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Navigating the Interview Process

Authors: Frederick Pasco and Mike Scaletti

Interviews can lead you to great opportunities and greener pastures, but they can also be very high-stress situations. A lot is riding on how you answer a few questions. In the era of COVID-19 companies are really taking their time to ensure that the person they hire to fill a roll is the perfect candidate. They can't afford to take any chances with their hiring process. To this end, many companies are employing a systematic but staggered way of conducting interviews, sifting through candidates at every stage of the process until they land on the person with the right skills and the right fit for their company culture. You need to be ready to navigate this entire process.

The Phone Screen

The phone screen interview is not intended to find the person who will eventually be hired on. It's simply about screening the candidates, looking for any red flags, and ensuring that a company doesn't waste their senior team members' time interviewing pointless candidates.

Typically a phone screen will have several questions intended to establish your availability to work, whether you would be a reasonable fit for the company culture, whether you possess the minimum requirements of the position, and whether your salary requirements are in line with the company's expectations.

To get through a phone screen successfully, make sure to research the company, the job you're applying for, and the industry-standard salaries for that position.

The First Interview

By the time you reach the first interview, phone screens should have weeded out the most obviously unqualified candidates, as well as those with clear red flags. At this point the conversation will get significantly more nuanced, probing not just your background and experience, but also your honesty and the depth of knowledge and expertise you possess.

Your goal in the first interview is to make a great first impression. Research the skills that are most important for this position and make sure that your knowledge of those skills is accurate and up to date. If you can learn what specific tools or software suites the company uses you'll have an edge. Even if you have never used that tool before, you can research it to see how it is similar to tools you have used and assure your interviewer that you will be able to become proficient quickly.

Remember that while you are attempting to reinforce your qualifications and make a great impression, the first interview is rarely the end game. These days most companies conduct multiple interviews, so you need to be prepared for at least one more.

The Second Interview

The second interview is entirely different from the first, as at this point you should have proven that you can do the job. Now you need to show them that you are a good fit for the company. This interview is all about establishing character and culture.

In many ways, second interviews are not as high pressure as first interviews are. Oftentimes the conversation is more casual and free-flowing, with less distinct structure to it. The interviewer is no longer attempting to establish your bona fides. Instead, they are attempting to engage you as a person and potential employee to see how you might fit within their company.

This is where the idea of company culture comes into play. Having a carefully and intentionally crafted culture is an inseparable part of being in business in today's world. Many if not most companies wish to define themselves not just by what they do, but by how they do it, especially in regards to the relationships between them and their employees. They prefer to market themselves not just as a company, but as a community. For second interviews, you’re not just applying for the position, you’re applying to be a part of their community, and your focus should be on how you can do so successfully.

The Strategy

The first thing to remember when planning your strategy for navigating the interview process is that authenticity is key to every step of the process. Know who you are, what you want, and what you bring to the table.

Second, remember to remain respectful and focused throughout the process. Even in the second (or third, or fourth) interview, when things are getting a bit more informal, you should remember that you are speaking to a potential employer, and treat them as such.

Third, build on your successes. The interview process is just that, a process. As you make it through each step, take a moment to reflect on how you think you were most and least successful in the previous step. What do you think your interviewer liked most? What do you think they had a negative reaction to? While you should try not to simply repeat yourself, you should recognize that if you are being invited back for followup interviews it is because they liked something about you as a potential employee. Identify that thing and build on it.

Fourth, be a master of your resume. Research the culture of the company you are interviewing with, as well as their approach to their industry, and be prepared to apply the content of your resume to any industry-specific hypothetical situations an interviewer might ask.

Final Pitches

Your skillset won't necessarily be unique, so you need to be. What value do you bring to an office or workplace that others don't? What unique contributions can you make? What aspect of your personality screams, “I will be the perfect fit”? These are all questions to consider when planning your final pitch.

Sound confident, believe in yourself, and you will put yourself in a great position to get through the interview process and come out the other side with a brand new job.

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