Down to the Wire: Succeeding in a Second Job Interview

Down to the Wire: Succeeding in a Second Job Interview

Taunee Besson, CMF, Senior Columnist

If you make the first job interview cut and get asked to return for another look, congratulations are in order. But it's important to remember that you're still competing with other candidates, many of whom will be just as qualified as you. While first interviews separate likely candidates from ones who simply aren't up to the job, second interviews are to evaluate personal style, feel for the job, fit with colleagues and management, and commitment to the company's philosophy.

In these discussions, interviewers are evaluating your potential to contribute to their organization. They will be concentrating their questions on what you can do for them, rather than what you've done in the past.

On the other hand, at a follow-up job interview you should be thinking about:

  • If you want the job.
  • If you will enjoy working with your manager and co-workers.
  • If the company's politics and structure will help you advance your career.

First interviews are like first dates – if you strike out, it's not a big deal. But on a second interview, now you're talking marriage and long-term commitment. No one wants to make a mistake that could lead to an unproductive marriage, or a messy divorce.

With this in mind, in order to spread the responsibility (or blame) for filling a position, companies will often schedule final interviews with a number of different people. If you started with HR, your next meeting will probably be with your potential boss. Second interviews can even be day-long conversations with multiple colleagues who'll be working with you if you're hired.

Of course, the prospect of interviewing for hours with a lineup of potential managers can be daunting, but don't forget that it doesn't have to be all for the company's benefit. By asking the right questions, you can get something out of the process, too. Try checking their answers for potential red flags. Will working with them be fun, or frustrating? Do they seem enthusiastic or depressed? Does anyone make you uncomfortable, and if so will you have to work with them on a regular basis?

If your second interview is over lunch, try to keep things relaxed and order something innocuous so your food won't interfere with the conversation – especially if you're with more than one person. Lobster in the shell is out. Ditto spaghetti and artichokes.

Cover All the Bases

Just as companies will call you back for a second interview in order to "kick the tires" and be sure you meet their needs, make sure you use the same opportunity to really get a feel for what it's like to work there. Think about the questions that are most important to you, as well as ones you think will help you gain the most information from the answers. And be honest – unlike in the first interview, when making a good impression was paramount, this is about making a long-term commitment. Saying what you think your interviewer wants to hear might work in the short-term, but you'll probably find yourself back on the job hunt in a few months.

Not sure what questions will help you get the most information? Try some of these:

  • What are the strengths of this company?
  • What are its weak points?
  • How would you describe your management style? (when talking to a potential boss)
  • Is the chain of command here formal or informal?
  • Do people typically learn about areas of the company beyond their own department, or do groups stay more separated?
  • Does the company help workers take classes or attend conventions to help workers improve their skill sets?
  • Do you anticipate a reorganization or change of command in the near future?

You might not get many straight answers, but asking these questions will help you look knowledgeable and aware of what you bring to the table. And more importantly, how your interviewer responds to these requests can say a lot about them, as well as the general attitude of the company.

Questions to Expect

In a second interview, employers will be fishing for any signs that you're not who they thought you were, and trying to pin you down to be sure you'd make a good hire. Since your interviewer may want to catch you off guard in the hope of seeing the "real you," anticipating their questions can be difficult. With that in mind, here are some potential questions you can prepare for:

  • What about this job interests you?
  • If you get this job, what would you do the first year to establish yourself?
  • Describe your management/work style.
  • What do you want from your career?
  • Give an example of your problem-solving abilities.
  • What kinds of situations/people annoy you? How do you deal with them?

As the interview is ending, be sure to find out what happens next. Will they be making a final decision, or will there be another round of interviews? How and when will the company notify you? As with the first interview, don't forget to write notes to all your interviewers, thanking them and stressing your interest in the organization. If you don't hear form them within a few weeks, don't hesitate to follow up. In today's job market, persistence pays.

Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career
Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with
individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search,
executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is
an award-winning columnist for and a best-selling
author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters.
Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous
career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has
been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas
Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other
websites and publications.

Career Topics
Job Interviews