Navigating the Interview Process

The interview process for just a single company can be challenging to maneuver through. Even more so if you’re talking with multiple companies. We are in a candidate’s market right now, so if you’re fully committed to finding a new job, odds are you have plenty of companies interested in you. While this is an excellent time to be looking for a new role, it requires some finesse to tactfully handle so many moving pieces.

The key to success when interviewing is, unsurprisingly, strong communication. Moving through a job interview process is more art than science, but there are strategies you can implement that will increase your chances of success. The goal should be to understand what the interview cycle looks like, and to not delay any steps, keeping momentum up.

As you move through each interview process you’ll want to be gathering information and mapping out how long it will take to reach the offer stage, then planning accordingly. In a perfect scenario, you will have offers from your top choices arrive at the same time, so you can carefully weigh them against each other and make your decision. Easier said than done. Far more often candidates are forced into a situation where they have an offer on the table long before they’ve finished with other companies. The sooner you can identify the steps in an interview process and project a likely offer date, the better success you’ll have getting multiple offers to come in around the same time.

Learning what the next steps look like can usually be handled at the end of your first interview. Typically the interviewer will give you the floor to ask questions of your own, and after your well thought out questions you should move to close. Be direct: “I feel this interview went well, and I’m very interested in this position. What does the interview process look like going forward?” You may get a generic answer saying they have more candidates to interview, but if they are interested they will often let you know what you can expect.

Regardless of whether you know what’s next or not, the key to success outside of the interview itself is in your follow-up. First, you’ll want to write a concise thank you email the same day. Next, you want to decide on a follow up plan and stick to it. Emotions can get the better of even the best candidates and lead to excessive follow up.

The frequency of follow up will vary, but a good rule of thumb is once or twice per week. You’ll want to vary your approach between e-mails and phone follow-up. The key is to provide value with each message, rather than just bugging them for another interview.

Say you are interviewing with a renewable energy consulting firm. A good topic for a follow-up email would be to mention how you’ve been reading up on a new piece of legislation that could impact the industry. You want to show that you are engaged, and are working to strengthen your candidacy.

Being concise in these messages is important. These emails aren’t a time to sell yourself, that’s what the interview is for. Show you value the hiring manager’s time by keeping these brief and to the point: no longer than one scroll on an iphone.

By establishing a pattern of thoughtful communication you keep the hiring manager engaged, and open the dialogue to push for further interviews, keeping the momentum moving forward. As long as you are asking the questions that truly matter to you throughout the interview process it shouldn’t be too challenging to identify your top choices and know from whom you’d be open to accepting an offer.

If you’ve followed these steps, asking good questions to carefully identify your top choices and knowing (more or less) when to expect an offer, you should be in good position to handle the offer stage. Again, open communication is the key. If you’ve ruled out a company, show professional courtesy and let them know. When you receive an offer from a company you do want to work for, give them clear expectations on when you will give them an answer. If you know right away, let them know. If you need a day to talk it over with friends/family, tell them when they can expect the answer. If you have a final interview with another contender in two days, give a clear expectation that you will have an answer in three. Remember, you are being evaluated through the whole process, and employers will absolutely rescind your offer if you fail to conduct yourself professionally at the offer stage.

No interview strategy is bulletproof, and despite your best efforts you may still have to make the difficult decision of passing on a job you want for a chance at an even better one. But if you establish timelines early and ask the important questions throughout the process, you will have a better shot at putting yourself in a favorable position for when the offers come.