The final round: Prepare for success (don’t presume it)
You have reached the final round of the interview process. Congratulations! This is something to feel good about. You have clearly been doing something right. Keep it up and hopefully you will turn a heretofore prospective opportunity into a real job offer.
But, sometimes candidates will fall into a trap as they head in to a final round interview. The trap? They will presume they have the position locked up and will fail to prepare appropriately for this last meeting. Now, it can be easy – even natural – to feel like you’ve got the job wrapped up and this last interview is just a formality. In fact, the hiring manager, HR manager, or recruiter you’re working with may have told you as much. Often, a final round interview can be positioned as a “casual” meeting over lunch with future colleagues, a “fly-by” meeting with your prospective boss’s boss to get the “rubber stamp”, or, an all-time favorite, one more meeting with someone who just needs to “buy in” to the hire. (You’d think these people were intentionally setting you up to be overconfident!)
In reality, any meeting with a prospective employer is not perfunctory. You are still auditioning for the job and should continue to do everything you can to portray yourself as the best candidate for the position. Here are some specific examples of things that can go wrong in a final round interview that could kibosh a job offer that once seemed like a sure thing:
You feel like you have the job wrapped up and you project an attitude of arrogance. You may do this inadvertently – it’s possible you are just very confident in your skills and know they are a great match for the role. And, heck, the hiring manager boosted your confidence by telling you she just needed this last interviewer’s buy-in to move forward with an offer. But, if you are perceived as arrogant and the hiring manager gets negative feedback from the interviewer(s), all of a sudden she may rethink whether you are the right fit for the role and look to revisit other candidates.
You fail to prep appropriately for the interview and come off looking disinterested (or worse). Be sure to have some questions ready that indicate you took time to research the interviewer and/or company. You may have already asked similar questions of other people, but it’s okay to recycle questions as you’ll almost certainly get a different take. By asking good questions, you will demonstrate you did your homework and are sincerely interested in the opportunity.
Asking good questions is especially important when meeting with a VP or C-level executive. They are likely evaluating you on general smarts and cultural fit because they will assume that if you’ve made it this far, you have the right skills for the job. If you don’t use their time to ask thoughtful questions about the company, it will not reflect well on you.
Keep selling. You can “buy” later. If you think of the interview process as a game, your ultimate objective in the game is to obtain a job offer. Yes, the process is a two-way street and you need to gather as much information as possible during it to determine if the company and position is a good next step for you. You may find yourself in a final round interview with still some reservations about the role or the company. That’s okay. Don’t feel the need to turn the interview around at this point and ask the interviewer why you should want to work there, or, have her address all your concerns. Since you’ve taken it this far, use this final round to continue to show why you are the best choice for the job. Reiterate your strong interest in the position; it sounds elementary, but showing a high level of enthusiasm will resonate well with your interviewer.
It’s when you receive an offer that you can more readily go into “buy” mode and address any concerns you may have. Having that offer in hand means you have more leverage than at any other time in the process, and thus, have more freedom to ask probing questions.
Beware the set-up. Fortunately, this rarely happens, but it’s another good reason to stay on your toes at all times. In this scenario, the hiring manager has told you this last interview is a formality. A quick meet and greet. Great! But maybe the hiring manager is new to the company. Or maybe she just has no idea about this interviewer’s probing style. You’re expecting a lay-up and you end up getting asked to hit a half-court shot. The interviewer is TOUGH, asking you all kinds of crazy questions and grilling you on minute details of your resume. You are caught off guard, get a bit flustered, and it doesn’t go well, resulting in poor feedback to the hiring manager. Unfortunately, there is not a lot you can do if you find yourself in this situation other than to maintain your composure as best as possible. But, be sure to research your interviewer on LinkedIn ahead of time and ask the hiring manager (or anyone else you know at the company) if they can tell you a little about the interviewer and what they may focus on in the interview.
Don’t get too comfortable. Sometimes, an interviewer’s style will be so relaxed and casual, you will mirror their attitude and say something you wouldn’t have said otherwise. If what you say is deemed unprofessional, it could well be a deal-killer. This does happen. Once upon a time, a candidate I know regaled the president of a division about his partying habits in college after learning – during the final round – they had attended the same school. Just remember to always be professional, even if the conversation turns to topics of a more personal nature.
So, approach that final round interview with great care. Doing so will help ensure an offer will be coming your way.