As a candidate for a new job, you’re typically going to face several rounds of interviews with the company you’re exploring. In the interview process, you have an opportunity to demonstrate your skills, illustrate how your work experience aligns with the role, and provide answers that your cover letter and resume can’t address.
The first interview in the hiring process is often via phone, and is usually the time to address general questions about your experience. Human resources team members often conduct this “screening” interview, and are typically capturing basic information to understand your fit for the role, near-term career goals, and better understand your resume and experiences.
Generally, the second interview is more focused, lasts longer, and is an opportunity to more deeply explore your capabilities. Your second interview is often conducted by someone that works on - or is responsible for - the team that is hiring for the position. This generally makes it a more detailed discussion, with more specific interview questions.
In many hiring processes, you can expect additional interviews beyond the second round, and different types of interviews. For example, some companies prefer “two-on-one” interviews where two staff members conduct the interview together, and others prefer “case interviews” where you are presented with a business problem you need to analyze and discuss.
How can you prepare for these interviews? First, you need to understand the interview process you’re walking into. Don’t assume anything about the process. To be well-prepared, I strongly encourage you to inquire about the number of interview rounds you should expect as well as the types of interviews that the company uses to make hiring decisions. Further, the company should provide you with who is conducting the interview. This will allow you to research their background and come with your own questions tailored to their experiences.
Additionally, you should prepare by gathering any publicly available information about the company. Sites like Fairygodboss and social media make this easy by helping you understand company priorities, summarize employee feedback, and learn about executives that run the business. You should always visit the company’s own website before an interview, and pay attention to recent press releases and statements of company goals and values.
Bolster your preparation by connecting with your network. Look for alumni, former colleagues, and connections that work at the company. Having a few, brief networking conversations in advance of your interview will provide you with valuable real-life perspective from current employees. Remember that these people are busy - reach out to them with a pointed, thoughtful set of questions and recognize that their time is valuable. If you impress them with your questions and insight, they may even bolster your candidacy for the job!
Finally, prepare your own thoughtful, tailored questions to ask of your interviewers. A good interviewer will ensure you have time to ask questions about the company and role. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your preparation. Tailored, specific questions illustrate that you are seriously considering the opportunity, and provide the interviewer with insight into how effectively you’ll address the business problems in the role.
While companies use very different types of interview processes, there are questions you’re likely to get in a second interview. Here are ten common questions that you can expect - and prepare for.
Walk me through your resume. This is an opportunity for you to add context to the resume you’ve painstakingly prepared. A good resume walkthrough will be succinct (around 3 minutes) and both start and end with how your experiences fit will with the role. Share your biggest accomplishments and include the results of your actions, providing metrics, feedback received from leadership, and quantifiable results wherever possible.
What attracted you to this role and company? Show you’ve done your research by highlighting specifics about the company’s unique position in the marketplace, recent accomplishments, cultural values, and reputation. Mention any connections you have at the business, and other research you’ve done to confirm it is a good fit for you.
Similarly, you’ll want to articulate how the role will both take advantage of your skills and experiences while affording you an opportunity to develop further. Be prepared to highlight how selecting you will be a win-win for your own career and the company’s objectives.
What are your career goals in the short- and long-term? Your short-term career goals (typically within the next 1 - 3 years) should align well with the immediate opportunity you are interviewing for. I recommend sharing your objectives and communicating how you think the position may help you achieve those goals.
Longer-term goals are typically five (or more) years out, and require a more careful balancing act. Interviewers understand that employees today are more likely to switch jobs, but still remain wary of hiring someone who is eager to switch jobs. If you don’t have a very specific long-term goal in mind, I recommend focusing on the skills you plan to be utilizing and experiences you aim to have in that timeframe. This may include leading a larger team, working in an international assignment, or serving a different type of customer.
Why are you looking to leave your current position? Remain positive and future-focused when you respond to this question, as your interviewer is likely both genuinely curious and interested in the elements that you’re not excited about in your current role. Don’t disparage your current employer - however difficult the situation might be. Instead, focus on what you’re seeking to gain in the new position, highlighting the new skills, experiences, or knowledge you’re interested in attaining.
Tell me about a time when you worked as part of a team. This question is typically seeking to understand your ability to work in teams, the role you often plan in teams, and how effectively you describe projects and situations. In your response, share context before you dive into details. What was the team tasked to with achieving, how was success measured, and what was your role?
As you respond, offer a brief summary of the role you played, how you interacted with others, and whether the team achieved its objective. I recommend sharing what you learned from the experience, and briefly highlighting other team experiences the interviewer may want to hear about.
In experiential questions, you can generally offer a fairly brief summary. When you conclude, you can always ask the interviewer if they’d like to hear more. For example you can inquire, “Would you like me to share additional detail about our team report, or how the team interacted?” This is generally better than preparing a lengthy, detailed, overview that is far more than the interviewer needs.
Tell me about a time when you had to deal with conflict at work. Your interviewer knows you are eager to put your best foot forward - but they also recognize that the workforce involves conflict. Your answer to this question provides clues about your personality, self-awareness, and how effectively you manage challenging situations.
When responding to this question, share a genuine conflict - not something minor or inconsequential. I also recommend avoiding situations where the other individuals were clearly in error - selecting a conflict where there’s a genuine difference of opinion, and neither party is objectively “right” or “wrong” is more authentic.
In your response, don’t disparage the other individuals involved in the conflict. Provide context, so the interviewer understands the situation and why there was a difference in opinion, and share how you evaluated the conflict, how you addressed it, and the ultimate resolution. Highlight any lessons you learned, or things you’d have done differently if the situation arose again.
Tell me about a time when you failed at work. Like the question above, this is an opportunity to understand your self-awareness, candor, and resilience. Talking about our successes is fun - but we learn much more from our failures.
When responding, I recommend that you select a significant example. Downplaying your failures, or selecting a minor issue, indicates that you aren’t being candid or might not learn from mistakes. In your response, ensure you highlight how you took ownership of the failure and sought to learn from the experience.
What is your biggest professional accomplishment? This is an opportunity for you to shine - prepare at least three major accomplishments that you’d like to share in the interview process, and prioritize them. For some, it can feel uncomfortable sharing your successes - but if you don’t communicate these to the interviewer, they won’t fully understand your fantastic achievements. If you need some help, practice with a friend, who can help you effectively share your biggest career wins.
For each accomplishment, focus on the role you played as well as the results or benefit that resulted from your efforts. Benefits come in many forms - they may include quantifiable business metrics - but I advise you to articulate other benefits like company reputation, team morale, and client satisfaction. Like other questions, this is also an opportunity to highlight skills you developed or lessons you learned as part of the success you achieved.
What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses? This question is often checking for both information and your own self-awareness. Candidates that brag about a strength without much evidence, or share “faux weaknesses” like perfectionism, can cause the interviewer to question the validity of other responses.
Your best preparation is a strong view of your own skill set. If you don’t have this already, enlist a trusted colleague or friend to help you develop your top three strengths (and weaknesses) that you can back up with brief examples. When answering a question like this, spend more time outlining your strengths, and less time on your weaknesses.
When listing your weaknesses, I recommend offering one that is genuine - but wouldn’t be detrimental to the role. Your interviewer may ask for more - so you’ll want to have at least three prepared that are truly opportunities for development but wouldn’t rule you out for the position you’re applying for. Many candidates responding to this question elect to highlight gaps that result from lack of experience (haven’t managed people, haven’t served in an international position) versus lack of skill.
Why should we hire you? This question is at the heart of the interview process, and I believe it is one of the most important questions you should prepare for. Further, if you aren’t asked it of the interviewer, you should proactively share your thoughtful response.
When this question is asked, your reply should be delivered with confidence, include specifics, and be succinct. I recommend signaling that you welcome the question, with something like, “I’m so glad you asked; as you can imagine I’ve been thinking about that question a lot myself.”
The content of the response is also critical. When crafting your reply, prepare to address three things: your skills, the company’s goals, and your interviewer. Your skills include the capabilities you’ve developed that prepare you for success. Linking these to company goals demonstrate your understanding of the position and wider business. Finally, tailoring your response to your interviewer acknowledges that you’ve done thoughtful research on them in advance of the discussion.
In addition to these general questions, you can expect questions tailored to the position you’re interviewing for. Ensure you’ve researched the role and understand common expectations, success indicators, and industry standards so you can effectively navigate the more detailed questions in the process.
Thoughtful preparation and practice with a trusted friend will put you in a position to nail your next interview, stand out among other applicants for the job, and land you the role you’ve been working towards. What second interview questions do you prepare for? Or, if you’re a hiring manager, what do you typically ask? I’d love to hear from you.
This post also appeared on the Fairygodboss blog - I love their mission to improve the lives and workplace for women, through transparency.