November 14, 2010
By Darryl K. Taft
Before you hear the words, "You're hired," you will typically sit through three separate interview sessions ... at least.
You prepared for the first interview. So you're prepared for the second and third interviews, right? Probably not, say human resources professionals.
Why do they even require three or more interviews? Wouldn't it be more productive for everyone to meet all the decision makers in a single session and avoid the duplicate trips and days off from your current job? Couldn't they ask you every question in a single day?
Hiring professionals structure interview schedules with specific intent and each round has a unique purpose, said several human resources managers who spoke to TheLadders. Understanding the typical schedule and purpose of each round can help you prepare for each and hand you an advantage in the hiring process.
The first interview is strictly used to weed out candidates who stand out from those who simply looked good on paper (resume). Interviewers will try to ask questions to verify the claims made on a resume and the focus remains on matching the candidate to the basic job requirements — certifications, qualifications, presentation and salary.
It's a "high level chat," said Mark Johnson, HR manager for the Americas at Serena Software in Redwood City, Calif. "This is where we are getting to know you," Johnson said. "This is the phase where we say, 'This is what we're looking for,' and 'This is what we see on your resume that supports what we are looking for.'"
It's a screening process, said Gia Colosi, director of human resources, at eMeter in San Mateo, Calif., another software maker. "At this point we're looking at whether you have the technical capability to do the work."
Layers of a Cake
The second interview is where an interviewer will begin to press for examples of specific experiences that support the candidate's claims to be the person presented in their resume.
"Think of it as layers of a cake," said Marilyn Monarch, group director for HR consulting and services at Citrix Systems. "We're trying to find out the applicant's work history for the last five to seven years ... If we're talking a second interview we've got a solid candidate. They've moved beyond being a suspect to a prospect."
Monarch said the type of question she likes to ask in a second interview is to have the candidate speak about a recent incident where they identified an area that needed improvement in their last or current position, and then to walk her through how they went about getting it resolved.
"Sometimes you get an impactful representation of what the candidate is about," she said. "We're listening for experience and how they present their story."
The second interview is also a time to ensure that the candidate understands the intricacies of the position, the work involved and the compensation, Johnson noted. "I have to calibrate my expectations and their experience with what the job requires," Monarch said.
Serena Software's Johnson says one of the most important things for him in the interview process is honesty. "For candidates it's really important to be honest," he said. "Be very honest. Be clear about your abilities, do not overstate. We're looking for instances where the applicant has done the things they claim. But if you can't answer quickly or honestly it quickly becomes apparent in the interview process and causes it to break down."
Do Your Research
Another key point for candidates returning for a second interview is that they know the company they are applying to.
"Be very aware of who we are as a company — what we do, what our market space is and what the team you are joining does," Johnson said.
Robert Erzen, vice president of HR at Palo Alto Networks, a network security software provider, said, "It's critical that they know something about us. My advice is to take some time to go onto LinkedIn so they can even find a name they can drop of somebody who works here — the name of a friend of a friend even."
Monarch says she likes to see that a candidate has done their homework on the company. "It pays to show that they are very interested in the company. They ought to know who we are, what we do and what's the scope of our business. If they stumble or don't know anything, that candidate's chances may be limited."
Another tip from Monarch is that candidates study the company's Web site. Most corporate Web sites are robust and have lots of information. If the company in question is public, the financials as well as information about the products and services are all available online. Moreover, it also pays to know the company's competitive landscape, she said. "In the initial interview we look very simply at whether the person can make an immediate impact on our business," Erzen said. "Do they have the chops to join our firm? So we look for that twinkle or that passion. And we definitely look for people who can come in and bring ideas."
The Right Fit
Meanwhile, Johnson said when Serena asks a candidate in for a third interview it is to finalize their view of the person's technical competence.
"The final interview is to figure out if the candidate is the right fit," he said. "And the final interview typically involves the hiring manager, someone from HR, and there can also be a team member and a higher level manager there." Johnson says he looks for candidates who can effectively challenge the status quo. "Come with a little fire in the belly."
"We're looking for candidates who want to make a contribution and not just plug along putting a widget in the exact spot every day," Monarch said. "We also look for people who can work in ambiguity. Citrix requires a lot of collaborative work so those who can work in a team setting have better chances."
Of the HR professionals interviewed, Colosi was the only one who said they do four rounds of interviews. And the fourth is typically to meet the company's CEO to get his approval. But by the fourth interview, "You've already got an offer."
Other tips? Avoid distractions, Erzen said. This means to silence your cell phone. And do not pull out a PowerPoint presentation unless you're looking for a sales or marketing position. With most any other role, it's overkill, the HR pros said.
"It's very typical in the industry and probably for most companies to have a phone interview first, rather than taking the candidate's time to drive out to the site," said Marilyn Monarch, group director for HR consulting and services at Citrix Systems.