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Interview Types and How To Prepare
September 2009

If you have been following Career Zone over the last few months, you have learned how to network and use social media to your advantage in your job search. But what happens when you finally get the big interview? Do you panic? In this three-part series you will learn about the different types of interviews, how to be prepared for your next interview and the answers you need in order to get the job offer.

Let’s start by reviewing the different types of interviews you may encounter while job hunting.

Knowing the different types of interviews you might encounter will keep you better prepared to ace the interview and get the offer. Keep in mind that no matter the type of interview (as described below), the interviewer will have goals and objectives of his/her own. Many companies have candidates meet with 2-6 people per interview. When I consult with hiring managers, I always suggest that different people on their team screen for different skills/attributes/fit. For example, a candidate may meet 3 different people in one afternoon:

  • Interview 1: Asks more functional questions to assess your knowledge of the specific job.
  • Interview 2: Determines if you fit into the culture of the company and assesses your knowledge of the products/services of the company.
  • Interview 3: Asks behavioral questions to address how you would solve typical business problems.

The interview types are:

The Behavioral Interview: A behavioral interview is a structured interview and requires you to answer questions based on past behaviors. The idea is that past performance and behaviors are the best predictor of future performance. The interviewer questions and probes for detailed behavioral evidence of what you said, did, felt and what the results were of various situations in your past. An example of a behavioral interview question is “tell me about a situation when you handled a customer complaint" or “describe a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem”. My suggestion is to always frame your answer using the PAR format - problem, action, result. Behavioral interviews provide you an opportunity to present the skills and abilities that are needed for the job you are interviewing for.

The Business Case Interview: A business case interview is broadly defined as an interview geared around solving problems on the spot. The business case interview will determine how detail oriented you are by giving you a problem and seeing how you work it out. This type of interview can take many forms, but in every instance, the interviewer is looking to judge your: analytical thought process, business knowledge, business acumen, quantitative analysis, creativity and communication skills.

The Informational Interview: This type of interview is not a job interview. It is an opportunity for you to meet with an individual currently working at a company of interest or in your field of interest. The informational interview enables you the opportunity to acquire knowledge about their background, experiences and learn what is going on in the company/field of interest. Nevertheless, it is a professional interview and you should prepare for it as such. Some questions you can ask on an informational interview include:

  • How do most people get their jobs in this field/at this company?
  • What is your function in this company?
  • Tell me about the industry/company?
  • What are the short and long-term opportunities for growth in this industry/company?
  • What trends do you see taking place in this profession?
  • What is the one thing you would have wanted someone to tell you about this career/company?
  • Do you know of other people who might be willing to give me additional information?
  • Can you recommend any sources for more information?

The Phone Screen Interview: This is the most common type of first interview where you speak with the recruiter or human resources person whose role is to screen applicants and arrange for interviews with the hiring manager and other key decision makers. Typically during the phone screen the company is trying to ensure that you meet the basic criteria for their positions and eliminate applicants who are not the best fit for the position. When you speak with the employer for the first time, be prepared to ask some of the following questions:

  • What about my résumé/application sparked your interest?
  • What is the interview and screening process?
  • Who will I be speaking with during the interview process? (Find out the name, title, and phone number of the person if possible.)
  • How much time will I need for the interview(s)?
  • What should I do to prepare for the interview?

The Panel Interview: One of the more common interview types, the group or panel interview enables you to meet with multiple people involved in the selection process at one time. In some cases, a group of candidates meet at the same time with multiple interviewers.

The Stress Interview: The stress interview is used to assess how you accept criticism and react to a challenging situation. One approach during this type of interview may be to throw rapid fire questions at you but not give you time to answer them, or interrupt you during your answer with additional questions. This type of interview is not common, but if you do encounter someone purposefully trying to rattle you, do not take the bait and get upset.

The Structured Interview:  Many large organizations have very structured recruiting processes and utilize a structured interview process as well.  The interviewer may have a list of questions that they ask each and every candidate during an interview and they will take notes of your answers to each question.  Many times the structured interview will be part of the phone screen interview process.

The Unorganized Interview: During your job search, it is certain that you will encounter many inexperienced hiring managers who will not do a good job of interviewing you. Many people do not have solid interviewing skills, yet they might be strong managers. They may not be prepared or have a list of questions to ask you. The best way to address these situations is to make sure that you present yourself and your skills no matter if they ask the questions or not.

Now that you have a good understanding of the variety of types of interviews you encounter, you need to understand what the interviewer is looking to learn about you and how you can answer their questions properly. One of the first things a potential employer is going to determine is whether or not you have the skills to do the job. Not only do they want to know if you have the technical skills to be a java programmer or the mathematical analysis capabilities to be a business analyst, but also if you have the soft skills to be a success in the organization. Do you have good communication skills?  Are you organized?

The interviewer will also try and ascertain how well you will fit into their corporate and departmental culture. Do you bring missing skills to their team? Will your personality fit with those already in the group? Do you work in a similar style to others in the company? When I interview people, I want to see that they have a positive, can-do attitude and if they are willing to roll up their sleeves to accomplish the team goals, even if it is not part of their job description.

Hiring managers will always be comparing you to other candidates in the interview process, so standing out in comparison to your competition is important. One way to do so is by having a solid understanding of the company, its products and customers. You should know the company mission and be excited about what they do.

Now that you have a good understanding of the types of interviews you might encounter and what some hiring mangers look for, you should begin to prepare for your interviews. If you have the opportunity, visit the building before the interview. It will give you the opportunity to know exactly where you are going on the day of your interview and see how employees dress for work.

Do your homework and research the company ahead of time so that you can discuss what you know during your interview process. Hiring managers want to know that you understand their business. Find out who is going to interview you and do research on that person as well. That will give you facts that can help you develop meaningful questions during your interviews.

Before you go on any interview, prepare answers to common interview questions and practice your answers. Some common questions include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your strengths?
  • What is your biggest weakness?
  • Why do you want to work for us?

You never have a second chance to make a good first impression, so make sure you dress for the part. Your shoes are shined and you are wearing a business suit or equally well put together professional outfit.

During the interview you should have printed copies of your résumé. I always suggest having a few more than you need. You will also need a pad of paper, pen and business cards. Make sure you collect business cards from each person that you meet. If someone does not have a card, write down their name, number and email address so you can follow up with them after. Send a hand written thank you note to each person that you meet during the interview process. Even if you do not want the job, a thank you note goes a long way. I always suggest having some thank you cards with you so that you can write them on-the-spot immediately after the interview and put them in the mail.

Make sure that you have former managers, clients and colleagues who are willing to serve as references. Discuss with them beforehand and make sure that they will speak well of you if contacted by a potential employer. Be sure to provide them with as much information about the job or company calling them so they can address the potential employer properly.

Each interview you have is a wonderful learning experience. Pay attention to the things you do right as well as your areas for improvement so you can build on your success each time you have an interview. Next month Career Zone will focus on your tough interview questions. Click here to share yours with me, and I will have hiring managers and recruiters from top organizations weigh in on the best responses to your tough questions.