Interview types vary according to the nature of the post, the recruitment stage, and the organisation. But there are some standard formats and some basic principles to follow which may help you perform well in any situation. You will usually be told in advance what to expect so that you can prepare appropriately; if in doubt ask the employer.

Telephone interviews

Many employers use telephone interviews as an initial screening of applicants or to follow up on open applications. They are also less time consuming than face to face interviews.

Preparation is vital. Ensure you will not be disturbed during the interview.

As there will be no visual clues about the interviewer’s response to your answers, active listening is especially important. Speak clearly and sound enthusiastic about the job and organisation. Short responses are more powerful than long, rambling sentences.

If a question is difficult to answer, write it down and repeat it back to the interviewer for clarification. This will also buy you time to think calmly. It can be useful to make notes, if that doesn't distract you.

It is helpful to have a copy of your application in front of you and any notes you have made or questions you would like to ask.

Demonstrate your interest in the post and the employer by asking a few well thought out questions at the end. Thank the interviewer for his or her time.

Tips for telephone interviews:

  • Make sure that the message on your answerphone or voicemail is professional.
  • Have all the relevant information to hand when the call comes in. Keep details of all the jobs you have applied for and the related research you have done in separate folders near the telephone.
  • Inform your housemates/family/partner/children that you are expecting a call.
  • Smile. It will affect your tone of voice and help you come across as enthusiastic and confident.
  • Stand. It will make you more alert and focused.
  • Avoid distractions and don’t fidget.
Video interviews

Recruiters from international companies are increasingly using video interviews instead of telephone interviews.

Here are some tips for the video interviews, check out the Quick Guide for more information:

  • Test the equipment and internet connection
  • Follow instructions sent by the employer carefully
  • Find a quiet place
  • Silence your mobile: As with any interview, remember to put your phone on silence, or even better, switch it off.
  • Focus the camera and test the microphone
  • Practise your answers sitting in front of the camera
  • Think about the background
  • If there is a window in the room, face the light so you don’t sit in the shadow
  • Dress appropriately
  • Have your CV and job advert at hand
  • Be aware of background noise
  • Look straight into the camera and smile
  • Relax and be prepared: technology can go wrong and interviewers are aware of this. How you cope when something goes wrong can actually show you in a good light during the interview.
First and second interviews

Some jobs involve more than one interview stage. This will usually be made clear from the start, but if in doubt, ask the company to confirm the procedure.

First interviews

A first interview acts as part of the screening process and some applicants will not make it through to the next stage.

Second interviews

A second interview will explore deeper the skills and qualities needed for the job. Some second interviews are conducted by telephone, however most are held face to face.

If you've made it to the second stage, your first interview was successful, so you can adopt the same approach again here. Thinking again about the first interview:

  • What questions did you find difficult?
  • Were you weak on any one area? If so, be prepared for further questions.
  •  In what areas and ways do you think you impressed? Don't be afraid to sell these strengths again. 

But while the first interview may have been more generic, the second will typically be more closely related to the nature or sector of the organisation. Revisiting your research on the job and company will help you be informed and confident. 

Technical interviews

The second interview may be a technical interview where you will be asked questions to determine if you have the technical knowledge required and the ability to apply academic theory to practical problems.

Interviewers might be particularly interested in your final year project, including the techniques and skills you used and how you dealt with any setbacks or problems. You may also be asked to solve real or hypothetical problems in order to test your technical knowledge. Ensure you know your subject inside out and use experience to back up your technical knowledge.

Panel interviews

Some interviews involve a panel of assessors, usually made up of at least three interviewers representing different aspects of the organisation. You should be told in advance who is on the panel and their area of responsibility.

You might face a panel interview:

  • when applying for public sector jobs, including education and local government
  • when applying to join some larger international companies
  • at an assessment centre

Panel members might include:

  • a chairperson to coordinate the interview
  • your prospective line manager
  • a more senior member of the company or institution
  • a prospective co-worker
  • a representative Human Resources

The chairperson will usually welcome you and introduce the panel members, who will take turns to ask you a question or questions. Try to direct your answer at the relevant panel member or the person who asked the question. Maintain eye-contact with each panel member.

You will normally be invited to ask questions at the end. Take this opportunity to find out more about the job and what it has to offer. Asking questions will also demonstrate your interest in the post.

Competency based interviews

Competency based interviews are focused on specific competencies which employers seek. Research suggests that structured competency based interviews can be one of the most reliable and accurate forms of assessing a candidate.

Most interviews are competency based to some extent, but some more formally than others.

On the basis that past behaviour is a good indicator of future behaviour, employers will ask you to demonstrate these competencies by relating your experience to the situations they describe.

What will happen?

The interview will be very structured and questions will focus on the competencies outlined in the job description. As you will already know the competencies and have thought in advance about examples of how you can match them, there should be few surprises. You can use examples from your degree course, working life, extra-curricular activities, interests and hobbies.

You are likely to be asked about your:

  • past behaviours and performance
  • learning from past behaviours
  • ability to adapt to a new post
  • knowledge and understanding of issues relating to the new post

Questions will often start: ‘Give me an example when…’ or ‘Describe an occasion when…’

Interviewers will be interested in the outcome of the situation and what you learned from the experience. A useful structure for structuring your answers is the STAR framework:

  • Situation (What situation were you in just before you demonstrated the skill?)
  • Task (What task did you set yourself? What was the problem or challenge?)
  • Action (What action did you take? Be explicit about the role you played: don't attribute others' actions to yourself or, worse, play down the fact that you were key to the action.) 
  • Result (What was the outcome? What made it successful or unsuccessful? What would you do differently another time?)
On the interview day

Plan to arrive 10-15 minutes early, so you have a chance to freshen up, sit quietly and prepare yourself. Take a few deep breaths if you find yourself getting tense and too nervous. You can convey a positive image to the interviewer from the beginning by giving a firm handshake and making good eye contact. During the interview don’t fidget with jewellery or the loose change in your pocket. Try to sit comfortably, not perched on the edge of the chair, nor lounging back either!

Securing an interview is a significant accomplishment so make the most of the opportunity by factoring in the advice provided in this “interviews and assessments” section for an instant boost in your next interview. Success!