The Job Hunt

What are the Three Stages of the Interview Process?

And how to kick ass in every interview stage

Woman interviewing Woman
Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

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HR Team

I bet you have.

And if you have, you are familiar with these feelings:

“Now what?”

“How long do I have to wait?”

“Am I ever gonna hear from these people?”

Until suddenly you get a random phone call from the company. You are thrust headfirst into an interview process that you know nothing about!

You are excited, but you wish you knew more about what to expect.

Well, this article is here to fix it! I’m going to cover the three most common interview steps that companies use. There is always variation from company to company, so use this as a basis to prepare, but be ready for some curveballs. You will learn what to expect, how to prepare, some common questions, and how to rock it.

Sounds good? Thought so.

Step 1 — The Phone Screen

The first part of most interviews is the phone screen (occasionally held on video… confusing, I know). You don’t want to miss out on opportunities because you are unprepared for the importance of this step.

It’s important, y’all. VERY important.

It’s the gateway drug of the interview process.

A phone screen is likely to be a random number calling you on a random day. Its unpredictability is both a blessing and a curse.

Blessing — you don’t have time to stress about it

Curse — you feel unprepared.

The phone screen occurs when someone calls you to discuss your application for the role. This is very often someone from HR. The conversation is normally casual, but you must do it well. This stage allows you to present an overview of your background, qualifications and skills, as well as learn about the company.

The HR representative is looking to uncover your interest in the position and assess your communication style and skills.

What to expect from the phone screen

  • non-scheduled/spur-of-the-moment conversation
  • overview of your background
  • overview of the company
  • overview of the position
  • discussion of career goals

Talking ratio:

You — 50%

Interviewer — 50%

How to prepare 

  • record a professional voicemail greeting
  • check your voicemail messages frequently (I see a lot of candidates who miss opportunities to talk to HR/recruiters because they don’t check their voicemails. They miss out on opportunities)
  • keep your phone within easy access during business hours
  • use a headset (if possible) to reduce background noise

Common Questions during phone interviews:

  • Why did you apply for the position?
  • What about your background has prepared you for the role? 
  • How does this fit with your long-term career progression goals?
  • What do you know about our company? 

If you can rock those questions you’ll be well on your way to getting through the phone screen to the next stage.

Step 2 — Technical/Detailed Interview

The second step of the interview process is a technical/detailed interview. If you are interviewing for a technical type of role (software developers, social media strategists, engineers, etc.) you need to be prepared to discuss the details of your work. If your role has less technical components, you can expect an in-depth conversation about your skills and abilities. This stage is a panel interview with several managers (and sometimes team members) asking questions about your background.

What to expect from the technical interview

  • detailed and specific questions about the day-to-day details of your work 
  • a comprehensive overview of your career to this point
  • if you are in a technical role (engineer, software developer, social media strategist etc.) you will be given a problem to solve or an example task to complete
  • questions about gaps in your resume, or skill gaps for the role
  • behavioural/example-based questions
  • discussion about the objectives of the job 

Talking ratio:

You — 80%

Interviewer — 20%

How to prepare for a technical/detailed interview

  • Practise. Ask someone to mock interview you before your interview date. Use practise scenarios and questions to rehearse for technical and detailed questions in your field.
  • Ensure you have a strong enough WiFi connection to hold a strong video connection with multiple people. 
  • Set up a professional backdrop for your video call with minimal distractions and good lighting.
  • Research the position and company extensively. Be prepared for questions about how you will add to a companies goal and culture.
  • Read this piece about communicating effectively by using examples from your work history.
  • Review the job description line-by-line and compare each task with your background and your resume. Be prepared with concrete examples of how you can achieve (or exceed) the tasks required. 
  • Determine which skills you might be lacking and how you will overcome any challenges that this will cause.

Commonly asked questions: 

  • Can you give me an example of (insert situation related to your field)?
  • Here’s a technical problem, please tell me the steps that you would take to fix it.
  • Rank these factors in order of priority.

This interview stage drills down all the details of how you do your work. Once the interviewer knows that you have the skills for the job (and they like you as a person), they will be comfortable moving forward to the third interview.

Step 3 — Cultural/Behavioural Interviews

In a cultural or behavioural interview, interviewers are looking to see if you will be the right fit for their team and leadership. This conversation assesses soft skills and values. Although both of these can come up in earlier interview steps, they are much more critical in the final stage. This stage is likely to be with senior leaders in the organization (depending on the size of the company it could be C-suite, VPs, or Senior Managers).

What to expect from a cultural interview 

  • questions about how you behave in certain workplace scenarios
  • introductions to potential new team members and leaders
  • a conversational style of interview
  • interviewers getting to know you on a personal level
  • discussion of the opportunities for you within the company

Talking ratio:

You — 60%

Interviewer(s) — 40%

How to prepare for your cultural interview

  • Understand the culture and values of the organization. Read their mission statements and vision. Think about how you can add value to the culture and contribute to the environment positively.
  • Relax. If you made it this far, they likely are very interested in having you on the team.
  • Be genuinely interested in the people that you meet. Be prepared to ask them great questions.

Commonly asked questions:

  • Tell me about a time when…
  • What are some of your hobbies outside of work?
  • What kind of team do you like to work on?
  • What motivates you?
  • What opportunities do you see at this company?
  • Why are you interested in working with us long-term?

People love to talk about themselves, so ask them some good questions too. Use the cultural interview to build a relationship with your future colleagues and managers.

Don’t be overwhelmed by meeting Senior Level leaders. Remember that the people you have met already have recommended you for the final stage of the interview. This meeting is to confirm their decision to bring you on.

Here’s the scoop on virtual meetings

Interviews this year have been challenging… and not just because there has been less hiring and more competition.

On-site, person-to-person, and face-to-face meetings have been replaced with sitting in our homes interviewing over screens. This presents a lot of new challenges for the interviewee and the interviewer.

If you’re anything like me you can be a little bit uncomfortable in front of a video camera. If you have a choice you would probably leave the camera off if you could. That’s very normal (although after as many video meetings as I have had over the last year, you do get used to it). It’s uncomfortable to see ourselves on video, and our brain goes into overdrive analyzing our facial expressions.

If you think it is hard to impress someone while under pressure, try having to impress yourself.

So when it comes to the interview process, 2020 has flipped the interview steps on their head. Luckily the same principles still apply (whether video or in-person). Even though the majority of hiring will continue to start on video platforms (even when the pandemic is over) it will still follow some fairly predictable steps.

We must become comfortable meeting strangers through our internet connection. It is even more critical that we learn to build relationships over the computer.

To ensure a high-quality remote interview:

  • Prepare a quiet environment with minimal distractions.
  • Make sure that any pets are kept out of the room so they’re not jumping across the screen during your interview process.
  • Ensure that you have a strong and stable internet connection (use a local office building, quiet coffee shop, or library if needed).
  • Test your equipment before the interview. Leave yourself enough time to come up with alternative ways of holding the meeting. (I recently had a candidate whose microphone didn’t work. It created a lot of unnecessary stress and jeopardized the interview).

Rule of thumb — all interviewers are human 

Overall, interviews become easier when you remember that people are people no matter whether they are hiring managers, recruiters, peers, or employees.

People want you to connect with them. And if you can do that over video just as well as you can in person, then you’re well on your way to acing the job interview.

For further tips on how to answer example-based questions, check out the article that I wrote here. It describes the STAR technique (one of the fundamental techniques to use when asked about example-based questions).

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