We’ve all walked out of a first interview and thought, “Well that went pretty well.” You seemed to make a connection with the interviewer, you gave some solid answers to all of their questions, and you feel pretty good about getting a phone call inviting you back for round two.
Then, when that all-important second meeting comes around, something changes. The dynamic is different. Maybe there’s a new interviewer, and the once-confident you who shone so brightly the first time around is coming across as flat and uninspiring. You can sense it happening, and that makes things worse – panic sets in. When you leave, you’re sure that the next time you hear from the company it will be in the form of a letter which begins with the words: “We are sorry to inform you...”
After such a good start, where did it all go so wrong?
If this sounds depressingly familiar, first take heart in the fact that you’re in good company. If 100 people apply for a job and 20 make it to the fist round, only a handful will make it to round two – and among them will be one or two candidates who understand the process a bit better than you.
Here’s what they’ve been doing right... and what you’ve been doing wrong.
‘Generally speaking, the first interview is going to be quite top-line, just a general kind of what’s-your-background chat; a bit about you,’ says Zeta Yarwood, a UAE-based career coach (zetayarwood.com). ‘The second one will be much more detailed, so you want to be specifically demonstrating that you really understand their business model inside out, that you’ve done your research, you know what the obstacles have been so far and what they want to achieve in the future.’
Your goal, she says, is to explain the skills you have that will add value to their vision. “It’s about understanding their needs and how you can match that.”
Often, points out Yarwood, second interviews have a completely different feel to them. In larger organisations, the first one will likely have been with someone from HR (‘It will be about checking your CV and communications skills and seeing if you have the right kind of attitude,’ says Yarwood), whereas round two usually puts you face-to-face with your prospective line manager. This person is likely to go into the technical aspects of the role and will often ask much more detailed questions about the things you claimed to have done in your CV and cover letter.
If your interviewer is the same person the second time around (commonplace with smaller organisations), Nimisha Brahmbhatt, an independent management consultant and business coach with connections to the UAE (nimishabrahmbhatt.com) says this is the perfect chance to build on what happened last time. ‘In the first interview a good interviewee would have asked questions about the company so that they could understand more about what the job involves, what the growth plans are, where they see you fitting in and how your role would develop over the next few years,’ she says. ‘If you did this, then the way to leave a strong impression the next time is to now use this second interview to cement why you are the right candidate by coming back to those things you discussed last time.’
She adds that it makes sense to keep steering questions back to the business and how, exactly, you can fit in: ‘A good way to do this is when they ask you specific questions about your skills or expertise, use their business as an example,’ she says. It might be that they ask how you would overcome a situation where you have to break into a new market – if you know that this is something they’re doing you can then say: ‘I understand that’s one of your objectives as a business so for you, specifically, this is how I would tackle it.’
Yarwood has a whole list of reasons why people underperform at second interviews:
1. Arrogance – you come across as too cocky (easily done when riding on the crest of the first successful interview’s wave)
2. Interrupting the interviewer
3. Not listening to questions properly
4. Not showing enough interest in the company
5. Displaying a “What’s in it for me?” attitude
6. An obsession with salary, benefits and perks
7. Talking too much and giving answers that are much too long
On the last point, though, there is a caveat: you do need answers that are sufficiently detailed so as not to appear that you lack substance. Says Yarwood: ‘If you can’t answer the in-depth questions they will start to doubt whether you did what you said you did.’
Among the things she suggests you should ask yourself before entering the interview are:
1. Do I understand what they want to achieve?
2. Do I understand what they have achieved do far?
3. Do I understand what obstacles they have faced?
4. Do I understand what I have that matches that need?
5. Am I clear on my unique value propositions, skills, knowledge, behavioural traits and achievements and can demonstrate that I understand what they are looking for?
6. Have I got enough evidence to show I understand the industry and its challenges?
7. Have I got enough evidence to show I am the best match for this role?
8. Have I done my company research?
9. Do I understand how this role will impact the business?
10. Can I explain how what I did in a previous role translates to the new one: “This is what I did here, this is what I can achieve for you if we take this forward”?
Adds Brahmbhatt: ‘The thing that is most likely to derail you second time around is not being able to relate your experience to what is expected of you in the new role. People often focus on their skills, but they’re not able to translate how they will bring that to the new organisation and how it will have an impact.’
Lots to think about, then – but what if you’ve mastered all of the above and simply fall apart because of nerves? Yarwood has a different way of looking at things that may help.
‘Generally, when nervous in a job interview it’s because you’re putting a lot of importance on what the interviewer thinks of you and on the outcome of the interview,’ she says. ‘That puts pressure on the outcome and people become scared about what would happen if they don’t succeed, so it’s better to take the pressure off by focusing on you and what it is you’re bringing to the table. See it as a discussion, rather than an interview.’
If you put all of the emphasis on the interviewer as the ones who are going to “pick”, she says, then you surrender all power to them. Far better, she says, to go in thinking that they need you as much as you need them and that every day they haven’t got this position filled, they’re losing money.
‘It’s an equal playing field,’ she says. ‘You’re just having a conversation to see if you’re a good match for each other or not. That lets you realise that there’s no such thing as rejection – only redirection: if they say no, it simply means this was not the right employer for you.’