Not all job interviews are the same, and the different types of job interviews demand different approaches if you want to maximise your chances of success. What works over the phone might not work face-to-face, what works in an individual interview might be inappropriate in a group setting, and so on.
In this article we'll look at ten of the most common types of interviews and some of the methods you can adopt to improve your chances of success. Some of the different styles and formats of job interview overlap in some ways, so we'll also look at what makes each type of interview unique.
The 10 most common types of job interview are:
It's fair to think of a general face-to-face interview as the default option. In turn, much of the guidance published online is targeted primarily at traditional face-to-face interview technique. The basics include being well presented, speaking confidently, and preparing your answers to some of the most common interview questions in advance.
Because face-to-face job interviews are the conventional option historically speaking, this is what we'll compare the different types of interviews to. In some cases the differences might be quite obvious, while in others they could be very subtle.
Telephone interviews offer a long-distance alternative to meeting in person. This can be a matter of convenience, for example if either party cannot travel to a mutually acceptable meeting room. Phone interviews allow faster first-round screening of candidates. They also surged in use during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, as a way to conduct interviews while observing social distancing guidelines.
You usually won't get a high-status job purely from a telephone interview. Recruiters typically prefer to meet you in person before offering you a lucrative remuneration package. This is not always the case with lower-status jobs, where the interviewer might be more willing to appoint someone they haven't actually met.
Finally, phone interviews can be more common when applying for remote working opportunities, as it can make sense for the interview to also take place remotely.
Video interviews are becoming more commonplace as more people have the technology at home to conduct a video call, whether that's via a smartphone's front-facing camera, or a computer with a webcam.
It can be difficult to take a video interview as seriously as you would a face-to-face interview, but it's important to treat video interviews with respect. That means appearing smart, well-presented and well-groomed, and remembering to look down your camera lens at times (not just at your screen, as this will not give the impression of direct eye contact).
A video interview can be quite similar to a telephone interview, but you have the benefit of being able to use non-verbal communication. So make sure you are smart and well lit. You could even have a few trial runs by getting friends to video call you, so you can check things like your camera quality, microphone volume and how to end the call easily.
As the name suggests, a technical interview has much more focus on the technical aspects of the role you are applying for, and is common in highly skilled disciplines such as computing and IT, engineering and science, among others.
You might find it easier to prepare for a technical interview, or for the technical aspects of a general face-to-face or telephone interview. That's because you're likely to have specific details of any qualifications you hold, whether from university and postgraduate study, or job-related training you have completed during your career.
However, a technical interview may also contain logic problems and reasoning challenges, designed to test your ability to think laterally. You can't always prepare for this, but you can improve your chances by running internet searches to look for people who have previously been interviewed by the same company, in order to find out if they were asked to fill in any kind of trivia quiz or IQ test.
In a behavioural interview, you may be asked to provide an example of a problem you encountered during a past job, describe the action you took and, as a result, demonstrate that you are able to come up with solutions to significant business challenges.
To answer behavioural interview questions, use the STAR technique. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. It's a way to frame your answer so that you include all the essential information, in a logical order. Your response should begin with a brief description of the circumstances and of your professional role within that setting. You can then move on to detail what action you took and, ideally, the positive outcome that resulted from your action.
You might not go through an entire interview only receiving behavioural questions, but at least one behavioural question is likely to feature in any reasonably in-depth job interview. Make sure you know the STAR method, and you'll be ready either with a pre-prepared response, or in a much better position to come up with a new example on the spot.
Situational interviews are a little different from most of the other formats. Instead of asking about your skills and experience, the interviewer presents you with a real-world problem and you must say what action you would take. This gives the interviewer qualitative information about the type of person you are, and whether you are a good fit for the company culture and general ethos of the place where you are applying to work.
The overall style of a situational interview is similar to that of a behavioural interview. The main difference is that in a behavioural interview, you are often asked to provide examples from your own past career experience. In a situational interview, on the other hand, you may be given the example and then asked to explain in detail how you would respond to it.
Despite the differences, the STAR method is still your friend. It allows you to imagine yourself working in the role, during the incident you have been asked about. You can calmly and logically tell the interviewer what action you believe you would take, drawing on relevant examples from your own past working life.
If you're applying for a creative role, you may be asked to present your portfolio as part of the interview process. This is not only the case in jobs we might consider traditionally artistic, such as graphic design for websites or illustrations for books, but also for some more technical creative disciplines, e.g. architecture.
The general rule is, if you work in a job where you are personally responsible for producing drafts and designs that feature your own original ideas - i.e. another person in the same job would not create the same document - then you should make sure to keep a portfolio prepared to show your proudest work to potential future employers.
As we move through the years, it's increasingly common for your portfolio to be online, rather than in a physical folder or flipbook that you take to interviews by hand. In fact, in the case of telephone, video and other remote interviews, it's beneficial to have your portfolio in a place where the interviewer can see it. Just be sure to test your online version thoroughly on different devices, as there's nothing worse than starting a portfolio-based interview, only to discover that the interviewer cannot access examples of your work.
Group interviews sometimes take place as part of a recruitment day. You might not even be aware that you are being interviewed, but it's sensible to assume that when you attend a recruitment day, you are effectively being interviewed at all times.
The format of a group 'interview' can vary. It may appear to be a fairly informal discussion between several candidates and one or more of the interviewers. Or it could take the form of a task or challenge that you are asked to complete as part of a team. In this case, it is likely that you are being observed to see how much you contribute, how well you work with others, and whether you show any particular leadership characteristics.
Some people are daunted by the prospect of being interviewed with other candidates present, while others embrace it. Often group interviews are among the more entertaining parts of a recruitment day, but you should still take any such activities as seriously as you can, as your performance and contribution could have a material impact on whether you are offered the job.
Sequential interviews are a less common format. Instead of being interviewed by just one person, or in front of a panel, you are interviewed by a number of individuals who each take turns. The interviewers may focus on different aspects of your application - for example, one might conduct a technical interview while the next asks behavioural questions.
Having multiple interviews all in a row can be time-consuming and can put the candidate under quite a lot of pressure. Just remember to treat each interview as equally important in its own right. If you're asked the same question multiple times by different interviewers, make sure you give them all a full and detailed answer, even if it means repeating yourself.
Pressure on time and resources means sequential interview formats are relatively rare nowadays, but if you do happen to encounter an organisation that uses sequential interviewing in its recruitment campaigns, be ready for it.
You might count yourself lucky if you get a lunch or dinner interview, which can feel quite informal but actually give interviewers the chance to go quite in-depth while they have you in a relaxed setting. Try not to be distracted by the free food on offer, and don't order foods that will be messy to eat, or alcoholic drinks (at least, not more than the interviewer drinks).
Like telephone interviews, the unusual format of a lunch interview can leave you off-guard. But in principle it is just like any other interview. Make sure you spot any questions in amongst your ongoing conversation with the recruiter, and have your prepared answers ready even if you have to adapt them slightly to suit the format.
Taking a candidate out for dinner is relatively rare, so this is not a format you're likely to encounter often. However, it is more common practice when trying to attract a specific individual to a role, for example when headhunting for a boardroom position. So if you're offered free food that goes beyond the usual meeting room nibbles, it's usually a very good sign that the interviewer is interested in making a strong impression on you too.
Top tips interview preparation
Remember that across all the different types of job interviews we've listed here, the overall aim is the same: a chance for the interviewer to learn more about you and to discover whether, in their opinion, you are a good fit for the job vacancy.
The best practice for job interviews applies equally whatever the format:
- Present yourself well, whether that's video/audio quality, outfit or portfolio contents
- Learn what you can about the interviewer's organisation so you can say why you want to work there
- Use techniques like STAR and concise answers covering 2-3 bullet points to keep your responses clear
- Try to have at least one question prepared to ask at the end of the interview, if you are given the opportunity
- Always thank the interviewer for their time and leave confidently - but make sure the interview is over before you end a voice or video call!
Follow these guidelines with a good understanding of the type of job interview you will be attending, and you can boost your chances of getting the next job you've been searching for.