Great! All those applications, cover letters, and resumes you submitted have finally paid off! Now, you have been invited to a job interview! Since there are many different types of job interviews, you may be wondering what to expect. Will there be one interviewer? Maybe a panel of several interviewers? What kinds of questions might you be asked? Will you be given a problem to solve or even have to take a skill test?
What’s in a Name?
Defining interview “format” or “type” appears to not be an exact science. Different authors use various innovative names to describe each type and there is no universal agreement on a naming convention. To further muddy the waters, they will often refer to what I consider the “format” of the interview as a type and use terms interchangeably.
Here, we will propose a more logical manner in which to classify interviews. For our purposes, the “format” of an interview will be defined by the number of interviewers encountered and/or the method or sequence of meeting with them. The different types will be explained in detail later.
Next, there is the “type” of an interview. Format will be defined by the questioning methods or techniques used to acquire information from and/or assess the applicants. More on this later.
What to Expect?
In reality, regardless of how they are named, job interviews are often a hybrid mix of format and types. Employers typically select whatever combination they feel best meets their needs or has worked most effectively for them. Of course, as a candidate, you have no control over the type or format you will encounter. However, knowing what to expect can reduce anxiety and put you more at ease.
When scheduling an interview, you might casually ask about how it will be conducted. Most employers will likely have no problem providing at least some basic detail. They might advise whether you will meet with one person or a panel of interviewers. Accept whatever information they offer and don’t pry to the point of being annoying or sounding paranoid. Some organizations even post information on their websites about their interview formats, such as whether behavioral-based questions are used.
As stated earlier, there are many job interview formats. These may include:
- Face-to-Face Interview
- Single Interviewer
- Panel Interview
- Sequential Interviews
- Telephone Interview
- Online Video Interview
- Job Fair Interview
- Lunch/Social Interview
This is what many people might define as the “traditional” interview. The applicant meets in-person, face-to-face with one or more interviewers. For privacy and to avoid noise and distractions, the interview is often conducted in an office or conference room. However, it could just as well take place anywhere, such as the floor of a factory or on an outdoor job site.
Again, often considered a traditional interview, the applicant meets with one individual who conducts the entire interview from start to finish. This may be the business owner, hiring manager, someone from Human Resources (HR), a first-line supervisor, or some other person authorized to perform the interview. The individual may make the hiring decision alone or convey the results of the interview to someone else who has the power to make the final choice.
As the name suggests, the interview is conducted by several people (often two to five) at the same time. The interviewers may go “round robin” where each takes a turn asking the candidate one or more questions. Panel members might consist of the hiring manager and a supervisor but may also include individuals such as a representative from HR, one or more future co-workers, or others.
An interview panel is useful to the employer in many ways. First, the hiring manager receives input from the panel members who may offer different viewpoints about each candidate. One panel member may notice something which another missed. HR staff is often involved to ensure proper protocol is followed and no illegal questions are asked. Including future co-workers on the panel provides an opportunity for employee engagement in the selection and hiring process. Finally, the use of a panel, especially one with diverse members, may help avoid discrimination or bias which could potentially occur when only one person conducts the entire interview.
The final hiring decision may be made in several ways:
- one person on the panel (such as a manager) with input from the others
- group consensus
- an actual vote of the panel, or
- by someone else altogether (not on the panel) based on the recommendation of the group
With sequential interviews, the applicant meets with multiple individuals in separate interviews, one after the other. For example, the applicant may first be interviewed by the hiring manager and a supervisor. Next, the candidate is interviewed by a different person, such as a representative from HR. This may be followed by yet another interview, such as someone from another department (Director of Marketing, Finance, etc.), and so forth. Sequential interviews often last several hours or even an entire day (especially for management positions).
The results of these separate interviews are later compiled to provide the hiring manager with an overall impression of each candidate. This approach is also useful when scheduling conflicts make it difficult to assemble all the needed individuals at the same time for an extended period, such as for a panel interview.
As the name suggests, this interview is conducted via the telephone. When numerous interviewers are involved, they may be together around a conference table using a speakerphone or located in different offices around country on a conference call line.
A telephone interview is often used as a low-cost, first-step screening tool when many applications have been received or if the applicants are located in distant cities. If you have an upcoming telephone interview, be sure to listen to the Career Lantern podcast entitled “10 Tips for a Successful Telephone Interview.”
Online Video Interview
Although sometimes called a “Skype” or “Zoom” interview, any number of video conferencing software applications may be used. In some cases, the applicant may need to download a small file to their computer in advance (provided by the employer). Other software applications involve the applicant merely clicking a link sent by the employer. As with the telephone interview, the applicant may be meeting with one or several individuals who may be located in the same room or scattered around the world.
This interview differs from a telephone interview in that the applicant can be seen. Therefore, in many ways, the process more closely resembles the typical face-to-face interview. It is often used as an alternative to in-person interviewing when applicants are located far away to avoid expensive airfare, hotel, and other travel costs.
Applicants need to prepare for and treat this type of interview much as they would a face-to-face interview. For example, since the applicant can be seen, he or she should dress appropriately. Also, a suitable private and quiet location for the interview must be used. Finally, all required communication technology must be tested in advance and ready to go.
Job Fair Interview
Colleges, community groups, trade organizations, and even private firms may host job fairs. Job fairs are events specifically designed to bring together job seekers and company recruiters. These may be stand-alone events or held as part of a conference, seminar, or other such meeting. At a typical job fair, applicants walk from table to table with resumes in hand, each table hosted by a different company. Although these events generally include many employers, individual firms may also hold a job fair just for themselves.
This approach is advantageous and efficient for applicants and employers alike. With a job fair, the typical “submit a resume to an automated website and hope for a response” process is avoided. This format also provides companies with the chance to project a friendly face for their firms. Presenting a welcoming image may help attract quality applicants who otherwise might have never even heard of the company or bothered to apply. Also, by meeting in person, firms have the chance to see beyond faceless, sterile resumes or job applications. This helps identify candidates with the most potential and insert those applications into the selection process more quickly.
While some job fairs may be more “meet and greet” functions, others may include actual on-the-spot interviews. Even if the interview turns out to be brief and preliminary, it may still open doors.
For more details on interviewing at job fairs, check out an interesting article at CollegeGrad.com.
Hungry? With this format, the interviewer(s) meet with the applicant at a restaurant, bar, or in some other social setting. If the job routinely involves meeting with clients or others over a meal or in other social setting, the employer gets the chance to see firsthand how applicants handle themselves. Does he or she have good social skills and follow proper business and meal etiquette? Does the applicant chew loudly or talk with a full mouth? Use the proper silverware? Remain professional?
This approach is also intended to make the interview feel less formal and more casual. However, never forget for a moment that this is still a job interview and your responses and behavior will be watched closely every step of the way.
Some employers also offer alcoholic beverages during these interviews. Giving an applicant a few drinks can cause them to let down their guard and “loosen their tongue” a bit. When this happens, it can reveal a lot about attitudes and beliefs which might otherwise remain concealed. This approach also predicts how well a candidate can handle situations involving alcohol. Some otherwise normally professional individuals can become quite the fool after even only a few drinks.
If invited to such an interview, you have a lot to consider in addition to just the expected job-related questions. Do you know proper table etiquette? Which entrée should you order? Have one drink to appear sociable or none at all? For more insight, I suggest reading a few articles on this topic such as these found on Monster and TheBalanceCareers.
Wait a minute. Isn’t there some overlap in these interview formats? No one format name alone seems to fit every possibility. At first, it may seem so. But, remember the definition offered earlier permits combinations to clarify the number of interviewers encountered and/or the method or sequence of meeting with them. Consider the two following examples and how they accurately describe the interview:
- Face-to-face single interviewer
- Telephone panel interview
Regardless of the interview format involved, one or more types may be encountered. Again, the type will refer to the questioning methods or techniques used to acquire information from and/or assess the applicants. Sometimes, several types may be used together during the same interview. These may include:
- Q & A
- Behavioral Questions
- Skill Tests
- Stress Interview
- Group Interview
Q & A
The question-and-answer type is probably what comes to mind when most people think of a job interview. The interviewer asks the questions and the applicant answers. Simple and straight forward. The interview typically opens by asking the applicant about his or her work experience and education. Next, questions may be asked about training, skills, or credentials (licenses, certifications, etc.). Especially if the field is technical, a few detailed questions may follow to assess depth of knowledge about certain topics. Often, a few general questions are also included such as “Why did you apply for this job?” or “Where do you see yourself in five years?” At the conclusion of the interview, the candidate usually is offered the opportunity to ask questions of the interviewers.
Every interview contains at least some Q & A elements. However, other types (described below) are also frequently included as part of the interview to gain specific insight.
The underlying premise of this type is that past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior. Applicants may be asked a series of questions such as “Describe a time when you had to deal with an irate customer” or “Tell us about a time when you had to complete a project but were not given adequate resources.” The applicant’s response may provide valuable insight into the way he or she approaches problems. It can also reveal underlying attitudes about work or people. Candidates seem to be surprisingly honest in their answers, sometimes even exposing very negative aspects of their attitudes or past behavior. The inability of an applicant to think of a response may reveal a lack of sufficient work experience or a general inability to think and respond quickly under pressure.
This type may also be known as targeted selection, situational, or “STAR” questions. For more information on this format, be sure to read the Career Lantern article Behavioral or STAR Job Interview Questions: Are You Ready? As questions of this format are very popular, I strongly suggest being prepared for a least a few. An easy way to prepare is to consider typical behavioral or STAR questions in advance and think of possible responses. Career Lantern has a Sample Behavioral Interview Questions guide which can assist you in preparing.
At some point during the interview, you may be given a work-related problem to solve or task to complete. This is very similar to a skill test (see below) but may consist of just one problem or task rather than a broad look at your skill sets.
Although the possibilities are endless, here is an example of such a problem. An applicant is given details of a situation, such as an event dealing with an upset customer or a dispute with another department. Next, a response memo or letter must be written within a brief, set amount of time. This exercise provides insight into the way the individual approaches a customer service problem, how quickly and effectively the person can think under pressure, and their ability to write professionally.
During a job interview, candidates are quick to boast about their skills and abilities. If an employer is looking for someone with a certain skill, every applicant claims to have it. Some candidates are real smooth talkers and can be very convincing. Unfortunately, whether done innocently or deliberately, applicants sometimes tend to exaggerate their skill levels. I get it. Everyone wants to look good. But, how is an employer to know the truth?
As a result, many employers now routinely include some sort of skill test as a part of their application and/or interview process. Even the job search website Indeed® now mentions on its television advertisements and website that it can provide employers with skill testing of applicants. Have a job interview coming up? Be sure to read the Career Lantern post Should You Expect a Skill Test During a Job Interview?
Some jobs are high-stress by their nature and not everyone is cut out to work that way. The applicants may not really know the pressure which awaits once on the job. If so, the employer may be doing themselves and the applicants a favor by evaluating how well these folks can handle stress.
A college professor told me of an actual stress interview experienced by a former student. The applicant was given airline tickets to interview in a major city. Flight arrival time was deliberately set for rush hour to cause late arrival to the interview site. The cruelty didn’t end there. Once at the designated place, a note was found taped to the meeting room door stating the interview location had been changed to a room in a different building. Again, all done deliberately. After finally arriving hopelessly late to the interview, the applicant was berated by the interviewers for being tardy. They angrily demanded an explanation.
Stressed out, sweaty, and exhausted, the applicant could not handle it and fell apart, literally crying. Then, the interviewers apologized and explained how every hurdle had been placed deliberately. They pointed out how this situation was nothing compared to the stress their employees routinely encounter on the job.
Sure, this may have been an extreme example of a stress interview. An interview can be stressful without having to resort to such drastic measures. Still, the takeaway here is that in certain career fields one should possibly expect some type of stress to be included. Don’t be paranoid, but if you are on the lookout, at least you won’t be caught off guard. The applicant in this example was set up to fail. Perhaps a closer review, in advance, of flight and expected traffic travel times might have suggested something was suspicious.
With this interview type, several or all of the job applicants are brought together in a room at the same time. A group exercise may be assigned which requires the applicants to work together if the task is to be completed within the allotted time.
The interviewers then observe what occurs, either while in the room themselves or from elsewhere via video camera. The session may even be recorded for later review. They watch the interactions and behaviors of each applicant. Which candidates emerge as natural leaders? Which individuals are overly aggressive or try to bully others into doing it their way? Who is submissive, timid, or quiet and barely participates? Who is the creative or logical person making the most important contribution to completing the task?
For useful tips on how to deal with a group interview, check out an interesting article by Ashley Colbert at The Muse.
It’s Interview Time!
You are now familiar with many of the common interview formats and types. Armed with this information, you can prepare by considering in advance how you will handle whatever type or format the interviewers might throw your way. While other applicants may be caught off guard and fumble, you will be confident and ready to respond! Good luck!
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