This morning, I got to do some mock interviewing with Lisa who is going for a third interview for a great job, one she wants. Then I read Rachel Zupek’s great piece on Careerbuilder about how to know whether your interview went well. Add to these my own long experience interviewing people (and being interviewed), and I have something to say about coping with and moving on from good interview experiences.

Lisa’s experience mirrors that of the article – she felt comfortable in her first two interviews, she was invited back after her first interview for a group interview. In the second interview, there was a lot of head nodding and a conversational feel, people laughed and allowed her to ask some questions, and she felt welcome and at ease. Later, her primary contact told her she was the group’s #1 candidate, asked for her references, and asked her about salary. You couldn’t ask for anything more positive than that – except the actual offer and “when can you start?”

Now she is going before the top boss, and is understandably nervous. In part, she is nervous because she got word from her contact that the top boss isn’t sold on her. This is NOT simply a formality, it’s a real interview to see if Lisa has what it takes to do the job in question.

Lisa’s not alone in being nervous, however. When interviews go well, and you move on to the next stage, the stakes feel higher all of a sudden. It feel like there is more to lose. And sometimes people blow second interviews because of nerves.

I wish I could get into people’s heads and say “they already like you! Simply continue being yourself.”

It reminded me of what I told myself one day before a pivotal interview for what became my job at City Harvest: they need to hire someone, they want me to be the one because then I would be the answer to their prayers, so I have a friendly audience. They want to hire someone – why not me?

That shift in perspective was very important, because I felt so much more at ease with the sense that I was going into a situation where people were predisposed to like me. Once I got to the final interview, it was mine to lose. All I had to do was show them that I really was the right candidate.

Here’s what interviewers look for on the second, third, fourth interviews: more of what they liked in the first place.

  • Do I still like you?
  • Are we comfortable together?
  • Do you really know your stuff?
  • Can you give me more in-depth answers?
  • Do I understand and respect your thinking process and problem-solving approach?
  • Will it be easy to work with you?
  • Are your standards of quality and excellence similar to mine?
  • Do your values align with mine and the organization’s?
  • Can you substantiate what you claim are your accomplishments?
  • Are you comfortable with me or too nervous/too arrogant?
  • Do you respond well to unexpected questions?
  • Do I trust your answers or do you seem too glib and packaged?

This is an amalgam of substance, personality and gut feeling.

SUBSTANCE: If you’ve made it past the first interview, you can feel fairly confident that your experience, skills and expertise meets the minimum requirements. Now the interviewer wants to know more details, to find out how you think, how you approach problems, how you resolve challenges. So have some good stories to tell that describe your approach.

The “chemistry” check is really important in the second and subsequent interviews. And it’s not just the interviewer who needs to check “chemistry.” Remember, if you’re not comfortable in the interview, that tells you a lot about whether this is a place you want to work. Be your professional self. Wait to see what they offer and want to know. Ask a few questions in a conversational tone. Avoid confrontation or making any demands.

GUT FEELING: Gut feeling is the interviewer’s sense of whether you’re the “right fit” overall. While there may not be a whole lot you can do to influence their gut feeling, it does help for you to demonstrate knowledge of and passion/enthusiasm for the company’s work and the job in question. So do some more research. Show you did your homework.

And most important: be willing to show that you really want the job. I only wanted to hire people who really wanted the job, assuming they met the basic qualifications. So I have hired a few people who’ve said “I really want to work for you” or “I really want to work for this organization” or “I really want this job.” Saying that out loud tells me a couple of things about the person: that s/he knows what s/he wants, that s/he is willing to take a risk and state his/her truth, and that s/he is really motivated to do the job.

SALARY: In rare circumstances, the final interviewer may offer you the job on the spot. If the salary is acceptable, go for it! If it is unacceptable, you can do one of two things:

  1. Say “I am so excited to do this job! The salary is lower than I anticipated. Is there any room for negotiation?” Usually there is some room. Sometimes there is no room for negotiation. In that case, you can say “Thank you! I am so excited. I’d like to go home and talk to {someone} and get back to you on that.” In this case, you are essentially accepting the job while hoping for a better outcome.
  2. Say “Thank you so much for the offer! As you know, I really want this job and it would be fantastic to work for you. However, I was hoping for a salary of $xxxxx. Is that possible now or sometime in the near future?” In this case, you are essentially turning down the job unless you get the salary you want.

If you don’t get the job after all that, it wasn’t meant to be and it probably wouldn’t have been a great fit after all. Yes, you’ll be disappointed. Yet you didn’t have the job in the first place so what you lost was a hope, not the actual job.