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Telephone, Skype, coffee shop or group exercise: How to tackle 7 types of interview

Posted on 1/06/2018 by Gary Fay


Hiring new members of staff is expensive – costing businesses up to £6,000 for the interview process alone, and taking an average 28 weeks for new employees to reach target productivity in their new role.

Organisations simply have to make their hiring process as lean, effective and focused as possible. How they conduct your interview is an important choice, and can take a diverse range of forms. Below, we’ve set out our guide to the 7 most common types of interview faced by IT professionals.

Research, first

One type of preparation is necessary for any type of interview: in-depth research. This should be conducted well in advance of your interview and take a few hours of your time.

As a candidate, your success depends on knowing the role and company. Your goal should be on finding interesting talking points for your interview and proving your interest in the organisation through your research. Focus on four key areas: company history, finances, culture and competition.

Use the company’s website to learn their mission, values and background – and be sure to search beyond the homepage to demonstrate to show that your interest is genuine. Ensure you can clearly articulate what differentiates the organisation from others in the space, and know enough basic information – like location and company size – to prevent yourself asking a question at interview that could be answered with a search online.

Review the ‘investor relations’ page (or equivalent) of the website. The quarterly reports and other documents there will offer valuable insight into the context for your hire – and suggestions for the future of the organisation, which you may seek to discuss at interview.

Seek to get under the skin of the organisation by reviewing how it talks about staff and company news on its blog and social media channels. Take note of recent successes, and be prepared to refer to them in your interview. Dig even deeper by researching the business on Glassdoor, and even contacting past or present employees. The goal here is to get the ‘inside track’ on the organisation; to find the things to not bring up in interview, and detailed insight that other candidates will miss, like target areas of expansion, or challenges to be overcome.

Finally, repeat the steps above for the organisation’s competitors, albeit at a higher level. Here, the aim is to demonstrate your understanding of the industry landscape and – crucially – its commercial interests. These will affect every role in the organisation, technical or otherwise.

Research complete, consider the following points for your specific interview type.

#1. Interview by phone

Interviews by phone are often used as a pre-screening option for employers that receive more applications than they can interview in person.

It’s therefore essential to put your best foot forward to secure a second interview. Be prepared for the employer to call in business hours. Employers will usually organise a suitable time to call you.

30 minutes before the call, find a quiet space with good network coverage and a back-up contact option like Skype or Zoom. Write down questions you’d like to ask or issues you’d like to discuss in advance, and print and learn your CV and cover letter. Have a final brush up on the company so it’s fresh in your mind.

When you’re on the phone, be aware that your interviewer cannot read your body language – which means working harder at your verbal communication. Smile when you speak; use active listening cues to demonstrate your engagement with the conversation. Standing or moving about can help with projecting your voice and elevating energy levels.

Stay aware of your presentation by imagining the interviewer is sat across from you. These calls are generally 30 minutes long and are as much about the way you conduct yourself as they are the content of your CV or experience. Be relaxed and chatty, but don’t ramble. Ensure your answers are concise and relevant to the question.

#2. Interview by Skype

Skype interviews should be approached in the same way as those on the phone – with a few extra considerations for the use of video.

Be organised. Download Skype in advance and ensure you and your interviewer have each others’ contact details ready. Arrive to the call early and if your interviewer is calling from a different timezone, make sure you know the time difference.

Dress appropriately. Don’t be tempted to wear professional clothing on your top half and pyjamas underneath, as you may be caught out and have to adjust something on screen.

Make sure your internet connection is reliable, that your camera and microphone work properly and – if you’re using a tablet or a phone – that your battery is charged ahead of the call. Use headphones during the call for better sound quality. Finally, prepare your environment by making sure the background for your call is clean, tidy and contains nothing offensive or suggestive.

Be waiting on the call ten minutes before your slot begins, with a glass of water and a notepad and pen. On the call, seek to maintain eye contact with your interviewer throughout and maintain a good posture by sitting up straight and loosening your shoulders.

#3. The coffee shop interview

Interviews in coffee shops are increasingly common because they put candidates at ease. It’s important, however, to keep your engagement professional and not be distracted during the meeting.

Confirm the details of the time and location for your meeting in advance. If possible, use a venue that you’re already familiar with. If your chosen coffee shop belongs to a chain, make sure you’re both heading for the same location.

Stay focused at all times. Seek a quiet table. Speak clearly and maintain eye contact with your interviewer. Finally, don’t eat during the interview, and definitely don’t drink too much coffee.

#4. The one-on-one interview

One-on-one interviews can be intimidating because they raise the prospect of spending time talking to an interviewer you don’t ‘connect’ with.

Avoid this pressure by seeking to build rapport from the start of the interview with small talk about the venue for the meeting and the individual’s history at the company. ‘Open up’ your body language by maintaining eye contact, listening actively, and leaning towards them (without invading their personal space.)

On these occasions, it can be tempting to ‘fill up’ silences in the conversation by rambling, or providing excessively detailed answers. Instead, seek to keep your responses clear, structured and simple to follow by using the STAR framework – outlining the situation you were in, the requirements of the task in question, the action you took, and the results of your efforts.

When it comes to awkward silences, remember that your interviewer is possibly nervous too, and needs time to process your answers and respond in a way that makes the most of the interview situation.

#5. The group interview

Group interviews are more efficient than one-on-one engagements, and more effective at demonstrating the actual performance of a candidate in different situations. They typically involve multiple interviewers setting a range of tasks for groups of between 5 and 10 candidates.

Crucially, these interviews are designed to assess a mix of competencies: not least how you manage and communicate with others, take direction, and solve problems. It’s essential that candidates ‘lean into’ the opportunity here, even if their introverted nature makes it uncomfortable to do so.

Also important is that candidates strike a balance in their behaviour. Too passive, and other candidates will earn the interviewers’ focus. Too aggressive, and candidates will be see as domineering and difficult to work with.

Body language is key once more. At the start of the interview, learn your fellow interviewees’ names and seek to build a friendly but not over-familiar rapport with them. Turn your feet towards those who are speaking to you, smile and stay ‘open’. If you catch yourself crossing your arms, don’t!

#6. The 3-stage interview

3-stage interviews are most common for senior roles where the candidate’s employment represents a serious investment for the company. In-person meetings may be preceded by pre-screening Skype or telephone interviews.

It’s important to recognise that each interview stage will be geared towards testing different aspects of your suitability for the role. First, interviewers will seek to screen for your skills and experience. Later interviews are likely to be focused on ‘fit’ – offering candidates a chance to meet and spend time with more junior and senior members of the team to see how they communicate.

At each stage, it’s important to make notes of items to research before the next interview. Be consistent in the messages you express at each stage, as these are likely to form the focus for the interviewers’ questions in the subsequent stages. Finally, do not rest your laurels at any stage, or be tempted to engage in unprofessional banter with your prospective workmates when you meet them. Instead, be polite and professional.

#7. The multi-stage interview

Interviews at the largest tech giants can take 5, 10 or even more rounds of interviews, because the likes of Google and Apple are unencumbered by the cost restrictions that other businesses face and can afford to ‘hold out’ for the very best candidates.

In this way, multi-stage interview processes are designed around the roles in question, and can involve a combination of the types of interview mentioned above, alongside coding tasks, behavioural tests and homework challenges.

What distinguishes them further is the use of seemingly ‘impossible’ questions – like which do you think has more advertising potential in Boston, a flower shop or a funeral home?

The key here is not to answer the question correctly. There may be no ‘right’ answer. Instead, interviewers are looking to understand candidates’ aptitude for creativity, lateral thought, problem-solving and logic. Candidates should therefore ‘think out loud’ while tackling such challenges.

On a wider level, candidates should approach multi-stage interviews with an aim to ‘expect the unexpected’. Rather than feeling uncomfortable when such questions are asked, interviewees should embrace them. If they cannot, they probably shouldn’t join the organisation in question. This raises a further point. Tough multi-stage interviews are not necessarily unsuccessful ones – and should therefore be approached by candidates with a different perspective on ‘success’.

For more information on interviews at Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google,click here.


Common threads run through our advice for all of the interview types above.

Preparation is key; both in terms of the insight you’d like to express at interview and creating the right conditions for a productive meeting. More than 90% of communication is non-verbal, and candidates should be aware of their body language at all times. Demonstrating an acute awareness of what the interviewer needs and is looking for – and mirroring it, is next.

Finally, positivity. An interview is an opportunity for both candidate and interviewer to get to know each other, and even the toughest interview can be instructive for the future. Don’t be afraid of yours: embrace it.

Found this article useful? Read our 6 tips for selling your experience at interview.