Government industry and how it functions as a buyer of services and products

Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:

  1. Describe a time when you had to inform, advise, and educate others regarding federal government contracting policies and procedures?  What was your approach?
  2. Provide an example of a time when you had to research information regarding government acquisition rules.  What sources of information did you use?
Key behaviors they will be looking for:
  • Demonstrates knowledge of and compliance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), the OMB Circulars, the HHS Acquisition Regulation (HHSAR), the Peer Review Regulation (42 C.F.R 52h) where required, the Procurement Integrity Act and agency/department policies and procedures
  • Informs, advises and educates others regarding federal government contracting policies and procedures
Project Management: Creates and maintains an environment that guides a project to its successful completion


Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:


  1. Describe a time when you were responsible for managing a project with varying priorities that included staggered milestones.  What was your approach?  What steps did you take to ensure the appropriate stakeholders were involved?  How did you ensure that you effectively communicated with your team?
  2. Provide an example of a time when you were responsible for managing a project where conflicts within the team developed.  How did you handle this situation? What was the result/outcome?
  3. What has been your approach for monitoring and controlling risks throughout a project?
Key behaviors they will be looking for:
  • Explains the processes involved in the initiation phase of a project and the development of an overall project plan
  • Identifies key stakeholders in the project
  • Identifies and analyzes environmental influences impacting on the project
  • Develops and manages the scope of a project
  • Describes in detail the process of resource allocation including human resources, and how cost, work, and time estimates are developed
  • Understands the risks involved in starting a project
  • Understands the importance of quality assurance and control
  • Develops effective communication skills to interact with members of the project team
Solicitation: Understands and employs methods for obtaining submission of offers or quotations to the Government from industry/vendors


Most likely interview questions to assess this competency:


  1. Describe a time when you spearheaded communications among stakeholders to implement a contract/plan/proposal.  How did you ensure free flowing communication?  What were your challenges?  What was the outcome?
  2. Discuss your approach for soliciting bids/quotes from vendors to provide services.  What specific methods or tools did you employ?
Key behaviors they will be looking for:
  • Facilitates the process of seeking and obtaining bids and proposals in compliance with applicable laws, regulations, policies and procedures
  • Facilitates exchange of information among interested parties early on, and throughout the process to improve the understanding of Government requirements and state-of-the-art private sector and academic capabilities
  • Develops and ensures distribution of proper notices and requests regarding solicitation (e.g., pre-solicitation notice, request for proposal, request for information)
  • Employs various methods and tools, such as requests for information and pre-proposal conferences, to facilitate the most effective and efficient solicitation process
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.

For additional information on Contract Specialists follow the link below:  http://www.dreamfedjob.com/careers/1102_Contract%20Specialists.html

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