Down to the Wire
When interviews have boiled down to you
vs. someone else,
how you respond to questions (and ask them) is critical
If you’ve made the first interview cut
and have been asked to return to a potential employer for another
look, congratulations are in order. However, you’re still competing
with one to 10 people who also are capable of doing the job.
First interviews separate the likely
candidates from the ones who simply don’t fit the company’s or
interviewer’s expectations. Subsequent appointments probe for
personal style, feel for the job, fit with colleagues and
management, and commitment to the firm’s philosophy and mission. In
these discussions, interviewers are evaluating your potential to
make a contribution to their organization. They will be
concentrating their questions on what you can do for them rather
than what you’ve done in the past.
Conversely, you will be assessing:
if you want the job (you already
know you’re capable of handling it).
if you will enjoy working with your
manager and colleagues.
if the company’s goals and hierarchy
if its politics and structure will
foster career advancement.
First interviews are like first dates.
Often when they indicate a poor match, neither party is too
concerned. But starting with the second interview, you’re talking
marriage, long-term commitment, serious business. The pressure on
both parties is more intense. No one wants to make a mistake that
could lead to an unproductive marriage and a messy divorce.
To hedge their bets and spread the
responsibility (or blame) for selecting the best person,
organizations often schedule final interviews with a variety of
people other than your original contact. If you started with a
recruiter in personnel, your next meeting will probably be with your
potential boss. If you met with him the first time, be prepared to
talk to his manager this visit. Second interviews often are a
day-long serious of conversations with several key colleagues who
will work closely with you if you’re hired. After you leave, they
meet to compare notes and formulate a consensus on the leading
Interviewing with several people can be
tiring, but it’s mutually beneficial. By asking each person a
specific set of questions, you can evaluate their response for
consistency and potential problems. You also can assess whether
working with them will be fun or frustrating. Interview chemistry
usually is indicative of the long-term relationship. If you and the
interviewer make each other uncomfortable after an hour, imagine the
discomfort you’ll generate over a period of months.
Rather than schedule sequential
interviews, some firms will use a committee format. Participants
probably don’t mean to subject you to a “congressional hearing,” but
when there are five of them and one of you it can feel that way.
Simply remember that it’s not an inquisition. Each person poses
questions which give you the opportunity to dazzle everyone. View
this encounter as a special challenge to convince every participant
that you have what it takes to do the job.
Try to include every committee member in
your conversation. When someone asks a question, look directly at
her. Maintain eye contact as you begin your answer, then gradually
look around at the other members of the group. This technique
acknowledges everyone’s interest in each answer and promotes a
feeling of camaraderie and teamwork.
If your committee interview is over
lunch, it should be relatively relaxed. Take care to order
something innocuous so your food won’t interfere with the
conversation. Lobster in the shell is out. Ditto spaghetti and
Cover All the Bases
Before making any decision on a
position, there are some critical issues you should discuss. In
your first interview, you probably talked about the job description,
corporate structure and mission, typical compensation package, and
career advancement opportunities. Perhaps you’ve toured the
facility and the city if you’re not from town. If you haven’t
covered these items, include them on your agenda this time.
As you prepare questions and potential
answers for the interview, remember you’re contemplating a marriage.
You and your employer will form a partnership where each of you
provides a valuable contribution to the other’s welfare. To
determine if a fit exists, ask carefully considered questions and
give honest answers. Developing responses you think the interview
wants to hear is a mistake which, in the long run, will probably
result in dissatisfaction for all concerned. It’s better to decide
against the job than take it under false pretexts.
If you spend time preparing challenging
questions for your interviewers, you will better understand the
position, the company, and its people.
Ask your interviewers questions such as:
What are the strengths of this firm?
What are its weak points?
(to your manager) Tell me about your
If you and I have differing
viewpoints about a situation, how do we reconcile them?
Where does this department fit in
the organizations packing order?
What are the company’s and
department’s goals for the next five years?
What part do you expect me to play
in achieving these goals?
What personality traits and skills
are critical to success in this position?
Tell me about your performance
appraisal system. How do you identify and reward outstanding
What is the chain of command here?
Formal or informal?
Are people encouraged to learn about
the organization beyond their own department?
Where is the person who last
occupied this position?
How do you feel about professional
development courses, conventions, etc., as vehicles for
enhancing professional growth?
Tell me about the most important
projects the organization has recently begun. What projects are
planned for the future?
How do you envision my background
and skills complementing those of your current staff?
Do you anticipate a reorganization
or change of command in the near future? If so, when will it
happen and who will be involved?
There’s no guarantee you’ll get straight
answers to these questions. But by asking them, you present
yourself as a knowledgeable person who wants to know exactly what
the position entails and how you can help the organization. You’ll
also be able to assess the honesty, savvy, and management style of
your interviewer by his candor or evasiveness.
Queries You Can Expect
Anticipating what people may ask you is
more difficult than listing your own questions. You can be sure
their goal is to decide if you will get along with them, fit into
the firm, and make a worthwhile contribution. Consequently, some
typical questions you might expect include:
Why should we hire you for this
If you get this position, what would
you do the first year to establish yourself?
Where would you like to be five
years from now? What kind of long-range goals do you think this
department should pursue?
Describe your management/work style.
What do you want from your career?
(Citing a hypothetical problem
situation) How would you handle this problem?
(Citing a list of department or
company objectives) What priority would you give these
objectives and why?
What do you like about this company?
What areas need change? Why?
What salary and benefits do you
expect? (On this one, be prepared with an answer, but don’t
negotiate your compensation package until you’re offered the
Are you willing and able to move if
the need arises?
What kinds of situations/people
really annoy you? How do you deal with them?
In the next three years, our firm
will move more into an XYZ product line. Do you think this is a
good strategy? Why or why not?
As the appointment draws to a close, be
sure to find out what happens next. Will they be making a final
decision or will there be another round of interviews? How and when
will the company notify you? Also mention that if you haven’t heard
from them by a certain date, you’ll call to check the status of the
As with the first interview, write notes
to all of your interviewers (get their business cards if possible)
thanking them for their time and stressing your interest in the
organization. If you haven’t heard from them by the magic date,
follow up. Persistence pays.