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Interviewing

A resume will get you an interview, but it is the interview that gets you the job. An interview is a conversation that occurs between a prospective employee and an employer or organization. Interviews are conducted by the employer to assess a candidate's personality, skills, background, and interests to determine if they are the best fit for a job they are looking to fill. An interview is a mutually beneficial conversation - meaning both the employer and prospective candidate are learning about each other in order to best determine if the job and job seeker are a match.

Types of Interviews

Every employer has a preferred style of obtaining the information they need for their hiring decision. These are some basic types of interview styles you may encounter. While most commonly utilized in in-person interviews, these formats can also be applied to remote interview settings, including phone or video conferencing. Some employers may choose to utilize a combination of different styles, but as long as you've prepared well for your interview, you'll be able to adapt to the situation they present. As you begin scheduling your interviews, inquire about the interview format and venue so you can include that in how you prepare.

Structured Interviews

A structured interview is typically formal and organized and may include several interviewers, commonly referred to as a panel interview. An interviewer who has a more structured style will usually begin with what is known as an “icebreaker” question. The icebreaker is used to relax you before the more serious questions are asked. A discussion about the weather might be used or perhaps a question about the traffic on your way to the office. Next, the interviewer may talk for a few minutes about the company and the position. During this time, the interviewer may describe the day-to-day work responsibilities and the general company philosophy. He or she may then ask you a series of questions regarding your past educational, co-curricular, and work experiences.

Finally, the interviewer may ask if you have questions for him or her. You should always have several questions prepared. This type of interview is structured and formal.

Unstructured Interviews

The unstructured interview is what the name implies. The only structure to the interview is the one that you provide. Basically, the interviewer is interested in hearing from you, so you may be asked a variety of different open ended questions. You will find an unstructured interview to be more conversational and less formal in tone than a structured interview. You may be asked questions about your hobbies, what you do on the weekends, or other casual questions designed to put you at ease. Many students prefer this laid back style of interviewing, but you must be cautious. Sometimes employers intentionally adopt this casual demeanor so that you feel comfortable enough to let down your guard and potentially reveal something that you normally would not. If you find yourself in an unstructured interview, be friendly but maintain your professionalism. Remember that you are there to showcase your best assets and to convince the employer that you are the most qualified candidate for the job. Casual conversation is acceptable, and it can set a positive tone for the interview, but be sure to bring the conversation around to your skills and qualifications.

Stress Interviews

This style is used primarily by interviewers who are hiring for positions where there is a high level of daily stress in the work environment (i.e., sales, stockbroker, etc.). The same questions that are asked during a structured or unstructured interview may be asked for a stress interview. However, there may be a difference in the behavior or demeanor of the interviewer. The interviewer during a stress interview may appear distracted, contrary, or indifferent to you. The idea behind this type of interview is to assess your reaction to the pressure of indifference, rejection, and overall stress. To be successful in the stress interview, it is recommended that you focus on the question that is asked and not the manner in which it is asked. Another hallmark of a stress interview is the "strange question." For instance, some interviewers like to ask questions such as, "How many ping pong balls can fit in a 757 jet?" To answer a question like this, break it down into smaller, more manageable components. Verbally convey your decision making process. The interviewer will be less focused on whether or not you came to the “right” answer and more focused on your ability to problem-solve and think logically.

Sometimes in a stress interview, the interviewer will put candidates in an uncomfortable situation. For instance, candidates may be given a test that takes two hours to complete, and are told to complete it in thirty minutes. Remember to stay calm throughout a stress interview, because that is what the employer is looking for – a candidate who has the ability to remain cool, calm and collected.

Behavioral Interviews

Behavioral interviewing is a widely used method of job interviewing. This approach is based on the belief that past performance is the best predictor of future behavior. Therefore, behavioral interview questions are designed to probe your previous experiences in order to determine how you might behave in similar situations in the future. In this type of interview, you will not be asked hypothetical questions about how you would handle a situation if confronted with it in the future. Instead you will be asked how you did handle a specific situation when you encountered it in the past. Keep in mind that employers are not interested in what you should have done, or what you will do next time...they want to know what you actually did. Behavioral interview questions generally start with any one of the following phrases:
  • Tell me about a time when you...
  • Describe a circumstance when you were faced with a problem related to
  • Tell me how you approached a situation where...
  • Share with me an instance in which you demonstrated...

This type of question requires you to tell stories from your past. These stories will be evaluated for evidence of your intellectual competence, leadership, teamwork, personal skills, adjustment and flexibility, motivation, communication skills, administrative skills, and technical abilities.

To prepare for a behavioral interview, you must first identify the skills and strengths that the employer is seeking. Next, reflect on your past experiences (educational, employment, extra-curricular, personal) in order to identify situations in which you clearly demonstrated the identified skills. During the interview, you must be able to recount these circumstances articulately and in a manner which showcases your strengths. A thorough answer should describe the Situation, the Tasks with which you were charged, the Action you took, and the Result of your action. We refer to this as the STAR Method of responding to behavioral interview questions.

Problem Solving or Case Interviews

Employers utilize this style of questioning to test a candidate's analytical ability and communication skills. In a problem solving or case interview, you will be presented with a real or simulated problem to consider and solve. You are not necessarily expected to arrive at the "correct answer." What the interviewer is most concerned with is your thought process, so be sure to "think out loud" when responding to this type of question. An effective answer is one which demonstrates your ability to break a problem down into manageable pieces and to think clearly under pressure.

Panel Interviews

Employers often like to gather the opinions of several members of their staff prior to deciding which candidate to hire. To accomplish this, panel interviews are often used where one candidate may be interviewed by a few people at once. In a panel interview, take note of each interviewer’s name, and refer to them by their names. When giving your answers, focus on the person who asked you the question, but make eye contact with the other members in the group from time to time. Panel interviews can vary in style and tone, but generally they will be more formal and include behavioral based questions.

Group Interviews

A group interview is exactly as it sounds – it’s you, the interviewer(s), and several other candidates contending for the same job. Many companies use this particular recruitment method as a way to see how a prospective candidate handles themselves in a non-traditional interviewing environment. A group interview typically consists of a group of 5-10 candidates listening to information about the company and position and taking turns answering questions asked by the interviewee. It is also common for candidates to participate in group exercises or activities. Any company in any industry could utilize group interviews, but the format is often used for jobs that require heavy social interaction, customer service, or team based work.

For many interviewers, walking into a room and seeing a bunch of other candidates can be a very daunting moment – it is important to understand the basics of group interviewing in order to rise to the challenge and stand out amongst the crowd.  Employers that conduct group interviews are typically looking for the following key traits in a candidate: communication skills, team player personality, listening skills, leadership skills, presentation skills (eye contact, appropriate body language, etc.), professional appearance (appropriate attire, hygiene, grooming, etc.), ability to handle stressful situations, and an overall enthusiasm in the company and position. To ace a group interview, consider the following tips:

  • Pay attention. Demonstrate solid listening skills, not only with questions asked to you by the interviewer, but also with the responses of other candidates. Your best shot at giving a good answer is by thoroughly understanding the question asked to you. Also, listening carefully to the answers of other candidates enables you to build or add to what they said when it’s your turn to speak. This shows that not only did you listen to them, but you actively thought about their ideas.
  • Don’t be a know-it-all. Avoid trying to sound better than others by criticizing them or their responses. The best practice is to show collaboration and team-building skills by giving others positive remarks when warranted and avoiding overly negative criticism, even when you feel like their answer wasn’t good.
  • Be different. Don't hold back from voicing an opinion different from others. As long as you are respectful, this is actually a positive trait to many interviewers and shows you aren't afraid to think outside of the box.
  • Speak confidently. The group interview is a time to stand out from the competition. Do your best to focus on what you bring to the table rather than how you stack up to others. Answer questions honestly and genuinely and avoid sounding too rehearsed - this is a negative for many interviewers.
  • Watch your body language. It is crucial to be mindful of your body language and composure both while you are talking and when watching others speak or waiting for your turn to contribute to the conversation. Look engaged and attentive while others are talking to show you are present; avoid conveying distraction or disinterest by yawning, gazing out the window, or looking down at the ground.
  • Don’t overthink it. Many of the basic preparation techniques for a group interview are the same as any other interview format. Do your research on the company, dress appropriate, practice your responses, and be mindful of your body language. Refer to Steinbright’s general interviewing tips for additional ideas on preparing for a group interview.
  • Know your personality. For most shy or introverted people, a group interview is going to be a less than ideal situation. Even for outgoing candidates, most find a group interview more challenging and unpredictable than other interview formats. Try some preparation techniques listed in Steinbright’s coping with interview stress section to reduce any nerves you may be facing.

Remote Interviewing

Beyond the format of the interview, how you are asked to interview - in-person, by phone, or by video conference, also can have an impact on how you prepare for your interview. Consider the following information if asked to complete a remote interview.

Phone Interviews

Some employers prefer to conduct brief interviews via telephone with potential candidates. Phone interviews are almost always used to screen candidates, intended to determine whether or not a candidate is a good fit before asking him or her to come to an in-person interview. Occasionally, phone interviews are used to interview candidates who cannot travel to an interview due to distance. Here are a few guidelines for a successful phone interview:
  • Prepare for a phone interview the same way you would prepare for an in person interview – research the company, practice answers to frequently asked questions and know the job description.
  • Practice with someone ahead of time to make sure that your phone line has a clear reception and that you do not make any unnecessary or distracting sounds (breathing loudly into the phone, etc.)
  • Make sure you are in a quiet place for the time of your interview. If you live with roommates or family, choose a time when they will not be home or find a quiet location to conduct your interview. Turn off your TV, radio and computer speakers. If you have pets, conduct your interview in a separate room so that your interviewer does not hear barking, scratching, etc.
  • Answer the phone professionally by identifying yourself.
    For example: "Good morning, John Smith speaking."
  • Have your resume in front of you plus a list of questions you have for them. Have a pen and paper ready in case you need to take notes. Have a glass of water in front of you in case you need it.
  • Stand up during the interview. It will help you to project your voice better, and prevent you from getting overly comfortable. Smile while you are talking. Believe it or not, smiles can be heard in one’s tone of voice.
  • It can be difficult to build a rapport with the interviewer over the phone. Focus on providing direct and clear answers that emphasize you are a good fit for the job.
  • Do not eat, smoke or chew gum while you are speaking with the employer.
  • End the phone call on a positive note by thanking them for their time and wishing them a pleasant day.

Video Conference Interviews

In today's increasingly global and technologically advanced workforce, some employers choose to conduct video conference interviews. While there are a variety of technologies for video conferencing, the most commonly utilized is Skype. Some employers may do this due to geographical limitations (e.g – you live in Pennsylvania but the company is located in California) and will hold the video conference interview as an alternative to an in-person interview. Some employers may treat the video conference interview as a “pre-interview” or what is called a screening. This means that they may use the video conference interview as an opportunity to assess your skills and background before inviting you for an in-person interview. Keep in mind that most organizations will want to meet the candidate face-to-face in order to best determine their overall fit for the company and position. With that being said, below are additional factors you will want to consider for a video conference interview:

Before the Interview

  • Ensure you have a quiet place to talk. Choose a room away from street noise, roommates and pets. Turn off the television, radio and any other media devices that may distract. Silence your phone, but have it nearby in case they call due to technical issues.
  • Test your sound and video with a friend well in advance of the interview so you have time to resolve any issues.
  • If you are using a new video conferencing service, make sure you have tested the service, downloaded any necessary programs or plug-ins, and completed necessary troubleshooting prior to the start of the interview.
  • Double check the time of the interview and ensure you have accounted for any time differences.
  • Check the lighting and ensure the picture quality is good. Select a spot in front of a blank wall, so the interviewers will not be distracted by what is behind you. Tidy any clutter that may be visible to the interviewers.
  • Ensure you are logged on early and that they have your user name (which should be a professional user name).

During the Interview

  • Once the call goes through and they can see and hear you, smile, say hello and thank them for meeting with you.
  • Know the names of the people who will be interviewing you, and use their names when addressing them.
  • Give yourself time to answer the questions. There can often be a small delay on Skype, so pause, smile and then answer the question.
  • Have all the same items you would have for a phone interview (paper, pen, glass of water, copy of resume) beside you, but out of sight.
  • Focus only on the interview. Do not have other windows open, or have anything going on in the background.
  • Dress professionally. Sit up straight. Look directly into the camera. Smile.