What types of interviews are there?

Female imperial studentYour interview may encompass a number of different stages and include one or more different types of interview. A helpful way to think of an interview is as a ‘conversation with a purpose’. Preparation will help you to select the most appropriate information and examples to talk about and practice will help you to deliver your answers clearly and confidently.  

Below are a selection of the most common types of interviews you may encounter and some tips to manage them.

Types of Interview Tabs

Telephone interview

Telephone interviews may be conducted by the Human Resources department or outsourced to a specialist firm. They can vary in length from 10 minutes to 45 minutes. Typically, they will test any or all of the following: your suitability for the job (motivation), your knowledge of the organisation and how you measure up to their key criteria (competency based questions).

Listen to the question carefully and if you cannot hear it properly, ask the recruiter to repeat or clarify it. Pause before answering as this will allow you to gather your thoughts. Given that the interviewer will have no visual clues as to your reaction, provide a verbal signal such as “I’m just going to think about that for a few seconds”.

Prepare answers to likely questions on notecards with a few key words/bullet points on each and have these easily to hand. Avoid writing out lengthy replies on sheets of A4 – all the interviewer will hear is the rustle of paper as you search for the right page.

Dress the part. This may sound strange as you cannot be seen, but casual clothes can make your responses too relaxed and informal. Smile! This will come across in your speech and tone.

Helpful resources include:

Recorded video interview

In a video interview, questions are automatically generated and timed and there is no dialogue with a human interviewer. The candidate is recorded delivering answers and these are reviewed later by the selector. Whilst these can be a different format to get used to, it is important to still come across as professional, prepared and allow your body language to be as engaged and positive as it would in a face to face interview.

Unlike other types of interview, you can undertake these at your leisure, rather than at the company’s convenience. There will be a deadline for submitting your interview – usually you will have a week or so to complete.

You will normally be given an app or link with initial interview and technical details. Read these! If the instructions incorporate a practice facility, this can only be of benefit, so do use it.

You will often be told what the video interview will consist of – e.g. 12 questions with 15 seconds to think before each answer. This can help with your research, practice and preparation. Questions, thinking time and answer time will all be cued and timed. Use the time before you speak to frame what you want to say, form a coherent structure and supporting evidence.

How are recorded interviews assessed?

Many companies review all recorded video interviews in person but a growing number are using screening software as part of the process.

Artificial intelligence algorithms could evaluate your answers through voice and facial assessment to provide a fair and objective score recommendation. The algorithms are designed and tested to be objective, and to focus on the things that are important to your job role.

Applicants with high recommended scores progress onto the next stage whilst other applications could be viewed by a human assessor before further decisions are made.

It is crucial to ensure that while you are being recorded you face the screen (check your camera angle), you are in a well lit space, and that you are likely to be uninterrupted.

To get some recorded interview practice in before the real thing you can use the Shortlist.Me platform to practice!

Helpful resources include:


Face to face/online interviews

The impact of Covid-19 and the move to remote working has accelerated the move for many companies from in person to online interviews. Many of the processes and preparation is the same for both.

A typical first interview will last around 30 minutes, and the interviewer is likely to be either a Human Resources professional or someone from the department in which you would be placed. Sometimes you’ll have a panel interview where there may be three or more interviewers.

Some employers just have a one-stage process and therefore a job offer may be made on the basis of performance in one interview. Many employers, however, may invite you to a second interview based on a successful performance in the initial interview.

Employers use the second interview to make a more informed decision about who they want to appoint. Candidates seen at this stage are definitely thought able to do the job. Your task is to confirm that positive impression.

The interviewers – who could be technical or line managers, heads of research teams or centres, etc - will normally have read your application and the notes from the first interview. Interview questions may therefore follow up on issues that were raised in the first interview. Weaknesses may be probed to ensure suitability.

The interview may take longer than your first – typically from 40 minutes up to an hour and a half. Expect some of the same types of questions, but make sure you have a fresh and enthusiastic approach. At the second interview, you are close to success.

For online interviews check your broadband/wifi connection and close down all other applications to prevent emails etc. popping up unexpectedly during the interview. As with recorded video interviews, face the screen fully – it may be hard to gain eye contact with each interviewer individually so looking straight in the camera means you give everyone the same response.

Interview Tips

Think about what points you want to get across to answer the interview questions you have listed. Reflect on your motivations and your previous experience.

Think about your strengths – what makes you good at what you do. For example, are you particularly organised, or are you great at motivating people? Think of examples of where you have demonstrated your strengths, skills, competencies and the behaviours that your interviewer is looking for. The ideal examples are recent and where you have had a personal impact with a good result. They can be from any area of your life: academic study, extracurricular work, sports, hobbies, work experience. Think into the detail of what you did, what was at stake and how you made a difference.

Avoid the temptation to learn your answers as though they are a script as this can sound mechanical and may not deliver the best result. Just make notes of the key points you want to make and practice out loud.

Aim to deliver your answers in a structured, confident and engaging way. Be positive in what you say. If you are worried about how you present yourself seek feedback from friends, family or the Careers Service.

Technical/case study interview

Where technical skills are required you may be asked to talk through your approach. For an IT role, for example, you may be asked how you would handle a programming problem. Case Study interviews are often used in consultancy and law interviews and will usually require you to have done some practice beforehand. Our case study activities webpages  has more information about how to prepare for case study interviews.

Academic interview

An academic job interview is likely to include a panel interview with at least two interviewers (including your potential supervisor) and is usual for prospective PhDs and Postdoc students.

If the names of your interviewers aren't provided to you upon receiving confirmation of an interview, ask for their names and research them in detail.

You may be asked to deliver a short presentation about yourself and your research experience, comment on a relevant paper (usually provided beforehand) and be asked in depth questions about your motivation for your research area.

Some tips (from the Vitae website) include:

  • Read recent papers for those closest to your research area. Read other papers that have come from the department you are applying for
  • Review their departmental website, including their staff list, to get a feel for how you would fit in
  • Revisit the job description and essential and desirable criteria
  • Talk to others about their experiences of academic interviews
  • Try to organise a mock interview - perhaps with job-searching contemporaries

Look again at the research you did into your own capabilities so that you have plenty of evidence to support your suitability for the job when answering academic interview questions.

The Careers Service works closely with the Graduate School to provide mock interviews and structured workshops to support you with this.

Helpful resources:

The Vitae website has an academic job interviews section, which includes a list of commonly asked questions in academic interviews.

Informational interview

An informational interview is an informal conversation you have with someone working in an area of interest to you. This technique can provide valuable information and build a better awareness of a role or industry. The goal of an informational interview is to help you learn more about a particular job role or sector, or get exclusive insights and advice; it is not about asking for a job or internship.

Below is a list of some suggested questions and themes for your informational interview, these are just a start to help you think about what exactly you want to find out. Tailor your questions to match your goals for the conversation and ensure you plan open-ended questions to get the conversation flowing.

The individual

  • How did you get into this role? What is your career path to date?
  • How did the skills or knowledge you gained from your degree help you in this field?
  • Where do you see your career going next?
  • If you could do it all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself?

The Job profile

  • What are your primary responsibilities?
  • What do you do in a typical workday?
  • What do you like most and least about this role?
  • How does your job affect your general lifestyle?

The company/industry

  • How does your position fit within the organisation?
  • What are the common misconceptions about this organisation or industry?
  • What do you see as the biggest competitive challenge for this organisation?
  • What motivates you to continue in this organisation/industry?

Early graduate careers

  • How do most people get into this field? What are common entry-level jobs?
  • What kind of job responsibilities could I expect as a new graduate?
  • What steps would you recommend I take to prepare to enter this field?
  • What advice would you give someone who is considering this type of job?