The most competitive opportunities have multiple rounds of interviews, with 3 rounds being commonplace. While the overarching objective throughout the process is to assess the mutual fit between job seeker and employer, each stage places a different emphasis on the traits the employer wants to analyze. The earlier stages focus on ensuring you have the core qualifications, while the latter stages go deeper on your potential fit with the organization culture.
Here are some tips to help you ace each stage of the interview process.
The first interview will likely be conducted by a recruiter who is focused on ensuring they can present you as a candidate to the hiring manager. They will be listening to hear that you have experience in the core skills outlined in the job description. For example, they may want to hear that you have SQL experience when interviewing for a data analyst role.
Because this round is more about ensuring you fill the right checkboxes, you want to make sure you cover enough ground to connect the dots between the job description and how you describe your experience.
Additionally, you want to ensure you demonstrate interest in the role, as the recruiter wants to ensure they are passing candidates to the hiring manager that have a reasonable chance of accepting an offer, if presented.
This is where things get very interesting, as there is typically several interviewers in this round, with multiple varied objectives. Here are some of the people you may interview with, and what they are looking for in your candidacy.
The 3 types of interviewers you may encounter
1. Cross Functional Stakeholders: Organizations are increasingly employing matrixed collaboration models, where employees have to collaborate with other functional groups, and are held accountable by them, in addition to their direct boss. This requires hiring people with the right collaboration mindset to successfully navigate the inherent complexity of the model
When these stakeholders are interviewing you, their main objective is to understand what it will feel like to collaborate with you. For example, in the Product Management Interview, engineers will ask Product Managers about their approach in aligning on scope and prioritizing what the engineers will work on. They will also assess your capabilities of doing the job (e.g., analyzing requirements), but the emotional gut-feel of how they perceive your working style, will play an outsized role in determining whether they give their approval.
This is why it is important to prepare by thinking through at least 2 examples of how you have successfully collaborated with others in the past, and have clarity on the following:
- How did you build a strong working relationship (e.g., trust-based, collaborative)
- What were measures of success and how did you ensure all parties were recognized?
- How would others describe your working style?
2. Your Peers
It is common to be interviewed by your future peers, also for the same reason cross functional stakeholders interview you. But a core difference from other stakeholders, is that your peers can go very deep in understanding your discrete skills. For example, it is is common for Product Marketers to interview their potential peers and ask them detailed questions on campaign strategy, customer insights, and how they conduct market research.
To effectively prepare for this interview it is helpful to outline some frameworks you can internalize that outline your approach to common activities required of your job. For example, if you are a product marketer, what is your approach to launching a new campaign? You might outline a simple structure as follows:
- Identify the campaign objective (e.g., create awareness)
- Analyze customer segments
- Research competitor campaigns
- Test and iterate 10+ copy/creative combinations
- Measure <specific KPI’s> and scale
The goal of outlining these frameworks beforehand is to help guide you in impromptu questions so you have a starting point in the answer, which solves a common pain point for job seekers who know how to do their job, but are not sure how to frame up a cohesive answer that makes it easy to understand.
3. Hiring Manager
Hiring managers are listed last in this section because it is common for them to place significant weight on the feedback from peers and cross functional partners, as they know your productivity will heavily rely on your ability to collaborate with these groups.
Hiring managers tend to look at the big picture, and often focus on the weakest areas of your candidacy, some of which may be informed by the other interviewers. The 2 most common areas of weaknesses that are pressure tested are:
- Relevant experience: Hiring managers will be accountable for your performance, and this can lead to risk mitigation instead of taking the candidate with the highest potential. As such, it is common for them to ask deep questions about your “hard skills” and whether you have applied them in a similar environment (e.g., industry, company size, operating model). This is why you want to go through the job description, line by line, and ensure you have talking points about your relevant skills, even if you do not have direct experience, for each one.
- The “why” behind your job history: The two patterns hiring managers look for is your tenure at each job and the progression of your roles. Given this, it is important to have a 2-3 liner ready to articulate the motivations behind the different moves in your career, and how each transition helped you grow and build further capabilities.
If you are invited to the final round, it means you have demonstrated the skill and organizational fit required to succeed, and now the focus shifts to a relative comparison between you and other final round candidates.
Some of the types of interviewers of round 2 will show up again, and the same strategy is applicable, however there are also 3 nuanced interview types that are more common in final rounds.
1. Panel Interview
The panel interview is a unique opportunity to see how you interact in a group setting, tailor your communication to a varied audience, and manage the stress of simultaneous interviewers.
It is helpful to think of this interview as simulating what it will be like to be in every day group meetings, and approach the interview with that mindset. This means addressing everyone in the room and truly focusing on engaging with the audience as softer skills play a larger role here than in the first round.
2. Group Presentation
These typically consist of 2 components. First, you will be asked to introduce yourself and highlight your core experience. Second, you will be given a specific prompt pertaining to the business and you have to demonstrate a thoughtful strategy and approach to address the “problem.” This often can resemble a case interview, but where you are given more information and time to present a more thorough point of view.
For this interview type, you want to do 3 things:
- Practice a synthesized (i.e., under 5 minutes) story that answers the question “Tell Me About Yourself”, with a focus on connecting the dots between your experience and the opportunity.
- Budget 2 minutes per slide, and practice your cadence to ensure the presentation is the appropriate length.
- Practice presentation delivery ahead of time, but do not memorize it, and do not read word for word from the presentation.
A Framework For Every Round
Before every round and each interview, think through the following to focus your preparation on the most important areas.
- Who is interviewing me and what do they care about most?
- What might they perceive as a weakness in my candidacy, and how can I address it?
- What characteristics do I want to highlight about my candidacy that can help differentiate me from other applicants?