The interview for a job position is usually the last hurdle you have to take to finally reach your goal. Below you will find an overview about how interviews are structured and what you can do to prepare to pass them successfully.

Purpose and structure of an interview

For an employer, the interview fulfills a specific purpose. It is supposed to help weed out the wrong candidates and see who is the best fit for the company. They will try to understand who you are and how you react under pressure or how you would solve various challenges.

Depending on the company, interviews can follow various patterns. Therefore the very first thing you should do is to use a search engine and try to find out what kind of interview you should expect. Often you also find some information in the invitation about the interview.

Please find below a short list of the most common types of interviews and their structure:

  • Structured / Unstructured Interview 
    • This form of interview is one of the most commonly used ones. It is a relatively open format where the main goal of the employer is to get a feeling for the candidate. 
    • In a structured interview, the employer will ask you and other candidates basically the same questions to assess who is the best fit. The questions will be specific to the requirements for this position and will heavily focus on the specific skills and abilities
    • In an unstructured interview the employer does not have a fixed set of questions. The questions may change depending on the candidates’ responses. Usually, some initial questions are prepared but the direction is rather casual. Question flow is based on the direction of the conversation. For most people, this kind of interview feels the least intimidating it. However, due to the free nature of it, it is also the most difficult to prepare as you can come to unforeseen questions or areas of discussion.
  • Competency Interview 
    • Competency interviews will focus on specific skills the company is looking for. The interviewer will ask questions to clearly determine if you have the knowledge and skills required for the specific job. Often you will be asked to describe how you would solve one or several problems common in the industry. It can be that you have to present the way how you get to the solution. 
  • Assessment center
    • These types of tests or “interviews” are usually used by bigger companies with a standardized hiring process. An assessment center is a structured candidate selection and assessment process. Applicants will be observed during individual and group tests for properties or tasks which are important for the hiring company. In most cases, the tests are supposed to simulate situations out of the real world.
    • What you can expect:
      • Typically several candidates (4-8, but sometimes also more)
      • You will be watched and evaluated during the tests 
      • Duration of such an assessment can take between half a day to up to 3 days
      • You will perform verbal, written and presentation tests
      • Time pressure
    • Here an example agenda
      • Welcome
      • Short introduction round
      • Briefing and preparation for group discussion
      • Group Discussion
      • Break
      • In-tray exercise (an exercise to see if you can filter information and prioritize properly)
      • Case study and preparation for presentation
      • Lunch
      • Presentation of case study
      • Briefing and preparation for a single interview (usually you have to fulfill a specific task during the interview, such as selling something or handling an employee situation)
      • Qualification test
      • Feedback round and end

As you can see the interviews usually consist of several questions and in some cases tests specific to your area of interest. With this they will try to see how good you react under stress, how good your social and communication skills are, how loyal you might be to the company, how creative you are and last but not least if what is in your resume is really true. Also, keep in mind that many companies nowadays check the social media presence of potential prospects. Now, might be a good idea to make your profile private or at least remove compromising entries (or better never post it in the beginning).

So how do you prepare for this whole circus? Well, you do it similar to how you can handle every situation. You train for it.

Preparation and training for an interview

Interviews and assessments might seem scary now but as with almost everything you can prepare for it. The good news is that as you now know interviews have a specific goal and therefore follow the same patterns. This allows us to prepare for the most common questions, situations, and tests.

Clothing and appearance

Dress for success! I bet you heard that phrase before. This is the first and easiest step to take in order to prepare for the interview. The proper clothing and appearance will have at least two desired effects:

  • You will feel more confident
  • You will make a good first impression

To achieve this follow these basics:

  • Clean and well-groomed appearance
    • Clean and maintained fingernails
    • Shower before the interview and use deo 
    • A view days before the interview get a fresh haircut
  • Clothing should fit to the job position
    • Pick an outfit that fits to the job position. If you apply for a job as a developer/programmer you can probably choose a more casual style. In case you apply for banking or insurance you should wear a suit. Research what is common.
  • Clothing should fit to you
    • If you do not feel good in your clothes, it will make it difficult to appear confident. Therefore try to select your outfit according to what you feel comfortable in but in the boundaries of what is common for the job you applied to
  • General tips for appearance
    • The cloth should be freshly washed and ironed
    • Remove piercings in the face (except if you apply for a piercing or tattoo studio)
    • Clean shoes
    • Cloth coloring should be more on the laid back color spectrum
    • Don’t choose more than 3 colors for your outfit
    • If you can wear it on the beach it is not the right set of clothes for an interview

Basic preparation – interview & questions 

This section will tell you how you can prepare for the most typical interview situations. Before we go into preparing for the most common questions and work on your body language, you should have a look at the general tips. 

General tips to follow before an interview:

  • Research the company
  • Prepare your self-presentation
    • Prepare a couple of sentences to introduce yourself and commit them to your memory. This is an old trick from many of the best presenters and public speakers out there. A good start will give you confidence for the rest of the interview
  • Clarify organizational stuff upfront to avoid stress
    • When to be where
    • How do you arrive 
    • Plan enough time for travel, take a hotel if required
  • Keep calm even if questions or situations are stressful or provocative
    • They are supposed to give you stress and the interviewer wants to see how you handle it
  • Take each task you are assigned seriously, even if it seems too difficult or meaningless
  • Be friendly and use the right attributes, always and to everyone
  • Take the drink you are offered (except if it is alcohol)
    • Accepting a drink is a good idea. If you have a glass of water you can take a sip in case you need to have some time to think about an answer to a question
  • Speak loud and clearly

To prepare for the questions have a look at the most common questions and formulate answers to them. Try to speak the answers as you would to an interviewer. If you have problems doing it alone ask a friend and hand them questions he/she should ask you to simulate an interview.

Questions which are commonly asked:

  • Could you please introduce yourself?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why did you apply for this position?
  • What do you know about the company?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • Why do you want to leave your current employer?
  • How do you handle stress?
  • How do you handle negative feedback?
  • Please describe your current tasks

Apart from preparing answers to questions you are asked you should also think about what questions you could ask the interviewer. Asking questions is a good way to show interest and show that you were listening when the interviewer talked.

General questions you could ask are:

  • What do you think are the biggest challenges in this position?
  • What outlook does this position provide?
  • What do you expect from a person taking the job?
  • Where do you see the company in five years?
  • Why did you decide to work for this company?

Once you have the questions and answers down it is now time to start looking into your body language and how you present yourself. You can practice this in front of a mirror, by filming yourself or with a friend. If you do it with a friend tell them what to look out for.

Body language tips

  • Open body language, meaning don’t cross your arms in front of you, don’t slouch
  • Mirror your opposite, with a slight delay and don’t overdo it
  • Smile 
    • Don’t overdo it, but try to be positive and smile once in a while
  • Keep eye contact
  • Don’t move around too much, don’t be restless
    • Moving around too much is often a sign of nervousness so try to avoid ti
  • Don’t play with your hair or hide your face
  • Proper handshake 
    • If you shake hands put enough strength in it (not too much either)
    • No one likes a limp handshake

If you have the basics down you are already well prepared for most interview situations. However, if you will be facing assessment centers or interviews where you can expect industry-specific questions and tasks to be solved during the interview then I would recommend training for this as well

Preparation and training for assessment centers and industry-specific questions

As assessment centers and industry-specific tests vary the best way is to find books or programs who contain examples of such tests. The structure is usually the same so you can prepare for this already but if it comes down to the specific tests the best advice is that you practice it. Do the exercises described in the books or programs. You will often find free examples on the internet for your target industry.

Simple ways to find material and books:

  • Search on Amazon
  • Search on google or bing or any other search engine

Here some good generic assessment center books:

Especially for code/programming related questions, I prefer to use pages which explain to you how to do it such as

Short recap:

  • You can prepare for an interview
  • Find out what kind of interview to expect
  • Prepare answers for the most common questions
  • Role-play the interview with a friend
  • Train
    • Train test answers & questions
    • Train for assessment centers
    • Learn answers to the most common industry problems for your job position
  • Take care of your body language
  • wear proper clothing

I hope this was helpful for you and good luck with the interviews!