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The different interview formats and how it affects you

Updated: May 29, 2021

One of the things you need to find out when preparing for an interview is the interview format that will be used. It really helps to be able to visualise the interview prior to attending the interview itself to get as mentally prepared for it as possible. Students and first time interviewees in particular, should practice visualising the interview prior to the actual day, to tap on the power of a positive mindset.

Individual Interview

This is the classic interview format where there is one interviewer and one interviewee. Most of the time, the individual interview takes place in a meeting room, and its conducted in a formal style. The interview tends to take the form of a "traditional" style, encompassing a range of questions from personal background, skill set questions, behavioural interview questions and possibly scenario type questions.

Occasionally, there may be a second person in the room - potentially as an observer, or a note taker, but in an individual interview format, this person will often not be an active participant of the interview.

There is a variant of this format, which is a Lunch Interview and it tends to be used by large multi national companies. Some recruiters like to use this format for the hiring of senior positions. The Lunch Interview allows the interviewer to not only ask questions, but also to observe the interviewees behaviour, his/her ability to connect and be at ease in a social setting.

From the interviewee's point of view, it is important to remain calm and confident in such a setting. Mindset and positive thinking is even more crucial here as the interview has now taken on more facets - you not only have to think on your feet, you are also more conscious of your mannerisms including how you eat and drink.

Panel Interview

A panel interview is where there are a few interviewers and only one interviewee. The size of the panel differs but it can go all the way up to 10 interviewers. The panel interview is particularly common when its a second or final round interview, or the candidate needs to be assessed by the hiring team in a short period of time, for e.g. if the candidate is from a foreign country.

The panel usually comprises of a range of staff members from the company and may include the direct supervisor, hiring manager, co-workers etc. In the case of an educational institution, the panel will usually consist of various members of academia, including the Dean or Vice-Dean, the Head of Department of the course you are applying for and other members of the department. In some cases, but less commonly, there are some institutions that will have a psychologist, or behavioural consultant sit on the panel as well.

All the interviewers will usually ask questions but there is usually a lead interviewer or two lead interviewers who will be asking the majority of the questions. As the interviewee, it is important to engage the whole panel with your body language - using eye contact, and your hand gestures, instead of just focusing on the person who asked the question.

In a panel, the style of the questions may be more varied, and can go in what is seemingly a haphazard manner. It is important to engage the panel just like you would with others in a regular networking conversation. Because of the different personalities on the panel, be prepared that the question range can go from technical questions, to questions about your values and personality very quickly.

Group Interview

A group interview is where there are a few interviewers, and a few interviewees. Some of the school interviews in Singapore utilise this format, for e.g. in direct school admission (DSA) interviews. The reason for the group interview is that it allows the interviewers to observe the candidates beyond their singular cognitive abilities. Inter-personal skills, how you interact with others, communication skills are among some of the additional angles that the group interview allows the interviewers to see.

Some candidates feel that the group interview presents an additional challenge and feel the need to outshine the other candidates in the group. We frequently hear from students who tell us that they feel its more difficult as the interviewers expect everyone to answer the same question and someone else may have already voiced out the answer you prepared.

Stay focused and calm, and focus on keeping engaged. It is ok to agree with someone else who voiced out a similar opinion and add on some additional points of your own. During our interview coaching, we emphasise practicing without memorising your answers and this is one of the situations where the ability to speak naturally allows you to adjust your responses easily.

Video Call Interview

While most hiring managers still prefer a face to face interview, the video call interview is used quite frequently these days especially in the case of overseas interviews and in times of travel restrictions. Video call technology has improved greatly over the years, rendering this method to become more popular.

From the perspective of the interviewee, do not let the video call lull you into thinking that it is more "casual". Dress the way you would have in a face to face interview, practice the video call with someone else first especially if you have never used that particular software or app. For candidates that know they will be using a video call for their interview, we actually arrange a coaching session using the particular video call software they will be using to iron out any kinks in technology as well as the positioning of the camera etc.

Be mindful of the fact that the screen makes it more difficult to build rapport. It is even more important to engage the interviewer and note that the focus on your body language is actually accentuated through the screen.

Technical Expertise Test/Interview

This is usually a specially designed test or interview for certain industries. For IT, engineering or other technical roles, these interviews involve answering a series of technology specific questions and/or mathematical or complex technology problems - much like an exam. It is meant to sieve out candidates with role specific skills such as coding languages and mathematical and numerical reasoning.

Some specific interviews such as the entrance interview into the NUS School of Dentistry require a dexterity test, designed to see how you fair with working with your hands. You are usually required to take on a few art and craft like tasks within a specific period of time for e.g. bending a wire to create a 3D structure with specific dimensions.

Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI)

This is an interview format commonly used by medical, dental, pharmacy and veterinary schools round the world. It is essentially a timed circuit where the circuit consists of multiple stations - usually between 8 to 10 stations in total. You will have approximately 6 to 8 minutes per station.

The idea behind the MMI is to allow for short, independent assessments of the candidate, particularly in non-cognitive areas such as soft skills. The actual set up of the circuit will largely follow the key objectives of the institution such as ethics, professionalism, ability to connect, empathy and more.

Some of the stations may include role playing, some are interview based stations and you may also have some scenario based stations. Each station usually has 1 or 2 interviewers at the station.

The MMI is designed to provide recruiting schools and companies with a structured method of doing a holistic analysis of the candidate - replicating certain real world scenarios and testing beyond traditional grades and traditional questions. The MMI allows universities and companies to sieve out candidates who prepared for the interview solely by regurgitating the ideal answers.

From an interviewee's perspective, the MMI does have some challenges. Students face the challenge of resetting their minds every 6 to 8 minutes and recalibrating their momentum. Role playing and scenario discussions also tap into the ability to stay calm and understand the true objective of the station in order to do well.

This type of interview brings forth a new dimension to preparing for your interviews. At Discovering Potential, our speciality in using personality based techniques and neuro linguistic programming has helped many of our clients do well in the MMI. We have always believed that mindset and personality is the starting point of good interview skills and this is particularly important in the MMI format as it allows you to speak and think in a way that is most natural to you.

These are the key types of interview formats that are being used. Most are familiar to everyone, but there are nuances about each format that makes a difference to how you prepare and excel during the interview.

Written by: Siew Ling Hwang, Founder and Principal Interview Coach, Discovering Potential

Ms Siew Ling Hwang, has extensive experience providing interview skills training to candidates for various industries and schools. She specialises in conducting 1-on-1 training for those seeking to improve their interview skills for school interviews and job interviews. She is also a Certified Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and NLP Coaching, as well as a Certified Advanced Behavioural Analyst. Her unique skillset in combining real world practices, NLP Coaching techniques and personality and behavioural expertise provides clients with an effective session to achieve real improvements that are suited to their own natural personalities.

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