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The Combination and Board Interview

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The Combination Interview

Most good interviewers will use a mix of strategies and kinds of questions in the course of an interview. A common interviewing pattern is to begin with a friendly greeting designed to put you at ease, followed by a few open ended questions designed to get a general impression of you and your style. Based on information you supply in response to the open ended questions, the interviewer will ask more specific, focused, or challenging questions. He or she may then use a few provocative questions and adopt selected stress tactics to test your mettle. Finally, the inter viewer may turn the interaction over to you by asking whether you have any questions. Sometimes the pattern will be reversed: an interviewer may begin by asking what questions you have, saving his or her own questions until later.

Combination interviews generally reveal the most about a candidate and usually require the most preparation on the part of the interviewer. Frequently, therefore, the combination interview will take the form of a series of interviews with different individuals who will meet afterwards to pool their information and impressions. Each interviewer in the series may be assigned a different interviewing strategy. One may give you a fairly directed interview, while a second gives you an undirected interview and a third gives you the stress treatment. If you master the strategies discussed in the above sections and remain open to signals from your interviewer(s), combination interviewers should pose few problems.

The Board Interview

In a board interview, you are outnumbered. Two, three, or more interviewers meet with you at the same time, and you must respond to them individually and collectively. In some respects board interviews are the most challenging interviews because they require you to be sensitive to several people at once and to observe how they interact with one another as well as with you. Sometimes your interviewers will meet and plan an interviewing strategy beforehand, and each person will have a particular role to play. Clients frequently report running into the old good guy bad guy routine, where one interviewer is open and friendly while the other is nasty or inattentive. It's a silly routine, probably born of watching too many TV versions of police interrogations, but you may run into it.

Particularly challenging are board interviews in which you meet with people from different levels of the organizational hierarchy in a single session. The conventional wisdom in such situations is to identify the major decision maker and gear your answers primarily to that person. In fact, however, identifying the major decision maker is often problematic. He or she is not necessarily the highest person on the corporate totem pole nor the most dominant person in the room. Sometimes the highest ranking person will have only veto power. He or she can say "no" to candidates but otherwise remains apart from the selection process, which means that a "yes" must come from others in the room. In some cases, each person in the room will have an implicit veto, which means that two out of three people can rate you number one in a field of candidates (including the boss) but you can still be knocked out of the race if one person takes strong exception to your selection.

The best way to handle board interviews is to treat everyone equally.

Include everyone in your eye contact when you answer questions and treat questions with equal seriousness, regardless of the source. Do not play up to the boss or defer to him or her. Try to remember the names of everyone in the room, and refer to each occasionally by name, but don't overdo it. When you have opportunities to ask questions, again try to include everyone, addressing one or more questions to each if you can, or asking each to comment on the same topic, when appropriate.

After The Interview

Your work as an interviewee does not stop at the end of an interview. Get into the habit of reviewing your performance systematically after each interview. Also, make a practice of following up after interviews with thank you notes.

Shows a sample self evaluation form useful after interviews. Keeping track of your performance through systematic self evaluation gives you feedback, which in turn enables you to improve your performance continuously. In addition, having a standard means of reviewing interviews can help you avoid the time consuming, unproductive, and demoralizing tendency to engage in open ended, undirected self criticism. Don't berate yourself; improve yourself instead. Evaluate your performance dispassionately, with the goal of improving at least one aspect of your interviewing technique before the next interview.

Following up after interviews is a frequently neglected means of keeping yourself in potential employers' minds. You will stand out from other interviewees if you take a few moments to compose a brief but personal thank you note. Longer follow up letters can also give you an opportunity to emphasize points made during an interview, to reassure your inter viewer on issues of concern, or to mention information not covered in the interview. One cautionary note. If you saw several interviewers during a single visit, resist the temptation to compose a form letter for mass distribution. Interviewers generally compare impressions, and I've known people to be rejected in the final stages of call back interviewing because they did not take the time to compose personal notes. Rather than take this risk, compose a single letter for the person who serves as your major contact in the organization. In your note, ask him or her to extend your greetings and thanks to other members of the interviewing team.

At the end of the interview, if not before, try to get information about the decision making process and the next step. Ask how and when a decision will be reached so that you can better gauge what follow up might be appropriate. If you are told, for example, that the organization expects to make a final decision within the next two weeks, ask if you might call at the end of two weeks if you have not already gotten word. Don't be afraid of seeming too pushy you are simply demonstrating your professional ism and eagerness to work for the organization when you make provisions for following up. Diffidence is no asset when you are hunting for jobs.
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