You’re feeling great after your first interview for a job with a prospective employer and you’re told to expect a call back from human resources about setting up a second interview. When you do get that call, your initial feelings are excitement and triumph! Then, just as quickly, those feelings are replaced by anxiety and fear when you realize that this interview will be a defining moment for you. This will be your opportunity to shine or fizzle — to stand out or fall flat on your face.
Before you panic, relax and relish the moment. Being asked back for a second interview confirms your initial assessment of the situation: The employer is sincerely interested in hiring you.
So once you’ve calmed down, how do you prepare for this significant, sought-after second interview? What can you expect in the way of questions from hiring managers, and how much information should you offer during the interview?
1. Have a plan
“The purpose of the second interview is to show your best, to sell your achievements and knowledge and to elaborate on the projects that you worked on in the past,” says Gerard Clement, director of professional services for a Boston-area software firm. “When you interview, you have to jump in and go for it. You need to give (us) enough confidence in your abilities and skills to move forward with an offer.” Oh, and don’t let the interviewer do all the talking, adds Clement, who sees this as a “red flag.”
2. Sell yourself!
While a first interview may involve more generalized questions, the second interview will likely be more intense, especially for technical positions. Oftentimes, a hiring manager may use a consultant or senior staff to assist in the technical part of the interview, someone who is adept at getting to the core of a candidate’s skills. This is when you need to be bold and sell yourself! Come prepared with lots of stories of your own past job accomplishments. Don’t be shy, and when asked, elaborate on those past projects that relate to the position at hand. “If (a candidate) is not coming out shining,” says Clement, “it’s not giving us a lot of confidence to work together.”
3. Prepare to articulate your attributes
Be prepared to clearly communicate all of your pertinent successes during the second interview. “Basically what I look for from the candidate is to articulate how they will be successful in the job, and what attributes they have, such as excellent organizational skills,” says Diana Marshall, HR generalist at a national law firm based in Detroit. “I’d want them to talk to me about how they acquired those skills and how they demonstrated those skills in their past jobs. If it’s more of an analytical job they’re applying to, I’ll ask what technique they’d used to analyze things in the past and how they made sure that the information was accurate.”
4. Vast array of interviewers
Don’t be surprised if some of the people you meet with during this round aren’t very proficient interviewers. Typically, managers trained in interviewing conduct the first round of interviewers, so the variety of people who might talk with you during the second interview process may include those lacking skills and training in how to conduct an interview. Go with the flow! And, don’t let anyone trip you up with seemingly unrelated questions.
5. Be prepared for tricky questions
While this may never happen to you, be prepared for off-the-wall or tricky questions seemingly coming from left field, which may only be asked to see how well you handle the question. Things like a “think-outside-the-box” type of test may be given beforehand or an interviewer may ask your age (a downright no-no but a simple, “Is it relevant?” answer usually diffuses the situation). Still, trick questions can make or break you, so be prepared for the unexpected and be able to think on your feet!
6. Ask lots of questions
Be prepared with lots of questions to ask as you will likely have more opportunity during the second interview to ask questions and you will be expected to make more urbane inquiries than you did during the first interview. If you don’t receive an offer on spot, ask about the next step in the process. How soon will a decision be made, and how will they let you know?
7. Cultural fit
The second interview is a key time for the employer to determine if you are a fit for the company culture. Recognize that the interviewers during this round want to learn how well you will get along with other team members with whom you’ll be interacting on a daily basis. Now is the time to use your very best interpersonal communication skills. If you are a good fit, show it; but if you aren’t, you probably wouldn’t be happy working there, anyway. Always keep in mind that this interview is also your opportunity to determine whether the company is a good fit for you. Think about whether you would accept if the employer extended an offer to you.
8. Don’t forget to say thank you!
Make sure you follow up after your second interview with all of the people with whom you interviewed by sending them a quick thank-you email or letter. Express your continued interest in the company in general and the job in particular.
Remember, regardless of whether you’ll be offered a job or not, a second interview means you’re that much closer to an offer and that much closer to securing your dream job!