What is a Formal Interview?

Three managers interviewing a male candidate during formal interview

Formal interviews typically involve less personal questions and take place in a more formal setting. These types of interviews are often seen in large companies.

Formal interviews are typically conducted by higher-level executives or managers who are simply observing and evaluating your answers to their questions. This tends to make things a bit more formal. You may also consider dressing up or wearing business casual attire if not a suit for a formal interview.

Individuals with greater experience or more senior titles often handle the formal interviews because of their greater knowledge of the company and its processes and their skills in handling other people. The selection process for potential employees is often systematic and may involve multiple interviews. 

Why are Employers Using Formal Interviews?

A formal interview is what we think of as an “employer interview.” It’s less personal. It may be done by a panel of people instead of just one, and it’s designed to evaluate multiple aspects of a job candidate. It generally focuses less on personal questions and more on professional ones. Several factors can make an employer choose the formal interview setting.

Company Size

The larger a company is, the more they tend to use formal interviews. The reason is that they have more resources under one roof and more people to cover all aspects of the job. This also makes it easier for an employer to better overview a candidate’s qualifications, understanding, experience, and skills.

Large companies have to standardize procedures and policies. They can’t have individual employees go out and employ people on a whim following their own preferences and criteria.


It might be a bit counterintuitive, but the interviews tend to be more informal at the lowest level and the organization’s upper echelon. But for two different reasons.

At the lowest level, let’s say someone sweeping the floor, the job is simple, and almost anyone can do it. Therefore, the company doesn’t want to spend time and resources on lengthy formal interviews. In this case, they are looking for someone able to walk in and do the job.

So the interviews are often very informal (hey, can you ask your neighbor’s step-son to come in tomorrow, I may have a job for him). So, they choose the informal interview here because almost anyone can do the job – the labor supply is high. If the person doesn’t fit in, he or she is easily replaceable.

At the absolute highest level. Guys with CXO titles (yes, they are usually guys for some reason). They are often headhunted to the new position. Everybody is well aware that they have the formal requirements and skills. What is more important here is to find out if he will fit in with the team and company culture. They use the informal interview here because almost nobody can do this job very well – the labor supply is exceptionally low.

So if the most straightforward and most advanced jobs often use the informal interview, you have probably already guessed that formal interviews are more common in the mid-range level or entry-level for some white-collar jobs. The potential employees have to display their formal qualifications and skills, even to stand a chance to get the job. The reason that the formal interview often is used here is that the job seeker does have specific education or skills that are semi-rare. The company must pick the one with the best skills and experience.

How Quickly the Position has to be Filled

Another significant reason for using formal interviews is the amount of time it takes to fill a job. When a position has to be filled as quickly as possible, more informal interviews are often the best way to go (get someone in here with the right attitude, and we can figure out the rest later!) If a company goes for a more formal interview process, it can take weeks or even months to screen multiple candidates for a job.

How Should You Prepare for a Formal Interview?

When you’re being interviewed, you will want to arrive prepared with your own questions. This will help you gauge how serious the employer is about hiring you. It would be best if you also were prepared to answer questions about your professional history, your education, and any specific project or role that has given you experience in the field.

Do your research! Nowadays, it’s easy to get information on the internet about the company. Find out as much as you can before your interview so that you can sound well-informed about the company and any related topics. The interviewer may ask you basic questions about the company or its products and services. If you don’t know a single thing about the firm you might start working for, it indicates that you don’t eagerly want the job or that you haven’t done your homework.

If you don’t know the answer to something, don’t try to BS your way through it. Admit that you don’t know and ask about it in the interview.

Be on time! There are no excuses for being late. First impressions are important, so be punctual. It also shows the interviewer that you respect his or her time. If you are unsure how long the ride to the interview will take, be there VERY early. Take a cup of coffee and a sandwich or banana around the corner and wait until it’s time for your interview. Because you don’t want to be too early either. If you’re running late, call the interviewer to let them know and determine the best time to arrive.

What are the Benefits of Formal Interviews?

An interview is quite an extreme situation. It isn’t easy to be relaxed here. Applicants can come across as stiff and awkward. A potential employee who would have been the perfect fit for the company may be rejected for this reason.

A formal interview can be a partial solution for this problem because it focuses on education and experience. It is less reliant on personality, and it lets the more formal skills speak for themselves.

I would argue that formal interviews are more objective than informal ones. Informal interviews tend to benefit more extroverted people that come across as an “outgoing, driven person” after a short interview. In contrast, core competence can be more objectively measured.

What Questions Should I Expect?

Since higher-level employees usually conduct these interviews, you can expect concrete questions related to the job. Don’t be surprised if they ask about things on your resume, as well as technical or work-related questions.

Formal Interview Attire

Formal job interview attire is one thing that can make or break your chances of getting a job offer. Ideally, you want to dress appropriately for the job you are applying for and impress the interviewer. However, it’s not always easy to know what to wear.

You should wear a suit to an interview if you’re interviewing for upper management or a higher-level position, and you should dress professionally if you’re interviewing for something like a data analytics or graduate student position as well. An exception to this rule would be if your organization encourages employees to dress casually. Otherwise, you should wear a suit.

Female candidates can wear a tailored jacket with a blouse or skirt instead.

In a formal interview, you should dress to impress. This means wearing conservative business attire. It’s way better to be overdressed and later adjust when you know the dress code a little bit better.

Typical Steps in a Formal Interview 

1. Introduction

-Greet the interviewer with a firm handshake and a smile

-Start by introducing yourself

-When introducing yourself, do not go straight into a sales pitch. Instead, let the interviewer ask questions about yourself. You should then direct the conversation into why you are the best candidate for the job.

2. Information from the interviewer to the candidate

-The interviewer usually starts by saying a few things about the position and how the employment process will work.

3. The interview

During the formal interview, the interviewer asks you several questions to determine if you’d be a good fit for the position. When answering the questions:

-Use formal language, even if this is not how you usually speak. 

-Make eye contact with the interviewer when answering questions. But don’t stare.

-Go through the questions and answer them thoroughly, including any that are not relevant to your actual qualification.

-Since this is a formal interview, there will be fewer questions about your personal life. But that doesn’t mean you can let your personality shine through a little bit in your answers. Be professional and courteous. Don’t worry too much about being funny or entertaining during this interview.

-Never make any negative comments about your current employer.

4. Opportunity for the candidate to ask questions

-You DO want to ask at least a couple of questions. Otherwise, you will seem uninterested.

-The questions should be relevant to the job you are interviewing for, but you can ask about anything. 

-There is no point in bombarding the interviewer with a long list of questions.

-Prepare a few questions in advance. But if something comes up during the interview, you may want to prioritize those questions since it indicates that you are a good listener.

5. Conclusion

-End by thanking the interviewer and shaking his or her hand.

6. Follow up after the interview

-Although it’s not mandatory, you may want to send a thank you email to everyone who interviewed you. That shows genuine interest in the position.