The Stages of Interviewing

Not long ago the job search and interview process was a lot easier than it is today: locate a position through the newspaper classified advertising jobs section or on the Internet, answer the ad or job posting with your basic chronological resume, a few days later get a call from the hiring manager for an interview, answer a few fluffy questions about your background and experience, get a job offer on the spot for a higher salary than you were making, start work the next day.

As we all know, today’s job market it is quite a bit different from yester ‘year with employers being a lot more selective than they use to be in choosing who to interview. Today, if your resume makes it through the employer’s automated scanning program, you will more than likely receive a pre-screening phone call, and if you pass that then possibly several onsite interviews.

Your goal during this time is to impress the interviewing employer with your knowledge of the position, with the way you speak of the job, and how your experience and achievements will benefit the company.

Every interview is going to be different in its own way, and have its own flow and personality as I like to call it. Knowing the basic stages of the interview process will help alleviate some of the stress of your job search, the angst of wondering what the employer is up and help you present yourself with greater confidence.

Pre-Screening Stage

The purpose of this stage, which has become quite commonplace in today’s job market, is to determine if you meet the minimum qualifications of the position, if you appear to be a good cultural fit and if the company can afford you. 

The pre-screening and interviewing calls can come at any time and may be made by a lower level screener, a recruiter, the hiring manager, an automated interview system, or a “Skype” call where you talk with and respond to the potential employer through your computer web cam.

Typical pre-screening interviews can be less than 30 minutes or possibly longer depending on the depth of questions.

There will usually be a review of your resume, your experience, background and current employment situation so it is important that you be prepared for a call like this at anytime.

If you are working with a recruiter be prepared to address the salary question.  Remember, one of the primary objectives of the pre-screening process is to determine if the company can afford you. This is not the time to tell to the recruiter your salary is “negotiable.” They will want a number or a salary range in order to keep the process moving forward.  

Try to have your resume and job postings near the phone you so you can easily pull them up to talk about your experience and how it fits with the position. 

Be sure to get the name, phone number and email address of the person you are talking with so you can follow-up with a snail mail Thank you note.

Day of the Interview

Try not to arrive more than 10 minutes early to your interview.  Find the restroom and take care of any pending business, check and comb your hair, freshen your makeup if a female, look to see there is nothing in your teeth and make sure your appearance is professional. 

As most professional athletes do, run your pending performance through your mind seeing how you are going to be the best candidate they have interviewed. Then take a deep breath, relax, collect your thoughts and get ready for show time.  Remember, when you walk through the office door your interview has begun. 

The first person you will probably meet on the day of your interview will be a secretary or receptionist; treat them nicely and with respect as they may be asked to give their impressions about you to the hiring manager after you have left.

You may be asked to have a seat in the lobby or a conference room and wait for the interviewer to arrive. While waiting, stay relaxed and in control any nervous habits.

In this stage, I like to be reminded of what a duck is like; calm on the surface, but paddling like crazy under the water.  So, practice being like a duck.

Also, without being too noticeable, observe your surroundings; get a feel for the work environment, the type of people coming and going and the general personality and culture of the office.  You’re checking this out for what I call ‘your cultural fit.’

Introduction Stage

This is the stage is where you meet your interviewer for the first time and where the interview is either won or lost. At this point first impressions and your body language are what counts; stand up straight, smile, look them in the eyes, shake their hand firmly and introduce yourself with a positive tone.   Say, “It’s nice to meet you, and restate their name?”  This boosts your chances of remembering their all important name.   Then ask for a business card so you can send a thank you note with correct spellings and address at the end of the interview.

This common exchange of names, small talk and casual questions is your chance to make a positive impression.  Try and talk about the weather or traffic staying away from personal issues, sports teams, politics, religion or any other such controversial topics.  No need to sink your chances here if the interviewer likes the Giants and you like the Jets.

Getting Started Stage

Notice your surroundings very carefully, especially the types of pictures or items that decorate the office or conference room.  Make a positive, non-personal comment about them to help make a connection and break the ice. 

During this stage, the interviewer will also try to get you to relax in what is always a tense and stressful situation. He will work on building rapport and then move the conversation into the substance of the interview.

General Interview Stage

The interviewer may begin by outlining the agenda and will most certainly scan your resume.  If a time frame hasn’t been set, try and get a sense of how long the interview may be so you can adjust your answers to the available time. 

Because of varying personalities, interviewers will show a wide range of interviewing styles during this stage. Most like to start with general questions then move into details about your current and past work experience, decision making style, professional credentials, your specific job skills, educational background, your interest in their company, your career focus and goals and anything else they may have found of interest on your resume. 

Questions at this stage of the interview may be open-ended behavioral or specific closed end. Occasionally, scenarios or work related problems will be presented for your comment or solution.  (Note – Be careful of problem solving related questions as companies have been known to use interviews to gain free consulting.)

Be succinct, clear, self-assured and to the point when answering the interviewer’s questions. Focus on the process and talk about the Who, What, Where and How of your experience. In other words, tell a story using concrete and specific details.

It is suggested to avoid the ‘Why‘ in your answers as this may lead to a more personal, subjective answer rather than a factual, detailed one.

On-a-roll Stage

As the interview progresses, the interviewer will begin to ask more exacting questions to see if you have the required qualifications to be successful in the position and how you might fit in with the company.  You will need to be able to discuss and show how your experience and qualifications match the job requirements and how your work ethic, values and behavioral style fits in with the organization’s culture.

Asking Questions Stage

In my opinion, this is probably the most critical part of the entire interview.  At this stage you will be asked if you have any questions; this is your cue the interview is over, the interviewer has made up his mind and you should get ready to leave. 

At this stage many applicants lose their edge by asking questions that re-open the interview which in turn shows they were not prepared or were not listening carefully throughout the interview. 

Instead I feel it is better to acknowledge the interview and interviewer by saying something like:

 “I had a lot of questions when we started, but you did a good job of answering the ones I had.  I would like to ask two things though, first, would it be Ok if you gave me a quick walk-around the facility so I can see what it would be like working here, and lastly, where do we go from here?” 

With that response you should be told how to follow up; will they contact you or should you contact them and how soon.

You also do not want to ask about salary or benefits at this time either; wait until an offer is made. 

If you re-open the interview at this point after the interviewer has closed it, you run the risk of asking or saying something that might eliminate your from consideration.

Closing Stage

As with the introduction, the closing stage will be a short but important part of the interview.

After you have been walked around the facility and been told what the next step is, thank the interviewer for the time he/she took to interview you; restate that you are interested in the position and look forward to talking with them soon. 

Be sure to firmly shake hands again, smile while maintaining eye contact and gracefully exit stage left. 

On the way out, say goodbye to the secretary or receptionist whom you met when you arrived, as again, they may be asked to give their impressions about you to the hiring manager after you have left.

Follow-up Stage

To stand out from the crowd, as soon as you leave the building, complete and drop in the nearest mailbox your Thank-You cards to all those who interviewed you. The notes should thank them for the time taken and restate your interest in the position.

If you haven’t heard from the employer by the time they said they would contact you, you probably are not their number one candidate. 

If this happens, send a short e-mail to the interviewer reiterating your interest but do not call to check on your status. The reason being is that I’m finding in the job search literature, comments from overworked employers and recruiters of potential candidates being overly aggressive in wanting responses; this just causes them to push the delete button sending you to the cornfield.

What I’ve found from talking with successful candidates, though, is that if you are the one they want to hire, you will be tracked into the job so fast your head will spin.  If you are in second place you will probably hear nothing.

Reference Stage
In today’s job market, employers are checking references and doing background checks on almost every candidate they wish to hire.

Prior to a job offer, the employer will probably ask you for a list of references.  When using someone as a reference it is good etiquette to ask them if they would like to be a reference for you and if it is OK with them before submitting their name to the potential employer. The last thing you want is for your reference to answer a reference check call with “Who is using me as a reference?”

Background Check Stage

If the employer is going to formally check your background, they are required to obtain your signature prior to their check; be sure to request a copy of their background report on you.  A checkbox of some sort should be on the background check authorization form where you can request a copy be provided to you. If not, write on the form that you would like a copy of their background check report.

 You want a copy of anything the employer receives in your background check as it tells you what they are looking for and allows you the opportunity to correct any errors that may show up.

The Job Offer Stage

This is what we all wait for; the job offer.  If they haven’t already told you it’s coming, it is best ask it be in writing.  When put in writing, everyone is clear about the start date, introductory or probationary period if any, starting salary, performance review dates, benefits, work hours and job title.

 In Conclusion
The stages you will go through in a job interview will depend on an employer’s interviewing practices, the level of position for which you are applying, and the experience and H.R. training of the people with whom you will be interviewing.

Remember to maintain your professionalism at all times, even in an interview that does not go well. Treat every person you interact with during the interview stages with the same level of courtesy and respect with which you would like to be treated. This will create the strongest impression possible, and in turn, reassure the employer they’ve made the best choice in offering to hire you.

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