Question: “I managed to survive the first round of interviewing with one of my target employers.  Are there are any specific tips you’d give on how to prepare for a SECOND interview round?”

You know, I’m really glad one of my clients asked this question this month, since I think far too many people (as well as interviewing prep books) assume that the the steps involved in preparing for a second interview are exactly the same as the ones involved in preparing for a first interview — or that once you’ve made it through the first round of the hiring process, no further preparation is necessary.  In my experience, however, there are several distinct steps candidates should take between the first and second interview rounds that will substantially improve their chances of nabbing the job offer.

For starters, the most important thing candidates should focus on between the first and second interview round, or any progressive next step in the interview process, for that matter, is the question of: “what did you learn from the last round of discussion?”  Just like a doctor examining a patient on successive visits, or a consultant in the process of holding diagnostic meetings with a client company, every interview you participate in should deepen your understanding of the employer’s problems, challenges, hopes, and needs.  By asking good questions and taking notes either during the interview itself, or immediately afterwards, you should strive to walk away from each conversation with a whole new level of appreciation and understanding of what the employer is seeking to find in the “ideal candidate” — and how they’re hoping this individual will add value to the organization.  In many cases, the clues you’ll pick up (if you pay attention) will give you a much better understanding of the interviewer’s true needs and buying motives than the job description itself, since most written job descriptions tend to be fairly superficial and don’t often address the deeper issues, politics, and dynamics at hand.

This being said, if you DON’T feel you have a deeper understanding of the employer’s needs after each successive interview, you need to seriously question how you’re approaching these meetings.  The sensation that you’re not “learning” much from interviews might be a sign that you’re focusing too much on your own performance, not listening carefully, not taking good notes, or not probing aggressively enough with questions during the meeting…

Beyond the above suggestion of thoroughly reviewing your notes, a second preparation step that candidates should engage prior to a second interview is to identify and work on specific “weak spots” or vulnerabilities that were uncovered in the initial meeting.  For example, if you realize that you were caught completely off-guard by a question about salary or by the request to share one of your greatest weaknesses, you’d obviously want to work hard on developing a great answer to these questions for the next round.  And even in cases where you had anticipated a particular question and prepared for it in advance, on paper or in your head, you might realize that you found the question much more difficult or uncomfortable to answer in actual practice.  So again, learn from each round, and if you have to do some practice drills to polish up some of your specific answers that fell flat, by all means do so!

One other quick tip that can be helpful in identifying potential vulnerabilities is to realize that when employers keep asking you questions about a certain area of your background, it’s usually a sign that they haven’t yet been satisfied by your answer!  So if you think back to your first-round interview and recall that the hiring manager seemed to keep asking questions about your familiarity with Microsoft Project, or asking you to give examples of when you’ve been a team player, or wanting to know the reasons you left each of your past jobs, this could be a critical indication that these are the interviewer’s greatest concerns about your candidacy — and hence, the biggest obstacles that could prevent you from getting hired.  So again, prepare extra-hard to address them at the next available opportunity.

Lastly, one final prep step that can help you give a command performance in the second round of the interview process, and beyond, is to bring in additional proof of your capabilities in the specific areas that seem to be of greatest interest to the employer.  This proof can take the form of work samples, references, letters of recommendation, portfolio items, thought outlines, or any other type of tangible evidence that will help convince the hiring manager you excel in the area(s) in question.  For example, one Career Horizons client realized that the employer he was in discussions with really wanted to find somebody with deep fluency in the Mandarin Chinese language.  So in addition to just telling the employer he had such fluency, he wrote his interview thank-you notes in both English AND Mandarin, and also arrived at the second interview with an official “Mandarin/English Interpretation” certificate he’d received several years back.  These tangible proof points immediately convinced the employer that the language fluency issue wasn’t going to be an obstacle — and that his language skills were, in fact, far superior to all of the other candidates in the hiring pipeline!

In the end, there’s no question that job seekers can work on several distinct preparation steps to increase their odds of success with each interviewing round they achieve.  The key is to first realize that such preparation is necessary to win an offer in today’s competitive hiring arena, and secondly, to recognize that each interview round (approached correctly) should provide a whole new window into the company’s genuine needs and aspirations.  By continuing to focus on what the employer really cares about, and adjusting your strategy accordingly with each round of discussions, you’ll maximize your odds of being the candidate who wins the interviewer’s heart — and the eventual job offer!