Understand exactly what you're going up against.

Chances are, you've thought carefully about job interviews when plotting out the various stages of your job search. You may have considered what you will wear to the job interview, tricky interview questions to anticipate, and how you intend to curb your inevitable interview anxiety. You may have even looked into working with an interview coach for expert training.

However, as important as it is to take these preparational steps, it's equally as important to understand exactly what a job interview is. What should your goals be when you walk through the door? What are the hiring manager's goals? What is the specific impression you should attempt to give off, and why?

These meetings are much more than a question and answer session. Here, we walk through the motivations, objectives, and format of the standard job interview so you can make sure to tailor your performance to show a hiring manager that you're exactly the candidate they're looking for.

What is the main purpose of a job interview?

Too often, job interviews are thought of as interrogations. Yes, the interviewer might be asking most of the questions, but that doesn't mean you are only there to (hopefully) tell them what they want to hear.

Rather, an interview is a discussion in which both parties attempt to learn about the other and discern if they are a fit for their individual needs. That's right: Just as the employer is interviewing you, you are interviewing the employer. That's because the role and company being a match for you is just as important as your being a match for them.

Some of the things an interviewer is typically looking for include your qualifications (Can you execute the demands of the job?), your potential value to the company (What can you offer that will improve the organization?), and your character (Are you someone the team will want to work with?). As the job applicant, you should be mentally evaluating the role and company culture to determine if they are a good fit and in line with your values, work style, and career goals.

All in all, both parties want to ensure that you will thrive in the position, as that will benefit both of you.

Does a job interview mean I got the job?

Unfortunately, no — an interview is not a job offer. It is another step in the application hiring process that allows the hiring managers to evaluate your candidacy with more detail.

That doesn't mean receiving an interview invitation is something to scoff at, though. On average, 250 job seekers apply to each job listing. Of those, only 10 may be asked to conduct a phone screen. If you are one of those 10 — and especially if you move on to an actual in-person interview — give yourself a pat on the back for making it this far in the hiring process.

An interview may not mean a guaranteed job offer, but it's an important step toward one.

How long do job interviews last? How many rounds are there?

The length of your interview will depend entirely on the company, the type of role, and the level of the role for which you are applying. On average, an in-person interview lasts between 45 and 90 minutes, though a 30-minute interview is not uncommon.

When considering the length of an interview, the biggest concern is that your interview is not cut short. Any meeting less than 30 minutes has likely been concluded early because the interviewer decided you were not right for the job. Therefore, the longer the interview, the better the impression you've made on the business.

Of course, one important factor of the length of your interview will be if there are multiple rounds, and if so, how many. For instance, an entry-level applicant can expect a phone screen and one in-person interview. A seasoned professional applying for an executive role, on the other hand, can expect multiple rounds of interviews, and meet with multiple interviewers, that could take up to an entire day. Many technology-focused jobs often require a technical interview as well, which will lengthen the process.

What happens during a job interview

Now that you understand the purpose and basic structure of job interviews, it's important to know what to expect so you can prepare effectively. There are a number of different types of interviews, after all, and each requires a specialized approach if you want to succeed:

  • Phone screen interview: typically the first step of an interview process. A phone screen is somewhat introductory and usually lasts between 10 and 30 minutes.

  • Unstructured interview: a more casual interview approach. This format is a good opportunity for you to show off your conversational and social skills.

  • Behavioral interview: focused on evaluating how you perform in certain situations. These interviews typically might ask job applicants questions starting with “What if …” and “Tell me about a time when …”

  • Stress interview: an employer's attempt to see how you will respond when placed under pressure. More than ever, it's essential to stay calm.

  • Panel interview: where a candidate is questioned by a group of company employees all at once. The panel interview style is often used to save time by eliminating the need for multiple rounds.

  • Video interview: a standard interview, except conducted over video conferencing software. It is especially important to show your personality, as displaying likability during a video interview is more challenging.

What type of interview questions will be asked?

No matter what type of interview you encounter, however, you can always anticipate some of these most common interview questions.

Tell me about yourself,” for example, is an opportunity for you to offer your elevator pitch and share who you are as a professional.

The “greatest strengths” and “greatest weaknesses” interview questions present the chance to lay out both your best selling points and your ability to learn.

Finally, “Why are you interested in this position?” is a golden opportunity for you to describe the connection between your and the company's goals. In other words, you can make your case for why you're the perfect fit for the job.

Understanding the job interview

In “The Art of War,” Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of 100 battles.” While it's not necessary to consider the job interview your wartime enemy, it remains true that understanding what you are up against is the best way to conquer it.

In this way, recognizing the true purpose of an interview, as well as what to expect, is a surefire way to set yourself up for success. By speaking directly to the hiring manager's goals and keeping your own in mind, you'll land your next role in no time.

Our coaches understand job interviews through and through. Work with a TopInterview coach to get expert guidance as you prepare for your next interview.

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