I’ve been getting a lot of calls recently about interviewing. The good news is that people are getting interviews; the bad news is that while companies are using all sorts of interview formats to screen and select applicants for jobs, many applicants are unfamiliar with the various interviewing approaches. No need to worry. Here is a short primer to help you understand the lingo and a few tips for participating in each type of interview.
Scheduled or unscheduled interviews on the telephone with screeners or hiring managers. Frequently intended to reduce the number of applicants that will be interviewed in-person. This is a screening interview.
Your goal: To get to the next interview level by obtaining an in-person interview or scheduling an appointment with the company or recruiter.
The interviewer’s goal: To remove you from active consideration for the job.
If you’re lucky, a telephone interviewer or a representative from the company will call and schedule a time to interview you on the phone. In most cases however, you will be running out to the gym or biting into a turkey sandwich when an interviewer calls and begins to ask you questions. The fact that you got the call means you made it through the resume review or first screening. Take a deep breath and smile broadly.
According to Ron Fry, author of 101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions, phone interviewers are looking for quantitative and qualitative measures to knock you out of the running. Qualitative measures often include your ability to respond to surprise phone calls, your enthusiasm, articulation, preparedness, and energy level. Quantitative measures may include disparity between your actual experience and your resume, poor verbal communication skills, lack of required technical skills or experiences, and lack of certifications. It is easy to understand how catching you off guard might give the interviewer an easy way to eliminate you. Don’t get caught in that trap.
It doesn’t cost much to create a folder for each job posting that includes the posting itself, any important information you can find out about the company posting the job, your cover letter, and your resume. You might even want to set up a telephone interviewing station or surface in your home, as Alan H. Nierenberg describes in Winning the Interview Game. Consider including the following items:
- Job posting files
- A list of your accomplishments
- Notepad and pen
- Typed answers to typical questions including the question, “Tell me about yourself.”
- A boldly printed list of reminders including:
- keep posture erect
- answer with confidence
- use a strong voice
- find something in common with the interviewer
When the next telephone interviewer calls, take a moment to clarify and write down the company name, the job title, and the interviewer’s name including how it is spelled. This will give you time to prepare your notes. Ask the interviewer to hold the line for a moment while you shake out your body and move to your interview station or grab your interview materials and spread them out across a tabletop. If you get the call while driving, indicate that you are driving and will call back when you can pull off the road or when you get to your destination. Your personal safety should never be a problem for an interviewer. Once you have everything laid out on the table or in your head, grab a glass of water, breathe deeply again, smile broadly, and begin your interview.
Scheduled in-person interviews with one or more members of the hiring organization and several people who are being screened for the same job as you. Frequently intended to reduce the number of applicants. This is generally a screening interview rather than a final interview.
Your goal: To get to the next interview level by obtaining an in-person interview with the hiring manager or to get the job.
The interviewer’s goal: To reduce the number of individual interviews the company has to conduct, to compare you to other applicants, to see how you interact with other applicants, and to watch you under stressful circumstances.
Because group interviews are generally scheduled by telephone, you have a great opportunity to make a lasting first impression and gain valuable information before the actual group interview takes place. There is no reason to walk into a group interview not knowing what to expect. Most often the person calling you to set up the appointment will share basic information about the interview if asked. Consider the following questions when you get invited to a group interview. Preparing for all these factors will help you to relax while you participate in the group interview.
- How many people will be interviewed with me?
- How many interviewers will be there?
- What is included in the interview schedule?
- Will all of the interviewees interview with all of the interviewers at once?
- Will there be any time for one-on-one interviews?
- Will I be completing individualized assessments or other screening tools?
When you first arrive for a group interview, be sure to introduce yourself to the interviewer as well as the other interviewees. How you interact with everyone in the group may be just as important as how you interact with the interviewer. A pleasant non- competitive approach to meeting and greeting others will help to demonstrate your ability to handle stressful, unpredictable group situations.
As with telephone interviews, having a folder about the job and company you are interviewing with will be handy. Be sure to include a list of questions that you can ask the interviewers at the end of the interview. You’ll discover that some of your questions will be answered in the course of the interview process, and you should always have at least one question to ask at the end of the interview to demonstrate your continued interest. Many interviewing texts suggest you resell yourself at the end of the interview by summarizing how you think you can be an asset to the organization and by indicating that you are still interested in the job. Although this is a great idea, it is best used in one-on-one interviews, or as the content of a follow-up letter to the interviewer or each member of the interview team. Follow your final question with a verbal, “Thank you” to the interviewer or team of interviewers, provide a firm handshake, make eye contact and give a broad smile. Together, these are generally sufficient ways to conclude the group interview.
Scheduled in-person interviews with more than one member of the hiring organization either together in one room or in sequence. Frequently intended to give a broader perspective of the organization, team interactions, and the duties required on the job. This is most frequently a final set of interviews, but is occasionally used prior to the final interview.
Your goal: To fit with the team and get the job.
The interviewer’s goal: To ask a broader range of questions with the aim of uncovering your skills and expertise and to eliminate candidates.
Your team interview may be held with members of your prospective department or a cross section of employees throughout the company. The structure may be a full group meeting together or a tag team where you meet with different people one-on-one first and then perhaps the whole group at some point. Team interviews can be an hour long or extend throughout an entire day including lunch with team members and making presentations to the team. Team members sometimes make their selections individually and then compare selections, and at other times meet for group consensus. Because every vote counts in a team interview, it is important to treat every member of the team equally regardless of position.
The team interview is often a final interview, so being prepared is critical. As in the group interview, it is important to know who will be part of the interview team and what role each person plays in the organization. Understanding how you, as the hired person, will interact with each of these individuals is important as well. Any information you can gain from the individual who arranges for your team interview will be helpful. Once you know the expectations it will be much easier to meet them.
Recognize that if you have been invited to a team interview, the hiring organization is often looking for a team member. Even if the job is at a director level, team involvement and team interaction will be important. Your answers to interview questions and the questions you ask can reflect whether you work well in a team or think and work better as an individual. Team interviewers are rarely looking for someone who follows blindly. Most likely, they are looking for a person who uses analytical and problem solving abilities to move forward with a group or who can help steer a group toward beneficial alternatives. If you are not looking forward to being a part of a team, any good interviewer will sniff this out quickly. Consider your work style and preference before accepting a team interview.
Video-Conferencing or SKYPE Interviews
Scheduled or unscheduled distance interviews that allow interviewers and interviewees to see and talk with each other in real time without traveling to each other’s locations. Frequently used for situations when candidates and interviewers are in different states or countries. Generally used as a screening interview.
Your goal: To get to the next interview level by obtaining an in-person interview or get the job.
The interviewer’s goal: To make the interview more personal, occasionally to include others in the interview and to see your comfort with technology, to reduce the number of applicants, and to reduce travel costs.
Technology is used more and more for interviewing as a result of our global economy and workforce. If you plan to work near your home, it is likely that you will never experience a distance interview beyond a telephone screening. If, however, you are part of the generation that travels as a way of life, and seeks employment that crosses cultures, be prepared for a technology-enhanced job screening or interview in your not-so-distant future. If you have never used a computer with a camera attachment and Skype, or another Internet-based phone system, now is the time to test it out and become comfortable with it. Just talking with friends who use the technology will help with your comfort level. A few pointers are listed below that have been gleaned from Winning The Interview Game by Alan Nierenberg and enhanced by some of my clients who have participated in these types of interviews.
Don’t wear brilliant colors like reds, yellows, or bright greens. Avoid bold patterns, wide stripes, and plaids. They can cause flare and distortion on the receiving end. Instead, dress conservatively as you would in a face-to-face interview, wearing solids and neutral colors.
Set up in a location with a solid background and friendly appearance, business- like if possible. Don’t sit in front of a bright window or light and close blinds or draperies. Backlighting will make you appear dark and featureless. Make sure that you are in an office-type setting and position your camera so the viewer will not see any additional movement through doors or windows. Turn off cell phones and telephone ringers in the room.
3. Equipment Check
When you schedule a Skype or video conference interview, set up early and practice so you know how to use the specific equipment you will be working with and have adjusted the volume and camera. Make sure you have a strong Internet connection with a decent processing speed as well. If your connection is prone to fade out, find a location that is more reliable for your interview. Before you start the interview, ask the interviewer if you can be seen and heard clearly. Your camera should be aimed at your upper body so you can maintain eye contact and you will also be able to take notes without distracting the interviewer with your movements.
When you begin your interview, imagine that you are across the table from the interviewer and make eye contact with the camera, not the screen. Eye contact is just as important in a distance interview as it is in person. Put your preparation materials on the table in front of you and out of the camera view. Use a large font size for your notes and an outline format to help you minimize your downward glances and keep eye contact. Sit up straight, but relax and smile just as you would in person.
Although video and Skype interviews are generally scheduled, I have recently heard of at least one person who was surprised by a Skype interview. While practicing for a scheduled Skype interview later in the day, this individual was contacted by the interviewer who happened to notice him on Skype early. How could he refuse the interview early when he really wanted the job? He couldn’t. Luckily he was prepared with his interview file as described in the telephone interview section above. You should be ready, too.
Scheduled interview that is usually less formal, and blends a variety of topics with serious interview questions. Used for screening, interim, and final interviews.
Your goal: To get to the next interview level by obtaining an in-office interview or to get the job.
The interviewer’s goal: To make the interview more casual, occasionally to include others in the interview, and to see your comfort with lunch meetings.
“Do not fall into the trap of relaxing or bearing your soul” in meal interviews, advises Nierenberg. Instead, stay focused on your goal of getting the job, or at minimum of moving up to the next level of interviews. You’ll most likely be able to learn quite a bit about the company culture and the interviewer’s preferences at this type of interview, but don’t let any of that put you off guard. Stay focused.
You may want to take a small notepad to an interview like this, but keep it under your chair until you need it. It is likely that the meal will start before you get into any of the more serious end of the interview and there is no need to clutter the table.
Consider carefully what you will eat during the interview, but do it quickly and avoid special orders as much as possible. Be decisive when ordering and select healthy foods that can be managed with a fork, like salads and omelets. If you order a sandwich, be sure that it will not squirt, splash, or drip. Your clothes will stay cleaner and your interview will stay focused. Don’t forget your table manners--including placing your napkin on your lap, taking small bites, keeping your elbows off of the table, and not using your fingers. Manners might be just the thing to bring the job to you, or take you off the short list. This is especially true if you are interviewing for a sales representative or other position in which you will regularly engage in meal meetings.