Job interviews are rarely pleasant experiences. From the initial onset of nerves as you arrive, through the pressure and scrutiny of the questions themselves and even right up to that dreaded ‘yes’ or ‘no’ phone call afterwards, the whole process is designed to take you right out of your comfort zone.
Yet as companies receive larger numbers of applications for increasingly versatile positions, so too does the way in which they assess candidates – gone are the days when an interview would automatically constitute a simple one-on-one meeting, for example. Instead, businesses need to know – and, in many cases, physically see – that you are exactly what they are looking for, meaning things are going to get even less straightforward. Luckily, of course, we’re here to help you prepare.
If you don’t know your coffee interview from your speed interview or the difference between a stress interview and a behavioural one, then you should read on. These are the different types of interview you will experience in the modern workplace – and what exactly you need to do to overcome them…
1. One-to-One Interviews
When you picture a typical job interview, it’s likely that this is what comes to mind: you sat on one side of a table and your potential future employer sat on the other, firing off questions that you have (hopefully) prepared thoroughly for. These types of interviews can be particularly nerve-wracking, especially if your interviewer is cold and abrupt. On the plus side, as companies look to attain a variety of opinions on candidates, the one-to-one interview structure is becoming increasingly redundant.
2. Structured Interviews
Structured interviews can probably be best described as traditional. While not strictly intimidating, the format will still be pretty formal and the line of questioning will be scripted and fairly basic. You’ll likely face this kind of format if your assessor has little previous experience of conducting an interview. Either way, make sure you are polite and punctual, and don’t forget to ask a few questions of your own at the end.
3. Unstructured Interviews
As the name suggests, an unstructured interview is a little more free-spirited and can go off tangent very easily. Rather than asking linear questions that push you towards certain answers, your interviewer will instead prefer to let you do most of the talking, giving you broad, open-ended questions that can be approached in a wide variety of ways.
These interviews are often seen as being more informal and casual – almost like a conversation rather than an assessment – but don’t let that fool you: some companies knowingly employ this tactic so that candidates let their guard down. Always maintain your professionalism and don’t reveal things about yourself that you may regret.
4. Stress Interviews
Stress interviews are slightly controversial, but it can’t be denied that they are a hugely valuable indication of a person’s suitability for a particular role – especially if that role is high-pressure and demanding, such as in the finance sector.
It’s not unheard of for candidates in stress interviews to be spoken to rudely, asked a multitude of seemingly impossible questions and given a deluge of tasks while under a constant barrage of interrogation. Don’t take any of it personally, though! You’re not being marked on if you can solve a Rubik’s cube while simultaneously offering a defence of your university grade; you’re being assessed on how you handle yourself when under intense pressure. Stay calm, understand what’s going on and focus on meeting every task to the best of your ability.
5. Behavioural Interviews
A popular interviewing technique among recruiters is often to attain solutions to a series of hypothetical problems, such as enquiring into how being part of a team would affect your ability to perform your role. Behavioural interviews, on the other hand, are concerned with what you have already achieved, meaning the same question would likely be phrased differently: ‘Give an example of a time when you worked effectively as part of a team’, for instance.
The best way to tackle this kind of interview is to adopt what is known as the STAR method, a communication tool that briefly explains:
- the context of your story (Situation)
- the objectives you were given (Task)
- what you actually did (Action)
- the subsequent result of your actions (Result).
Always give actual real-life examples to support your answers, and if you’re struggling to think of one, be creative. If you’re a recent graduate and you’ve never worked in a project team, for instance, talk about a sports team or a group assignment at university that you were part of.
6. Problem-Solving/Case Interviews
Problem-solving or case study interviews usually form one part of a series of further interviews and are more often than not directly linked to the type of role you are applying for. They are especially common during the recruitment process for technical jobs, such as software engineering and other IT-based roles, and generally involve arriving at a solution for a problem that you will then have to justify and explain.
These problems can either be exact, such as coding or mathematical problems, or more broad, such as a puzzle or brainteaser that requires you to demonstrate logic and reasoning. You may be asked to use particular software or, as is the case with Google’s internship assessment, told to present your solution using only a whiteboard and a pen. The key to being successful here is being adaptable and able to think quickly and creatively.
7. Portfolio Interviews
Again, portfolio interviews are only subject to certain industries; the most obvious example being for creative jobs, such as graphic design and architecture. The difference between a portfolio interview and simply presenting your portfolio is that you will be asked to talk through in detail certain aspects of your previous work. To this end, a portfolio interview is more like a presentation.
Brush up on your presenting skills beforehand – maybe watch a few TEDx talks, for instance – and make sure that your portfolio is up-to-date and neatly formatted before it is subject to scrutiny.
8. Panel Interviews
Panel interviews are again fairly traditional affairs, consisting usually of around three interviewees assessing one candidate. Typically, the interviewers will be a senior manager, an HR representative and a relevant line/project manager. Although many candidates find this kind of setup a little intimidating, think of it positively: your performance will be reviewed by three different assessors, who will all find different things that they like about you.
It’s also likely that each interviewee will take a different line of questioning with you, so it’s again necessary to remain flexible. A good tip is to also try and remember each person’s name when they are introduced to you. Other than that, you should prepare as you would for a normal one-to-one interview, and don’t let the additional bodies in the room ruffle your feathers.
9. Group Interviews
It can be daunting enough when you are being judged by your potential employers, but in a group interview things can get even trickier; after all, every answer that you give will be scrutinised closely not just by them, but by your direct competitors, too.
For some candidates, this added pressure can have a negative effect, but for others, it can be a catalyst to step forward and shine – see popular reality television show The Apprentice as a prime example. The key, though, is to understand what you are being assessed on: are you friendly to the other candidates or downright hostile? Do you encourage group solutions to problems or stand by your own opinions? Do you work harmoniously with others, even if it means taking a step back yourself?
Of course, most companies will be hoping that you can demonstrate a little of everything. Always be polite and positive, engage with others and take on different points of view. Certainly, you should avoid criticising and interrupting others or taking control of the discussion and not allowing anyone else to speak.
10. Coffee Interviews
Lunch interviews – or coffee interviews, as they are becoming increasingly known as – may sound like the equivalent of a free pass in the recruitment process, but they are nothing of the kind. Just because you’re sat in the corner of Starbucks, it doesn’t mean that you should be any less prepared, professional or punctual than in a formal, office-based interview.
Sometimes, the line can be slightly blurred between whether or not your meeting is part of an actual process or if your potential employers are just feeling you out. Iin such cases – particularly if you are approached by them – always assume the former. Even if it is made clear to you that there isn’t a position currently available, you never know what might be in the pipeline, so don’t take any chances.
11. Skype Interviews
Video interviews – often conducted using the free software tool, Skype – are usually used by companies to act as screening interviews early in the recruiting process. You may be presented with a short series of questions – usually by a computer, as opposed to a live human interviewer – where you will give timed answers that are then reviewed later on.
Alternatively, if you are applying for a job overseas, or if you are unable to physically attend a meeting, then your prospective employers might choose to conduct a full live two-way interview over Skype. If you don’t have a strong and secure internet connection at home, then go somewhere that does – the last thing you want is for your assessors to be greeted with a garbled, tinny audio and a pixelated screen or, worse, for your video feed to cut out completely.
Whichever stage you’re at, it goes without saying that you should prepare thoroughly and present yourself appropriately; this means dressing smartly and being aware of what’s going on in the background. Make sure you won’t be disturbed, either, as an untimely interruption can easily knock you off your stride…
12. Phone Interviews
Phone interviews are also usually conducted early in the recruitment process and are generally used as a screening tool prior to a face-to-face meeting. Just because your interviewer can’t physically see you, though, it doesn’t mean that you should allow yourself to relax.
Indeed, it’s often advised that you dress formally, just as you would for any other interview; this can positively affect your psychology and your overall approach, ensuring you don’t get complacent. There are certain aspects of your bearing that can still be assessed, too – do you speak confidently and clearly? Can you explain your points succinctly? Are you a strong communicator overall?
That said, you can still use certain things to your advantage. While you shouldn’t read your answers off a script, it can be highly useful to have your research notes laid out in front of you. This ensures you don’t forget anything and can focus instead on impressing your interviewer.
13. Assessment Interviews
Similar to a problem-solving interview, an assessment centre is sometimes used by companies to address your competency in a variety of areas. Unlike a problem-solving interview, though, these typically last for much longer – anything up to a day or, in some cases, spread over several days. They also cover a much broader range of skills.
For instance, you might undergo a series of numeracy and literacy tests, as well as group tasks, role plays, psychometric evaluations and job-specific exams. Depending on the field you are going into, there may also be physical and/or medical assessments, too.
In such instances, you will be warned well in advance of what you will need to do, as well as be given hints and guidance in a lot of cases. Make sure you read any literature that you are given from cover to cover and prepare as thoroughly as possible for each stage of the assessment.
14. Speed Interviews
Much like the popular concept of speed dating, speed interviews consist of a large number of candidates moving simultaneously between a number of interviewers, who are each responsible for following a certain line of questioning. Each station is timed and candidates have only a limited opportunity to make an impression - which is, essentially, the entire point.
Speed interviews are about making an instant impact and appealing to the initial judgement of the interviewer. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that your body language is correct, that you smile and maintain eye contact, and that you are immediately likeable. Due to the timing constraints, remain calm at all times and get your answers across quickly but clearly.
15. Working Interviews
Depending on the type of job that you are interviewing for, your assessor may decide to cut short the questioning and instead take the opportunity to see you in action. This means demonstrating your skills in a real-life environment, instead of simply talking them up in a hypothetical scenario.
In a sales environment, for instance, you might be asked to step out of the office and onto the floor, where your prospective employers will watch you open a potential customer. Alternatively, if you are a writer, you may be given some information and asked to construct a short piece on the spot. You may (with prior warning) even be asked to spend a full day in the office to try your hand at a few tasks and see how you fit into the overall culture.
Although this interview technique can be daunting – especially if you’re not expecting it – it can also be a massive opportunity to set yourself apart from the crowd. Be confident and positive at all times and, if nothing else, use it as a chance to gain feedback and learn more about the company; interviews are a two-way process, after all.
As companies experiment with different styles in order to optimise their recruiting, the traditional interview is seemingly morphing into something a lot broader and harder to navigate. By focusing on good preparation and remaining flexible, though, there’s no reason why you can’t present yourself as an ideal candidate and use these different formats to show off your best attributes.
Which interview style do you think is the most effective? Let us know in the comments below…