How to write different types of interview: formats, methods, and styles

12th March 2021
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Putting together the perfect interview is considered by many to be a fine art. And, whether you’re wondering how to format your interview or write job interview questions, there can be an overwhelming amount of advice available surrounding putting together the perfect candidate assessment.

The information in this guide can help you decide which is the right type of interview for your advertised position. We’ll cover:

  • The pros and cons of common interview formats
    • Question and answer
    • Test or task-based
    • Group assessment
  • Types of job interview methods
    • Competency
    • Behavioural
    • Situational
    • Which method is best?
  • Different interview styles
    • Formal and informal
    • Structured, semi-structured, unstructured
    • The funnel interview method

Common interview formats

Below are three of the most common interview formats for you to consider, including their pros and cons:

  • Question and answer
  • Group assessments
  • Test, task-based, or case interviews

In addition to these three formats, you can also choose to conduct interviews face-to-face, over the phone, or via video.

Question and answer

This is the standard interview format that almost everyone will be familiar with. Interviews that are question-and-answer based usually involve one candidate at a time and allow you or a panel of interviewers to ask a series of questions, with the aim of deducing how well the interviewee will be able to do the job you are advertising. Beyond that, there are several different interview methods that you can use to customise your Q&A format.

The cons of this format are that interviewees may simply learn or rehearse good responses to your questions. Some people simply do better in interview situations than others, so if someone gives bad responses or the wrong answers, then that’s not to say that they don’t have the hard skills to excel at the role. You’ll need to use your judgement to decide whether you can get all the information you need from a Q&A interview, or whether you may need additional assessment methods to fairly judge the candidate’s ability.

Test or task-based

Test or task-based interviews and methods of assessment replace interview questions with an exam, case study, or puzzle. These can be great for determining the level of ability a candidate has and can give you a clear picture of how well they’ll be able to perform their day-to-day tasks if you were to give them the job.

You may choose to set the task before the interview so that they have time to complete it. You can then use the interview time to discuss their results and ask probing questions tailored to them. Alternatively, you might give them a project to complete there and then, or a series of smaller tasks like a test or puzzle. This puts more pressure on the candidate, but it allows you to see how well they cope under stress.

One downside of a task-based interview is that, while you do get to see their skills in action, you don’t get to know the candidate as well personally as you would using other interview methods. That means you won’t get a good idea of their soft skills or professional attitude using this method alone, for example if they were applying for a senior or managerial position. These kinds of interviews can also be quite demanding, so you could risk excluding some of the best talent if they simply don’t have time to go through your recruitment process.

Group assessments

In an individual interview format, candidates are assessed one at a time which can make the process last for weeks. If you have a lot of applicants to get through or need to make a decision quickly, you might want to consider setting a group interview. Group interview methods allow you to assess several potential hires at once, saving time while seeing their interpersonal skills in action.

Group assessments include turn taking or hot seating, where you pose a question to the group and they then take it in turns to answer, usually within a set amount of time. Alternatively, you might set a task or exercise for the group to tackle together, which can give you an insight into who the best communicators and team players are.

Group interviews can be a challenge for participants because they have to compete and work together at the same time, so the benefits for the interviewer include that it’s quite easy to see who stands out amongst the crowd. On the downside, you could miss out on someone with great professional skills if someone with a bigger personality overshadows them. This is why group interview methods are usually used for sales or entry-level roles and other positions where teamwork, communication and stress management skills are the most important.

Types of job interview methods

Below are three different examples of interview methods, including example interview questions for each.

Competency

Competency-based interview questions can help you to get a clearer image of a candidate’s ability to do their job well. Examples may include:

  • Tell me about a project you were particularly proud of and the role you played in its success.
  • Can you give an example of a time when you had to deal with a difficult situation?
  • How would your co-workers describe you?

Rather than being specific to the role requirements, like what training, qualifications, or experience they have received, competency questions focus on the interviewee’s soft skills such as communication, team work, decision making, and any other qualities they have picked up during their professional career.

Behavioural

Behavioural interview questions are great for getting anecdotal evidence of somebody’s capabilities.

Behavioural questions include “tell me about a time when…” or “give examples of…” questions. Interviewees can then give a real-life example that can help you understand how they have responded to workplace scenarios in the past, giving you a feel for how they will perform in the future.

Situational

Situational questions provide a similar opportunity to behavioural questions for candidates to explain their responses to certain scenarios. They may include giving the interviewee a fictional event or problem to solve, which would provide them with the opportunity to explain how their skills and experiences could be utilised to produce the best result. For example, you might ask: “tell me how you would deal with…”.

Which method is best?

There are pros and cons to using behavioural, situational, and competency questions. While there is a lot of overlap, they are slightly different in terms of what they can tell you.

Behavioural questions are based on past events, so you know what sort of situations a candidate has tackled before. However, if they are changing careers or can’t think of a good example, it might be difficult to see how they might respond to events in their new role. On the other hand, situational questions will give you a better idea of what they’ll be like at your company, but you may not get the evidence you need to back it up.

While competency questions are great for finding out more about a person’s professional attitude, the downside is that it’s very easy to learn the ‘correct’ answers and say the right thing in a competency-centric interview. For example, even though we know how we should react under pressure, in reality our responses may be very different.

In most cases, a combination of all three interview question types will give you the better picture and yield the best results. This will provide candidates with opportunities to use the STAR method of answering interview questions, which stands for situation, task, action, result:

  • Situation sets the scene and gives you context
  • Task explains what needed to be done, or the purpose of the exercise
  • Action refers to what they did as an individual
  • Result includes explaining how what they did influenced the outcome

So, whichever method of interviewing you choose, try to write the questions with STAR answers in mind.

Interview styles

With your format and methods of questioning decided, there are still a few different ways you can style your interview that can affect what you get out of them.

Formal and informal

Whichever kind of assessment you chose, you’ll have to determine the level of formality that’s best suited to the role you are interviewing for. Most interviews are formal by nature due to the power dynamic of the interviewer and interviewee, though you can relax the atmosphere a bit and put candidates at ease by choosing an informal setting, like a break room or lounge, and asking ice-breaker questions.

Purely informal interviews, such as meeting for lunch, can be great if a candidate has already undertaken several of your assessments and you simply want to meet them face-to-face. Make sure you’ve decided that you intend to hire someone before you invite them to an informal interview, because casual meetings can signal to candidates that this is the case.

If you want a mix of both formal and informal elements in your interview, it can help to divide the assessment up into two sections. For example, you can have a meet-and-greet portion followed by a Q&A, or you may choose to go through the questions first then take them out for food or on a tour of the office afterwards. That way, you can see how the candidate fares in both formal and informal situations.

Structured, semi-structured, and unstructured

Structured interviews mean having quite a rigid plan with regards to questions and activities. You’ll write a list of questions and ask exactly the same of each candidate in the same order, with a focus on their skills and experience. The aim is to quickly determine whether they’re right for the role based on their background, so this approach is ideal if you’re still in the initial stages of the hiring process, the role has very specific requirements, or you have a lot of interviews to conduct and need to whittle down your pool of candidates.

Unstructured interviews are more informal and simply require you and the candidate to have a conversation, either to see if they have any questions about the role or just to get to know each other better. With unstructured interviews, you might write down topics to discuss rather than specific questions you want to ask the candidate. It can be difficult to get all the information you need about a candidate with such a relaxed approach, so unstructured interviews are better suited to the final stages of hiring when you have already determined their skills and competencies.

Semi-structured interviews are the best of both worlds, because they allow you to get the information you need while the candidate is able to expand on their points. Semi-structured interview methods are more likely to include open questions that invite the candidate to share an opinion, speculation, or prediction, or they might just ask a candidate to tell a story. If your recruitment process only allows for one or two interviews before selection, semi-structured is the way to go.

Funnel interview method

One final technique to bear in mind when writing an interview is the funnel method. The funnel interview method is used by interviewers to get the most information out of a candidate that they can in the short amount of time that an interview allows. You start by asking a broad question and then ask progressively narrowing probing questions to direct the candidate towards giving the information you need. An example of the funnel interview method might look like this:

  1. Tell me about a time when you handled a difficult situation.
  2. What did you do to diffuse the situation?
  3. Why did you decide to do that?
  4. What would you have done differently?

The initial open question gives the candidate chance to respond in detail, whereas your follow-up questions allow you to probe for specific information. This should ensure that both parties feel satisfied with the answer given, so it’s a method that is ideal for semi-structured interviews.

This guide will help you get to grips with different types of interview and interview questions, as well as formats, methods, and styles that could help you put together a better hiring process. And, now that you know how to write an interview, you can start sourcing the best talent to join your company.

At Edward Reed Recruitment, we provide a range of talent acquisition services for hiring managers and business owners. If you’re looking for more advice, our blog is full of guides and tips including how to find the best candidates and how to get the most out of video interviews.

If you’re a jobseeker looking for the next stage in your career, we can help you too. Check out our candidate portal and guides such as what questions to ask in an interview, to make sure you ace your next opportunity.

We are an independent agency based in the North East of England and experts in business recruitment. So, get in touch today and see how we can help you.