So, after (likely) applying to many different job opportunities, you’re finally being contacted to schedule your first interview in the post-application process. Congratulations!
Pat yourself on the back, eat a cookie, and celebrate clearing this first hurdle in the job-hunting process. Finished? How was the cookie? Good to hear! Now, take a deep breath and get your head back in the game, because the real work is about to start.
In our last article, we detailed strategies to get the most out of your resume during the application process. In this article, we’ll be using insights from our Recruiting department at RL Canning to help prepare you for any challenges that may come your way in the post-application process. Here are 7 tips to help guide you through the interview process.
1 – Be Professional, Be Nice, Be Excited
Generally, the first stage of the interview process consists of a “pre-screen” phone call from a recruiter. Pre-screen interviews are conducted to not only give a general understanding of you as a candidate to recruiters, but also to provide an overview of the company to see if there will be a good potential fit.
Throughout this call, recruiters will use this first phone call to understand a few things: why are you looking for a new opportunity? What positions have you held in the past, and what did you do in those positions? What are your career goals and ambitions? What is it about this position that you applied to interests you as a candidate? Be sure to have answers ready to those questions or similar questions at the very least.
These phone calls are conducted in different ways: some recruiters will respond to your application via email to schedule a time to conduct this phone call with you, others will simply reach out with an unscheduled phone call with hopes that you’re available.
With that in mind, it’s always a good rule of thumb to answer unfamiliar phone calls with an at least professional, if not friendly tone. Nothing sets a rocky start for an interview more than beginning a phone call with “Um, who is this?”. Further, it’s important that you conduct these calls in reasonably controlled environments. Make sure you can take the phone call without being distracted by external noises or other people. Trust me, interrupting the phone call by shouting at Jeremy to stop throwing his grilled cheese at the cat won’t help emphasize your leadership qualities as a candidate. If you receive a phone call in an inopportune setting, simply pick up, thank the recruiter for reaching out, and request that you continue the conversation at a better time.
When you do settle down for your first phone call, be excited! Displaying an engaged and excited persona definitely shines through over the phone and helps create a great first impression with the recruiters at the company. All too often, applicants will treat these phone calls as if they’re some grueling chore like stopping by at the DMV—answering questions with as short and monotone of replies as possible. How do you think that sort of tone represents you as a candidate? And more importantly, what sort of aftertaste does that leave with the recruiters after they get off the phone with you? Even if you answer questions in a “correct” and thoughtful way, if you’re delivering that information in a disconnected and sterile way, your interest in the position could be questioned. Sometimes the difference between you and another candidate can be enthusiasm. Don’t let that be a weak point.
2 – Don’t bash current or previous employers.
In many cases, if you’re looking for a new line of work, it’s likely that you’re not happy in your current position. That’s fine! But when the recruiter asks why you’re looking to move on from your current role speak to your interests, aspirations, and how the position you’re applying for meets those aspirations. Too often, applicants will take the question “why are you currently seeking new opportunities?” as an opening to speak about all of their grievances with their current or past workplaces. This isn’t to say those grievances aren’t necessarily valid, but speaking ill of your current employer makes it seem likely that you’re quick to openly complain about any future employers you may have as well, or that you may have trouble using discretion in important discussions. Those are big red flags.
3 – Use the format of Pre-Screen calls to your advantage.
In many ways, pre-screen interviews are like warm-ups for the in-person interview—and did I mention that many pre-screen interviews will be held over the phone? This aspect of pre-screen interviews introduces a great potential advantage for you as a candidate! Have a copy of your resume in front of you for reference throughout the interview, notate your resume and provide tips for yourself that help accentuate how your history and experience relate to the primary functions and responsibilities of the job you’re applying for. Many recruiters will use this call as an opportunity to be walked through your job history, make sure you’re prepared to provide the most flattering and coherent recap of your background. Prior to the phone call, investigate the company website, Google the company name, and write down any recent news regarding the company as well as any information regarding company history. Keep those notes on hand during the interview and be prepared to reference those during any relevant answers you provide. Also, feel free to prepare some questions about the role or even about the company as a whole, this will emphasize your interest in not just the position, but the organization as a whole.
4 – Dress Nicely. Conduct yourself…nicely.
So you’ve knocked the pre-screen interview out of the park, and the recruiter has requested that you come into the office to conduct an in-person interview. Congratulations! Well done!
Now it’s time to prep for the next (and possibly final) stage of the interview process. The interview process is a series of “first impressions”, and the in-person interview is no exception. While appearance may seem like a somewhat superficial aspect of your candidacy, it can still be very important. With that in mind, under-dressing is far riskier than over-dressing for an in-person interview. Obviously, first impressions matter during these interviews—so you’ll want to account for that. Dress for success – its better to be overdressed rather than underdressed for the occasion. Its important to ensure your appearance doesn’t distract from what you’re truly being judged for: your skills, behaviors, and competencies.
Obviously, the way you conduct yourself during the interview is extremely important as well. Make sure to maintain good body posture, hold eye contact, and smile while communicating with the interviewer(s) throughout the interview. Finally, be open to non-formal discussion! Many of our recruiters here at RL Canning like to build a bit of rapport with interviewee before jumping into some of the more structured aspects of the interview as it allows them to get a better general feel for the candidate as a person. Building that initial rapport with the recruiter can be a great first step in the interview and help create a more open and conversational tone for the interview.
NOTE: In special cases, companies may schedule a video call with you in lieu of an in-person interview if you are applying from a distant location. In these scenarios, much of the same advice still applies: dress professionally, maintain eye-contact (via webcam), and smile. The only additional advice necessary for this scenario is to ensure that you set up your computer in a nice, neutral space. Use a desk or a table to rest your laptop on, and make sure there are no distracting or potentially questionable materials in the background. I’m not saying your MC Hammer poster isn’t cool, but it’s possible that the interviewer may not want MC Hammer staring at you over your shoulder throughout the interview.
5 – Come Prepared.
During your pre-screen interview, you’ll pick up on just how helpful having a copy of your resume taking notes can be for the interview process. Bring several copies of your resume and a notepad to your in-person interview. The resume will be helpful for both you and the recruiter(s) to refer to throughout the interview, and the notepad will be a great resource for you to jot down job details on as you continue your conversation with the recruiters.
6 – Take Notes and Ask Questions.
During the interview, write down any relevant details you hadn’t been aware of previously, or any aspects of the position that might seem ambiguous and use those notes as inspiration for questions you can ask towards the end of the interview. As interviewers give more detail, you can not only use these notes to inspire questions to ask, but also as reference points that highlight your strengths in relation to some of those job responsibilities. Most importantly, your notepad can be a lifesaver when it comes to answering more complex questions that interviewers might pose to you. Nothing can be more flustering than when you’re gearing up to answer a question, and your mind loses grip of what the “punchline” of your answer will be. During these moments, write down key aspects of the question that the recruiter poses to you, and refer to those key aspects as a guide for your answer.
7 – Reach out and Thank Them.
At the conclusion of the interview, shake each of the interviewers’ hands, thank them for the opportunity to speak with them and learn about the position, and ask for a business card from each of them. Once you return home, write a personalized “thank you” email for any of the recruiters who participated in the in-person interview with you. Be sure to reiterate something you learned from them during the interview, and emphasize an aspect of your professional experience that you believe makes you a great match. This final touch with each of the recruiters will reiterate your interest and enthusiasm for the position and most importantly, will leave a great final impression.
Now go home and eat a cookie.
Patrick Ebersole is in charge of candidate Sourcing at RL Canning. RL Canning is an Information Technology services provider dedicated to making our customers successful. Learn more at www.rlcanning.com. Follow us on Twitter (@rlcanning) and LinkedIn (linkedin.com/company/rl-canning). Make sure to check out our employment page (rlcanning.com/employment) to find your next big career opportunity.