An Overview of Interviews

In almost every circumstance, interviews form a critical part of the job search process. An interview is a conversation between 2 or more people for the purposes of collecting and assessing information. A job interview involves a job applicant and an employer representative and the purpose is to decide whether to enter into an employment agreement: the employer seeks to decide whether the applicant is the best candidate for hire, while the candidate seeks to decide whether the opportunity and workplace are a good fit for their career goals. If there is a match, the employer and candidate can enter into negotiation of a job offer.

Employers ask interview questions to confirm 3 things:

  • If you have the abilities and skills to do the job;
  • If you will fit well with the team and the organization; and
  • If you have enthusiasm and a good work ethic

Interviews can be structured or unstructured; informal or formal; and held in-person, by phone, or virtually. Furthermore, there are different interview types and formats. They can differ from one industry to the next, and from one occupation to the next. Despite this variability, there are standards and practices that can be of benefit to anyone engaging in an interview. These are the strategies you’ll learn about in this module.

It can be difficult for an employer to ascertain which job candidate will be the best hire simply by reviewing a resume and cover letter. For this reason, inviting candidates in for interviews can help with decision-making.

The traditional job cycle goes something like this: an employer is in need of someone to perform certain work. Using various methods – such as by posting job ads, engaging recruiters, or asking current employees for referrals – they look for candidates to take on the job. If the employer has numerous candidates to choose from, they apply specific decision criteria to the applications received (usually in the form of applications, resumes, and cover letters) to narrow the candidate pool. From there, the employer can invite a more manageable number of candidates to participate in interviews.

While sometimes one round of interviews can suffice, many employers engage in multiple rounds of interviews before deciding whether to extend a job offer to a candidate. For example, candidates may be asked to take part in a telephone interview with a recruiter, and, if they screen in, only then might they be invited to interview with someone with the authority to hire them. This approach to interviewing allows both candidates and the employer to keep costs low, as phone-screening interviews require less time and involvement from fewer people.

Watch the following 9 minute video from Indeed on what to expect from an interview, along with some top tips for interviewing:

Structure and Format

While some employers take an unstructured, informal approach to interviews, most employers use more structured, formal methods: doing so allows them to accomplish multiple goals, including to ensure that all questions they ask relate directly to the job at hand and that each candidate is evaluated in the same way.

The structure of an interview will vary somewhat based on the type of interview, which we’ll review soon, but most high level interviews will proceed through the following steps:

Before the interview

  • Employer and candidate each make their respective pre-interview preparations.

At the interview

  • Greetings and introductions. The interview may give a brief summary of the position and of the planned selection process.
  • Interviewer asks the candidate a series of questions and the candidates gives responses
  • Candidate asks 1-3 prepared questions and the interviewer gives responses
  • Thanks, indication of next steps, and conclusion of interview.

After the interview

  • Employer and candidate each conduct their post-interview activities.

Not all interviews are the same. Interviews can vary not only by their delivery format, but also by their structure and the types of questions asked. Knowing what type of interview to expect will help you determine how to best prepare. Let’s look at the various types of job interview. No matter which format is used, treat each interview like you would a formal, face-to-face business meeting: be well-prepared, dress appropriately, and conduct yourself with professionalism.

Types of Questions

The questions asked by the employer during an interview can be of different types. Your interview may be composed of one type of interview question but, more often, interviewers will use a variety of question types in order to gather the information they need from candidates. Let’s look at some of the more common types of interview questions you’re likely to deal with.

Behavioural questions

A behavioural question asks the candidate to recount a real-life occasion where they demonstrated certain knowledge, skills, or attitudes the employer is looking for. The candidate is asked to recall a specific experience and how they handled it. The question usually starts with the phrase “Tell me about a time…”. Employers use behavioural interviews because if a candidate can provide examples where they’ve already demonstrated certain skills, this gives greater reassurance to the employer that the candidate actually possesses the skill – they aren’t just saying so.

Situational and Case questions

In a situational question, the interviewer presents a hypothetical circumstance and asks the candidate how they would handle it. The candidate answers questions about the situation and provides recommendations for actions to take and/or factors to consider. For example, to evaluate a candidate’s skill at prioritizing, the candidate might be asked the following: “Let’s say you’ve been assigned multiple tasks by different managers in your department. How would you go about prioritizing your tasks?” This kind of question provides insight into the candidate’s thinking process, their work values, and critical thinking skills. When responding to a situational interview question, don’t just say WHAT you would do – Explain WHY you would take that action!

A Case interview question presents a candidate with a case study, an example of an issue at work that would require some type of resolution or action. Here’s an example of a case question: “Read this information about our client, then present your suggested solution to the problem.” Explain your rationale and give evidence supporting your suggested course of action.

Technical Questions and Work samples

To determine whether a candidate has the technical knowledge or skills required to succeed in the specific job, an interviewer may pose Technical questions, and/or require the completion of Work samples. An example of a Technical interview question might be as follows: “Explain the basic principles of aerodynamics and how you would use that knowledge to build a paper plane”. A Work sample is a task assigned to the candidate that replicates events or scenarios they might see on the job; the candidate completes the tasks assigned and the employer evaluates the extent to which the candidate has the skills or aptitude for the work.

When you are invited to an interview, find out what type of interview to expect. For instance, will you be expected to write a test, give a presentation, or even prepare something in advance? An interview can take any of these formats or a combination of them. Knowing what to expect will let you be better prepared.

General Interview Questions

Plenty of interview questions do not fall under the categories just described. Instead, interview questions can often feel more like a conversation, which can be good for building rapport and making a connection with candidates. Just remember that a job interview is still a formal business event and so even when you are asked a question that seems casual, the interviewer is watching how you respond to determine your fit for the target job.

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