When you schedule an interview for a new job, you pretty much know what you need to work on: body language, your handshake, and your resume-based anecdotes. That’s it, right? You’re ready to go? Not so fast…the type of interview you’re facing can add a whole new level of prep and consideration. When you think “interview,” you might get an image of the traditional sit-down between you and a hiring manager, but in reality, there are lots of different kinds of interviews that might come up in your job search. It’s important to have a game plan for each kind.
Let’s look at these interview types, and what you need to know to ace them.
The Classic Interview
This is the traditional sit-down interview where you go to the hiring company to discuss a specific job opening, and meet with either someone from HR or the person who will be your new boss. This is by far the most common interview type out there.
What you need to know: You should be ready to field any question, from basic questions about yourself, your professional history, and your resume to more abstract questions about how you would approach the job. The best prep you can do for a classic interview is to make sure you have stories ready to go for all aspects of your resume, examples you can give to illustrate your skills and strengths.
This type of job interview is also all about rules and tradition. Make sure you dress well, and are scrupulously on time.
The Informational Interview
This one might be a stretch as a “job interview,” but you might come across it in your job hunt, especially if you’re just starting out. In an informational interview, you reach out to someone in your target industry or at your target company to get more information about it. You’re the one asking most of the questions, and it’s not attached to hiring for a specific job opening. Informational job interviews are typically networking opportunities.
What you need to know: Because you’re the one setting up the interview and driving the conversation, it’s important to come up with a list of questions or goal topics you want to discuss. If you need an icebreaker, ask the person to tell you a little bit about their role at the company, and what they like about their job.
The Phone Interview
The phone interview is often the first stop on the job interview trail. It may be done by necessity if you’re far from the interviewing company, but most often it’s a preliminary interview done by HR or a recruiter to see if they want to bring you in for a next-round interview. The questions are often general, as the interviewer is trying to get a preliminary sense of your qualifications.
What you need to know: The best part about a phone interview is that while you’ll need to be “on” verbally, you can actually do it in your pajamas. Seriously, though, a phone interview has one very great advantage: you can have all sorts of notes in front of you, like an annotated version of your resume, or an outline of the talking points you want to hit. You can also work on your speaking style, which is the phone interview equivalent of working on your body language for a traditional interview.
The Skype Interview
The Skype interview (or other video chat interview) is kind of like phone interview 2.0. It’s used for remote interviews, particularly if you’re interviewing for a remote job or a job for which you’d need to move. The Skype interview may be a preliminary check to see if you’ll be brought in for an in-person interview later.
What you need to know: The interviewer can see you, so you need to dress and act like you’re in a regular interview. The dress code may not be quite as formal, but—no pajamas. Business casual at a minimum. And you should pick a location that is private and quiet. That means no Starbucks, and make sure any rowdy pets or housemates are ensconced quietly somewhere else (bribes are always appropriate here).
The Job Fair Interview
Job fair interviews are on-the-spot interviews that take place at a mass job fair held by a particular company, or by a school or organization. These can feel a bit impersonal, as the interviewer might be seeing dozens of other people about a particular job opening, but don’t be intimidated. In a job fair interview, you need to be prepared to make a good impression very quickly. You may only have 10 minutes or so to let them know you’re the right one for the job, so speed and efficiency are key.
What you need to know: Have your elevator pitch airtight and ready to go. You will likely not have the time to develop a nuanced conversation with the interviewer, so it’s important to have him or her know up front who you are and what your best qualifications are.
The Behavioral Interview
A behavioral interview is an interview where you’re asked about how you handled things in the past, or would handle specific situations. It’s basically a scenario interview, where you’re supposed to talk through the process and logic. A behavioral interview (which might be mixed in with more traditional interview questions about your skills and qualifications) is designed to test your problem solving skills, and probe a little deeper into your resume beyond the bullet points on the paper.
What you need to know: You can’t really anticipate what exact questions you’ll be asked, but the job description can be helpful. For each job description bullet, come up with a specific anecdote from your past about a time you faced something similar, and how you handled it. Try to have similar stories in mind for your resume bullet points as well.
The Puzzle/Case Interview
In this kind of interview, you’re given specific information and asked to solve a problem. In the business world, you might get a real-world problem like “how can Pepsi take market share from Coke?” In other contexts (tech companies like Google love puzzle interviews), you might get a tricky word or math problem to solve, like “how many venti coffees can fit in a 10-gallon drum?” It may be something realistic, or absurd—either way, the point is the journey you take to get there, not necessarily the answer.
What you need to know: You can’t do much specific prep for this kind of interview, unfortunately. There’s no way to know the specifics of what you’ll be asked to do/quantify/theorize. For case interviews, you’ll be using your general business logic skills, so don’t get too bogged down in the details of the case.
The Lunch Interview
Lunch is social. A lunch interview, however, is a professional occasion. Don’t get sucked in by the apparent informality of eating with your potential future colleagues, even though this is usually a more conversational kind of interview. It’s typically a way for the hiring manager to see what you’re like outside of the interview hot seat.
What you need to know: Keep it professional. That’s not to say you should avoid the small talk, but be wary of the kind of personal details you discuss. Although you won’t have your resume in front of you next to your plate, try to keep in mind the same kinds of professional points you highlighted in your traditional interview. And even if others are drinking alcohol at lunch, definitely abstain—you want to stay sharp, and it’s never really appropriate to drink in an interview. There’s plenty of time for work happy hours later.
The Group Interview
Many candidates go in to a group interview, but very few may come out holding that job offer. It looks a bit like the Hunger Games. It feels like the Hunger Games, if you’re one of the group. This format is common for sales jobs, or jobs or internships that are hiring multiple people at once. It’s an efficiency thing, and it also lets the interviewing company see how well people do with group dynamics. The most important thing to remember here is that although you’ll be sharing the spotlight with others, the standard interview rules still apply when it comes to staying on topic (your own qualifications) and behaving professionally.
What you need to know: The other people in your group are not your enemies, so focus on outshining them instead of sandbagging them. Pay attention to what they say and how their responses are received by the interviewers, because you might pick up tips on how to adapt or phrase your own answers. And slagging other people (even subtly) likely won’t get you very far in this interview format, so being confident and friendly is the mode you want to choose. After all, the interviewer is picking you to be a member of a team, and they need to know that you can play well with others.
The Panel Interview
This one sounds ominous, doesn’t it? The word “panel” conjures up images like congressional hearings, or (more dramatically) firing squads. In reality, it’s often a time-saver for the hiring company, allowing them to condense several different interviewers into one interview slot. Or maybe the job calls for you to work with different teams, and it makes sense to present a cohesive front in the interview. Whatever the case may be, don’t fear the panel interview. You’ll be answering the same kinds of questions as a standard job interview, just to a few different faces.
What you need to know: Each interviewer will likely have a different personality and style, so make sure you’re responding in kind. Make sure you give equal attention to each person in the interview, and be sure to get everyone’s name so you can follow up later with thank yous.
The Working Interview
The working interview is often a late-stage interview, or an interview for a job where it’s important to see how you’ll perform on the job. You may be given a physical task (like in engineering) or asked to make a sales pitch. It’s a live demo of your resume skills, basically.
What you need to know: Like with behavioral and puzzle interviews, the most important thing to do is to stay calm, think through your task, and perform it to the best of your abilities without overthinking it. You may feel a little self-conscious, but it’s likely that the interviewer will understand that.
No matter what type of job interview you’ll be facing, there are three things you should always do:
- Be confident. You’re bringing a great package of skills and accomplishments, so own it!
- Send a thank you note after the interview. Even if you talked with someone very briefly, make sure they know you appreciate the time they took to meet with you.
- Be professional. Even when the format is more casual (like a lunch interview), remember that you’re auditioning to be an employee, not a buddy.
The more you know about the types of interviews you may come across in your job hunt, the better prepared you’ll be. “Deer in headlights” isn’t a good look on anyone, and you want to make sure that you’re meeting each interview situation with confidence, grace, and the knowledge that you have what it takes to get the job.