Interview Types: Understand What You're Getting Into

Interview Types

Job interviews aren’t all alike. In fact, there are several different types of interviews, each designed to assess different kinds of qualifications and attributes critical to the position. If you are in the job search, taking the time to learn about these different styles can help you prepare to shine on the big day.

In some cases, you won’t be able to know in advance which type of interview the hiring manager will choose. In other cases, you may be able to find out more from the person that schedules your interview. It is appropriate, for example, to ask who will be conducting the interview and if it will be a one-on-one meeting with the interviewer.

In practice, however, many job interviews actually use a combination of more than one of the following interview types.

Getting familiar with each type can give you the best preparation for anything your next job interview holds for you.

1) Phone Interviews

In most cases phone interviews are used as a time saving measure for recruiters to narrow down a pool of candidates. The goal of a phone interview is to make it to the second round, usually some type of in-person interview. The other time a phone interview is common is to assess strong candidates that are applying for a job out of state. Often hiring managers will want to do some basic screening to make sure the time and expense of traveling to an in-person interview makes sense.

The good news is that if you have landed a phone interview, you will be informed upfront when your call is scheduled so you will have time to fully prepare. This type of interview tends to be shorter and less in-depth than a traditional interview. The focus is usually centered on eliminating deal breakers (such as an unprofessional attitude or poor communication skills), assessing your interest in the job and fit with the company culture, and/or clarifying questions about your work history. In some cases, you will be asked about your salary expectations as well, so be prepared to address that issue.

2) Assessment Events

Some employers use all day assessment events to evaluate the top candidates for a position before making a final hiring decision. These events usually include a variety of different activities, each designed to assess specific skills, critical thinking, or the ability to work well with others. It is not uncommon for these events to also include a more formal interview as well as a presentation, or “job talk.” In highly technical fields, such as IT or engineering, they may also include formal testing to make sure you have the required skillset for the job.

The best way to prepare for assessment events is to get as much information as you can about what will be expected prior to the event. Don’t be afraid to ask for some information about the overall schedule, a general sense of the activities planned, what you should bring with you, and the expectations for attire. These can all provide clues as to what you can expect at the event and how to best prepare.

3) Informal Interviews

Informal interviews are usually scheduled by employers looking to secure top talent, often before a formal role has even been carved out. They are usually conducted by a recruiter at the company or a third-party headhunter. If you have been invited to an informal interview, it means that you have been identified as being a potential asset to the company who may be willing to create a job perfect for your skillset, experience, and point of view.

These types of interviews are most typical for start-ups, the tech industry, and upper level corporate management and sales positions. Despite the informal structure that these interviews take, candidates are still being assessed and should maintain professionalism. Preparation should be similar to a more formal interview with extra care given to researching the person or people you will be meeting with. This will demonstrate your interest in knowing more about what the company has to offer you as well as get the conversation going in the right direction.

4) Group Interviews

This type of job interview includes assessing multiple candidates at the same time. It often precedes a second round of individual interviews for the candidates that stand out as ideal. Group interviews usually include elements of on-the-spot problem solving and working within in a group dynamic. In most cases, the recruiter will give you advance notice if a group interview is planned.

Despite the competitive feel of being assessed directly next to the other top contenders for the job, employers that use this style of interview often value cooperative interactions and are looking for people that demonstrate the ability to get along well with others. It is an opportunity to demonstrate a leadership and work style that is inclusive of the points of view of others.

This type of interview is most often used when an employer has several job openings at once, such as opening a new restaurant or staffing a new branch office. Remember that your “competitors” may one day be your coworkers.

5) Panel Interviews

Panel interviews include a team of interviewers usually consisting of a representative from each of the departments the prospective role will interact with regularly. As such, they are typically used for upper level management jobs or roles that serve multiple facets of a company’s operation. Examples include project managers, department heads, academics, and executives.

Panel interviews tend to follow a fairly standard formula for each applicant, with each stakeholder asking questions relative to their work with the person that fills the position. In addition, standard interview questions that assess fit with the company culture, specific job qualifications, and passion for the job are also to be expected. If possible, try to find out who will be there in advance and do some research on each interviewer and their department before the big day.

6) Behavioral Interviews

Behavioral interviews look like a traditional job interview in terms of format, but the questions asked will prompt you to talk about specific work experiences when you had to act under pressure, learned an important lesson, or made a mistake. The logic is that your past behavior will predict your future behavior on the job.

Most interviews include at least a few behavioral types of questions, so it is always important to be prepared to talk about a few key work experiences you have had that could demonstrate your work ethic, ability to take direction, and soft skills such as communication and problem solving.

The types of work most likely to focus on behavioral questions in interviews include those that require leadership, working closely with others in a team setting, or engaging the public such as customer service or case management.

7) Situational Interviews

Similar to a behavioral type interview, situational interviews are designed to predict how a candidate will perform under the routine pressures of the job. However, these types of interview questions are built around how you react to hypothetical cases, rather than asking you to recount actual work experiences from your past.

Typically, the same types of jobs that favor behavioral interview styles will tend to also use them in combination with situational questions. Preparing for common situational interview questions is a good idea for any job interview.

8) Structured Interviews

Structured interviews follow the same formula for each candidate so that they are compared on exactly the same questions, asked in the same order. Rather than allowing the interview to develop on its own, these types of interviews can feel formal and stuffy. The focus of such interviews tends to be squarely on required qualifications for the job and the work experiences that make you a strong fit for handling direct job responsibilities.

They are most commonly used for entry level jobs in corporate or government environments where liability concerns about discrimination can have a strong influence on hiring procedures.

In some cases, structured interviews go one step further by including a rigorous formula for “grading” your answers. Although you will not be told in advance if your interviewer will use this style, if you sense that you are being assessed with a structured interview style it is important to listen carefully to each question and fully address each of them.

9) Technical Interviews

Technical interviews are designed to directly assess your technical skills and are usually reserved for jobs that require a highly refined and up to date skill set. It is common to have some form of technical assessment as part of the interview for jobs in computing, accounting, engineering, compliance, and other technical disciplines.

Problem solving, critical thinking, and situational reasoning are all standard fare in this type of interview. In some cases, cognitive aptitude will be assessed using brain teaser types of questions to assess the strength of your logical reasoning.

Scenario / Situational Interview

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