The purpose of an interview is to get acquainted and to learn about one another. Employers evaluate your qualifications, and you get to provide a human face to a resume and a phone call, as well as sell the employer on your skills, experience and enthusiasm. But the interview is not just about you; it’s also about them. It is an opportunity for you to learn more about the job — what it is really like — and find out if you really want it. Moreover, you will discover whether this is a company you will enjoy working for.
Three common types of interviews are telephone screening, in-person screening and the selection interview. It doesn’t matter what type of interview you face; what matters is that you present your qualifications to the final decision maker while maintaining good relations with everyone you come into contact with, from the staff at the waiting area to receptionists and parking lot attendants. If you’re lucky, you may see them all again when you get the job.
This interview saves the employer time by eliminating candidates based on essential criteria such as employment objective, education or required skills. Since these interviews will often occur unexpectedly, it’s important your job search records are organized and kept where you can reach them at a moment’s notice. If you are unprepared, simply ask if you can call back in five minutes, or have them call back. It’s not an unreasonable demand, and the employer may be impressed that you seek to be prepared instead of just winging the interview.
The company can verify your qualifications for the position and establish a preliminary impression of attitude, interest and professional style. A professional screener from the employer’s human resources department most often conducts the interview. At this stage, the goal is to select candidates to meet with the decision maker. You still have to perform well during the interview and leave a good impression.
Conducted by the decision maker, this interview will probe your qualifications and assess your comfort level with the challenges of the position and other team members. There may be more than one interview at this stage. As the candidates are whittled down, you may be invited back to speak with the same person and with other managers or members of a work group. Your ability to establish rapport and present yourself as the right person is critical.
Even with just one interviewer, opinions of the others will be sought and may have an effect on the outcome. When you’re invited to interview with a number of people, it’s important to present yourself effectively to each one of them. Remember, they will be evaluating your skills and ability to fit in. As always, be yourself, but sell to each person’s concerns.
Traditional interview questions, such as “tell me about yourself,” offer employers limited information about your qualifications. Behavioral interviewing can provide more information about your on-the-job behavior, personality and character. The interviewer will ask questions that require you to describe how you have handled work-related situations. For instance, a question might be: “Describe a time when you had to overcome a stressful work situation and how you dealt with it.” From an employer’s perspective, behavioral interviewing gives more insight about your potential than traditional questions.
Sometimes this technique is called STAR, which stands for “Situation, Task, Action and Results.” That’s the order you will follow should you encounter an interviewer who uses the STAR method. It’s a good idea to think of a few STAR stories ahead of time that you can adapt to different behavioral interviewing questions. Remember the importance of being authentic and real. Don’t say anything like, “Well, I never had the kind of problems in my past job that you want me to address here.” The interviewer will know that is unlikely.
Take it as a chance to tell a story that illustrates your skills and offers the interviewer insights that give a good impression of you. As you tell your STAR stories, employers will listen for evidence of the skills required for the job. By now you’ve done plenty of research about the position, and the STAR method allows you to show employers you possess the skills they need.
This type of interview gives applicants an opportunity to show what they have done at previous jobs. It could be the place for graphic artists to display portfolios and salespeople to make a sales presentation. (Even better, do as one job expert suggests, and bring potential sales leads to the interview!) An office worker may be asked to complete a business letter using a specific type of computer software program. An editor might be asked to edit a document.
This is an opportunity to meet and talk with your prospective coworkers. Just as in other interviews, the peer group will be evaluating you, determining how you fit in.
This type of interview takes place with a group of other candidates, and usually more than one interviewer. Introduce yourself to other candidates and, of course, be polite. Try to show confidence by volunteering to respond first to a few questions, but do not dominate the entire interview. To show your ability to be a team player, compliment another candidate’s response and then build on it with your own thoughts. Direct your answer to the individual asking the question, but try to maintain some eye contact with the other members of the group. Don’t forget to smile.
This type of interview assesses how well you can handle yourself in a social situation. Employer representatives may include the hiring manager, a human resource department member and one or more peer employees. Choose your meal selection carefully. Spilling on your blouse or tie isn’t likely to make a favorable impression. Select healthy and easy things to eat so you can answer questions and pay attention to the conversation.
If the interview is conducted at a coffee shop—and a fair number of interviews are these days—the setting probably has more to do with the hiring manager than anything else. He or she wants to escape the office and speak to you in a casual, informal atmosphere that will likely make for an honest discussion of your strengths and weaknesses. Try not to consider if others are listening in — they probably are — and use the time to reveal your commitment to the industry and your desire to work for the company.
A stress interview re-creates some challenging situations you might run into on the job. The interviewer asks you a number of tough questions that are designed to make you somewhat uncomfortable. For example, he or she might present a job-related scenario and ask you to explain how you would respond. Keep your cool, take your time in responding to the questions and reward yourself when it’s all over. Don’t take it personally. This is usually a test of whether you can handle stress on the job and can assess a complicated question quickly.
Some employers today use video conferences to conduct meetings or carry out other aspects of their business, such as interviewing candidates who live in other states or communities a good distance from where they are located. Conducting an interview via video conference enables an employer to save travel costs and still have, in effect, a person-to-person interview. If the thought of facing a camera during an interview frightens you, practice video conferencing beforehand or in front of a mirror.