Interview Stages, Styles, and Formats
Congratulations! Your resume and cover letter and/or portfolio got you to the next phase in the job search process – the all-important interview! This is your chance to shine and ensure the employer understands why you are the best candidate for the job. At this point, some may say this job is yours, but that isn’t the case. There could be a shortlist of several candidates vying for the same position.
Interviews can involve any number of steps. It is quite common to have a brief pre-screening interview, often with someone from the HR department. These typically last anywhere from 15-30 minutes, and the purpose of them is usually to screen candidates based on their experience, qualifications, and salary expectations. Make sure to prepare for these with as much effort and diligence as a regular interview, because these can make or break your chances of being invited to interview at the next stage.
Some companies hold just one interview, others conduct 2, 3, or even more!
Depending on the position, you may be asked to complete an assignment or prepare a presentation or provide a sample of your work as part of the screening process.
Be confident and self-assured, but don’t think you’ve got it made. Yes, you’ve made it this far, but interviews can be challenging. Preparation and practice are key to successful interviews.
Any interview can be broken down into three main phases – pre-interview, during, and post-interview.
Pre-Interview is the period between the offer of a job interview and the actual interview day. During this time, it is important to:
- Review the research you did when preparing your application. Check your notes and visit/re-visit the company’s website to gain insight into the company, helping you be prepared for questions like “What do you know about our organization?” or “Tell me why you want to work here.”
- For in-person interviews, ensure you know how you are going to get to the interview (e.g., car, bus) and plan on what time you need to leave so that you can arrive 10 minutes early. Whether in-person or via video, it is critical you are not late! Let your references know about the interview, and confirm they are still willing and able to be a reference.
- Invest time in practicing your answer to the “Tell me about yourself” question, and responses to some common interview questions. You can also book a mock interview session with Career Services; email [email protected] for details.
- Set aside what you will take to the interview, or what you will load onto your computer to screen share, such as a your resume, references, portfolio.
- Decide what you will wear, ensuring you aren’t too casual or formal (this is where your research is important!). Make sure your clothing is clean and avoid using cologne/perfume or scented creams.
During is the actual interview which will generally include an opening/welcome, the main interview, and the close. Throughout the interview, be sure to:
- Maintain good posture (don’t slouch), show enthusiasm (smile), and maintain appropriate eye contact (don’t stare).
- Turn off your phone! Similarly, if your phone is on silent but your smart watch will buzz constantly, put it on “do not disturb”. Now is not the time to take calls, respond to messages, or be distracted by various beeps and vibrations.
- Listen carefully to the interviewer, paying close attention to what is being asked. This will help ensure you stay on track, answering the questions being asked. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification if a question confuses you.
- Demonstrate how your knowledge, training, and experience link to the position and the company. Don’t hesitate to brag or share accomplishments; this truly is your time to sell yourself. However, be sure this doesn’t come across as overly aggressive.
- Take every opportunity to ask questions and explore the position and the company in greater detail. Remember, they are interviewing you but, in a way, you are also interviewing them. Use the interview to confirm whether this position is a good fit for you and if the company is a place you might like to work. Avoid asking questions about pay or benefits; these are not appropriate at this stage.
- As the interview ends, be sure you’ve said all you had hoped to mention. This is your final chance to convince the employer you are the right candidate. Take a moment to ask about next steps, which could include additional interview, testing, reference checks, and the overall timing of the process.
Post-interview is the period after the interview, until you either get a job offer or learn you were not the successful candidate. You might also be asked to participate in a follow-up interview. During this phase, it is important to:
- Review the interview, as soon as possible such during your ride home. Try to assess what worked well and areas where you struggled, allowing you to improve for next time.
- Send a thank-you message, generally by email, to thank the interviewer for his/her time, making sure to specify what stood out for you, and expressing interest in the position.
Most people expect to have a one-one-one interview, just you and the interviewer, in an office of some sort. However, it isn’t unusual to have a group or panel interview or for interviews to be held in more public places such as a restaurant or career fair. Here is a list of possible scenarios you may encounter:
Interviews can be structured, in other words a set of questions is developed ahead of time, and each candidate gets asked exactly the same questions in the same way by the same people.
Sometimes you see the opposite, where the interview is free-flowing and informal, feeling more like a conversation. These unstructured interviews tend to be individualized to each candidate, depending on what’s in their resume.
Some interviews are somewhere in between these two extremes (i.e., structured and unstructured), meaning that the interviewer usually has a framework of topics to cover, while allowing new ideas to be brought up during the interview as a result of what the interviewee says.
Sometimes there will be just one interviewer – it could be the hiring manager or a HR person. Other times you’ll be interviewed by a number of people, which can include a panel of representatives from different departments in the organization, or you could be interviewed by the team with the available position. Each will likely be involved in asking questions. When answering, direct your response to the person who asked but do not ignore the rest of the panel. Ensure you are making contact and building a connection with each person.
In some cases, you could be interviewed alongside other applicants. This is called a group interview. This style introduces some competitiveness among applicants and allows employers to assess you relative to your peers. This style can be common during career fairs and could include one or more interviewers, as well as multiple interviewees. These are almost always screening interviews, as employers work to narrow down to a shorter list of people invited to a more formal interview. As with any professional meeting, smile, be confident and positive, and do not interrupt other speakers. You want to try to stand out in these interviews, but not by putting other people down.
Restaurant interviews may involve breakfast, lunch, or even dinner or just a drink and snack. All the same interview guidelines apply – arrive on time, dress appropriately, and answer each question thoughtfully, ensuring you are sharing your skills and experience. In addition, be mindful of what you are ordering to avoid anything that is too expensive or messy. Never order alcohol.
A skills assessment interview is a method of validating job applicants’ hands-on skills by inviting them to perform job-specific tasks. For instance, If a hiring manager is searching for a Video Game Developer, a skills assessment interview may require a live coding demonstration. Make sure that the proficiencies and experiences outlined on your resume are an accurate depiction of the skills you possess. Practice makes perfect. If you are going to attend a skills assessment interview, make sure to do your research and fine-tune your skills ahead of time.
There are many different interview formats, and you need to be prepared for anything.
In-person interviews are the most common, and likely what most people expect and are often considered “the norm” though the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact here to. As with any other interview, arrive on-time, dress appropriately, project a positive and professional attitude.
Phone interviews can be challenging as you don’t get the benefit of seeing the interviewer so can’t respond to body language, however if you are being attentive you can get the sense of the employer’s tone, and vice versa. Try to smile and project an air of confidence using your voice. Dressing as if you were going to an in-person interview will also help set the right tone. Turn off, or ignore, other notifications to ensure you stay focused. If the line is causing interference, be sure to explain to the interviewer rather than trying to answer questions you can’t really hear.
Virtual interviews became quite common during the COVID-19 pandemic and are likely here to stay. These are usually conducted over a web-based video platform such as Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, or WebEx. These kinds of interviews require a bit more preparation, including:
- Testing your technology in advance – this includes your internet connectivity, plus your camera and microphone. Test these in advance, and then again on the day of the interview.
- Pick a prime location – use a space with optimal lighting (maybe near a window or else a blank wall), tidy up your surroundings, and eliminate distractions by turning off the TV, silencing your cell phone, and closing windows to dull any traffic noise.
- Monitor your on-screen body language. Make sure to sit up straight, smile, and keep the camera at eye level. Although it can be hard to convey over a screen, try to be expressive, attentive, and show enthusiasm.
- Prepare a “cheat” sheet to common interview questions; using post-it notes, stick them on surfaces where you will not have to look very far to refer to them. Be cautious with this as you can very easily end up looking away from the camera so ideally these would be very quick positioned at the same level as the camera.
Asynchronous video interview, or AVI is an emerging type of interview held at a different time than the interviewer, often supported by artificial intelligence. In these interviews, applicants receive an email
invitation to participate, click a link and then record audio or video responses to the questions. After the AVI, interviewers score the videos and pick the top candidates, or in some cases, a computer algorithm screens and scores the videos. If you are interested to learn more about this, read this article.
An audition is a brief performance in front of an employer, or panel. After watching this performance, the employer will make a judgment about whether the performer is the right person for the role. It typically involves the performer displaying their talent through a previously memorized and rehearsed solo piece or by performing a work or piece given to them at or before the audition. The employer may hold more than one audition, to determine if the performer is right for the role.