Interviews will come in a variety of different formats, methods and styles. Here’s how to be ready for all types of interviews, and how to be prepared for them.
The Traditional Interview
In a traditional interview, you will be asked a series of questions which have pretty straightforward answers. For example: “What were major challenges you had, and how did you find a solution for them,” or “why are you looking to leave your current employer,” or “tell me about yourself.”
- If you are asked, “What are your career goals and future plans” the interviewer may want to know if your plans are consistent with those of their organization. You should let them know that you are an ambitious person and want to advance within their company.
- Another question that may be asked is “What are your salary expectations?” This is a delicate question and should be handled carefully. Always wait for the interviewer to ask this question, and if you have to give a number, give a range or say the salary is negotiable.
The Screening Interview
Companies use screening tools and techniques to ensure that candidates meet minimum qualification requirements. Computer software programs are often used to weed out unqualified candidates. The screening interviewers’ goal is to determine whether there is anything that might disqualify you for the position.
Screeners will dig for dirt and hone in on gaps in your employment history or pieces of information that look inconsistent. One of the first things the screener will need to find out is whether you will be too expensive for the company.
Things to watch out for during a screening interview:
- Personality can go a long way, but it’s not as important to the screener as verifying your qualifications. Answer their questions clearly and directly.
- Be tactful about addressing income requirements. Give a range, and try to avoid giving specifics. You don’t want to lose your leverage this early in the interview process.
- If the interview is conducted by phone, it is helpful to have your resume and a few notes highlighting your strengths ready.
The Informational Interview
This is on the opposite end of the stress spectrum from the screening interview. Job seekers secure informational meetings in order to seek the advice of someone in their current or desired field and to gain further references to people who can lend insight.
Employers that like to stay apprised of available talent even when they do not have current job openings are often open to informational interviews. These employers are especially likely to accept an informational interview with you if they like to share their knowledge, feel flattered by your interest, or thank the mutual friend that connected you to them. During an informational interview, the job seeker and employer exchange information and get to know one another better without reference to a specific job opening.
Informational interviews take off some of the performance pressure. The objective here it to gain valuable information, just as the employer is doing at their end.
- You should be able to pinpoint prospective employers. Through your interview you’ll develop an understanding of what it’s like to work for specific companies or individuals, and you’ll be able to make informed decisions about what employer would be a good match for you.
- You will expand your list of contacts by collecting names from the employer with whom you interview.
- You will gather information from your interviewers that, during your later job interviews, will help you show prospective employers that you’ve done your homework.
The Meandering Style
This interview type, usually used by inexperienced interviewers, relies on you to lead the discussion. It might begin with a statement like “tell me about yourself,” which is pretty typical, and can be used to your advantage. Interview styles such as these allow you to guide the discussion in a way that best serves your needs.
Here are some strategies which may prove helpful for any interview, particularly when interviewers use an indirect approach:
- Pay attention to the interviewer. Even if you feel like you can take the interview in any direction you wish, remain respectful of the interviewer’s role. If he or she becomes more directive during the interview, acknowledge their move and adjust accordingly.
- Come to the interview prepared with highlights of your skills, achievements and experiences. Do not rely on the interviewer to spark your memory. Jot down some notes that you can reference throughout the interview.
- Ask well-placed questions. Although the open format allows you to shape the interview, you don’t want to run the risk of missing important information about the company and its core needs.
The Stress Interview
Employers view the stress interview as a legitimate way of determining a candidate’s aptness for a position. A potential employer in this case might purposely have you wait in the lobby before the interviewer greets you. You might face long silences or cold stares.
The interviewer might challenge your religious beliefs or your judgment. Be prepared because insults and miscommunication are common in this type of interview. All this is designed to see whether you can withstand the company culture, work environment, or other potential stress triggers.
- Even if the interviewer is rude, remain calm and tactful.
- Remember that this is a game. It is not personal.
- Go into the interview relaxed and rested. If you go into it feeling stressed, you will have a more difficult time keeping a cool perspective.
The Situational Interview
In this interview, situations are set up to simulate common problems you might encounter on the job. Your responses to these situations are measured against predetermined standards. This approach is often used as one part of a traditional interview rather than as an entire interview format.
The Behavioral Interview
Companies increasingly rely on behavioral interviews because they use your previous behavior to predict your future performance. In these interviews, employers use standardized methods to gather information relevant to your competency in a particular area or position.
Depending on the responsibilities of the job and the working environment, you might be asked to describe a time that required problem-solving skills, leadership qualities, conflict resolution, multi-tasking, initiative, or stress management. You will be asked how you dealt with these situations. Your responses require not only reflection, but also organization of thought.
Here’s how to maximize your responses in the behavioral format:
- Any of the qualities and skills you have included in your resume are potential probing points for the interviewer.
- Anticipate the transferable skills and personal qualities that are required for the job.
- Keep in mind the situations you have been in, and identify the results of your actions. Present them in less than a couple minutes.
- Reflect on your own professional, volunteer, educational and personal experience to develop brief stories that highlight these skills and qualities in you. You should have stories for each of the competencies on your resume as well as those you anticipate the job will require.
The “Show Me” Interview
For some positions, such as engineers or trainers, companies want to see you in action before they make their decision. For this reason, they might take you through a simulation or brief exercise in order to evaluate your skills. This tilts the interview in your favor because it allows you to demonstrate your abilities through familiar challenges. The simulations and exercises should also give you a simplified sense of what the job would be like.
To maximize on this type of interview, remember to:
- Be professional and take responsibility for the task before you.
- Get a clear understanding of the instructions and expectations for the exercise, and if there’s a time limit to complete it. Communication is half the battle in real life, and you should demonstrate to the prospective employer that you make the effort to do things right the first time by minimizing confusion.
- Do some role playing and brush up on your skills before an interview if you think they might be tested.
The Directive Style
In this style of interview, the interviewer has a clear agenda. Interviewers ask each candidate the same series of questions so they can readily compare the results of their interviews. Directive interviewers rely upon their own questions and methods to entice you with questions and gather what they would like to know. This style does not necessarily mean that they have dominance issues, although you should keep an eye open for these if the interviewer should end up being your supervisor.
- Follow the interviewer’s lead.
- Maintain control of the interview. If the interviewer does not ask you for information that you think is important to proving your superiority as a candidate, politely interject it.
The Group or “Tag Team” Interview
The group interview helps a company get a glimpse of how you interact with peers to let them know if you are timid or bossy, attentive or attention-seeking. Do others turn to you instinctively, or do you compete for authority? The interviewer also wants to know if you use argumentation or careful reasoning to gain support. The interviewer might call on you to discuss an issue with the other candidates, solve a problem collectively, or discuss your qualifications in front of the other candidates.
This environment might seem overwhelming at times, but here are a few tips that will help you interview successfully:
- Treat others with respect while exerting influence over others.
- Observe the dynamics and the interviewer’s rules of the game. If you are unsure of what is expected from you, ask for clarification from the interviewer.
- Keep an eye on the interviewer throughout the process so that you do not miss important cues.
- Use this opportunity to gain as much information about the company as you can. Just as each interviewer has a different function in the company, they each have a unique perspective. When asking questions, be sensitive not to place anyone in a position that invites him or her to compromise confidentiality or loyalty.
- Treat each person as an important individual. Get each person’s business card at the beginning of the meeting, if possible, and refer to each person by name. If there are several people in the room at once, you might want to jot down their names on a sheet of paper according to where each is sitting. Make eye contact with each person and speak directly to the person as you ask each question.
This type of interview is commonly used with professional jobs. This approach involves a series of interviews in which you meet individually with various representatives of the organization. In the initial interview, the representative usually attempts to get basic information on your skills and abilities. In subsequent interviews, the focus is on how you would perform the job in relation to the company’s goals and objectives.
After the interviews are completed, the interviewers meet and discuss your qualifications for the job. A variation on this approach involves a series of interviews in which unsuitable candidates are screened out at each succeeding level. It’s important to ask how many interviews are in the interview process, and who you would be interviewing with for each interview. For example, you might meet with someone in Human Resources, then a hiring manager, then team members you will be working with, and maybe even the president of the company, depending on the size of the company.
I would be suspicious of any company calling you in for a fourth or fifth interview. In cases like these, they typically want to get industry or competitor information out of you. I would be suspicious if the interviewers are jotting down notes to competitor information, or how you do things at your current company. That should be a giveaway.
The Lunch/Dinner Interview
Interviewing over a meal can go one of two ways. It can be a catastrophe, or it can help you get the job. An example of a lunch gone bad is if the interviewer or candidate has an allergic reaction to the dish they eat. With some preparation and psychological readjustment, you can enjoy the process. Meals often have a way of getting people comfortable so they can facilitate deals.
Here are some basic social tips to help ease mixing food with business:
- If your interviewer wants to talk business, do so. If he or she and the other guests discuss their upcoming weekend plans or their families, do not launch into business just yet.
- Avoid foods that have been historically known to be messy, such as barbeque ribs and spaghetti.
- Take cues from your interviewer, remembering that you are the guest. Do not sit down until your host does. Order something slightly less extravagant than your interviewer. If he insists you try a particular dish, oblige him unless it conflicts with your diet or religious beliefs. Do not begin eating until he does. If he orders coffee and dessert, do not leave him eating alone.
- Practice eating and discussing something important simultaneously.
- Thank your interviewer for the meal.
- Who pays for the meal? Traditionally, the interviewer will pay for the meal.
How to prepare for a follow-up Interview
There are a number of reasons why companies bring candidates back for second and sometimes third or fourth interviews. Sometimes they just want to confirm that you are the worker they first thought you to be. Sometimes they are having difficulty deciding between a short-list of candidates. Other times, the interviewer’s supervisor or other decision makers in the company want to meet you before making a hiring decision. When meeting with the same person again, you do not need to be as assertive in communicating your skills. You can focus on building rapport, understanding where the company is going, and how your skills mesh with the company vision and culture.
Tips for managing second interviews:
- Elaborate on what you have to offer and your interest in the position.
- Be tactful with probing questions. You want to learn more about the internal company dynamics and culture.
- Be ready with a plan for negotiating a salary.
The Structured Interview
In a structured interview, the interviewer explores certain predetermined areas using questions which have been written in advance. The interviewer has a written description of the experience, skills and personality traits of an ideal candidate. Your experience and skills will be compared to specific job tasks. This type of interview is very common and most traditional interviews are based on this format.
The Unstructured Interview
Although the interviewer is given a written description of the ideal candidate, in the unstructured interview the interviewer is not given instructions on what specific areas to cover. There could be a broad range of questions to answer, so stay alert throughout this process.