Types of Interview

Click on each type of interview below to find out more. 

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This tends to be the most common type of interview question. Questions asked are structured to reflect the competencies sought by an employer for a particular job. You should be able to find out which competencies the employer is most interested in by looking at the recruitment pages of their website, and job descriptions usually include a 'person specification' or ‘essential selection criteria’, which will list the competencies required – the skills, experience, knowledge and other attributes for which the organisation is looking.

For example, the employer may be looking for someone with organisational skills, and may choose to ask you a series of questions designed to steadily probe not only your experience in this area, but your understanding of the skills involved. The questions may follow a pattern such as:

  • Would you describe yourself as an organised person?
  • How have you demonstrated organisational skills? What did you do? What would you do differently next time?
  • What makes a good organiser?
  • Why are organisational skills important?
  • Surely … (the interviewer challenges something you say in order to find out more)…?

For more information on general graduate competencies see our information on developing your employability skills

When preparing, try to map out your experiences using your CV, and identify which ones best demonstrate each of the competencies the recruiter is looking for. During your interview try to talk about a range of situations you have been in which demonstrate your breadth of experience and evidence different competencies. You might find the S.T.A.R acronym useful - Situation, Task, Action, Result - when you are answering questions. See our page on how to show you fit the job criteria for more information.

Some general questions to prepare for:

  • Tell me about a time when you demonstrated strong leadership skills.
  • Describe a project that you planned or organised. What did you do to make it a success?
  • Tell me about a time when you worked as part of a team to deliver a goal.
  • Give me an example of a change you have initiated yourself or an improvement you have identified.
  • Describe a situation in which you had to persuade someone round to your way of thinking; how did you use your communication skills to convince them?
  • When you were in a situation that tested your resilience, how did you persevere?
  • Describe a difficult problem you have faced and how you resolved it.

A range of graduate recruiters including EY, Barclays and Nestle may use this type of interview as they understand that employees will perform best when using their individual strengths. They aim to get the best out of you by focusing on your natural aptitude, what you enjoy doing and what engages you. As defined by EY a strength is ‘an activity carried out on a regular basis, that is performed well and energises the individual doing so’.

In this type of interview, interviewers will ask a wide range of questions to get a good feel of your personal abilities and will be looking not only at what you say but also how you say it; to see if your tone, body language and expression demonstrate a genuine motivation. As a result, there is no real right or wrong answer to strength-based questions so it's important to answer honestly in order to give the recruiter a good picture of the true you.

They may ask questions such as:

  • When are you at your best?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What do you do well?
  • What do you love to do in your spare time?
  • How would a close friend describe you?
  • How do you feel when working on a disorganised project? What do you do in situations like this?
  • How do you ensure you maximise your time to achieve your goals and targets?
  • Suppose you were trying to achieve a goal but kept encountering unexpected setbacks along the way. What would you do? How do you feel in these situations?

In order to prepare you will need to think about your achievements academically, professionally and in an extra-curricular capacity. What have you done that you particularly enjoyed – why did you enjoy it? Also, as with all interviews think about the organisation and the role you are interviewing for: does it allow you to use your strengths and natural talents? What are they looking for, and how can you talk about your strengths to show them you've got what they want? Strength-based interviews don't necessarily require you to have lots of work experience (although we would recommend you try to get as much as possible in any case).

A good place to find out more about strength-based recruitment is the EY webpage on interview tips. The Prospects webpage on strength-based interviewing is also a useful resource.

For academic job interviews, large panels are common. For post-doc jobs four interviewers would be typical, but there can be up to ten or more interviewers for permanent lectureships or fellowships. Interviewers may be academics from your discipline but also from other departments, and from Human Resources. Try to find out who will be interviewing you so that you can research their interests. You may also have a number of ‘informal’ one-to-one interviews with a number of academics before or after your main panel interview. Treat these as part of the interview process but also see it as a chance to learn more about the department and job.

To prepare for the interview, review each of the criteria and think about how you can evidence that you meet it. Try to talk to others who have experienced academic interviews and arrange to practice with your supervisor, a colleague or a careers adviser.

Some general questions to prepare for:

  • What attracts you to this position?
  • What were the key achievements of your most recent research project?
  • How does your research fit with the department’s research objectives?
  • What opportunities for multi-disciplinary work does your research offer?
  • Does your research have any potential to serve the wider community and how do you propose to measure impact?
  • What are your plans for future research and how do you propose to fund it?
  • What research support do you expect from the institution?
  • What do you think makes a good supervisor?
  • How does your teaching experience fit you for this post?
  • How do you communicate your enthusiasm for your research; how does this influence your teaching practice?
  • Tell us about how your own experience as a learner has influenced your teaching style.
  • How would you like to develop your teaching? How have you assessed this, and what are you doing to achieve your goals?
  • What courses can you teach and develop?
  • How can you contribute to administration in the department?

If you have been invited to interview for a lectureship you will likely be asked to give a short presentation on your research, or a mock lecture for students. Here are some general tips for preparing:

  • Keep to the brief you are given and ask if you are unsure - e.g. timing, audience, topics.
  • Anticipate your audience - try to find out who will be present and their interests.
  • Practice with colleagues and invite questions/constructive criticism.
  • Have a clear structure and make sure you have the right amount of detail.
  • Engage the audience with regular eye contact.
  • Use audio-visual equipment if appropriate and make sure to test any movie files etc. beforehand.
  • Consider taking prepared handouts for the audience.
  • Invite questions.
  • Thank your audience.

Behavioural Interviews

These look at past experience to model future behaviours. Questions will be asked about how you have dealt with certain scenarios in the past to determine how you might act if faced with similar situations in the future. Have a look at the general competency-based questions above for a guide to the sorts of questions you might be asked (things like, 'tell us about a time when... How did you handle it?'). As your answers will require you to describe your past actions you can prepare in a similar way to competency-based questions using the STAR technique outlined above.

Some employers may also give you specific scenarios to think about and ask you how you would respond in that situation, again looking for key competencies and actions. Questions might include scenarios such as:

  • If you were faced with strong resistance to a change you were implementing, how might you move forward?
  • If you realised you had inadvertently breached the company's data protection rules what would you do?
  • If a key client told you they were contemplating employing an alternative service provider how would you respond?
  • What would you do if you were working on an important project and all of the sudden the priorities were changed?

Useful information is on the TPP interview advice page about behavioural interviewing.

Chronological interviews

These interviews will take you chronologically through your life to date, and are likely to use your CV or completed application form as a basis. You may be expected to talk about anything that you have mentioned in your application, why you made certain decisions, what achievement has given you the greatest satisfaction or what skills you developed in particular positions.

Case study interviews

See our separate page on case study style interviews, used particularly for consulting firms.

Group interviews

This is where several candidates are present and will be asked questions in turn. A group discussion may be encouraged and you may be invited to put questions to the other candidates. For further advice on group activities or exercises, please see our webpage on Assessment Centres.

Portfolio-based interviews

If you are interviewing for a creative role and you have enough experience to create a portfolio of your work, you may be asked to bring it with you to the interview, and to have an in-depth discussion about the pieces you have chosen to include.

Sequential interviews

These are several interviews in turn, with a different interviewer each time. Usually, each interviewer asks questions to test different sets of competencies. However, you may find yourself answering the same questions over and over. If this does happen, make sure you answer each one as fully and enthusiastically as the time before.

Technical interviews

These are used by engineering, scientific, economic, IT, financial services and management consultancy firms. They will test that you have the technical knowledge needed for the job. Questions may focus on your final-year project and why you are approaching it as you are, or on real or hypothetical technical problems. You will be expected to know general themes/theory, and you should be prepared to admit if you do not know the answer. Employers can tell when you are bluffing, but will be just as interested in your thought process and logic.

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