Leadership and career

Down to the Wire

By May 16, 2016 No Comments

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 make sense.
♦  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 daylong series 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 candidate(s).

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 artichokes.

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 interviewer wants to hear is a mistake that, 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? Department?
♦  What are its weak points?
♦  (To your manager) Tell me about your management style.
♦  If you and I have differing viewpoints about a situation, how do we reconcile them?
♦  Where does this department fit in the organization’s packing order?
♦  What are the company’s and the 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 work?
♦  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 position?
♦  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 job.)
♦  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 position.

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.


Taunee Besson headshotTaunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979, which works with individual and corporate clients in career change; job search; executive, small business and life coaching; college major selection and talent management.

“One of the smartest minds in the career field,” according to Tony Lee (VP of CareerCast Operations at Adicio and former publisher of the Wall Street Journal’s Online Vertical Network), Besson began writing for the Dallas Times Herald in the early 80s. Having read several of her columns, Lee asked her to contribute regular articles to the Journal’s National Business Employment Weekly (NBEW) as well. Since then, she has been a triple award-winning columnist for CareerJournal.com and Senior Columnist for CareerCast.com, as well as WorkingWoman.com and Oxygen.com. At Lee’s request, Besson authored five editions of NBEW’s Premier Guide to Resumes and three of its Premier Guide to Cover Letters. She has also written articles and/or been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money and Yahoo among others.

Taunee has worked on community nonprofit boards and committees for over 30 years including Girls Inc., Women’s Center of Dallas, Girl Scouts and Dallas Women’s Foundation, The Volunteers of America and Mortarboard, among others. She was a member of the Leadership Dallas in 1987 and Leadership America in 2003.

In 1994, the Dallas Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development chose her as its “Professional of the Year”. Her NBEW columns were selected for the “Ten Best Article Award” in 1990, 1994 and 1997. 
In 1999, Alpha Gamma Delta, a 200,000 member fraternal organization, named her as one of three “Distinguished Citizens” at its biannual international convention.

Published by Conselium Executive Search, the global leader in compliance search.  

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