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Different Styles of Interview You Might Face - and How to Nail Them!

After scouring the web for job adverts, calling on the support of your network, and completing formal applications and cover letters, you've had the call to invite you to interview.

Congratulations are in order. But now the hard work really begins!

Nailing your upcoming interview depends on preparation and practise. But with interview styles and formats varying between companies, it can difficult to even know where to begin with getting prepared.

Check out this guide to common interview styles and formats, to help you understand what to expect from your upcoming interview, and get ready to knock 'em dead.


Interview Styles

If you're invited to attend an interview, but given only sparse details about what to expect, it's worth asking for a little more detail. The style of interview will dictate the sort of questions you'll likely be asked, so find out what you can about what's in store.

The interviewing manager will be pleased to know you are preparing, and investing your time well. As much as it might not always feel this way, we recruiting managers are only human, and want to help you do well.


Competency Interview

Competency interviews are the most common type of structured interview used. The interviewer will have a prepared list of questions which are designed to test how your skills and experiences fit with the requirements of the role. You will be asked to give examples to illustrate your experience, so expect questions like these:

  • Can you tell me about a time when you worked well as part of a team?
  • Describe to me an occasion when you had to be creative to solve a tricky problem?
  • What is your proudest achievement so far?


Strengths Based Interview

Many graduate recruiters are now moving from the competency based interview towards a strengths based format. The reason is that graduates in particular are getting too experienced in competency interviews, with answers that can seem too rehearsed. Asking individuals to talk about their strengths instead can be very revealing, demonstrate self awareness and also help recruiters see the talents and latent potential in their candidates. Expect questions like these:

  • What are your strengths?
  • How do you like to be led and managed to get the best out of you?
  • What activities and achievements give you the biggest buzz?


Biographical Interview

Biographical interviews can feel like a journey into your deepest motivations and values. On one level, you will simply be asked about your background, personal interests and experience, but you might also be asked to think back and describe your motivations and reasoning behind choosing your degree subject, modules and internships. Be prepared.

  • How did you choose your degree subject?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • If you had to use only 5 words to describe yourself, what would they be?


Portfolio Interview

In creative industries, you may be asked to demonstrate your portfolio of work. Be selective to show the breadth and depth of your experience.

If you're taking paper based work make sure it's printed in large enough format to be read, and on high quality paper. If you're showing your work electronically, don't be caught out by technical problems - check you can access your work on different internet browsers, or in the case of wifi failure.


Interview Format

The second consideration when planning your interview prep is the format. A one on one meeting in an informal cafe environment feels very different to a formal panel interview in the board room. Make sure you know what to expect.


Coffee Interview

'Coffee Interviews' might be enough to make you wish Starbucks had never been invented. Increasingly, recruiters will try to meet up with potential hires over coffee in an informal environment, to test the water and get an understanding of how you might fit the business. The challenge here lies in the apparent lack of formality. Don't be taken in. Any meeting with a recruiting manager - even with a double skinny hazelnut latte in hand - should be treated with respect. Assume you need to prepare exactly as you would for a less formal engagement.

It can be especially helpful with a coffee interview to probe in advance around the purpose of the meeting. Some will be genuinely informational, with recruitment agents or graduate recruiting managers simply looking to get to know you a little, and tell you more about their business. Others will be more thorough, so make sure you know as much as you can in advance.

Dressing smartly, and arriving early can help you be picked out in a crowd. Drop the person you're meeting a quick text to say where you are sitting and what you're wearing, so you don't risk missing each other.


Phone Interview

If you don't start the recruitment process with a coffee, then a phone call is a very likely first stage of any grad recruitment journey.

Interviewing on the phone presents different challenges to a face to face meeting, as meaning can be lost when you can't see and interpret body language. Be sure to take the call in an environment where you will not be disturbed, and where you are confident of the phone signal. Increasingly phone interviews are actually conducted over Skype or other video calling platforms, so make sure you know what to expect.

The upside of this format is that it's essentially an open book test. Have your resume and prepared answers in front of you. If you are in a voice call, tape your papers to the wall, at eye height so that you don't slouch at a desk while talking. Smile - you might feel silly, but even on the phone you can hear the difference a smile makes.


Panel Interview

Panel interviews, in which you meet several interviewers simultaneously, are most common in public sector recruitment. These interviews are inevitably formal, with different interviewers asking scripted questions. Find out what you can about the panel members, and try to brainstorm the sorts of questions they might ask, based on their roles with the business.

When you arrive be sure to introduce yourself properly with a handshake to each panel member, and make a note of their names. Maintaining eye contact and building rapport with multiple people is a challenge, so start by making eye contact with the questioner, and then look around the group in turn to make sure you're not inadvertently ignoring one panel member!

At the end of the interview, you will have an opportunity to ask questions of the panel. Try to target your questions at different panel members for best effect.


Group Interview

A group interview is effectively a hybrid of an assessment centre and an interview, in which several candidates are simultaneously interviewed. You will be expected to interact with the other candidates, and the questions asked may be deliberately provocative to stimulate debate within the group.

Treat all of the other candidates respectfully, demonstrate active listening and help others make connections to move the conversation on. These interviews can feel as though you're in head to head competition, but by being supportive of your fellow candidates you will show yourself to your best advantage.

Navigating the interview process can feel daunting. It feels like a lot is riding on the conversation you're about to have, and it's natural to have some nerves. In fact, if you did not feel a little anxious then there would be something wrong.

Key to your success is making that adrenaline and energy work for you, rather than against you. Put it to good use to drive your preparation, so that when you arrive at your interview, you can leave the worries at the door and rely on the planning and research you've already done to show you to your best advantage.

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