The First Round
Good news! After reviewing your resume and being screened by the recruiter, you’ve been invited to speak with the hiring manager. This means you must possess some of the skills and experience necessary for the role and should feel encouraged to be moving into this next stage of the process. Over the years we’ve seen enough different interviewing styles to know there are some things you can expect and some you simply cannot. So with the information you do have, how do you prepare for a first round interview?
Research the company. And also the interviewer.
Spend some time on the company website and learn what you can about their mission and culture. You should also look at the LinkedIn profile of the hiring manager whom you will be speaking with. Maybe you share a passion or know some people in common, and that would be helpful information to have in your back pocket.
Set up a Google News alert.
Look at recent news mentions of the company (and their clients, if you know them) and keep up to date on their media presence leading up to the day of your interview. Let’s say you’re interviewing at a PR firm whose client has just launched a new skin care product with a controversial ingredient. You might say, “I saw the controversy over this product. What is your role in advising company X on how to respond to the media?” This will demonstrate your awareness about the space and help you to better understand the firm’s relationship with this client.
Be ready for the “Why this? Why now?” questions.
In this first interview, you will be asked why you are interested in this opportunity. This is a three-pronged question and your response should highlight why this is the right role at the right company and at the right moment. The “right moment” part of that response also pertains to the reasons you are looking to leave your current role. Be honest, but keep it positive. This is not the place to bash your current employer or workplace, as you want to appear (and actually be!) trustworthy and solution-oriented.
And roll with the questions you can’t see coming.
Every company has their own way of getting to know your personality and what kind of person you are out of the office. There is no way to prepare for some of the quirky questions that might be thrown at you, and there isn’t a wrong answer, as long as you engage. Usually questions such as “Have you ever been on a boat?” (asked at Applied Systems) or “What is something you’re geeky about?” (asked at Dropbox) serve simply to help the hiring manager see a different, less-rehearsed side of you. Be yourself and don’t let these creative open-ended questions throw you. At the end of the day, your boat story will not be the deal breaker.
Come equipped with some examples.
Some interviewers will ask for success stories and some will want to know about a time something didn’t go well and what you would do differently. Come armed with a slew of specific brief examples that showcase you at your best or you facing a challenge. My colleague, Kassie Wilner, reminds candidates that in certain cases, the tone of the interview may be more conversational. “Even so, remember that this is your opportunity to sell yourself and you should try to work in these examples in a natural way.”
Ask strategic questions (and hold some for later).
It is good to prepare some questions that will demonstrate your curiosity and interest. As mentioned, you might ask about something relevant in the news or perhaps how success will be measured in this role and what the top priorities will be. Save your questions about working from home and “Casual Fridays” for farther down the line. It’s best not to end a first round interview with questions about not working.
Proof your follow up.
Be sure to send a thank you note (email is fine), and read it over to make sure there are no typos and that everyone’s name is spelled correctly. We see far too many hastily sent emails, and I hate to see a candidate jeopardize his/her standing with one misplaced letter or forgotten preposition!
Depending on how involved the process is going to be, the first round interview tends to feel more general and introductory. But it is often used to gauge whether the candidate is a cultural fit and has the appropriate skills for the role, and of course one must impress in this initial conversation to garner a callback. Starting in November, I will highlight one good interview question at the end of each month to give you more ideas on how to prepare.
Chaloner, founded in 1979 as Chaloner Associates, is a national executive search firm that focuses on recruiting mid- to senior-level communications, public relations, marketing and investor relations professionals.