So many recruiters and HR people blog about what they look for when someone applies for a job. It is a great source of information for the determined job seeker who wants to be a job FINDER.

I read those blogs and I talk to people who are hiring. Of course, different companies and different industries have their own processes, and recruiters play a key role in shepherding candidates through the process. Yet there is a lot that is common.

1.  Hundreds of people apply for a single job. Most of the applications will be ignored because a) the person sends a form cover letter instead of personalizing it; b) the applicant does not have the required skills or experience; c) there are typos in the cover letter and/or resume.

The remaining resumes get a more careful read. Most people separate them into three piles: Yes, Maybe, and No.  “Maybes” only get considered if enough of the “Yeses” turn out to be duds – or you have an insider tell the reviewer that you are amazing and they need to talk to you.

2.  A small number of applicants are worth talking to on the telephone. These are people who, on paper, appear to have the basic qualifications. Perhaps they also have a little something extra – a compelling cover letter that explains why they want to work for the company and what they will deliver, a resume that presents their abilities really clearly, a great LinkedIn profile with a number of recommendations that hit consistent themes, or an insider who pulls them to the top of the pile.

The phone interview is pre-screening for the real interview and is intended to weed people out.  Most employers do phone interviews now. It saves a lot of time and resources, because they will know who is worth bringing in for a fuller conversation. Often, someone from HR or administration will conduct the phone interview.  Rarely, the person to whom the position reports will do these interviews.

Most phone interviews cover these basics:

  1. Do you know your resume and your own qualifications?
  2. Do you know what the job is and who the company is?
  3. Can you speak intelligently about yourself, your experience, and why you are right for the position?

There sometimes is a question or two that screens for culture fit, particularly if you are switching from a large to small company and vice-versa, or from one field to another (e.g. for-profit to non-profit).

Sometimes the phone interviewer will ask about your salary range and rarely, will disclose the salary range for the position. This is intended to eliminate people who want “too much money.”

3. Employers invite a small number of people in for in-person interviews. The number can range from as few as three to as many as eleven or twelve.  It depends on the quality of the applicant pool and the degree to which the job requires a great personality fit.  If the position is one that has to interact with lots of people, internal and external, it’s likely that the employer will want to see more people.

In-person interviews can take a few forms.  Usually, the position’s supervisor is the primary interviewer. It can be one on one, or sometimes the HR person sits in. At times, it is a group interview with other members of the work team.

This is the interview where you will be carefully questioned about your skills, experience, understanding of the position and company, desire to work there, and how you would handle certain scenarios.  People who haven’t done their homework will generally be eliminated at that point.  The “chemistry” is important at this stage, as well, and people are eliminated who really don’t “click” with the interviewer or don’t seem able to adapt to a new culture.

4. A much smaller number of people get one or more follow-up interviews.These are the people who meet all or most qualifications, sound like they could hit the ground running and deliver value quickly, who appear to be suited to the organization and its culture, and who are most enthusiastic about working for the company. It is generally at least two and no more than five people.

Follow-up interviews are intended to find the person who will get an offer. At this point, the company wants to hire someone so they are looking for someone to rise above the other candidates.  Perhaps they already have identified a front-runner and want to validate the choice.

There can be some intermediate steps, especially in large companies, where candidates are invited to take personality or technical skill assessments or to meet potential co-workers.  If money has not yet been discussed, it is usually brought up during this period following a successful in-person interview.

The person to whom the position reports will almost always be in these follow-up interviews. Often there will be others from the team. The final interview usually is with a very senior person, who needs to sign off on the hire. At this point, the candidate(s) are already completely acceptable to the person hiring.

5. It’s expected that the job offer will be accepted. In today’s economy, employers expect that they can get their top candidate, without giving a lot on salary or other compensation.