Getting that coveted interview is exciting — if nerve-wracking. There’s a lot to think about as you prepare for the interview process, from the screener to the in-person meeting to the job offer and beyond. What should you expect? How can you prepare? Here’s your complete guide to all the stages of the process.
The interview process looks different for every unique situation. Some, for example, may include several rounds of in-person interviews, while others may only include one or two. Some may feature a full panel of potential colleagues and managers speaking with you, and others may be one-on-one. This is a sample of what many processes look like.
About: The screening interview is just what it sounds like — a conversation meant to screen candidates to determine whether they have the minimum qualifications to do the job well. In this first stage, the interviewer, often a recruiter, will find a pool of candidates to send to the hiring company or hiring manager who they believe could be a good fit for the employer. They might source potential fits on LinkedIn, word of mouth or through other platforms.
Recruiters have varying knowledge of the job — they might work for the employer, or they could be independent — so the idea is simply to determine whether the candidate is a potential fit.
How to prepare: Because this is a screener, you may not have a lot of time to prepare. Still, you should aim to be as well-equipped as possible in order to make it to the next round. Learn as much as you can about the company and role prior to speaking with the recruiter, and have some questions ready to ask.
This will probably be a relatively quick phone or video chat, so you don’t need to go crazy with a huge list of questions — just have a few prepared to go. Of course, as always, it’s best to come up with questions during the conversation so they’re specific to what you’re discussing. Additionally, have your resume in front of you and make a list of skills that are pertinent to the role, so you can reference them easily.
About: The phone interview and the screening interview could be one and the same, or they could be separate steps in the interview process. If it is the second step, then it usually means you’ve gotten through the first round with the recruiter and are now speaking to an in-house recruiter or the actual hiring manager. Still, this round is similar in that it will weed out candidates who don’t seem like they could be a potential fit for the company and team.
Although it’s called a phone interview, this step might also be conducted over a video conferencing platform like Zoom.
How to prepare: Because the phone interview is meant to help hiring managers identify candidates who will reach the next round — the in-person interview — you should demonstrate that you have the qualifications to succeed in the role. As with the screening interview, make a list of your qualities and skills, and be well-versed in your background and resume. Make sure you spend some time researching the employer and the role itself. Go beyond the website and delve into news, press releases and social media accounts.
As always, have some questions ready to go because there will inevitably be time at the end (or during) for you to ask them.
About: Once you make it past the screening and phone call rounds, you’ll usually have your first in-person interview (again, this might happen over Zoom or another video conferencing platform, particularly if the position is remote). This is usually the first time you’ll be meeting the hiring manager or managers face to face. It’s not just an opportunity for them to ask you questions about your skills, qualifications and background. It’s also an opportunity for you to learn more about the employer and role to determine whether it’s a good mutual fit.
How to prepare: Do plenty of research on the company and specific role. As with the screening round, make sure you go beyond the basic details, diving into more hard-to-find information. If you know the names of the interviewers, take a look at their LinkedIn profiles, which can help inform you about their own backgrounds and career interests. As with the earlier rounds, have questions ready, but try to find common ground and topics to discuss during the conversation, too.
The night before the interview, lay out your (professional) clothes and the materials you need to bring, including:
• 2-3 copies of your resume
• A list of your references with their contact information
• Directions for getting to the office
• Work samples
• A pen
• Your ID
Make sure you leave ample time for getting to the office. Try to show up 5-10 minutes early (and definitely don’t be late!).
About: In many cases, you’ll have multiple in-person interviews, although this isn’t necessarily true of all roles. If there is a second interview, it will be a little different from the first. For one, you might meet with additional people, such as other prospective managers or colleagues. While the first interview is often (but not always) one on one, the second might include a panel of interviewers. It will also often last longer than the first as well, even all day in some cases, since you could meet a number of different key figures at the organization.
How to prepare: This may sound a little intimidating, but the preparation will be fairly similar to that of your first interview. Again, you should have questions — different ones — prepared to ask. You should also practice responding to common interview questions, although this round will probably be more specific and detailed than your previous interview. This is also a time to clarify anything you didn’t have answered previously.
This interview could also include behavioral or situational questions. Practice responding by using the STAR method:
This method will allow you to tell your story in a compelling way, conveying how you work and the mindset you employ when approaching challenging scenarios. Practice responding with the STAR method so you can be prepared, no matter what specific behavioral question you’re asked.
This is also a good opportunity to ask about the timeline and next steps.
About: In many cases, the second in-person interview will be the final interview. But some organizations go on to have a third — even fourth — interview. This might seem tedious, but it still demands as much information as any other round. You could meet more prospective colleagues and managers — even the CEO or other leaders at the company.
How to prepare: All the earlier tips apply to this round, including what to wear, what to bring, the questions to practice and the questions to prepare. Use this as an opportunity to clarify any earlier questions you haven’t had fielded and learn any pertinent information that you need to know. You should also aim to address any mistakes you may have made (although they’re probably not as big a deal as you think since you’ve made it this far).
Review what you’ve discussed in your previous interviews, trying not to repeat yourself (though don’t worry too much if you do). Try to work in details to demonstrate you’ve been paying attention — as well as ways you can help improve any processes. This will show that you have ideas that will make their company even better.
Be careful not to act cocky — remember, they’re probably still interviewing other candidates for the job. This could be the round that makes or breaks your candidacy. Don’t be scared to ask about when they’re planning on making their decision; they’re probably expecting this question.
About: At every step of the interview process, make sure you follow up with the person or people who spoke with you. The level of follow-up depends on how in-depth the step or process was. But no matter what, this is a vital sub-step for each step of the interview process. You need to convey your interest in and enthusiasm for the employer and the position because this will go a long way in helping you ultimately land the role. After all, the employer doesn’t want to extend a job offer to someone who isn’t going to accept it, and they want someone who’s truly excited about the work.
How to prepare: Make sure you have the correct contact information for the interviewer or interviewers. If you don’t know their email address, you can always ask at the end of the interview. At in-person interviews, you could even ask for a business card.
If you met with multiple people, send a note to each interviewer individually. Try to include as many specific details as possible to demonstrate that you’re enthusiastic about the role and employer and that you were engaged in the conversation you were having. Give examples of why and how you believe you’re a great fit for the role and vice versa. Thank them for taking the time to meet and speak with you — remember that it’s work for them, too. Be careful to proofread your note, and don’t wait longer than 24 hours to hit the send button.
About: Congratulations! You’ve made it through the interview process, and the hiring manager or managers have chosen you for the role. To deliver the news, they will usually call you on the phone or send you an email, along with any other pertinent information, such as the salary, benefits, expectations, conditions and more.
How to prepare: You don’t have to accept the offer immediately. It’s fine to ask questions — in fact, you should! If pertinent details about the role and company aren’t included in the offer, clarify them with the hiring manager. Make sure to get all the details in writing, too.
You can certainly ask for some time to think it over. If you’re not happy with the terms, try negotiating — some employers will even expect you to do so. In addition to negotiating salary, you might also negotiate benefits (which can sometimes make up for a lower salary) and other terms of the contract. Be prepared to accept or decline the terms — some employers may not be open to negotiating, while others will. Have figures in mind about the minimum amount you’ll be willing to settle for. As with the initial offer, be sure to get these final details in writing.
Once you’ve finished negotiations, it’s time to accept or decline the offer. Again, do this in writing so there’s a paper trail.
About: In some cases, employers will conduct a background check prior to extending a job offer or having you sign employment paperwork. This varies by role; for example, it’s a common practice if you’re going to be working with children. Depending on the nature of the job, this might include:
• Reviewing your criminal records and confirming your identity
• Verifying your employment and/or history and credentials
• Conducting a credit check
• Looking into your online presence, including Google search results and social media profiles
How to prepare: While you can’t change history, you can prepare for a background check by ensuring everything the employer might look into is in order. For example, secure copies of your academic records so you can accurately report key dates and your GPA, as well as records of your employment history, which will include data like how long you worked with a specific employer.
It’s also a good idea to look into your social media profiles to ensure there’s nothing incriminating employers could find. In addition to reviewing your privacy settings (perhaps making certain accounts private), you might want to scrub your accounts of unprofessional content. That includes those pictures of you partying in college.
If you know there’s incriminating information about you out there, assume the prospective employer will find it. Nip it in the bud by being upfront and honest about anything that might raise red flags. Hopefully, they’ll appreciate you being forthcoming. Plus, you don’t want them to discover anything that might cost you the job later on.
Remember: this is just an outline of the interview process. Your experience won't look identical to this outline — it will vary by industry, role and organization. In any case, the advice applies to a wide array of jobs and organizations and can help guide your preparation, no matter what the role.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.
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