Types of interviews
Interviews follow many different formats, and they all have the ultimate aim of enabling the interview panel to decide if you are the right person for the job. While the end goal is the same, it's useful to be prepared for the different types of interview you might encounter, and these are outlined on this page. See our “How to prepare for interviews” pages for sample questions to help you practice.
Competency-based interviews are the most common type of interview in Ireland, and you will encounter these across industries, from banking to healthcare to cultural organisations and everywhere in between. This type of interview focuses on finding out whether you have the specific competencies required for the role. Employers ask competency-based questions to understand how you have demonstrated competencies in the past, in order to assess if you will be able to perform to the level required by the role.
The interview will be based on the specific competencies that are usually outlined in the job description. Examples of the type of competencies commonly required include team working, communication, problem solving, flexibility and organisation. You will be asked to give specific examples of when you demonstrated some or all of these competencies. The examples you give should be specific, detailed and clear. You can use examples from your work experience, academic and extracurricular activities or interests and hobbies.
Competency based questions often start with “give me an example of…” or “tell me about a time when…”
The interviewer is interested in your role in the examples:
- What did you do?
- What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
- How did it work out?
- What did you learn?
A strengths-based interview focuses on your strengths and what you enjoy doing, rather than what you can do. Your strengths are those activities that give you energy and motivate you when you engage in them. When you are engaged in these type of activities you are able to completely focus on the task and you are able to quickly learn new information and to perform at a very high level. The rationale for strengths-based interviewing is that if you are doing a job that allows you to engage in activities that you are energised and motivated by (your strengths) you will be much more likely to perform better, to enjoy what you are doing and to remain in the role.
Employers are looking for genuine authentic answers and they assess this in part by your body language and facial expressions when you are talking about a particular strength. Many employers are moving towards strengths-based interviews as candidates are less able to prepare rehearsed answers as in competency interviews. This allows for a more authentic and realistic assessment of your suitability for the role. This type of interview also allows employers to assess your potential as everyone has strengths but not everyone has the experience to answer competency-based questions.
Examples of strength-based interview questions include:
- What motivates you? Or, what do you find draining or tiresome?
- Who do you admire the most?
- When do you feel inspired?
- Do you find deadlines motivating or intimidating?
- Do you like starting tasks or finishing them?
- Do you prefer big picture or the small details?
- Describe a successful day. What made it successful?
- If a colleague was struggling to make a complex decision, what would you do to help?
- What are your weaknesses?
As with all interviews it is important to research the company and the role. Try and identify the strengths and values that the company is likely to be looking for. Read their websites, publications and reports that are available online. Spend some time reflecting on your own strengths and thinks of examples of when you utilised or displayed these particular strengths.
An academic interview will typically take the form of a panel interview with between 2 and 10 on the panel.
The panel will usually consist of someone from the department or research group (often the head of the department) a representative from HR and perhaps others from a different department or an external representative.
Academic Interview Preparation:
Ask who will be on the interview panel before the interview and do some research into each person.
Research the department or research group as much as you can. Familiarise yourself with the recent work that has come out of that department. Read any papers that have recently been published.
Talk to previous employees to get an insight into the culture of the department or University.
Review the essential and desirable criteria as outlined in the job description. Prepare answers that describe examples of when you displayed each of these criteria. Be prepared to answer competency based questions.
You will likely be asked to give a presentation to the panel usually based on your research and you future plans.
Types of questions:
You will be asked to answer questions based on the following areas.
- Your own research and your proposed research.
- Other research in your area.
- Your competencies and how these match with the criteria outlined in the job description.
- Your ability to secure funding.
- Your lecturing and teaching experience and ability.
- How you have contributed to your previous university life e.g. committee membership
- What you will bring to the role and how will you fit with the culture of the department and University
Technical interviews assess your technical ability and knowledge required for the role and organisation you are applying for. Technical interviews are common in engineering, science and IT. The interview will be based on the technical skills that are outlined in the job description and any skills that you have included in your CV. Ensure that you are prepared to answer questions on these skills and any college projects you completed. The recruiters will be assessing how well you can apply your technical knowledge to real working situations.
As an example, in an interview for a software developer job, you are likely to be asked to solve a coding problem by writing code on a whiteboard. Interviewers want to understand how you approach this type of task, how quickly you can do it, and how you can explain your process. While it’s important to get the code approximately correct, they are less concerned with you writing the exact code required, and more interested in how you approach the task and your ability to discuss this.
Telephone interviews are often used by employers at the start of the recruitment process to screen candidates in order to shortlist people to invite to a face to face interview. Often this is a short discussion about your understanding of the role and the recruiter is trying to assess your enthusiasm and interest in the role.
Some things to remember when doing a telephone interview:
- Arrange a time when you can avoid distractions and when you won’t be disturbed.
- Have your CV, cover letter and the job description to hand for reference.
- Remember that it is not only what you say but also how you say it that creates a favourable impression – try to imagine that you are face to face with the interviewer, smile as you speak and don’t worry about occasional silences.
- Dress for the occasion as this will help you behave in a more formal manner.
- Stand up while taking the call as this will make you feel and sound more confident.
Employers use Skype to interview candidates who would have to travel long distances to attend an interview.
Check your Skype account before the interview to ensure your microphone and camera are properly set up.
Some things to remember when doing a Skype interview:
- Look at the camera and not the screen, this will help to create “eye contact” as you would in a face to face interview
- Make sure that your face and upper shoulders are in the shot. Try and ensure that your camera is at head level and that you are not looking down on the camera.
- Choose a quiet well lit room for your interview. To look your best try and sit near a window with natural light (don’t sit directly in front of the window as you may look like a silhouette)
- Check what can be seen in the background – a messy kitchen/bed/inappropriate posters on the wall will all be distracting and detract from the professional image you should be communicating
- Ensure you have a professional Skype name (your full name as opposed to a nickname) and profile picture
- Close all other programmes on your computer to avoid any unwanted notifications popping up during the interview
- Watch out for time lags and follow visual cues from the interviewer to avoid interrupting before they have finished asking a question
- After the interview remember to send a follow up email to thank the interviewer.
Assessment centres are a form of interview that is widely used in graduate recruitment. Read our detailed advice on our assessment centre pages.
Practice your interview
The best way to prepare for an interview is to practice as much as you can. The more preparation you do beforehand, the less nervous you'll feel on the day. Practice answering interview questions with a friend or family member, or even alone in front of the mirror. We offer professional interview coaching in the Careers Service, where a Careers Consultant will take you through practice interview questions and give you feedback. There is the option to do this on video and watch it back to enhance your learning.
You can book a practice interview here