While many people think of an interview as a one-on-one meeting between a job candidate and an employer, interviews can actually take a variety of formats.  Preparing for the kind of interview situation you will encounter will help you strategize for the best possible outcome.

Telephone interviews 

An employer may schedule a phone interview with a candidate for several reasons. If the candidate lives in a different part of the country, an employer may screen him or her on the phone before investing in travel expenses to meet in person.  Or if the company has many candidates that appear qualified on paper, but only has the resources to interview a few select people, they may use the phone interview to "weed out" less qualified applicants. 

The key to having a successful phone interview is to realize how it is different from a traditional interview.  While during an in-person interview, your appearance, eye contact, and nonverbal language all contribute to the impression you give, on the telephone your voice alone conveys the image you present.  In a phone interview it is imperative that you speak clearly and sound enthusiastic.  Since you won't be able to tell by the interviewer's nonverbal behavior if he or she has understood your answers, you may need to clarify this by saying "would you like me to elaborate on that point" or "can I provide an example?"

Although in a phone interview you do not have the benefit of impressing the interviewer in person, there are some advantages to this format. You are in your own environment. If you like to pace while you're talking, you can. You can also have your resume or notes right by the phone to help you stay focused on the important points you want to emphasize. You may also jot down questions while the interviewer is speaking. As your telephone interview is concluding, be sure to ask the interviewer what the next step is and ask for an in-person interview to follow.


Structured or patterned interviews

In this type of interview, the candidate is asked a predetermined set of questions. The purpose of this format is to allow the employer to compare various candidates by the same yardstick. It is often used as a screening mechanism to sort out less qualified applicants.  In a structured or patterned interview, the interviewer may be less interested in getting to know you as a person and more interested in determining if you have the basic competencies to warrant further

consideration. If you encounter this type of interview, be sure to emphasize your specific skills and give concrete examples of your experience.


Panel or group interviews

In a panel or group interview, there are several people who are asking questions.  Address the person who asked the question but also acknowledge the group in your response.  Ask questions of several different people versus focusing on one individual.  Also ask about the relationship between members of the panel to learn how you would fit into this group. Determine who is the key contact or decision-maker.  Employers may choose this type of interview to see how you interact in a group and also get different people's perceptions of you.  While this kind of interview can be stressful for the candidate, doing well in this format will reflect highly on your presentation and communication skills.


Second interviews

Being asked back for a second interview means you did something right in the first interview.  Capitalize on this by sending the same positive message about your skills and experience. The employer's goal in the second interview may be to confirm their initial good impression of you. Give the interviewer more examples of how your background fits their needs and express your enthusiasm once again for the position.  If you are interviewing with the same person, ask follow up questions regarding your last meeting to demonstrate that you've reflected on the issues previously discussed. If you are interviewing with a different person, or group of people, don't assume that they are already aware of the information you provided in your initial interview. Cover your key strengths and skills again and ask if they would like you to elaborate on any points.


If you've been invited for an interview the employer already has a certain degree of confidence that you can do the job so you must prepare.


Researching the employer

The importance of "doing your homework" before the interview cannot be overstated. One of the first questions you may be asked is "what do you know about our company?" Unless you are able to speak intelligently about what they do, you may not be able to recover for the rest of the interview.

  What should you find out about the company?

·       What products or services do they provide?  Is there anything new they will be promoting soon?

·       Have they received any publicity lately? What are the important aspects of the company's history?  Have they been bought?  Recently merged?

·       What are the current trends or issues in that industry?  What kind of predictions is there for their type of business?

·       Who are the key players in their company and/or industry?

·       Who is their competition?  How do their products and/or services compare?

·       Does the company have a mission statement?

·       What is the organizational culture like?  Conservative? Risk-taking?


  Where can you find this type of information?

·       Go to one or more search engines on the Internet and type in the company's name to see if they have a website.  Visiting a company’s website can result in a wealth of information.

·       Check out the resources available at your library.  Moody's Manual and Standard & Poor's Register of Corporations are two directories that provide information on various companies.  Also do a computer search by company name for any recent newspaper or magazine articles to learn of any current events involving that company.

·       Call the company itself and ask if they will send literature, brochures, etc. for you to review before your interview.

·       Visit the following websites to learn more about the companies you're interested in:

1.     Hoovers Online (http://www.hoovers.com)  Provides profile information on public and private companies.  

2.     Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.org) Find out what the BBB has to say about the companies.

3.     WhoWhere? EDGAR (http://www.whowhere.com) Company information, stock quotes, Internet addresses, business activities, and press releases for a variety of companies.


Developing your interview strategy

You only have a limited period of time to express to the interviewer why your skills will benefit them, so be succinct, but with enough depth to be meaningful.

·       Make a list of the key points you want to make sure you cover in the interview. This could include your most valuable skills, your knowledge of their market, a networking contact you made there.

·       Insert these points in appropriate places during your interview to ensure the interviewer receives this important information, even if he or she does not directly ask a question, which would elicit this response.

·       Develop a three or four sentence statement about yourself, which describes your best skills and attributes. Having this kind of statement prepared in advance keeps you focused on expressing your most important assets without rambling.  It can also be used as a starting point to the question "tell me about yourself."

·       Think of examples that illustrate your skills. For example, if an interviewer asks "what are your strengths?"  replying with "I'm a good communicator" is not very descriptive. Backing up this claim with "I would say I am a good communicator based on several experiences that I had in my last job. For instance,

·       Practice interviewing with a friend. Have a friend ask sample questions that you can respond to.  Answering questions out loud, versus in your head, will bring potential problems in your responses to light before the actual interview.  Also ask your friend for feedback on your nonverbal language, eye contact, etc.


Tips before you go

Plan your interview outfit.  Because dress codes differ widely in today's offices, try to find out what employees at the company generally wear. (Note:  On a "casual Friday" it is still important to dress professionally.)

·       Get directions to the company, know how long it will take to arrive, and plan on extra time for traffic jams,

·       Bring extra copies of your resume, reference list, and samples of your work if appropriate.

·       Bring a pad of paper and a professional looking pen to jot down notes.

·       Think of questions you want to ask the interviewer.  The types of questions you ask give the interviewer an important indicator of your interest level and knowledge of the company.



The following is a list of common interview questions. If you come to the interview with a clear understanding of who you are, your particular strengths and abilities, and what you want, you will be able to answer any of these questions.

1. Tell me about yourself. 

2. What do you know about our company? 

3. What special qualities do you bring to this job? 

4. What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses? 

5. What do you want to be doing in five years? Ten years? 

6. What do you look for in a manager?

7. How would your coworkers and boss describe you?

8. Tell me about a difficult work situation and how you handled it.

9. Describe how you typically approach a project. 

10.How do you motivate people and what is your management style? 

11.What would you want to work on first if you were offered the job? 

12.Why should we hire you? 

13.What was your toughest job challenge & how did you deal with it? 

14.Why do you want to work for us?

15.What do you think it takes to succeed here?

16.Do you prefer to work w/others or on your own?

17.What do you look for in a job?

18.Why did you leave your last job?

19.How do you spend your spare time?

20.Describe you’re ideal work environment.

21.What motivates you?

22.What decisions are difficult for you to make?

23.How do you handle stress?

24.Tell me about the best job you ever had.

25.Do you have any questions?

You may want to ask your interviewer

Asking intelligent questions of your interviewer accomplishes two important goals. First, it shows your interest and understanding of the position and company.  And secondly, it provides you with the information you need to make an informed decision about accepting an offer should you be extended one.  Below are some sample questions to consider.


Questions about the company

·       What plans does the company have for future growth?

·       What specific goals do you have for this department and how does this position fit in with those goals?

·       Is it common for the company to promote from within?

·       Can you describe the corporate culture here?

·       What is the company's philosophy (regarding customer service, employee relations, quality, etc.?)?   


Questions about the market share (Only if not available through library or Internet research)

·       What are the primary goods and/or services?

·       Who are your customers and/or suppliers?

·       How is this market special and what is the company's market share?

·       What can you tell me about the competition?


Questions about the position

·       What kind of personal qualities are you seeking in candidates for this position?

·       Is this a new position?  If not, why did the last person in this position leave?

·       What is the typical career path for someone in this position?

·       Can you describe the reporting lines?

·       What is expected of the successful candidate?

·       What is the timeframe for achieving these expectations?

·       Who will provide the training for this position?


Closing questions

·       What is the decision timeframe and will there be a follow up interview?

·       Do you have sufficient information about my qualifications to make a decision or may I provide additional information?

·       What are the next steps?  (Who will contact whom and when.)


Benefit Questions (Do not ask on the first interview, only when an offer is made and/or discussed)

·       What is the benefit package?

·       What is the vacation entitlement?

·       Are any relocation expenses covered?

Interview Time

It's ShowTime!  You've done all your preparation and now it's time to knock 'em dead in the interview.  Here's a look at the "life of an interview" and some suggestions on how to make it through successfully from beginning to end.


In the beginning

·       Arrive a little early.  Take a few minutes to find the restroom, check your appearance, and collect your thoughts.  Enter the office ready to have a great interview.

·       When the interviewer greets you, smile warmly and give a firm handshake.  Greet everyone you come in contact with pleasantly and politely.

·       Expect a few minutes of small talk.  Check your surroundings for clues on the personality of your interviewer and culture of the company.

·       Be aware of your nonverbal behavior.  Maintain eye contact without staring. Don't cross your arms across your chest, and do not slouch in your chair.  If you are concerned about gesticulating too much, keep your hands folded in your lap.

·       Most importantly, relax.


Going strong

·       Listen carefully to the questions you are asked.  Take a moment to reflect on a difficult question before jumping into a response.  Ask for clarification of a question if you need it.

·       Be positive in all your comments about previous employers and coworkers.  Even if a direct question is asked which requires you to discuss something potentially negative, e.g. "What kind of people (or bosses) do you have a difficult time working with?" find a way to say what you learned from this experience, how this ultimately helped you in some way, etc. Conclude your answer on a positive note.

·       Your interviewer will probably ask you open-ended questions, which require more than a yes/no answer.  If your interviewer is less experienced and doesn't ask these types of questions, be sure to elaborate on your responses to provide a complete picture of your skills.

·       Give plenty of concrete examples of your abilities.  If appropriate, tell a short story about how you solved a problem, took the initiative on a project, motivated coworkers, etc.  A brief story that illustrates your personality and talents in action will be remembered more than a dry statement of a specific skill.

·       Express your enthusiasm for the position but don't come across as needy.  A desperate candidate is not an attractive one. Even if you really want the job, appear confident that you know you would be an asset to several organizations.

·       Ask questions.  It shows you are genuinely interested in the position and have taken the time to prepare for this meeting.  Don't dominate the interview, but take some responsibility for managing it.  Many interviewers enjoy a candidate who can take the initiative in moving the interview along. 

·       If the interview is getting off track on unrelated tangents, subtly bring the conversation back around to your strengths and what you can offer the company.

·       Remember that you are interviewing the interviewer as well.  Both of you have the same goal which is to determine if you are a good match for each other.  Find out what you need to know so you can make an informed decision if the job is offered to you.


Wrapping it up

·       Follow the interviewer's lead about when the interview is coming to a close.  Don't initiate this step yourself.

·       Conclude with more than "thanks for your time."  Express your interest in the company again and reinforce briefly why you are a good match for the position.

·       Find out what the next step is.  Do they have more candidates to interview?  Will there be a second interview?  When does the position start?  Is there any other information you can supply to help the interviewer in his or her decision?

·       Ask if you can follow up in a few days to see how there decision-making process is going.  Thank the interviewer for meeting with you.

·       Always send a thank you letter to your interviewer(s).  This is yet another way to gain positive exposure.  Once again, say more than  "thanks."  Comment on something you learned from the interview if appropriate.  Also reiterate in a few sentences how you can benefit the company.

·       And finally, if you feel the interview did not go well, remember that interviewing is a skill like anything else that can be improved upon. Learn from the experience and move on.

Thank you Notes

It seems amazing, but it’s true: A simple thank-you note after a job interview can wield considerable power and influence, and reflect very favorably on your candidacy for the position. Why? Several reasons:

  • In sending a thank-you note, you show your interviewer common courtesy and respect.

Unfortunately, in our busy and often impolite world, we simply don’t acknowledge each other’s time, efforts and commitments. So in sending a thank-you note, you tell your interviewer in no uncertain terms that you appreciate the time he or she has given you. After all, he or she had to give up part or all of the day to be with you, and expend effort learning more about you and what you have to offer.

  • So few job applicants send thank-you notes that you automatically stand out if you do.

It’s shocking, but the majority of job applicants fail to send thank-you notes after their interviews. Why? Who knows? But the bottom line is that you wind up in a position to shine simply by putting forth the effort of sending a note. Strange, but true.

  • A thank-you note gives you an opportunity to reiterate points you made during your interview.

Have you ever left an interview wishing you’d more strongly emphasized a certain skill or experience the employer seemed to be looking for? A thank-you note gives you the chance to do just that. After using the first paragraph of your note to thank your interviewer, you can use a brief second paragraph to touch again upon the key points you made in your interview. You can also use a similar strategy to "clean up" any interview rough spots you might have had -- i.e., to expand upon or clarify responses you felt were weak or shaky.

  • A thank-you note lets you make points you forgot to make in your interview.

Sometimes after an interview, as you walk out to your car, you smack yourself on the forehead and say to yourself, "Why didn’t I talk about _____?!" Frustrating? You bet. But you can take care of the problem to some degree in your thank-you note. Again, perhaps in the second paragraph, you can say something to the effect of "After our discussion, it occurred to me that I forgot to tell you about _________."

  • A thank-you note demonstrates your written communication skills.

In receiving and reading your thank-you notes, your interviewer will see firsthand how you handle yourself on paper. You’ll be using similar skills every day with the company’s potential clients, customers, and vendors -- so the interviewer will be reading carefully to see how you come across in print.