The hiring manager might’ve hinted you’ve got it in the bag. Don’t take them at their word.
BY DON RASKIN
You’re walking out of your job interview and playing everything back in your head. Maybe it’s for your dream job, maybe it isn’t–but you feel great. You think you really nailed it. Now you all there’s left to do is sit back and wait for an offer.
It never comes. Weeks later, you realize something must’ve gone wrong. Either the competition was a lot steeper than you’d imagined or (gulp) you choked and just didn’t realize it. More than likely, something went wrong at the last step of the process.
This is more common than you might think. Lots of candidates get really far along in a drawn-out hiring process, only to lose out on the offer at the very end. Here are three of the more common mistakes job applicants tend to make despite thinking they’ve nailed an interview, only to wind up surprised when that offer never arrives.
1. YOU MISSED THE REAL REASON FOR THE FINAL INTERVIEW
After several rounds of interviews, you’re brought in one last time to meet the most senior member of the team. At this stage, many candidates think that all they really need to do is stick to their script–it’s gotten them this far, so why switch it up now?
But it’s a mistake to continue presenting yourself exactly the same way you did in the earlier rounds of interviews. What you might not realize is that the criteria by which you’re being judged changes the farther into the interview process you go. In earlier rounds, hiring managers might be checking up on specific hard skills you’ll bring to a job. They’ll probe your past experience to make sure it’s a fit.
But once a prospective employer decides that your technical requirements match the needs of the open position, they’ll start judging you on a different set of skills. So if you’re called back in for a second or third time, be careful how you interpret the questions you’re asked. The same one you heard in the first round–for instance, “What’s the biggest asset you think you can you bring to the position?”–may call for a much different answer.
If you answered that question with your technical know-how earlier on, you might want to use it later on to sell your soft skills (here are a few tips for doing that in the midst of an interview). Leadership, communication, and interpersonal abilities tend to be bigger decision factors late in the interview process. How well you present them might determine whether you get an offer.
2. YOU WAITED TOO LONG TO FOLLOW UP, OR SOUNDED TEPID ONCE YOU DID
Your job interview went so well that the hiring manager wrapped up by strongly suggesting that you’d hear back soon with an offer. So you leave and wait. But the company goes silent–you hear nothing back and can’t figure out why.
Chances are you took those surefire signs of their interest to mean your work was basically done. You were smart enough to remember to follow up with a thank-you email–but what kind of thank-you was it, and when did you hit “send”? Companies will assume you’re considering more than one opportunity, so if you’re lukewarm or late with your follow-up, they might guess that your interest is flimsy and make an offer to a candidate who seems more eager. (Some might even infer from that how passionately you’ll pursue your job once you’re hired.)
No matter what the company tells you in that final interview, you can’t stop acting like a candidate and start acting like an employee until an offer letter is in hand. Your post-interview follow-up can be as important as the impression you make in the interview room. No matter how far along you get, send an email to the team you interviewed with expressing your continued enthusiasm for the job–and do it that day. It’s your last chance to sell your candidacy and reiterate why you’re the person they can’t live without.
3. YOU WERE SLOW HANDING OVER YOUR REFERENCES
References are an insurance policy for many employers. They just don’t feel comfortable making a job offer without talking to people you’ve worked with in the past. When you leave the interview and the interviewer asks you to forward your references, it may sound like a late-in-the-game formality. But even if the request didn’t sound urgent, you’ve got nothing to lose by treating it that way. Once you walk out of a successful interview and the company asks you for references, you need to supply that information within 24-48 hours.
The main reason candidates are often slow to pass along references isn’t because they shrug off their importance, though. It’s because they wait too long to line them up. If you start calling around at the end of the interview process, a solid week may pass before you secure three great contacts who are willing to vouch for you, bring them up to speed on the position, and send their contact information.
While you do that, many things might happen. Someone within the company asks for the job, or a new candidate comes in and wows the hiring manager who’s waiting for your references. Maybe a higher-up raises a budget concern and the company decides to split the job responsibilities among current employees, then stops looking to fill the opening (trust me, it happens all the time). The point is, you need to strike while the company is high on you and hot on filling the role. Slowing down the process by making them wait on references is a simple way to kill your chances in the homestretch.
These mistakes are easy to fall into because things have gone so well through the rest of the interview process. Never let your guard down or assume you’ve got it in the bag. Keep trying to impress until the offer is yours.