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Types of Interviews

As you graduate and embark on your job search, you may assume that your interview experiences will be similar, but in reality your meetings with prospective employers might be drastically different. They can range from one-on-one conversations with recruiters at career fairs to sit-down meetings with human resources coordinators to informal informational interviews to group meetings. And that's not even the full range of possibilities! So how will you prepare for them all?

By Valerie Anderson

Types of interviews
In order to be successful during every possible interview type, it is important to have a clear idea of the different varieties and what is expected of you during each style. According to Bonnie Lowe, author of “Job Interview Success System” and publisher of the e-newsletter “Career-Life Times” (, human resources personnel, professional recruiters, and other career experts all agree on one thing: one of the best ways to prepare for any style of job interview is to anticipate questions, develop your answers, and practice, practice, practice. Plenty of Web sites offer lists of popular job interview questions, and knowing the types of questions to expect can be very useful. But knowing how to answer those questions can mean the difference between getting the job and getting a reject letter.

Expect the Unexpected

There is no way to predict every question you will be asked during a job interview. You should always expect the unexpected questions—they will come up no matter how much preparation you do. Treat any sample answers you find in discussion forums, books or on Internet job sites, as guides only. Don’t use sample answers word for word; interviewers can spot “canned” answers a mile away. Apply your own experiences, personality and style to answer questions. This is crucial, and it will give you a big advantage over candidates who simply recite clichéd replies.

Sell Yourself

Make a list of your best “selling points” for the position. What qualification, skill, experience, knowledge, background and personality trait do you possess that would make you stand out and would apply to this particular job? Write them down and look for opportunities to work them into your answers. In addition to any sample job interview questions, you should also develop your own list of probable questions based specifically on the job for which you are applying.

Lowe suggests writing down your answers to likely questions ahead of time. She adds that if you have information on what the position requires, study it carefully and note the phrases the company uses when describing the desired qualifications; target these as much as possible when developing your answers. Review and edit your answers until you feel comfortable with them. Practice saying them out loud. And if possible, have a friend help you rehearse for the interview.

Informational Interview

Informational interviews are not job interviews. Instead they are a chance for you to get together with a professional to gather facts on a particular career or industry that you are interested in pursuing. It is also a chance for you to make contacts in that field, which can help you find future job openings. However, it’s important not to ask for job leads during an informational interview.

This is a chance for you to seek advice in your desired field only. Therefore, you should allow the contact to put you in touch with further references as they see fit.

This meeting can be less stressful than a regular job interview, but you should still be professional and prepared. Here are some helpful hints:

  • Come prepared with plenty of research done in advance. Have questions ready about the industry, field, company and the person you’re meeting with.

  • If the person you meet with supplies you with contact names, make sure he or she is comfortable with you using his or her name as a point of reference.

  • Before you leave, shake hands with the interviewer and leave them your card, contact information and resume.

  • Send a thank-you note within a few days.

Screening Interview

When you are looking to get your foot in the door, sometimes you will have to get by a human resource professional. Their goal is to weed you out, but if you get past them, you will probably score a meeting with a decision maker at the company.

These HR screeners will be looking for gaps in your employment history or information that looks inconsistent. They will also want to know if the company can afford you, so they might ask you about your salary requirements.  When asked about this topic, it is best to answer by saying something along the lines of: “I would be willing to consider your best offer.”

At a moment’s notice you could also get a screening interview via the phone. Again, this is done by employers looking to eliminate job seekers based on required standards, like employment objective, education or required skills. Keep a copy of your resume, a list of references and job search records by your phone. Also, make sure your voice mail message is professional sounding.

“Audition” Interview

In some positions, like computer programming, for example, employers might want to evaluate your skills during an interview. This type of interview gives you the unique opportunity to prove your abilities through activities that are similar to tasks you would be required to do on the job.

During an audition type interview, remember to:

  • Practice any possible skills you might be required to perform before the interview.

  • Make sure you understand exactly what is being asked of you during the exercise. It is okay to ask for clarification and is much preferred to doing something incorrectly simply because you were confused about the directions.

Group Interview

During this style of interview you will be in a room with other candidates. This can give you the opportunity to step up and show your sense of leadership potential, allowing the company to see how you interact with your peers and future co-workers. Are you reserved? Or are you bossy? Do you work well with others, or do you compete for attention? Sometimes during these types of meetings, recruiters will present challenges to the panel and have the group discuss them. You might also be asked to solve a problem as a collective.

This can be one of the more overwhelming types of interviews, and it is easy to get lost in the shuffle, but here are a few tips:

  • Speak to everyone in the group interview with equal respect. Always be polite even if other people are not polite to you.

  • Avoid power struggles; they will only make you look inexperienced and childish.

Tag Team Interview

Types of interviews
Just when you thought interviewing for one person was hard enough, what about interviewing for two, three or four people? Employers sometimes want the input and insights of various people who work with the company. Not only do they want to make sure your background, education and skills fit the position and company, but they also want to know whether or not you can get along with various members of the team.

Some helpful tips for success during this style of interview:

  • Get each person’s business card at the start of the meeting and, if possible, refer to them by name.

  • Make eye contact with each interviewer and speak directly to them when answering his or her question.

  • Come prepared to present at least twice as many stories to tell about your past experiences and skills. Remember, you have to sell yourself in a variety of ways to a number of people during this type of meeting.

  • Expect to expend a lot of energy, so get a good night’s sleep in advance!

Mealtime Interview

Mealtime interviews can be one of the best opportunities to bond with a prospective employer, so take advantage of this opportunity. Oftentimes when a position requires a high level of interpersonal skills, companies will want to know what you are like in a social setting. And keep in mind that they won’t just be observing how you interact with your future co-workers and bosses, but also how you treat any other guests and even the serving staff. These details will say a lot about your character so be on your best behavior at all times.

Here are some other mealtime tips:

  • First and foremost, make sure your meal is easy to eat, so you do not have to worry about spilling on your clothes. You don’t want to be stuck in the bathroom washing out a spaghetti stain!

  • Take all your cues from your interviewer. Don’t sit until he or she does. Do not order a glass of wine or beer unless he or she does. (And even then, only have one.) Always order something slightly less extravagant than your interviewer, and do not begin eating until he does.

  • Discuss business only if those at the table are doing so.

  • Do not discuss dietary restrictions and preferences.

  • Always remember to thank your interviewer for the meal.

Stress Interview

How good are you at keeping your cool under pressure? This is exactly what employers are attempting to figure out during the stress interview. It may seem like cruel and unusual treatment, but if you pass this grueling test, the job is probably yours for the taking.

So what happens during this type of interview? Any range of odd behavior, from being held in the waiting room for an excessive amount of time before the interviewer greets you to being asked offensive questions to being met with long silences or cold glares. Verbal abuse is even common. So what is the point of all of this? Simply to see if you can handle a difficult company culture and a potentially stressful work environment. Do you have what it takes? Keep these tips in mind:

  • Stress interviews are not meant to hurt your feelings. They are just meant to test your mental strength.

  • Keep your main message in mind, and don’t let the interviewer shake you from your goal of expressing that point.

  • Stay calm. No matter what happens, do not respond with rudeness.

Behavioral Interview

Discussing your skills and education is one thing, but how will you behave on the job? That is what employers are attempting to figure out during the behavioral interview. In this style of meeting, companies use your previous behavior to indicate your future performance. Interviewers might ask: “Describe a past work experience where you had to use problem-solving, adaptability or leadership.” And then you will be asked to go into detail on how you dealt with past situations.

Before you head into a behavioral interview, review your resume and come up with plenty of anecdotes about your past experiences. Practice these stories in advance, and remember to keep the responses clear and concise.

Follow-up Interview

Just when you thought one interview was enough, companies can bring you back for a second, or even third or forth, interview. In this case, employers may be having a hard time deciding between a number of worthy candidates, or they might simply want to make sure that you are the best choice for the job. Either way the follow-up interview is your chance to cement your placement with the company.

During this interview phase, you will often meet with higher-ups at the company, so be prepared for the stress to run high.

Some tips for managing second interviews:

  • Be self-assured and stress your interest in the position.

  • Come prepared to negotiate a compensation package.

Valerie Anderson is the Senior Editorial Manager of Graduating Engineer & Computer Careers.


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