Expect the unexpected. Job interviews can range from a simple one-on-one meeting to a panel of interviewers, to a formal or informal meal or even an on-the-spot assignment. And that’s only the beginning. Here’s how to prepare for them all.

For each case, prepare your Situation Action Result stories. Know these stories off by heart and remember to always answer an interview question with a SAR, not just a grocery list of skills. Interviewers will be more impressed with a story about how you stood apart on the job, and what you have accomplished.

Phone interviews
These can come out of the blue, so they can quite literally catch you with your pants down. Thank goodness for call display. The purpose of a phone interview is to determine whether you might be considered for a face to face interview, so they must be treated seriously. Often you have 20 minutes or less to make an impression.

  • Be sure to have your family name on your voice mail and make the message as professional as possible. Your phone is now a business line and everyone in the family should be educated as to how to answer the phone appropriately.
  • Return all voice mail messages within 24 hours or less.
  • You show you care about the company by being prepared. If you send your resume to a recruiter, be prepared to receive a call at any time, including Sunday evenings during your favorite TV show. After applying for a specific position at a certain company, do initial research on that company just in case you get a call.
  • If an unknown employer calls who found you on an internet site, ask the basics about the job before the interview begins.
  • You don’t have body language in which to show off your enthusiasm or confidence so make sure your tone and verbiage do that for you.
  • Conduct the interview in a quiet, undisruptive location within your home. If you have barking dogs and noisy children ask for a few minutes to get yourself relocated or dislodged from that situation.
  • Playing telephone tag is a drag. When returning a call, you need to be the persistent one and take the initiative to keep trying to reach the caller, leave your phone number each time and your email address, slowly. Also, leave call back times when you know you will be available. Cell phones solve a lot of these land line conditions.

Behavior-based interviews

This is the most common type of interview. It is based on the premise that your past behavior predicts future performance. You will be asked to “Tell me about a time when…” or to “Discuss a project you worked on where (a specific skill was used).Use your SAR stories exclusively, except in the weakness question. BBI’s are usually an hour in length. Each SAR story should be no more than 3-5 minutes and be sure to use plenty of eye contact. All government interviews are behavioral based.

Structured interviews

This is a face to face interview where the candidate is probed and probed and probed again. Interviewers are looking for dedication, teamwork, leadership and who you are, your personal characteristics. Use your SAR stories.

Case-based interviews

These are generally used for higher ranked professionals. The interviewer presents a business case and you are asked to solve it. Case-based interviews test a candidate’s technical knowledge and skills, problem solving, strategic thinking and leadership skills – as well as their ability to perform under pressure.

Situational interviews

These interviews consist of questions about what you would do in a certain situation.. If you haven’t experienced the scenario that is being described, mention you haven’t been in that situation before BUT, if you were, this is how you think would handle it based on your existing skill set and personality……

Stress interviews

These are few and far between but they can be found as part of a more regular interview or for senior executives. The premise is to put the candidate on the spot. The interviewer then is hopefully able to ascertain how well you handle yourself in times of stress. Hidden attributes are uncovered like creativity, organizational skills, thinking on the spot, and your attitude. You may feel threatened or ticked off but don’t give in to those emotions. If you don’t know the answer to a question tell the interviewer you will find out the answer and get back to them. For example: What do you think is wrong with our organization – and how would you fix it? Stay cool.

Second and third interviews

Don’t assume that the people who interviewed you the first or second time have shared everything about you with the new interviewer. The idea of these interviews is to gather new information about you. Be sure to ask each interviewer what the important responsibilities and challenges of the job are and what their management style is. As the interviews progress you will expected to give more input into what actions you might take on the job in the next 30, 60 or 90 days.

Meal interviews

Eating in front of a stranger who could potentially be your boss can be unnerving. Order a moderately priced item on the menu, never order alcohol and don’t talk with your mouth full. Research professional dining etiquette before you go and if a dining interview is a surprise, follow what the interviewer does with their cutlery, cutting their food, napkin placement, etc. Stay away from soup if you are a slurper, and avoid spaghetti. Smaller, bite-sized pasta is fine, but trying to eat long spaghetti while carrying on a serious conversation can be a recipe for disaster.

If your spouse is invited to join you for dinner, the company is seriously considering you and wants to ensure that you can carry yourself with clients in a professional manner.

Information is only power if you use it. The ultimate success to landing a job is being organized and prepared for whatever comes your way. Put on your best clothes, along with a positive attitude and a smile and you’re good to go.

Best of luck!

Colleen Clarke, Career Specialist & Corporate Trainer



Author of Networking: How to build relationships that count and How To Get a Job and Keep It