Keeping the Conversation Relevant at Every Stage of the Interview Process

There’s no denying it – interviewing for a new job is stressful. You spend a lot of time talking about yourself and your experience, which can be awkward and uncomfortable. To make matters worse, you’ll typically meet with a lot of different people – and they tend to ask a lot of the same questions.

So how can you keep the conversation fresh as you move through the interview process?

The truth is, while it might sound like interviewers are asking similar questions, they’re actually looking for different information. Each interviewer comes from a different perspective and plays a different role in the process. Understanding those roles and perspectives can help you to provide the information they really need and prevent your “talk track” from feeling stale and repetitive as you move through the process.

When you’re talking to recruiters…

At the beginning of the interview process, you’ll typically talk to a recruiter. Each recruiter handles a number of job openings within the company, and they talk to a lot of people about each job. Of course they don’t have first-hand experience with every job; their knowledge comes from the job description and any details that hiring managers and other stakeholders may have shared.

The recruiter’s goal is to get to know you at a high level and figure out whether you might be a good fit for the role. They want to know a little about everything you’ve done, to help them understand how your experience aligns with the job opening at hand.

Here are a few tips for talking with recruiters:

  • Make things as easy as possible for them by researching the company and the industry. When talking about your experience, tailor your examples to the space the company is in so it’s easy to see the relevance.
  • Speak directly to the content of the posted job description. Refer to it throughout the call, and make sure your examples align with the most important requirements and responsibilities.
  • Keep it brief. You typically only have 30 minutes to make an impression, so each example you share should be no longer than two minutes. The recruiter will ask for more detail if needed.
  • Rather than simply thanking the recruiter for their time, use your follow-up email to recap the highlights of your conversation, draw connections between your experience and the role, and share additional details if needed.

When you’re talking to managers…

The next person you’ll talk to is often the hiring manager – your potential future boss. As a leader in the company, this person is typically responsible for managing a team that may include several different roles and responsibilities. Their day-to-day work includes strategic planning, coaching, evaluating performance, removing roadblocks, and advocating for their team.

The hiring manager usually has a good understanding of the role you’re interviewing for – but they may or may not have held the job themselves. Their goal is to determine whether you have what it takes to succeed in this role, and ensure that they can provide a long-term, engaging opportunity that fulfills your professional needs.

Here are some ideas for presenting your experience to hiring managers:

  • Be prepared to discuss your two most significant career achievements in detail. Why were they important? How did they impact the business or customer? What was the outcome, and how did you measure success?
  • Provide an example a time when a good manager contributed to your success, and the specific things that manager did to support you.
  • Describe your busiest week – how you prioritized your work, how you approached the week, how you overcame obstacles, what you accomplished, and what you might do differently next time.
  • Demonstrate your self-awareness by sharing insights into areas where you have an opportunity for growth, and any steps you’re taking to improve those areas.

When you’re talking to senior leaders…

Some interviews involve talking to company executives and senior leaders. These are the top strategists and decision-makers in the company, and they’re responsible for its long-term viability.

Because hiring the right people is critical to business success, senior leaders think beyond the scope of a given job. They look for people who will fit into the larger scope of the organization, both now and in the future. They also tend to feel a deep responsibility toward the company’s core values and how those values are exhibited throughout the organization.

Here are some suggestions for talking with senior leaders:

  • Focus on the impact of your work, rather than your daily responsibilities. Describe achievements that enhanced the customer experience or improved the bottom line.
  • Talk about your career journey and the decisions you made along the way. Explain the impact of those decisions, and how this company/role works as the next logical step.
  • Demonstrate your understanding of the company’s values and culture. Identify specific aspects that are most appealing to you, and demonstrate how you exhibit those values in your career and personal life.

When you’re talking to future peers…

Toward the end of the interview process, you may have the opportunity to talk with the people you’d be working with day-to-day. They’re evaluating you as a potential teammate and collaborator; someone who can pitch in, solve problems, and bring ideas to the table. They may be looking to fill gaps within the team’s skill set – and of course they want someone who’s enjoyable to work with.

Remember, these are usually people who already do the job you’re interviewing for. They know what it takes to succeed, and they have real-life basis for evaluating your skills and abilities. So this isn’t the time to exaggerate – you’ll score more points by being honest about any shortcomings.

Here are some tips for peer interviews:

  • Pick one or two of your key strengths and share examples of how you’ve applied that strength.
  • Describe a tough challenge you’ve faced and how you worked with your team to overcome that challenge.
  • Talk about a time you’ve gone above and beyond to help a teammate in need, especially if it was outside your specific job description.

When you’re talking to technical experts…

Certain jobs will include an interview with technical experts – the engineers, the data wizards, the system and process gurus. These are the company’s top experts on any technical requirements that might be included in the job description, and they can quickly assess the depth and breadth of a candidate’s technical experience.

Technical experts know that every problem is different, so they’re often passionate about continuous improvement and finding new ways of doing things.

Here are some ways to customize your preparation for technical interviews:

  • Make sure you know the most important technical skills for the role, and be prepared to talk about your experience and level of expertise.
  • Be ready to complete some real-time problem-solving exercises during the interview. Google the specific technology or skill to find practice questions that will help with your preparation.
  • Remember that in this situation, how you got to your answer is often just as important as the answer itself. Be prepared to talk through the decisions you made as you worked toward a solution.
  • Be sure to highlight any relevant courses you’ve completed or certifications you’ve received.

As you can see, there’s more than one way to answer questions about your skills and experience. By focusing on the unique perspective and goals of each interviewer, you’ll be better prepared to provide relevant responses that truly highlight your strengths – without sounding like a broken record.