When you think of a job interview, you probably imagine sitting across the table from a hiring manager, answering a series of all-too-familiar questions. While this is certainly the norm, employers increasingly use different types of interviews to screen candidates in unique ways.
Likewise, from a candidate’s perspective, each type of interview requires a different strategy. What works in one setting, may backfire in another. To succeed, it is absolutely essential that you:
- Know the kind of interview you are walking into, and;
- Have the right plan-of-attack for that type of interview.
Here are the six most common types of interviews that you can expect from an a prospective employer:
Many organizations use a 15-20 minute telephone interview to screen candidates, prior to inviting them in for an in-person meeting. Face-to-face interviews take a lot of time, so employers want to make sure they are only meeting with the most-qualified candidates.
If you are invited for a telephone interview, the employer has seen something they like in your application. The phone screening is a way to ensure that you are as good in reality as you are on paper.
According to hiring expert Alison Green, employers are looking for a few basic things in a phone interview:
- To confirm your interest in and availability for the job
- To make sure you are reasonably intelligent and well-spoken
- To identify your salary requirements
- To establish your basic qualifications for the job and clear up any questions about your resume
- To see if you’ll say anything that would disqualify you for the job
Often the person conducting the phone interview isn’t the hiring manager; instead, you’ll be called by a human resources representative or the hiring managers’ support staff. Accordingly, many of the questions you’ll get in a phone interview will relate directly to job requirements and responsibilities as they are listed in the job description. Make sure you’ve thoroughly reviewed the announcement and understand the job-at-hand before the call.
Need additional tips on phone interviews? Check out Find Your Dream Job, Episode 55: How to Nail Your Next Phone Interview with Hannah Morgan.
Increasingly, organizations use group interviews to quickly find the right candidate. In a group interview, multiple applicants are interviewed simultaneously. The size of group will vary, but employers typically limit the number of interviewees to less than ten at a time.
Sometimes questions are presented to each candidate, but more often these interviews are structured as a group conversation, facilitated by the employer.
From the employer’s perspective, group interviews are a good way to identify team-oriented candidates. They get to see how you interact with others, particularly in stressful situations.
From the job seeker’s perspective, group interviews can feel like a cattle call–impersonal, superficial, and highly competitive. Certainly it is a challenge to stand out when you’re sharing the room with a handful of other hungry applicants.
The key to thriving in a group interview is to be a good team player. Given the format, you won’t have the chance to review all your qualifications and credentials. So don’t try to force it! Speak up when you have the opportunity, but don’t dominate the conversation. Instead, listen attentively to other candidates, learn their names and, to the extent you can, get them involved in the conversation. Facilitating this kind of group conversation is leadership in action, and will almost alway create a positive impression with the employer.
These are the kinds of interviews you are most probably familiar with—a 30 to 60 minute conversation with the hiring manager or a representative from human resources. This is, by far, the most common interview type.
If you’re offered an interview, the employer probably already believes that you have the technical skills for the job at-hand. You’ll have to back-up this assumption in the interview but, more importantly, you need to show that you’ll be a good fit in the existing organizational culture. Be prepared to answer more behavioral questions, rather than technical queries.
Given the importance of culture fit in an interview, creating a connection with the interviewer is critical. The better your rapport, the easier it will be for him or her to envision working with you. As such, you should do research on your interviewer before you meet in-person. Review their LinkedIn and social media profiles, learn their professional biography, and look for shared interests and connections. The more touch-points you can identify with your interviewer, the better!
Some organizations like to involve multiple staff members in the candidate-selection process. To facilitate this, they conduct panel interviews, where a single candidate is questioned by several people at the same time.
Panel interviews are often the norm in organizations with rigid, highly-structured hiring processes (like government agencies) and for positions where the employer is using a search committee to make a hire.
The prospect of being grilled by multiple interviewers, simultaneously, can be daunting to many job seekers. The best strategy for surviving this “firing squad” is to give each interviewer individualized attention, while simultaneously facilitating more broad conversation with the full panel.
Everyone in the panel comes to the table with a different priority—a unique challenge or concern that they hope to resolve with the new hire. The more you identify and speak to these sometimes-divergent interests, the better off you’ll do in the interview.
You’ll quickly learn where each panelist’s interest lies by the direction of their questions, but you can also infer this information by doing research before the interview. Like in a one-on-one interview, you should do your homework on each interviewer, ahead of the meeting. Learn what they do in the organization and try to empathize with their situation and challenges.
When answering a question, always address your response directly to the person who asked the question. Remember, they are asking things that are particularly important to them and their job; show that you are responsive to their individual concerns by looking them in the eye and repeating their name when your respond.
At the same time, you want to expand the conversation and get all the panelists involved in a larger dialog. After you directly answer a question posed by a panelist, try to elaborate on your response by addressing the priorities, challenges, and perspectives of other panelists. Doing this well will show that you understand the multiple demands of the job. It also transforms the interview from a stream of quick-fire questions to a more engaging conversation.
Project or Case Interviews
Some employers believe the that only way to know whether you can do the job is to test you with a real life project. These organizations assign time-limited technical tasks and base the their hiring decision on which applicant performs the task best. In some cases, this test represents almost the entirety of the formal screening process. As the Harvard Business Review notes: “projects are the new interviews.”
(For an admittedly over-the-top example of a project interview, check out this scene from the film, The Social Network.)
To do well in a project interview you need to know your stuff and you need to perform under pressure. It’s also important to remember that the more stressful the project–in terms of demands and restrictions–the less you need to worry about absolute perfection. The employer may well be giving you an outlandishly hard task to see how you manage stress and perform in extreme circumstances. Showing a well-thought out process will get you a long way. And delivering a well conceived—if not perfectly executed—product may well meet the interviewer’s expectations.
The complete opposite of a project interview is a meal interview. In the prior, the employer is almost exclusively analyzing your technical capacity; in the latter, they are primarily exploring your personality, and culture fit.
Taking a candidate out for a meal can be a useful way to learn how they act outside of the office. The relaxed, informal atmosphere befits a more casual conversation and interview. However, at least in some cases, employers use these out-of-the-office interviews to test candidates in unconventional ways.
The key to success in a meal interview is to remember that, even in this more casual setting, the employer has an agenda. They have questions (and maybe some doubts) about you. Your job is to answer these questions over the course of your meal. That may require you to creatively probe your host about their challenges, needs, and the goals for the new hire. Then, in a conversational way, relate how you are uniquely able to help them with these issues.
Here are some additional etiquette rules related to interview that include food.
These, of course are just the general types of job interviews that are most common in today’s workplace. Within each type you’re likely to find a lot of variation.