Interviewing – Interview Types

Every interviewer goes into an interview with a goal in mind. They aren’t just trying to fill a job, they are trying to find the best fit.

You are only selected for an interview if the employer already believes, based on your resume and/or cover letter, that you are capable of doing the job. Everyone who walks in the door is going to be technically capable, so the question shifts to who do we prefer? Preference is a trickier thing. For any given position there are probably two or three key qualities or skills that are more critical than the rest. What those are will vary by employer and company, but typically they are considering issues such as:

  • Organizational fit (will you get along with current staff, pace of work, etc.)
  • “Soft” skills (communication, teamwork, problem-solving)
  • How you handle pressure or the unexpected
  • Are you coachable? Professional?
  • Advancement potential/leadership ability

These are all the things that are difficult to determine from even the most well-written resume and a cover letter.

From the candidate’s side, you should have goals as well. The job description and your research prior to the interview should have given you some clues as to the qualities or skills the employer might be asking you about. We will talk more about how to approach this in the “During the Interview” section of the guide, but try to identify three to five areas where your background and skills match the employer’s needs and keep that top of mind. No matter what type of interview, or interviewer, you get your goal is to make sure the interviewer knows those things about you before you leave!

The “type” of interview the employer chooses will vary by the goals of the interviewer, the industry, and even individual interviewer’s preferences or level of experience, but will typically fall into one of these six types (or a hybrid of several).

 

Conversational

A conversational interview is exactly what it sounds like; a less structured, more informal conversation. Some hiring managers prefer to keep the mood more relaxed and work their goals for the interview into a naturally flowing conversation rather than a stricter formal question/formal response/next question format. While these interviews are always more comfortable, don’t be lulled into an unprofessional mindset. Sometimes these are “behavioral” interviews in disguise.

 

Behavioral

This is a more formal structure, and the most common. Based on the idea that past actions are the best predictor of future performance, behavioral interviews will ask a series of scenario-based questions seeking to elicit how you addressed certain situations in the past. A question series might look something like this:

“Do you set goals for yourself?”

-If “Yes”: “That’s great! That’s how we all work around here. Can you tell me about a goal you set for yourself recently? Did you achieve it?”

-If “No”: “OK, that works for some people! I’d love to hear more. I’m asking because in this position we operate entirely on short-term and long-term goal setting to manage projects and stay on task. Since you don’t set goals can you give me an example of a time when you successfully managed a project to on-time completion without setting goals throughout the process?”

Possible additional follow-ups, depending on the candidate’s answers:

“Meeting that goal sounds like it was a really great accomplishment! What was the hardest part of getting it done?”

“Not meeting that goal must have been disappointing! What did you learn from that experience?”

“Do you always achieve your goals?”

“You seem to achieve all the goals you set for yourself. That’s great! Have there been times when you wished you had set a more challenging goal? Achieving your goals certainly can help you feel like you are making progress and improve your motivation in the short-term. How do you make sure you are progressing towards long-term growth?”

“You seem to miss your goals a lot. It’s great to keep trying to improve, but have there been times where you thought you were setting your goals too high? Can you think of a time in the past where having a more achievable goal might have helped motivate your team?”

An interviewer who is really good at this type of interview can not only make it feel a lot more conversational than it may seem reading the questions above, but they can segue from one answer into another line of questioning effortlessly using careful follow-up questions based on their goals.

For example, if I started with the sequence of “goals” questions above, but I was also interested in your ability to lead a team, I might pick a piece of your answer and use that to launch the next sequence:

“Meeting that goal sounds like it was a really great accomplishment! What was the hardest part of getting it done?”

-“When you were describing your team, you mentioned that Joe showed up late a few times and that held the team back. It’s great that you recognize that was a challenge for the group. If you were leading a team here and one of your colleagues wasn’t pulling their weight, how would you apply that lesson from your academic project to our organization?”

 

Panel

These interviews can be either conversational or behavioral, but you will be engaging with more than one interviewer at once. You might be sitting across the table from two people, or facing a room full of 30 staff. This style can be especially intimidating if you were not expecting it, and it can also cause some interviewers in the room to lose focus on your answers if they are waiting for their turn to ask a question. The best approach is to answer questions as they come by directing your answer to the person who asked the question, while also glancing at others in the room to keep them focused on you and your answers.

 

Group

In a group interview, more than one candidate will be in the same room, facing one or more interviewers. True group interviews are fairly rare, but can happen in organizations that rely a lot on teamwork, are highly competitive, or both. The best strategy in these situations is to make sure you provide good answers to questions directed to you personally, and act professionally when questions are directed at the whole group—giving others a chance to answer and avoiding a negative reaction to what others might say. A helpful strategy in this scenario is to model your answers on the way improv actors work with each other on stage. In improv, actors always accept the premise offered to them with a “yes, and…” approach. If another candidate offers an answer you feel is wrong, confronting them and possibly embarrassing them might make you look bad. Instead if you approach it by saying, “just building off what Joe said, I think it would be interesting to…”

 

Case

Typically used in consulting, case interviews are a hybrid of a behavioral interview to start, and a real-time test of your skills to finish.

The initial part of the interview will be the more traditional behavioral style to get to know you and your background a bit better. Once that is done, the employer will present you with a very specific business problem (often a real example from their past clients). They will present it with a certain level of detail, but not typically enough for you to just “figure it out”. The expectation is that you will think about the information you have been given, ask a lot of questions to get a better sense of the problem and potential obstacles and pathways to solutions, and then formulate an informed response. Typically, this part of the interview might be 45-60 minutes. The expectation for this type of interview is not necessarily that you come to the correct conclusion, but that you exercise sound judgement, ask good questions, take notes, seek feedback as you progress in developing your solution, and can defend your final decision and back up your thought process and conclusion based on the information you were given. It is a miniaturized, real-time test of what it is like to be a consultant.

 

Stress

This type is probably the least frequently used, outside of a very few high-pressure, highly competitive industries. The idea behind a stress interview is to ask questions where the substance of the question, the manner in which it is asked, or both, are designed to make the candidate veryuncomfortable (this might include questions or comments that are insulting, critical, or even attempting to embarrass/humiliate). The goal is to see how the candidate reacts to being in a high-stress environment. Can they still give intelligent answers? Can they show poise and respond with confidence? It’s the corporate equivalent of having an angry drill sergeant in your face.

From a corporate perspective this can make sense as an evaluative technique if you have highly demanding clients who might be under pressure themselves, or where the position requires fast thinking under stress, such as law enforcement or emergency medical personnel. While a full interview of this type is less common, individual interviewers across all industries have been known to throw a single “stress question” at candidates to see how they handle the unexpected. Whether facing a full interview of this style, or a single question, your goal as a candidate is to retain your poise. Remember, it’s not personal; it’s a type of game, so play along. Stay calm, take a deep breath, think about your answer, and be yourself—don’t let the situation intimidate you.

 

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