Before we get into the specifics of how to succeed in interviews, it might help you to read about the different forms your interview might take. Your first interview is likely to fall into one of the following six categories:
The Preliminary Screening Interview
In the most common type of first interview, you meet with a person whose role is to screen applicants and arrange follow-up interviews with the person who has the authority to hire. Other times, you may meet directly with the hiring authority, whose primary focus is to eliminate as many applicants as possible, leaving only one or two. These one-on-one interviews are the focus of the techniques presented here.
The Group or Panel Interview
Although still not as common as the one-on-one interview, group interviews are gaining popularity. You could be asked to interview with two or more people involved in the selection process, or I’ve even known of situations where a group of interviewers met with a group of applicants at the same time. Many of the techniques used here work well in these settings, too.
The Stress Interview
Some interviewers intentionally try to get you upset. They want to see how you handle stress, whether you can accept criticism, or how you react to a tense situation. They hope to see how you are likely to act in a high-pressure job.
For example, this type of interviewer might try to upset you by not accepting something you say as true. “I find it difficult to believe,” this person might say, “that you were responsible for as large a program as you claim here on your resume. Why don’t you just tell me what you really did?” Another approach is to quickly fire questions at you, but not give you time to completely answer, or to interrupt you mid-sentence with other questions.
We hope you don’t run into this sort of interview, but if you do, be yourself and have a few laughs. The odds are the interview could turn out fine if you don’t the bait and throw things around the room. If you do get a job offer following such an interview, you might want to ask yourself whether you would want to work for such a person or organization. (If you turn down the job, think of the fun you could have telling them what you think of their interviewing techniques.)
The Structured Interview
Employment laws related to hiring practices have increased the use of a structured interview, particularly in larger organizations. In this type of interview, the interviewer has a list of questions to ask all applicants and a form to fill out to record the responses and observations. Your experience and skills may be compared to specific job tasks or criteria. Even if the interview is highly structured, you will likely have an opportunity to present what you feel is essential information.
The Reality Interview
Some organizations now use a method commonly called “reality interviewing.” Instead of asking traditional questions like “What is the best way to handle customer complaints,” the reality interview asks more specific questions like “Tell me about a situation when you handled a customer complaint. Be specific in telling me what you did and what happened as a result.” The objective is to get applicants to present specific things they did in the past as a way to indicate how they are likely to handle similar situations in the future. You might be asked very specific questions like “Your sales efforts resulted in a large order to an important customer. The order needs to go out right away to meet the customer’s needs, but the accounting department has put a freeze on this account due to slow payments in the past. What would you do and why?” These kinds of questions provide excellent opportunities for well-prepared job seekers to present the skills and abilities that are needed for the job they want.
The Disorganized Interview
You will come across many inexperienced employers who will not do a good job of interviewing you. They may talks about themselves too much or neglect to ask you meaningful questions. Many employers are competent managers but poor interviews, and few have had any formal interview training. The best way to handle these interviews is to present the employers with the skills you have to do this job. Give them the answers they need to hire you even if they neglect to asks the right questions.