Interview - Theory
In an interview, the company is looking to learn more about the applicant. The basis for this is usually the information obtained from their CV and letter of motivation. In addition to the information already available, the interviewer would like to get a closer look at the applicant.
In the following, we will introduce you to the different types of interviews and give you an example of how an interview might proceed.
Tips for how to prepare yourself for an interview as well as how to behave during the interview can be found here.
Types of interviews
The various interview formats differ mainly in their degree of structuring. In order to determine the appropriate type of interview for a specific case, one has to first define the aims of the interview.
In structured interviews, all applicants are asked the same questions. The structured interview can be further divided into the closed interview and the expert interview. In a closed interview, the applicant is given specific answer options for each question, from which they must choose their answer. In an expert interview, all questions remain the same for all applicants, but no answer options are presented. Instead, the applicant can only answer "yes" or "no". Thus, in structured interviews, the applicant is in effect verbally answering a questionnaire, which is filled out by the interviewers. This form of interview is not used as much, as it both restricts the applicants in their answers and can only provide very superficial results.
Semi-structured interviews are based on an interview guide that is the same for all applicants. For this reason, this form of semi-structured interview is also called a guided interview. By using such a guide, all applicants are asked questions on the same topics or competences - but the questions themselves can be individually adapted to the applicant. Furthermore, there are no predefined answers. This ensures that the applicant can apply their own individual approach to answering the questions and allows for a more dynamic interview.
Unstructured interviews do not follow a guideline. Often the aim is just to answer specific questions. However, in-depth answers to those questions are then expected. For example, the interviewers might ask about a competence using several different questions in order to gain detailed insight from different perspectives. Using this approach, one can achieve a level of depth and quality that is not possible in the other types of interviews. Narrative interviews are a sub-category of unstructured interviews. Rather than seeking to elaborate on any particular central questions, these merely pursue the purpose of collecting biographical information about a person. The unstructured interview, like the structured interview, is rarely used.
In summary, the semi-structured format is often used for interviews. This is because the semi-structured interview allows for a relatively good depth of information about the applicant without losing too much of the ability to compare different applicants. Thus, all applicants can be compared with one another, while at the same time each individual can be assessed a little more closely.
In the following section, a realistic interview procedure is presented.
The interview usually begins with an informal part. In this part, the interviewers introduce themselves, briefly tell something about themselves and / or about the company, and try to create a pleasant atmosphere through small talk.
Then it is the applicant's turn to introduce themselves. They should emphasise the most important stages of their working lives, but also outline information not directly evident from their CV. The interviewers will pay particular attention to whether the applicant speaks in a well-structured and organised manner. Initial impressions on the applicant's presentation style and communication skills will also be noted.
After the round of introductions, the interviewer moves on to the next stage of the interview. If the interviewers have any open questions about the CV, these are usually asked at this point. Further questions can be asked about the profession itself or the organisation of the company. These questions can be related to professional knowledge, motivation to work in this environment or understanding of a sector or market area. The aim of these questions is to test whether the applicant has informed themselves about the company and is familiar with the prevailing market situation.
In addition, biographical questions may be asked. With these questions, the interviewers are looking to find out whether the applicant has gained sufficient experience in certain areas. For example, the interviewer may ask about previous management experience if the job involves managing employees.
In the next part of the interview, the applicant is given realistic information about the job. The applicant's main task here is to actively listen and think. It is worth asking specific questions here, as the interviewers generally answer openly and transparently in this part of the interview. This is another opportunity to check whether the desired position really lives up to expectations.
Furthermore, some situational questions may be asked. In these, a specific situation that frequently occurs in everyday working life is set out and the applicant is asked to describe their behaviour in that situation. The interviewers pay particular attention to how applicants think or act and want to be able to observe this reflection process. In this way, the applicants’ leadership and social competences as well as analytical skills can be assessed.
The end of the interview serves to clarify any unanswered questions and to agree on the next steps. Nevertheless, it is important to maintain composure in order to leave a consistent and positive impression.