Common interview formats

One on one

As the name suggests, this type of interview format involves you and just one interviewer. These types of interviews tend to be less structured, with the interviewer letting the conversation unfold rather than sticking to a specific set of questions, although this isn’t always the case. This free flowing style can help you to build rapport, but it can make it difficult for you to showcase all of your relevant skills and attributes. It is important to be well prepared for a one on one interview, even if it has been framed as ‘just a chat’.

Panel interview

This is where you are interviewed by a panel of people (generally three, but this can vary). Panel interviews are usually highly structured, with the panel asking each prospective candidate the same set of pre-determined questions.

One of the hardest things about a panel interview (apart from handling the nerves that come with any interview!) is determining how to best engage with everyone on the panel. It can be tempting to give all your attention to the person who has asked the question, but it is important to make an effort to speak to, and make eye contact with, everyone (without staring). Each member of the panel will be making their own assessment of you (often scoring you against pre-determined criteria), so it is important you engage with each of them, even if one panel member asks the most or all of the questions.

Competency based

It is common for many organisations to use a ‘competency framework’ to inform their recruitment decisions. Competencies refer to the skills, knowledge and behaviours necessary for job performance. The job description and/or advertisement should detail the required competencies, and you should refer to these during your preparation. Your people2people consultant can also advise you.

A competency based interview is all about evidence, with the interviewer asking a series of behavioural based questions relating to the required competencies. Basically, they want you to demonstrate that you have a particular competency by providing a practical example. You can view some sample competency based questions below.

Sample competency questions:


Can you describe a time when you were part of a team who co-operated to improve team performance?

What needed to be improved?

What did the team decide to do about it?

How was it implemented?

What did you personally do?

What was the result?

Customer service/can do attitude

Tell me about a time when you went beyond the expectations of a customer.

What service went beyond the initial request?

Why did you go beyond?

What was the outcome?


Tell me about the types of writing you have done. Can you give me specific examples?

How did you approach the task?

Tell me about its content and the audience that it was written for?

How was it received and what was the feedback?

Communication | verbal – on the telephone

Tell me about a time when you had to explain facts about a fairly complex service, or product, to a customer on the telephone.

What was the situation?

Walk me through the process you used

What kind of feedback did you get?


Communication | verbal – face to face

Can you describe a situation where you had to ‘win’ someone over – someone who wasn’t being very responsive to you?

What was the situation?

Walk me through the process you used

How successful were you?


Communication | listening

Can you describe a situation where you had to deal with an angry customer?

What did you say?

What were the customer’s objections?

How did you respond to these? What was the outcome?


Sales | negotiation

Can you tell me about a time that you negotiated a price for a contract? How did you meet both the clients and the company’s needs?

What type of sale was involved?

Was satisfactory price the final hurdle in the sale?

Did you consider reducing your price? Why?

Safety awareness

Can you give me an example of a time when you noticed that a situation was unsafe?

What did you do about this?

What happened as a result of your action?


Sales | up selling

Can you tell me about a time when you were able to up-sell something to an existing customer?

What did you say?

What were the customer’s objections?

How did you respond to these?

What was the outcome?


Sales | uncommitted customer

Describe a situation when you ended up making good sales with a customer who started out initially being very uncommitted.

What techniques did you use?

What was the customer’s response?

What was the final outcome?

How did you feel about that?

Adaptability and flexibility

Can you give me an example of when you have had to adjust quickly in response to changes made within an organisation?
What was the impact of the changes on you?

What did you do by way of ‘adjusting’ to them?

What was the result?

How did you feel about these changes?


Tell me about a situation where you had to deal with conflicting orders from different people.

What did you do?

What was the result of your actions?

What was the feedback from the people who gave you the orders?

Attention to detail

Give me a specific example of a time when you were working on something very important. How did you ensure that nothing was overlooked?

What steps did you take?

What was the result?

Problem solving

Can you give me a specific example of a time when you were given the task of finding out some information but you found it difficult?

What was the task?

What information did you have to find out?

Why was it difficult?

What did you do?

What was the outcome?

The STAR technique

So we’ve established that competency/behavioural interviews are all about evidence. It sounds straight forward enough but in an interview situation it is easy to get off track. To overcome this, it can useful to use the STAR technique to structure your answers. This breaks your answer into four components and in doing so, helps to ensure you give specific practical examples.


Briefly outline the situation you will draw on (this gives your answer context). You need to give enough detail so the interviewer has some context but it is important to be succinct.


Outline the task you needed to complete (or the result you needed to achieve). Once again it is important to be succinct but you should give enough detail to allow your interviewer to grasp the complexities and challenges you faced.




This is the critical aspect of the answer – what action did you undertake specifically to reach the desired outcome. Explain the process you followed and the steps you took. Remember to use ‘I’ not ‘we’, even if it was a group based situation. The interviewer wants to know exactly what you did.




A positive outcome proves that the action you took was effective. If you can, try to give some specific details that demonstrate the significance of your success (e.g. % revenue increase, improved customer response times). You can also talk about what you learnt through the experience and how this equips you to do the job for which you are interviewing.


Assessment Centres

Many employers choose to run assessment centres when hiring staff, particularly if they are hiring multiple people concurrently. An assessment centre is a type of ‘group interview’ where you participate in a series of exercises under the observation of assessors. They will be looking to determine if you have the required skills and experience for the role, and if you will fit in with the culture and values of the organisation.


Depending on the role you are applying for, an assessment centre can run from a few hours to a whole day (occasionally they can run over a few days but this is rare). Typical exercises you can expect at an assessment centre include:
Group discussion

You will be asked to form groups with your fellow candidates and will be given a topic to discuss or a problem to solve. Assessors will be observing the discussion and will be looking for you demonstrate:


  • Your ability to listen to others perspectives
  • Capacity to communicate clearly and succinctly
  • Willingness to contribute ideas
  • Capacity to both lead and be led
  • Ability to persuade others
  • Willingness to accept feedback



Role Play

You will be asked to participate in a simulated work situation such as a client meeting or handling a complaints call. The aim is to give the assessor an indication of how you will behave in a real life work situation. Your assessor will not be overly concerned with your understanding of the technical aspects (such as product knowledge), they are wanting you to demonstrate your interpersonal skills, ability to cope with pressure and adaptability. Treat the role-play as you would a real life work situation, ensuring you are professional at all times.


In-tray Exercise


You will be asked to complete a series of tasks relevant to the role you are applying for (e.g. replying to an email, collating a report, formatting a document). The assessor is looking for you to demonstrate attention to detail, time management skills and the ability to prioritise. It’s important to take the time to understand exactly what you need to do and then approach it methodically.


Individual interview

You will generally have an opportunity for an individual interview (although this isn’t always the case). Generally it will be a panel interview and will involve competency based questions. You can review information on these here. (link back to panel and behavioural interview)


Aptitude and/or Psychometric testing


Testing often forms a part of the recruitment process (this may happen at the assessment centre or at a later date). There are a wide range of tests available including personality tests, verbal and numerical reasoning tests and situational judgment tests. You can view a sample of some common tests here (can we link to Kenexa or similar?) There is little preparation you can do for these tests, other than perhaps to brush up on your high school maths! The key thing is to read the questions carefully, work methodically and answer honestly.




How to succeed in an assessment centre?

Put your best foot forward from the moment you arrive

Treat the entire day as an interview, from the moment you walk through the door you may be being assessed so make sure you stay professional and courteous at all times.



Be prepared to speak up but be careful not to dominate

You might be excited about a great idea you’ve had, and you are keen to demonstrate your creative thinking but be careful not to dominate the discussion. Assessors are looking for you to show the confidence to contribute to the group but not dominate it!



Be clear on expectations and timeframes

Before embarking on an activity make sure you understand exactly what the expectations are and what timeframe you have to work in.


Be yourself

The assessment centre model is designed to give the assessors an accurate view of how you would operate and interact in the workplace so it is important to be true to your natural style. If you pretend to be something you are not, you may not get a role that would actually be a great fit, or even worse be offered a role that isn’t a fit for your skills and personality.



Phone/video interview

It is increasingly common for organisations to conduct interviews via phone and/or video. Sometimes this may be the preliminary step before a face-to-face meeting, although sometimes it may be the only interview format (particularly if the role reports to someone in a different location). You should prepare for a phone or video interview as you would any other interview, although there are a few things you should be particularly mindful of.


Check your technology


Allow yourself plenty of time prior to the interview to check that you have the required technology and it is working properly. Technical issues can really disrupt the flow of an interview.

Make sure you are in an appropriate location


Whether it is a phone or video interview, make sure you are in a quiet location where you will not be distracted. Background noise or people walking past the camera will be a distraction to both you and your interviewer. If it is a video interview make sure the backdrop is appropriate. You may be a die hard One Direction fan, but your interviewer probably doesn’t need to see the posters plastered over your wall!


Dress the part


For a video interview, the interviewer will be able to see you so obviously you should dress in the same way you would for a face to face interview. It’s also a good idea to dress up for a phone interview. Perhaps you don’t have to put a full suit on, but taking the time to ‘get ready’ for the interview will impact your frame of mind. Having corporate clothes on might help to get you ‘in the zone’ more than if you are in your pajamas.



Interviewing for a temp or contract role?


If you are interviewing for a temporary or contract role the interview experience may be slightly different. In a temporary role you have to be effective from the very first day so your interviewer will be keen to establish that you have the skills to ‘hit the ground running’ and that you will slot in well with their existing team dynamic. They will also want reassurance that you will stick around for the duration of the contract. Be prepared to explain why you are interested in temporary work (e.g. because it gives you diverse experience, gives you the opportunity to work in different industries or offers you flexibility) and to reassure them that you will see through the commitment (and mean it). If you aren’t genuinely committed for the duration of the role, don’t apply for it.