How many times in the past three years have you heard someone say “The world of work is changing” or something similar? Odds are pretty good your answer is somewhere between “several” and “incessantly,” and that it feels a little bit ominous. Or maybe it sounds hopeful but you’re still not sure exactly what people mean by it. Either way, if you’re in job search mode, you probably want to feel like you won’t strike recruiters as a rube, a noob, or a… boob?
First thing to know? Don’t wait until the new year to start your job search. People predictably do this, either as part of a “New Year’s Resolution” mentality or because, for example, their year-end bonus or their performance review didn’t go the way they’d imagined. Statistics show that the best time to lock in a new job is November.
What Not To Do
Let’s get some basic “Don’ts” out of the way first.
Don’t assume “20 minutes” really means 20 minutes. It might, but set aside an hour just in case. Recruiters sometimes suggest a 20-minute interview so they have an exit ramp if things go badly sideways with a candidate (because in all honesty, it happens a lot; experienced recruiters assess “fit” very quickly). If they are pleasantly surprised it’s likely they will want to extend the conversation. It’s in your best interest to take them up on that so don’t have another appointment waiting for you at minute 21.
Don’t wait for a meeting invite beyond when the recruiter or hiring manager said they’d be sending it. Follow up promptly if you were expecting an invitation on Monday and it’s already Tuesday. Mishaps happen. An invite might have gone to a spam folder or might be lurking in the sender’s outbox without their knowledge. Communicating is good. As long as you’re courteous and positive, it’ll make you look proactive and organized, not pushy.
Don’t miss the opportunity to ask how best to prepare for the interview. Asking “Is there anything you recommend I do in preparation for this call?” is a wise move. You might get an unexpected and very helpful answer.
Don’t lead with entitlement or exasperation. I’m not going to lie to anyone here: not every recruiter is an amazing human being who does everything right. Sometimes the interview process can feel uncomfortable, unpleasant, incompetent or even hostile. While that is a very reasonable red flag for you as the jobseeker, it’s never a good idea to return hostility with hostility or to act like you’re too good for the process. (Keep “Ugh, I don’t do second interviews; I expect you to Get Me the first time!” to yourself, please.) It won’t help you, and it could hurt you. I heartily encourage turning offers down if a company gives you a bad vibe—but don’t leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth on purpose. Be polite. It doesn’t cost you anything, and people talk.
Prepping for Your Interview
Is your interview over the phone or via Zoom? Make sure you have a clear connection. Hopefully, your interviewer will not be a high-maintenance diva-type, but even the most grounded of us get annoyed when a call is inaudible or keeps disconnecting. Find a place where you know you can be heard clearly, maintain a good signal and prevent interruptions. If you’re connecting via your laptop, treat yourself to an ethernet connection, make sure your audio is clear, and for heaven’s sake don’t leave your video disabled! Also, take a second to make sure your camera is adjusted so you are making “eye contact” with it. Recruiters might be very distracted if they are looking up your nose or at the top of your head.
If your interview is in person: I know, it sounds basic, but trust me and plan ahead. And I mean things like your clothes (lay everything out in advance, make sure you aren’t walking in with marinara on your tie or a distracting hole in your sweater) and travel situation (check the traffic! Plan your route! Make sure you leave ample time!). Bring a folder with a few extra resume copies in it in case anyone wants one. Jot down your questions and keep them somewhere you can discreetly glance at them as needed.
Don’t wing it. You know you’re going to be asked a few standard questions—tell me about yourself; tell me about your current or previous job; why are you interested in leaving; why are you interested in our company?—be ready with concise, well-worded answers.
If you’re being treated to a group or panel interview: this is a great way for the organization to get a collective take on how well you fit in—but it can really feel like you’re on trial for your life, so take some deep breaths. If you are someone who dreads being in the spotlight, group interviews can be especially daunting, so the key is to just stay calm. If you have access to it, joining a mock panel interview can be really helpful—you’ll get used to the “worst case scenario” interview and pretty much be ready for anything!
You’re probably going to be asked about your salary expectations. This one freaks out a lot of people—often (but certainly not exclusively) those who are new to the workforce, those jumping to a new sector, and those who identify as women. Even if you think of yourself as a confident negotiator, take some care with how you answer this question. First of all, do answer it. You can irritate recruiters if you’re coy about it. The “right” answer is a three-parter. One: be honest and say “Here’s the range I’m looking for.” Two: Add “And I have some flexibility.” Three: counter with “How does my range fit within your expectations?” Your answer should be based on some research for the norms of your profession and your location.
Express gratitude! Ending the call with a quick “Hey, I really enjoyed speaking with you today. I know you have a process and I trust your process, so thanks so much for taking a chance on me” can be a serious “mic drop” note for the call to end on.
So You Got a Follow-up Interview, Eh?
Congratulations, you crossed a huge hurdle.
I sometimes get feedback—often from younger jobseekers—that they feel additional interviews are a “waste of their time.” May I gently encourage you not to look at it that way? Many wonderful employers consider this a standard operating procedure, so again: if you want an offer—which I assume you do or you wouldn’t be wasting your own time going to interviews—acting entitled is a terrible plan. You will alienate people, and they will move on to someone who isn’t copping an attitude about their process.
That said, if you are currently employed and your prospective new organization is asking you for a fourth or fifth round, I don’t blame you for being annoyed! And it’s OK to diplomatically note that your absences from your current job are becoming a problem for your team. Ask them frankly but courteously to be open with you about why they need to see you for a fifth time. If you don’t like the answer, and it’s at the point where you just don’t care about landing this particular job anymore, you can decline politely. Say something along the lines of “I’m sorry, I am interested in the role but I can’t keep compromising my current job—if you’re still on the fence about me, you should probably move on to another candidate.” If that doesn’t get their attention, then yeah, you might want to assume working there will be as aggravating as interviewing there, and move on.
Meanwhile, the first interview effectively separates wheat from chaff, so if you made it to a second round, feel flattered, not oppressed: it means they like you and want to know more. Sometimes the first interview is a personality read and the second one more closely addresses your approach to the job, or maybe it’s the reverse. But either way, they are looking for a combination of skill set and chemical “fit” with the organization, and you can’t always assess that in one interview because people seldom reveal much of themselves in the first one.
One thing that’s going on under the surface of your second interview is that they might be checking to see if you were paying attention the first time! Your interviewer will likely say something like: “Well, I know you chatted with Randy from HR last week—what questions do you have for me?” It’s great if you can be prepared with a reflection on something for that interview and add a question. (As in: “Yeah, Randy was really helpful! He told me all about the marketing team’s new initiative—but I never asked how many people are actually in the group and how it’s structured.”)
If you get asked “Why do you want to work for us?” you’ll want to have done a little research. Be able to give a brief list of things you know about the company—and, importantly, identify something specific about their mission, product, service, or culture that you specifically appreciate. And make it something that’s genuinely about them, not a stealthy way of saying something about yourself.
Once in a while, the second interviewer will unfortunately ask the exact same questions as the first one. A bummer wasted opportunity for them and for you, but try to be gracious if this happens. If necessary, you can cheerfully guide the interviewer with “So, Randy asked me that question last week, and here’s what I told him,” followed by a clever lead-in to a question you’d like to ask them. Your interviewer will hopefully get the hint.
SOAR and STAR
A couple of quick notes about acronyms known to most people in the job search space: SOAR and STAR. These respectively stand for “Situation, Obstacle, Action, Result” and “Situation, Task, Action, Result.” They’re both mnemonic devices for crafting canned answers to interview questions, and it’s a great idea to come up with a couple, so you can confidently (and without rambling) answer questions like “Give us an example of your problem-solving style.”
People can be a little partisan about these very similar acronyms, and I’m no different: I prefer SOAR.
Why? Because good storytelling generally involves drama, and what sounds more dramatic to you, a “task” or an “obstacle?” To me, even the word “task” sounds boring—it also implies you’re kind of a minion rather than the protagonist of your own story. An obstacle has drama to it, and a certain subtle hero vibe. It’s a small difference, really, but it shifts the way you think about the story and your position in it.
So have a couple of SOAR examples in your hip pocket, and pull them out as needed if your interviewer wants to hear from you about how you deal with conflicts, high-pressure deliverables, organizational shifts, and yeah, tasks and obstacles.
After the Interview
So, you did it. You completed your interview. Now what?
Send a thank you note. Seriously. And for goodness’ sake, do not generate one using ChatGPT—it needs to sound like you, not like an AI. Acknowledge something specific about the experience. Remind them of your sparkling personality.
Are you in sales? If you are, follow up with them as you would a potential client. If not… if the thank you note goes unacknowledged and the recruiter goes radio silent, it’s best not to pester them. Assume they went a different direction. Yes, it would be nice if they made that clear rather than acting like a midlife crisis dude on a dating app, but it is what it is.
Clear your head of any “rejection” feels that come up in the wake of an unexpected rejection or ghosting. It’s totally possible that the company’s attention has abruptly shifted to something else, or that their budget was cut and they can’t onboard anyone, or that an internal candidate got approved by upper management. In all likelihood it’s not you, it’s them. Sure, it’s disappointing, but if you did your best and the offer didn’t come through, trust that this job wasn’t the one for you and move on with positivity.
It’s true in many ways: the world of work is changing—it’s always changing. But some things remain constant, and one of them is that there are ways to make yourself look competent, dialed in and ready to take on an exciting new opportunity. And most of them are really straightforward: be yourself, be polite, listen carefully, speak confidently, lead with poise and preparedness. Job interviews can be intimidating, and they can also be tedious. But you can manage both of those aspects with a positive mindset and the knowledge that you’re going in prepared to make a good impression.