Job Interviews

What Is a Job Interview?

At its most basic level, a job interview is a conversation between an employer and a job applicant with the mutual goal of determining whether the applicant and the job are a good fit. During an interview an employer will ask questions about the job seeker's skills, work history, and career goals. A prospective employer will also want to find out why the interviewee is interested in this particular job and company. In addition, the job seeker will have an opportunity to ask questions of the employer.

Depending on the company and the job, the job seeker may have one interview or a series of interviews. Larger companies often have a human resources person or department that is responsible for hiring and managing employees. Although, even when this is the case, a job seeker may also meet the staff with whom he or she would be working directly. During an interview at a smaller company, a job seeker may by interviewed by the company's owner or by the supervisor of the department that has the job opening.

Job Interviews

Résumé: A document providing a detailed description of a person's previous work experience, educational background, and relevant job skills.

What Are Some Different Types of Job Interviews?

Employers often use telephone interviews as a way to initially screen applicants with appealing résumés

A job seeker is interviewed during a job fair in San Francisco, California.

A job seeker is interviewed during a job fair in San Francisco, California. JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES.

One-on-one interviews are typically conducted in the employer's offices, although some may happen off-site at a restaurant or other venue. These interviews are usually longer and more detailed than a phone interview and involve you speaking with a single interviewer. The interviewer will ask you questions about your skills and experience, as well as about your overall career plans. You will also be judged on your appearance and demeanor, so it is important to dress appropriately and to conduct yourself professionally. You may have several one-on-one interviews back-to-back on the same day. It is also possible that the employer may call you back for a second one-on-one interview at a later date.

Some interviews are conducted by a panel of people rather than a single person. The panel may consist of hiring or human resource personnel, supervisors, and other team members. If you are involved in a panel interview, you might find that you are the only person being interviewed, or you might be one of multiple candidates being interviewed at the same time. Positions that require employees to work closely in groups may favor this approach.

In the early twenty-first century, video interviews, which are conducted via Skype or other video conferencing services, have increased in popularity. Video interviews may be used as an early screening tool similar to the phone interview. Additionally, if you are interviewing with an employer based in another area of the country, it is increasingly likely that you will participate in video interviews instead of the one-on-one or panel interviews offered to local applicants. This is because video interviews enable the employer to interview you without needing to pay for your travel expenses.

Scheduling an Interview: Does Timing Matter?

Most job candidates are anxious about the interview process. They want to be prepared so they can impress the hiring committee and demonstrate that they are a good fit for the open position they are seeking to fill. Although much of a job interview can be anticipated through preparation, you may wonder whether factors beyond your control will influence the likelihood that you will be hired.

One frequent question that interviewees have is whether their position in a series of candidates affects their chances of getting the job. Some people feel very strongly that one's order in the interview process carries significant influence. Many believe it is best to interview first while the hiring committee is fresh and excited about the process. Others believe strongly that it is best to interview last because committee members will remember you more clearly than earlier interviewees. However, you often have little say in when you are interviewed and may worry if you are at a disadvantage if you do not receive either the first or last spot.

Most experts, however, say that the order in which your interview falls is unlikely to affect whether or not you are hired. A candidate who is well spoken and whose credentials are a good match for the position will stand out regardless of when he or she interviews. Similarly, an unprepared candidate who lacks the skills necessary for the job is unlikely to be remembered even if he or she interviews first or last. There is one small advantage to being the last candidate interviewed, however: you will have less time to wait for the committee's decision!

Sometimes employers will conduct an open job interview. An open interview occurs during a time designated by an employer and usually takes place at the employer's place of business. At an open interview you can fill out an application, drop off your résumé, and be interviewed on the spot. These types of interviews are more common in non-professional occupations. For instance, stores hiring seasonal employees may conduct open interviews to fill these positions.

What Is the Difference between a Traditional Interview and a Behavioral Interview?

Job Interviews

Job Interviews

Behavioral interviews can be more difficult to prepare for than traditional interviews. Career experts suggest that you try to determine which behaviors a hiring manager will ask you about. In general, the job advertisement will mention the skills and personal characteristics especially relevant to the job. You should think about how these skills and characteristics might be expressed behaviorally and prepare your answers accordingly.

How Do I Get a Job Interview?

Interviews are often granted as a result of a job application or résumé being submitted to the company in response to a job posting. Interviews may also be offered as part of a recruitment effort by an employer. Sometimes when a job opens up, employers will ask existing employees for a referral rather than posting the job to the general public. They might also actively seek out professionals already employed in similar positions at other companies.

Another way to get an interview with a company is to approach a corporate recruiter . Many professional companies have begun to use these services rather than handle the hiring process alone. With a little research, you can find and contact recruiters who work with your target company. If you meet the qualifications for available jobs, your recruiter can then forward your résumé and arrange an interview. Recruiters will often keep your résumé and other materials on hand to submit if additional opportunities become available in the future.

Job Interviews

Recruiter: One who looks for people to hire and attract to a business or cause.

How Should I Prepare for a Job Interview?

Job Interviews

This knowledge will also enable you to ask informed questions during the interview. Because they will be based on your research, these questions should be tailored to the specific company and job you are interviewing for. For example, you might ask what previous employees have done to succeed in the position or what the interviewer enjoys most about working for the company.

Another good strategy is to familiarize yourself with the most common questions asked during interviews and practice answering them. Most hiring managers will ask you to describe your past work experiences or walk them through your résumé. You might also be asked how the position fits in with your general career goals. Finally, many employers will ask you to describe your areas of weakness or to discuss a time you had to handle a complicated problem. Preparing answers to these more difficult questions will save you from fumbling during the interview.

Job Interviews

Be sure you have all the elements in place in order to present a professional image to a prospective employer. Good grooming is essential, so you might consider a haircut or manicure several days before the interview. You should select your outfit well in advance, making sure everything is clean and pressed. It is also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the location where you will be interviewing and map out a route if necessary. Having all of these details taken care of in advance will likely reduce anxiety and allow you to be more relaxed during the interview itself.

What Are Some Common Mistakes Made in Job Interviews?

Perhaps the biggest mistake people make in the interviewing process is arriving to an interview unprepared. Failing to do basic research on the job and company, being unfamiliar with your résumé, or neglecting to prepare questions to ask the interviewer can be disastrous. Preparing well beforehand will also help reduce anxiety. It can be difficult to think clearly and be articulate when you are nervous, so preparation is key.

Being late is another mistake to avoid. Tardiness can suggest a number of negative traits an employer would like to avoid in a new hire, including the inability to plan ahead and manage time. It is a good idea to leave early to offset any difficulties you might encounter on the way to your interview, especially if the interview is in an unfamiliar area.

Avoid bringing distracting items to an interview. Focusing on things other than the conversation at hand is unprofessional and suggests a lack of interest in the job. Food and beverages should never be part of an interview unless the employer has invited you to interview at a coffee shop or restaurant. It is also important to turn off your cell phone, laptop, tablet, and other electronic devices while interviewing. You should clear your calendar of other obligations while meeting with a prospective employer so you can focus on making a good impression.

Many people talk a lot when they nervous, which is another mistake to avoid in an interview. You should try to thoroughly answer any questions posed by the hiring manager, but do not provide unnecessary detail. You should also avoid talking about your personal life, political beliefs, religious affiliations, and any other topics that might be controversial. In addition, when responding to questions about a former employer, you should keep the discussion positive or neutral. Speaking ill of a former employer is unprofessional and may suggest that you are not a team player.

What Happens after a Job Interview?

If possible, when ending the interview, you should confirm a timeframe for when you might expect to hear back from the employer. Doing so can help you maintain your composure as you wait and will provide you with a target date for checking on your application. If you are not able to get a clear idea of the hiring window, it is a good idea to wait a week to 10 days before following up on your meeting. Calling too soon after the interview, or too frequently, can actually hurt your chances of getting hired.

However, it is a good idea to send a brief thank you note via e-mail or mail a day or two after an interview. This gesture is a professional courtesy and reaffirms your interest in the job. If you have interviewed with more than one person, you should send a note to each.

If you have been chosen for an offer, you can expect to receive an offer letter. An offer letter will generally describe the terms of the employment being extended. These may include your official title, your salary and retirement benefits, vacation and paid time off, and health insurance and other medical benefits. Even if you are enthusiastic about the job, it is wise to give any offer careful thought and to read up on negotiating an offer before you proceed.