Don’t Be Caught Off Guard: Prepare for a Variety of Interview Formats

As more people are vaccinated and hiring increases across sectors, are you considering embarking on a job search? If you answer “yes,” then as you plan and organize your job search, expect that the interview process may involve multiple formats via phone, virtual, or in-person with competency-based, behavioral, and scenario types of questions.  

The key to successful interviews is to prepare by reviewing the job description, researching the company, and practicing sharing examples from your experience or academic work to showcase your fit for the position. In all interview formats, listen carefully to the questions and relate your answers to the job requirements. The interviewing process will typically start with a prescreening interview.

Prescreening interviews are usually short (15 to 30 minutes) and conducted over the phone or via a video platform. The purpose of this interview is to determine whether to invite the candidate in for a more in-depth interview. Usually, the interviewer is from the Human Resources Department or a recruiting firm.  The goal is to determine whether the candidate has the core hard and soft skills required for the job and is still interested in the position. To prepare:

  • Be sure your voice mailbox is not full, and your recorded greeting is professional. 
  • Prepare to answer questions about the information on your resume and to answer questions such as:

– What interested you in the position?
– What do you know about our company/organization/institution?
– Tell me about your qualifications for the position?
– What are your salary expectations?
– Would you be willing to complete an online assessment or inventory of your skills?

  • At the end of the prescreening interview, ask, “What are the next steps in the hiring process?” If the prescreening interviewer moves your application forward, prepare for one or more of the following interview formats:
  1. One-on-one or sequential one-on-one interviews follow a more traditional format and are structured with a standard list of questions that are asked of all interviewees or questions tailored to the candidate’s specific background. During sequential one-on-one interviews, where one interview follows another for the same position, recognize that you may be asked the same question repeatedly. Keep up your energy and respond to each interviewer with enthusiasm; do not make any comments about previous interviewers such as, “I already answered that question.” Questions can range from:
    • Tell me how your experience prepared you for this position.
    • Tell me how your academic program prepared you for this position.
    • Tell me about your leadership style.
    • Behavioral questions such as: Tell me about a time when you collaborated with a team member to solve a problem.
    • Scenario questions such as: If faced with three emergency situations at the same time, how would you manage the situation?
  1. Group Interviews are composed of a group of candidates facing either one or more interviewers at the same time. Employers typically use this format when they need to hire multiple people in a short period of time or want to see how candidates react in a competitive situation. If given the opportunity, greet the interviewers and the other candidates. Each candidate in the group may be asked the same or different questions. Listen respectfully to the other candidates’ responses, but do not become distracted by their answers. Stay focused on sharing examples of your own qualifications, commitment, and passion for the job. Pay attention to your body language, take some deep breaths to relax, and address all of the interviewers when responding.
  1. Panel Interviews consist of multiple interviewers, each asking one or more questions. The purpose of the panel interview is to allow multiple people in the organization to be part of the hiring process and contribute to the hiring decision. When you answer and ask questions, address the entire panel.
  1. Presentation or project-based interviews involve giving a short presentation or completing a project on a relevant topic related to the job. The purpose of this format is to give the hiring committee evidence of a candidate’s skills and communication style. The candidate will usually be informed ahead of time to prepare a presentation or complete a short project to present during the interview; however, the candidate also may be surprised with this request on the spot during the interview to see how they respond under pressure. If you are aware of the request ahead of time, it is essential to prepare and practice before the interview; reflect on your successful academic projects and presentations to gain confidence and move forward with the request.  
  1. Reverse Interviews change the roles of the candidate and the interviewer(s); the candidate becomes the interviewer and asks questions about the position. This is not a common format for an entire interview but prepare at least some questions for the interviewer(s) as part of any interview format. The reverse interview format takes considerable research and preparation to craft interesting questions for the panel that will help you learn more about the organization and position, and help you stand out from other candidates. Avoid asking questions that are easily answered with information on the organization’s website.
  1. Lunch or dinner interviews can be stressful because they involve formal, informal, and social conversations about the organization, the position, and the candidate’s qualifications while eating a meal with members of the hiring committee. A lunch or dinner interview is more often part of a second interview for mid-level or higher business positions. The purpose of a lunch or dinner interview is to see how the candidate acts in a social situation. If you know the name of the restaurant prior to the interview, preview the menu on their website beforehand. Choose something that you will enjoy but is also easy to eat. Arrive about 10 minutes early. Turn off your cell phone and do not check your messages during the entire interview. Avoid discussing controversial topics unless they are directly related to the job. Enjoy the experience!

Familiarizing yourself with these possible interview formats can help you build confidence and stand out from other candidates. For additional information on preparing for interviews, visit: 

Career Services website Interview resources.
Common Interview questions
Scenario-based interview questions
Group Interviews
Reverse Interviews
Etiquette for lunch or dinner interviews
Research salary by region, state, or zip code: Salary.comCareerOneStopLinkedIn Salary

Written by Denise Pranke, Senior Career Advisor