There are many types of interview styles, and you should be aware of each before putting yourself out there. Before ending the conversation with the interview scheduler (whether by phone or email), try to gather information about the interview itself. You should ask with whom you will be interviewing and if you'll be meeting with them separately or as a group. Also ask if you will be expected to take tests or prepare a presentation. Knowing what's to come will allow you to mentally prepare.
Interviewing methods differ greatly depending on the industry to which you're applying, the company and even the position within the company. The interviewers may focus on one style or engage you in a combination of several interview types. The best thing you can do to prepare is to understand each kind and its intention from the interviewer's perspective.
The most common interview questions are:
-- Where do you see yourself in five years?
-- Why are you here today?
The interviewer may also ask you to tell him or her about yourself. Come up with well-thought-out, specific and truthful answers to each of these classic questions before interview day. That way, you will have a concise response ready to go.
Behavioral interviews focus on the past so employers can attempt to predict future behavior. For example, they may say:
-- Describe a time when you didn't get along with a colleague.
-- Tell me about your biggest professional failure.
Choose one example, and briefly describe the situation, how you handled it and what you learned from it. People often confuse behavioral and situational interviews, which are described next. Questions may seem similar, because an employer is assessing your behavior in a particular situation.
Typically, situational questions concentrate on future performance rather than past performance, which is the focus of behavioral interviews. The interviewer will give you a problem and ask how you would deal with it. For example:
-- Your boss is on a whirlwind business trip. He assigned you a report to write for a client while he is gone, and he expects a first draft in two days. You thought everything was clear, but when you look back through your meeting notes and emails, there are outstanding questions that will make it difficult to complete the report. What do you do?
Employers want to know how you would likely solve a problem, and in some cases, they want to measure your expertise. Always be honest and specific. Address the problem, and describe your solution and the action you would take. If it's a question that probes at your expertise in an area, include something applicable in your answer to show you know your stuff.
Case interviews are used mainly in the consulting industry and focus on how you would solve specific business issues. These can include quantitative questions that show the interviewer how you think. For example:
-- An online bank is growing well, but it's not reaching profitability targets. What could be wrong?
-- How many gallons of ketchup do New York City McDonald's restaurants use each month?
You'll want to talk aloud as you consider your answer, because the interviewer is looking for insight into your thought process and an interactive conversation rather than an exact answer. Explain your suppositions and issues that may have a substantial effect on your estimate. As you talk through it, you will come to an estimate. This is a skill you are wise to practice in advance if you will be interviewing with a company that uses this technique. Google "case interview questions," and you'll come up with good samples and resources.
Some interviewers will challenge you with a business issue and ask you to present solutions to one or more employees. You may be given 15 minutes to prepare and 15 minutes or less to present.
The key here is to put pen to paper immediately to get thinking fast. In the first five minutes or less, outline the problem and as many solutions that come to mind in words. Drawing diagrams or pictures may help, too. Next, circle the solutions you think are the best or the ones for which you have the most ideas on how to implement. After that, brainstorm what resources you need to apply to each solution in under five minutes. Use the remaining time to prepare. If you were asked to use a whiteboard or computer for the presentation, transfer your ideas to the board or screen. Don't worry about being fancy, because you don't have time for that. The logic and contents of your thought process are most important.
Perhaps you'll be interviewed by five people at once. Each person may have a list of questions to ask you -- perhaps in varying interview styles. Or maybe each interviewer came up with his or her own questions in advance based on your background. Use the techniques above under behavioral, situational and case interviews. In all types of interviews, eye contact, smiling when you can and leaning forward to show you're engaged in the conversation are all fundamental to scoring likeability points. Chemistry is something all interviewers are looking for. If they don't like you, it's unlikely you'll be hired -- no matter how smart or experienced you are.
There are many other types of interview situations. One or more interviewers may use all the different types of questions. You may be in a speed interviewing session where you meet with a new interviewer every five minutes. You may be given writing or behavioral assessments. In every case, while you're trying to sell yourself to the employer, you want to always be yourself. The last thing you want is to give a false impression or erroneous information and end up in a job that's not a good fit for you or the company.
Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn't know they had to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Marcelle holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.