Interviews are like dates…
…you never know what to expect even though you thoroughly vetted your date well in advance. And like a date, an interview may possibly play a huge role in your future.
To land a great job offer, you need to shine during the interview, regardless of its style. In their quest to scoop up the cream of the crop, some companies employ different types of interviews. They often try to confuse, rattle or even embarrass you to catch your candid reactions under pressure.
Understand the common types of interviews, why companies choose one format over the other and how you can succeed at all of them. When you have the confidence to excel, no matter what a company throws at you, your odds of landing the job of your dreams increases exponentially.
1. One-on-One Interviews
One of the most common types of interviews, the one-on-one interview typically is conducted with the hiring manager or some other gatekeeper. In these interviews, the goal is to get to know you and to gauge how well your personality fits with the company culture. You have three goals in a one-on-one:
Build rapport with the interviewer. People hire candidates they like.
Determine if the company is a good match for you and if it is, to persuade the interviewer how easily you can fit in.
Get the nod to move to the next phase. Without a “Yes” at this point, it’s all over.
Show your attitude — and aptitude — by researching the company and the position before your interview. Prepare some insightful questions about the company, its industry or its standing. Show that you’ve done your homework.
At these types of interviews, you’ll likely hear a common set of questions. Make sure you’ve practiced your answers before you arrive. These questions usually are pretty common and can include:
“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
“What are your biggest weaknesses?”
“Why do you want to leave your current company?”
At these types of interviews, your personal bearing comes into play: your dress, posture, attitude, confidence and language. Always treat everyone you meet at the company with courtesy and respect; you never know who the hiring manager might ask about you after you leave. And finally, follow up with an email or call to thank your interviewers.
2. Panel Interviews
It can be nerve-wracking to sit in front of several people at an interview – everyone is staring at you and sizing you up. They may be the team members you’ll be working with, HR representatives or other managers. In these types of interviews, the company wants to know if you can perform under duress or in a more competitive setting. Above all, keep calm. When asked a question, direct your answer to the person who asked it, but include all the panelists with eye contact. Your goals with a panel interview are typically the same as in one-on-one types of interviews.
3. Department Interviews
A variant of the panel interview is the so-called “firing squad.” In this interview format, your interviewers represent different departments. If you are seeking a management position, for example, you may face a senior manager, the HR manager and maybe a front-line manager who’d report to you. Each person judges you (and your responses) from a different point of view. Companies use these types of interviews to determine how well you can relate to the various people you’d interact with on a daily basis.
To master the firing squad, make sure you get all the interviewers’ names and titles, even if you have to write them down. Use their names in your responses and certainly send individual follow-ups afterwards. Try to build rapport by answering the person who asked you a question, but then broaden your answer to suit the other roles represented in the room.
If you’re faced with rapid-fire questions — they don’t call this interview format a firing squad for no reason — maintain your composure and try to keep up. They are trying to put you off-balance. If an answer gets cut off by another question, consider if the rest of your answer was vital or whether you can leave it and move on. When you pass a firing squad, you’re then prepared to face the types of interviews used by decision-makers.
4. Group Interviews
In rare cases, you may be in the same room as other candidates. This is the group interview. If you’re interviewing with other candidates, never disparage them. Instead, compliment their answers and build on them. Group interviews are usually preliminary steps, so if you can pass this step, you’ll make it to round two. Your goals with the group interview are to:
Show your uniqueness.
Be better than the rest.
Exemplify a team spirit.
5. Test or Puzzle Interviews
These types of interviews can be difficult, but they often are reserved for testing technical skills. Interviewers may drop them into an executive interview, however, to see how well you can think on your feet. Rely on your skills and experience to pass technical proficiency tests.
For more mysterious puzzle questions, though, you need to be able to break the question down. Interviewers often aren’t interested in the correct answer; they just want to see how you handle the problem. They are judging your critical thinking skills. Remain calm and think it through. Ask questions if you need more information. It’s the process to get an answer that matters, not the answer itself.
Samples of a few of the more bizarre questions that have emerged in puzzle interviews with executive candidates include:
What would you charge to wash all the cars in Detroit? There is no correct answer, although you could possibly come up with a per-car charge. The key is to think through the problem. Out loud.
Describe the Internet in three sentences to a five-year-old. Break the problem down into separate parts. Use your three sentences here to 1: explain what the Internet is, 2: how it works, and 3: why it’s important.
Why is poetry so difficult to understand? Again, there is no correct answer. Consider the factors that make poetry difficult and discuss them, such as the use of language, the hidden meaning and the often-inscrutable format.
Why are manhole covers round? This is a real question disguised as a trick question. There’s a real reason all manhole covers are round. This question tests your common sense. The answer? So they can’t fall in.
6. Situation or Presentation Interviews
At these types of interviews, the interviewer wants to see you actively solve a problem. You are presented with a business problem and given some time — often as little as fifteen minutes — to develop an answer and present it. Like test or puzzle interviews, you need to think clearly to break the problem down as much as possible.
Remember that the actual solution you present is not as important as the process you use to find it. That’s what this kind of interview is all about. In such a short amount of time, all you can do is brainstorm using logic and experience to outline several potential solutions. You need to stay focused and work quickly, but you can master this interview too.
The Key to Mastering Any Interview
Practice makes perfect. Record a practice interview or rehearse in front of a mirror. In an interview, everything matters: your body language as well as your spoken language. At all types of interviews, stay present in the moment. It will help you handle whatever the interviewer throws at you. Be attentive, and you won’t be caught off guard. Focus on the company’s needs, your strengths and getting that “Yes.” Your second or third date then may actually lead to a very satisfying long-term relationship.