Interview Strategy: How to Make the Cut


This is the second post in a series on Interview Strategy through the interview process. 

Once you’ve aced the first interview, done your homework, and are asked to return, you can be assured you have sparked some interest. Depending on how many interviews there will be in the process and how many of those will be with the hiring manager compared to others in the company, the next interactions with your hiring manager are the most critical. During this time initial perceptions and judgements about you are solidified. Any concerns and questions will need to be resolved. It is at this point you can stand out from the rest of the field by showing a deeper level of engagement and higher level of initiative. The best way to do this is by asking intelligent relevant questions. Not only does this rigor demonstrate higher initiative, but it also shows that you aren’t just looking for any job, but a job that you feel is a good fit for you.

What to Ask:

  1. Ask questions about the industry. If you aren’t sure what the industry is like or how the company fits in, then ask. Get a good feel for their competitive position. Is the general market growing? Is it cyclical? What economic indicators impact the business the most?
  2. Ask about the company. Based on your research ask follow up questions to what you’ve covered already and read. Make sure you have a good feel for how large the company is, where it’s geographically distributed, if the business is profitable, how fast it’s growing, and if there have been any big company changes in the recent past.
  3. Ask about reporting structure. Does the CIO report to the CFO? Understanding the executive structure will give you a feel for the dynamics likely present in the organization. Get a feel for if any responsibilities seem out of place in the reporting structure. Understand the other roles within the department and how they relate to the position in question.
  4. Ask about the department and the manager’s vision for leadership in the next 5 years. Asking about this gives you a feel for your short-term role as well as demonstrates the way you value thinking and planning for the future. Understand how this department plan relates to where the company is going. Good companies have good alignment between company goals and individual or departmental goals.
  5. Ask about the hiring manager. What is his or her personality and management style like? What background does he or she come from? What are his or her professional goals or long-term plan? Asking these questions will not only give you a good idea of the type of person you’ll be working for, but show that person you recognize the importance of that relationship and understand your job will be to help your manager reach his or her goals.
  6. Define culture and values of the company. What is the culture like? Fast or slow paced? You should already have some inclinations about what the culture is like based on your visits and discussion, so build on that. Ask about interdepartmental communication, activities, and politics. What are the company’s values? How are they exemplified in everyday activities?
  7. Define the future of the role within the company and growth potential. Does the company invest in its employees’ educations? Are there opportunities to learn about the business or other aspects not formally defined in your job description? What are the likely career paths that can come from this position? Feel comfortable with the potential the job offers you to learn and grow and remain challenged. Communicate that excitement for learning and accepting that challenge.

 Homework:

  • Take some time and think about everything you’ve learned about the company, industry, and the role. Is this something you can see yourself doing? Will you be challenged and grow? Will you have the support or management that you need?
  • Is this still a job you want? Do you have enough information to accept an offer were you to receive one now? What questions do you still have that need to be resolved?
  • Do you like your potential new boss? Have there been things he or she has said or done that give rise to any concern? Pay attention to those red flags. Your intuition might be telling you something that your logical mind dismisses. I’ve found that some of those initial inclinations end up useful foresight into potential problems in the future. If you have questions about the way your boss will manage, write them down and ask them if you proceed to the next round.
  • Send another thank you email to the hiring manager. You can basically say the same thing as last time, but reword it to cover some more specific reasons you’re excited about the opportunity.

If you’ve made it to the end of this your next interview will likely be with your bosses boss or perhaps another executive. You will likely know who this is by now, because you asked about the general interview process in the first interview. If you’re meeting with another executive then you might consider coming up with some questions to help you better understand your potential boss’s management and work style. Ask what some of the biggest successes he or she is known for.

The logical progression throughout the interview process should start with learning about the job, then the company, the industry, the culture, and ultimately trying to get to know the people. Trying to understand personalities is difficult based on the limited interactions of the interview process. Thinking of and asking a list of good questions will allow for higher quality interactions both in terms of understanding the manager and job opportunity, and in terms of demonstrating your ability, initiative, and overall fit for the job.