The interview is arguably the most important part of the recruitment process. Obviously, they’re an opportunity for the prospective employer to find out about you, but don’t forget, an interview is a two-way process, so it is also useful for you to learn about them.

Interview format

Interviews take many different forms. It is a good idea to ask the organization in advance what format the interview will take.

Competency/criteria based interviews: This approach, which is proving ever-more popular, looks at how you would deal with the challenges the job is likely to present. As the interview will focus on the competencies and qualities looked for in the role, you should be able to determine, and prepare for, the kind of questions you will be asked.

The key to answering a competency-based question is structure. Your interviewer will be looking for a very specific response, so apply the STAR technique to your answers.

SSituation – Put the example in context. In most cases they will require an example that relates to the workplace
TTask – Explain what the problem or situation was
AAction – What did you do to resolve or address the situation, and how did you approach this?
RResult – What was the result and how did this impact others or the organization?

interview1Technical interviews: If you have applied for a job or course that requires technical knowledge, it is likely that you will be asked technical questions or have a separate technical interview. Questions may focus on your final year project or on real or hypothetical technical problems. You should be prepared to prove yourself, but also to admit to what you do not know and stress that you are keen to learn. Do not worry if you do not know the exact answer – interviewers are interested in your thought process and logic.

Academic interviews: These are used for further study or research positions. Questions are likely to center on your academic history to date.

Structured interviews: The interviewer has a set list of questions, and asks all the candidates the same questions.

Formal/informal interviews: Some interviews may be very formal, while others will feel more like an informal chat about you and your interests. Be aware that you are still being assessed, however informal the discussion may seem.

Portfolio based interviews: If the role is within the arts, media or communications industries, you may be asked to bring a portfolio of your work to the interview, and to have an in-depth discussion about the pieces you have chosen to include.

Scenario/case study interviews: These ranges from straightforward scenario questions (e.g. ‘what would you do in a situation where…?’) to the detailed analysis of a hypothetical business problem. You will be evaluated on your analysis of the problem, how you identify the key issues, how you pursue a particular line of thinking and whether you can develop and present an appropriate framework for organizing your thoughts.

Specific types of interviews

Face-to-face interviews: This may be one-to-one between you and the interviewer, or you may sometimes find that there are two interviewers, such as a functional specialist and a member of the resourcing or HR team.

Panel interviews: Use of this method is waning, although is still favored by companies (particularly public sector organizations) who have difficulty synchronizing everyone involved in the hiring decision.

They tend to run over the course of a day, and most panels will consist of four or five people. As such, they’re a good opportunity for you to find out more about the people you could be working with. Questions will come more rapidly than in one-to-one interviews, and you may be asked to deliver a presentation. This is a good way for the company to see how you’ll handle this pressurized situation.

It’s worth remembering that, although one person in the panel is likely to be asking most of the questions, all members will have a say in the eventual decision. So ensure you treat them all with the same level of importance. Acknowledge the whole panel when answering, but try to finish each answer looking at the person who asked the question.

Telephone interviews: These are common when recruiting internationally or for roles where a good telephone manner is the key. They’re frequently used for first-stage screening, and rarely take the place of a face-to-face interview. And it would be very unusual for a final interview to be over the telephone. If you are offered a telephone interview, the most important fact to remember is that the employer wants to find out the same information as they would face-to-face, so your preparation needs to be just as thorough.

Group interviews: Several candidates are present and will be asked questions in turn. A group discussion may be encouraged and you may be invited to put questions to the other candidates.

Sequential interviews: These are several interviews in turn, with a different interviewer each time. Usually, each interviewer asks questions to test different sets of competencies. However, you may find yourself answering the same questions over and over. If this does happen, make sure you answer each one as fully as the time before.

Performing at an interview

Assuming you have done your preparation then it’s important to think about how to come across on the day. This article highlights a number of pointers to think about.

  • Particularly if you haven’t had much recent experience of being interviewed, then you may feel nervous. Do not worry! It’s unlikely to show anything like as much as you think. The other candidates are probably nervous too. So the field is level. And the more you prepare, the less anxious you will be.
  • Even if you are told “it’s just an informal chat” – it never is. It might be an informal interview but it is still an interview. Approach every meeting with that mindset. You are being assessed.
  • First impressions are formed very quickly and can count for a lot. Untrained interviewers can allow these to color everything that follows. You will meet inexpert interviewers much of the time.
  • The way you stand, walk and act, needs to reflect confidence, energy, enthusiasm. And of course, be friendly to everyone you meet.
  • Research has shown that 55% of influence comes from non-verbal signals and 38% from tone of voice and manner of delivery. So it’s by no means just what you say, it’s how you say it.
  • Don’t be too terse in your replies, but do aim to be relevant and concise. They can always say “tell me more about…”
  • It should be a dialogue, not just you returning every serve from the base line. Show an interest in their role and issues by questioning. You can occasionally add questions to your answer (I have quite a bit of experience in XYZ, how important is that to this role?
  • Keep up good eye contact. When speaking this is about 70% of the time. More when listening.
  • Do listen attentively. It can give you valuable clues about what the interviewer is interested in, and it will be noticed. Listening is not the same as waiting till it’s your turn to speak again. You show listening skills by attentive behavior, referring back to what the other person said earlier, building on their remarks, and being able to question in a way that refers to what they have said.
  • Building rapport is very important. We hire people we like, not just people who can do the job.
  • It helps rapport if you “mirror” the other person’s way of speaking, gestures and so on. This does not mean doing a slavish copy or poor impersonation. It means for instance if they are quite concise or fast paced so should you be. If they are relaxed or conversely, animated, so should you be.
  • Have a number of questions to ask. You are still being judged, so the questions need to be well-considered. Usually questions about key priorities and early deliverables will get the interviewer talking and will display the required interest in the job. Leave questions about pay and the like until as late in the process as possible. Ideally interview two or three.
  • Finally, make a good departing impression. People remember beginnings and ends. Finish with a short but strong statement of confidence and enthusiasm. Use your words, not these, but the message is “thanks for the meeting which I have enjoyed; keener than ever on the role; sure I have a lot to contribute, especially in (cost control or whatever).
  • Call your consultant immediately after the interview if working with one on the role to give the feedback.