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Interviewing Styles: Should You Learn Them?

There is much talk about Interviewing Styles: The Directive Interview, The Behavioral Interview, The Stress Interview, The Qualifying Interview, The This Interview, The That Interview. Articles outline different styles, list typical questions for each and tell you how to prepare for them, as well as suggesting appropriate answers.

That's all well and good, but there's an obvious question here that begs to be asked: how do you KNOW which style you'll encounter? When you phone to schedule the interview, do you ask, "Oh, by the way Mr. Interviewer, what interview style do you use? I'd like to study that one and ignore all the others."?

I absolutely endorse asking questions that you need to know the answers to (when it's the appropriate time)......but THAT question is obviously an exception!

So do you study all of the styles? Memorize every question that applies to each style and all the recommended answers to prepare for each one? And when the interview begins, you say to yourself, "AHA! It's The Abstract Theoretical Look Sideways Style!" and then you know exactly what to say and do.

What if you missed a style? And you find yourself saying, "What the heck style is THIS? I don't recognize it! HELP!" Which completely throws you off and you bomb the rest of the interview.

Worrying about interviewing styles is ridiculous. Not only is it too much information to memorize, but it's also a waste of time. An interview is nerve-wracking as it is without worrying about which style you're going to encounter.

The interview is about the company and how your presence will benefit them, the preparation (with the exception of your company research) is about knowing whom you are and what you're looking for. It's not about the company or anticipating their interviewing style.

Interview preparation is an absolute, non-negotiable, unequivocal must, but preparing by learning different styles is not. That's why your interview preparation needs to be focused on learning about yourself, listing questions to ask, forming your answers to fundamental interview questions.

You prepare by focusing on yourself because you are seeking your perfect job. You want to have the power to decide if you want to return for another interview instead of giving that power away. You want to be in control of your future.

An interview is a sales process. The product is, essentially, you. And you need to be real about who you are, AND be prepared enough to interview well. Do THAT properly and the style you encounter is irrelevant.

Interviewing is 85% prep and 15% common sense. Sometimes it does involve a bit of mirroring, but some of that is common sense. Do it without losing your individuality. For instance, if the interviewer is chatty, longer answers are okay. If the interviewer is crisp and serious, keep your answers focused and on the topic.

Occasionally you'll run into an interviewer who wants to make you sweat. You feel as if you’re under a bright light - they're grilling you, and you might as well have been fingerprinted. There's no need to get all worked up (besides, they WANT you to). If that's his interview style, what do you think it will be like to work for him?

The answer to that should calm you down. You won't care what he thinks, because you probably won't want to return. Good money? Eventually you'll hate your boss, then you'll hate your job, then your life will be hell, because the salary won't be worth it. Short drive? Eventually you'll hate your boss, then you'll hate your job then your life will be hell, because the drive will STILL be too long - you don't want to go where you're driving. Great advancement promised? After how long? How many people have held that position in the last 6 years?

If you want to work for a control freak or someone who needs to appear tough and all-knowing, you've found the place. If he's rapid firing questions at you, hoping to trip you up, let him feel important. Finish the interview and then cross the company off your list.

Another interviewer might leave you thinking "What's UP with this guy?" He seems sort of at a loss as to what to ask you. His questions are all open ended and don't seem to have any firm direction or point. Just use common sense. You've done your interview prep work - jump in and sell yourself. That doesn’t mean talk non-stop, but you don't have to sit there and be uncomfortably silent for long periods of time either.

Ease the awkwardness. Help him out. Lots of holes? Gracefully and professionally answer some of the questions you were prepared to answer, even though he hasn't asked them. He may not know how to interview very well.

(Face it, NO ONE - except maybe a human resources person - should have a lot of experience interviewing. If they do - they either can't keep a job.... or they can't keep employees!)

If your first interview is with human resources, often they can be crisply black and white, detail oriented, and by the book. Don't let it throw you. If you know yourself and what you're looking for, you've done your research on the company, and you've thoroughly prepped yourself for the interview, you're much less likely to get flustered.

Mirror their style, but don't drown your personality. SOME human resources people are adept at giving you enough rope to hang yourself - so don't be lulled into a warm cozy camaraderie. Watch their visual cues - which can be subtle. Follow your instinct, but follow their lead. They're screeners, but in that sense, they are also decision makers.

Don't waste your time memorizing styles and how to handle each one. There ARE different interview styles, just as there are different types of people. The hiring authority's interviewing style is usually a reflection of his personality. Stay aware of what's happening at the moment, what you're saying, what you're learning, and how you're feeling about what's taking place.

The more you've done your homework in accordance with what I've suggested, the more relaxed you'll feel. The more relaxed you feel, the more confident and in control of your answers you'll be, and the less likely you'll be to worry about interview styles and types. When you know your background and who you are - the hows and whys and whats - you're also less likely to be blindsided by an unexpected "type" question.

So before you interview, it is imperative for you to give significant thought to:

In addition to knowing the answers to the above topics, you need to think about the most appropriate way to phrase those answers AND how they relate to what you've learned about the company from your research on line or at the library.

In fact, some of the topics on the above list you should already have given thought to before you began your job search. If you don't know who you are, what you want, in what circumstances you perform best and in what circumstances you don't perform well at all, what type of management style helps you to flourish and give back to the company, and what the goal of your next job is - you won't know what you're looking for, much less be able to recognize it.

Put effort into making sure you know who you are and what makes you that way. Know what you've accomplished and what contributed to those accomplishments, what motivates you and what turns you off. Spend time learning about the company with whom you'll be interviewing. Make a list of questions to bring with you, and know what kind of answers you're looking for. Be able to address issues by showing how whom YOU are will benefit THEM.

Then it won't matter what style you encounter. You'll be comfortable with any style you meet. And when they want you to come back for another interview, you can decide if you want to....or not.

- Judi Perkins, VisionQuest

Judi Perkins has been a search consultant for 25 years in both the contingency and retained market, with a short stint in the temporary and local permanent placement markets. She has owned her own firm and successfully assisted numerous repeat clients in hiring all levels of management. She is a Career Expert and Forum Moderator with To sign up for her newsletter or learn thousands of powerful concepts to find your perfect job go to