In your job search, you will likely encounter different types of interviews. Companies are using initial phone interviews more and more to screen-out candidates earlier in the process, for example, saving time and resources. These are often followed by additional phone interviews, and then face-to-face meetings. Those in-person interviews can involve a single interviewer, or you may be facing a panel of managers. You need to understand each type of interview and be prepared.
As a reminder, many people you interview with have not been trained in the art of interviewing. Be prepared to deal with some discomfort on both sides (yours and the interviewer’s). Also remember that many of those conducting interviews find the process to be just as uncomfortable as you do. You can use this to your advantage by doing what you can to make the conversation go as smoothly as possible. Perhaps most importantly, while company representatives are trying to determine if you are a good fit for the position and the company, it is also a time for you to determine if you like the people and the company that you are interviewing with. The interview is an opportunity for both of you to get a sense of whether or not the position, organization, and you are a good fit.
Sometimes an interview, particularly an initial interview, will take place by phone for a variety of reasons. This can be a time saving process for everyone involved. A downside, however, is that most of our communication takes place nonverbally. This obviously presents a problem when interviewing over the phone. You cannot see the other person's reaction, so you have to try and determine from the conversation and tone of voice how you are coming across.
Acting your most professional is an absolute must with the telephone interview. Pay attention to your voice and try to make the best word choices possible. Avoid using excessive fillers, such as “Umm,” as you speak. Also note your tone and inflection. Are you speaking with energy? Are you talking directly into the receiver? Do you have access to your notes about the company? And just as important, are you able to clear the room from any background noise? Noise of any sort does not make the best impression.
When using a cell phone, ensure you have a clear connection and that your phone has a full battery charge. Static and a bad connection can ruin the interview. An old-fashioned land line may be a better option if your cell connection is spotty. Worse, running out of battery will obviously end the interview and your chances of landing the position. Be prepared. Check connections, headsets, etc. ahead of time.
An advantage of a phone interview is that you can keep your notes with you. Have a list of topics you want to touch on, and a list of questions for the interviewer. Keep note during the conversation, but avoid long lapses in the conversation while you are speaking. It is okay to mention that you are taking notes (and that is often a good sign from the interviewer’s perspective), but do not let your note taking stall the interview.
Some coaches recommend that you stand while you talk so that you are able to take deeper breaths. Walking around may also help you think and it lets you do something with your nervous energy. Because you cannot talk with your hands in a phone interview, remember to use your most powerful examples of who you are and what you have done. As with all types of interviewing, practicing with mock sessions can be useful. This lets you get used to communicating only through your words and tone of voice. Lastly, never eat, drink, or chew gum when conducting a phone interview.
While most phone interviews are scheduled, there may be times when an employer will catch you off guard, however, so keep notes, a notepad, and a list of questions for potential employers on hand to the extent possible. That way, if you receive a call and it turns into a longer conversation, you will be prepared. And, while it should be obvious, only provide phone numbers and contact times that are available. Providing your current work phone number is unprofessional, as can be taking a call during work hours. If you receive a call on your cell phone, politely ask if you can return the call, or make arrangements for a longer conversation when you are on break. How you treat your current employer is an indication of how you will treat your new employer.
Many of the interviews you will be involved with will be between you and one other person, at least initially. This can both work for you and possibly against you. This can be an advantage, because you are with only one other person, which can help alleviate nerves. The flip side is that if you do not hit it off with this person, you do not have other interviewers with whom to develop a rapport. But fear not; with some practice, you can learn to communicate with all types of people. This will help you not only in your interviewing but in your subsequent career as well. The fact of life is that we all have to work with all types of people. Try to build a rapport as early as possible with your interviewer, and it will help the remainder of the interview go smoothly.
For the most part, the one-on-one interview will be the least nerve-wracking and a great way to gain interviewing experience. However, just because the interview is between you and one other person does not mean you can be more casual or put less effort into the process. It just means that chances are good that your nerves may not be as shaky. If the first interview goes well, there is a good chance a second or even third interview will take place, which is another reason not to take a one-on-one interview less seriously. Subsequent interviews often involve additional people.
Board Room/Panel Interviews
Being interviewed by more than one member of the company is extremely common. In this situation, you will be interviewed by more than one person, but how many more? It all depends on the company. Ideally, you will be able to sit around a conference table so that you will be able to clearly see everyone and to use the table to take notes. However, you may find that you are facing a panel of interviewers sitting across from you, which can be intimidating (if you let it).
When being interviewed by a group of people, try to shake each person's hand and get their names before you are invited to sit. If you get a chance, make a note of each person's name so you will have them available during the interview and for your follow-up thank you letters. Because more people are involved, you may be able to build a rapport with one or more of the interviewers. You can also use the conversation to your advantage by addressing comments that one interviewer has made when responding to a question from a different person. This shows you are making connections between the questions and are addressing concerns raised by different members of the panel.
As you respond, as much as possible, address each person in the room as you speak. One person will probably be leading the interview; do not fall into the habit of only addressing that person. Acknowledge each person in the room, and bring each person into the conversation as you both answer and ask questions.
This type of interview is different in that not only are you likely to be interviewed by more than one member of the company, but you are also being interviewed at the same time as your competition. A company may call a group of you in a separate room or interview all of you at once. You will likely be asked to introduce yourself to the whole group and give a brief summary of who you are. You will also have to answer interview questions in front of everyone else. For those who are shy or do not like public speaking, this interview may be extremely uncomfortable. This is what employers are looking for. This type of interview will likely be used for positions that require working with the public, making presentations, or frequently interacting with others. You may not know ahead of time if you will be facing this type of interview. If you walk into this situation, try not to let it take you off guard. Remember that everyone else there is in the same boat as you and they are likely feeling nervous about it, too.
What is the benefit for you in this type of interview? It is the one situation where you get to size up your competition! In almost all other interview situations, you have no idea who you are up against. But when you are interviewing at the same time as everyone else, you can observe what others do and make an effort to present yourself better. Keep in mind, however, that employers will also be watching you to see how you interact with the other candidates. Be friendly, professional, and treat everyone with respect. If you act superior, ignore others, or are blatantly rude, you will eliminate your chances of being called back for a second interview.
The Unscheduled Interview
Say you walk into an office to make a cold call and drop off your résumé. The receptionist asks you to sit while she delivers your résumé to the boss. Moments later she returns, saying that the owners (all 10 of them) would like to take a few minutes to speak with you. Then you find yourself sitting around a table being questioned. Unrealistic? Not entirely. While this situation is not likely to happen often, it can, and has, happened.
As you are conducting your job search, you need to be "on call" at all times. Have your sales pitch ready to go on a moment's notice. A networking contact may introduce you to someone in the company in the middle of an informational interview. An interested employer may call you out of the blue and start asking you questions right then and there before scheduling an in-person interview. Your practice sessions will, once again, come in very handy in these surprise moments. So will the time and effort you put into being prepared. Know your strengths and be able to talk about them anytime, anywhere.
This also means that you need to look and act the part when submitting resumes in person and when conducting informational interviews. Dress professionally and be prepared for the unexpected.
Take advantage of job fairs offered through your school or community. Some situations will require that you register through the career services office. Others will occur on a "walk-in" basis. When you register through career services, you will likely have scheduled interviews with visiting companies. The open fairs allow you to peruse the booths and speak to recruiters as you are able. Either way, you need to show up prepared. Dress well, bring copies of your resume and references, and have a notebook and pen so you can take notes.
Be prepared with a 20–30 second "elevator pitch" for your introduction. For job fairs at schools, students will present their major, year in school, and what they are looking for. Ask recruiters about opportunities at the company rather than simply waiting for the recruiter to respond. Have copies of your résumé available to distribute because recruiters do look at them. This is a guaranteed opportunity to have your résumé read by a company that is hiring.
Also be prepared to answer a variety of questions. As with other types of interviews, tough questions may be asked. Be ready to answer all types of questions, have examples of accomplishments in mind, and expect the unexpected. Recruiters talk to many people during job fairs, so they may go right for the tough questions to screen out applicants.
The bottom line? When interviewing, be prepared for a variety of situations, and practice your skills for each type of interview you may encounter. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be in the interview.