Your Guide to Acing the Second Interview
All of your endless and compulsive refreshing has paid off—you finally see an email from the company you recently interviewed with. You immediately open it and get the news you hoped for: You landed a second interview.
You’re thrilled that you’re moving forward, but soon reality sets in: You have to do another interview. Even more anxiety-inducing? You have a hunch that this next one will be even tougher than the first.
But, how exactly is a second interview different from the one you just made it through? What types of second interview questions should you be prepared for? Who will you be meeting with?
We have your guide to the interview process—especially that coveted and stressful second interview—right here.
What Does the Typical Interview Process Look Like?
Let’s start by getting a handle on the typical flow of the interview process, all the way from applying to actually getting the job.
It’s called a “process” for a reason—there are usually several steps or phases you need to make it through before signing an offer letter. Some companies have a super lengthy and complex process while others will keep it more simple and streamlined. But, speaking generally, here’s what you can expect:
- Application Review: A recruiter or hiring manager will take a look at your cover letter, resume, and whatever other information you were required to submit before deciding how to move forward.
- Phone Screening or Initial Meeting: This is typically a quick (sometimes only 15 minutes or so) conversation with the recruiter or hiring manager so that they can meet you, confirm your qualifications, cover some basics, and get a gut feel for whether or not you should get a full interview.
- First Interview: This is a longer conversation done in-person or via video chat where you’ll spend an hour or so answering questions about your skills, background, and professional experiences.
- Second Interview: This is an even more thorough conversation where a potential employer will dig even deeper into whether or not you’re a good fit for the role.
- Background or Reference Check: While not every company does it, some employers might complete a background check or call your references for final confirmation that you’re the right fit.
- Job Offer: Finally, the finish line! You receive an offer from the company.
Again, there’s a lot of nuance here. One company might ask you to complete a test project as part of their process. Or, another might have you do three second interviews—each with a different team member.
A lot depends on the company, the role, and even the rank of the position you’re applying for. After all, the interview process for a director of marketing role will likely be quite a bit more involved than the process for an entry-level marketing coordinator.
What’s the Difference Between the First and Second Interview?
Let’s zoom in on the third and fourth steps of the interview process: the first and second interviews. What’s the point of having two of these? How are they different from each other?
Here’s the gist (keeping in mind that, like anything, it can vary):
- The first interview is more focused on you in general—your skills and experience. The employer uses this conversation to uncover what you can bring to the table and whether it’s a match with what they’re looking for.
- The second interview is more focused on how you fit that specific role. You’ll dive into the nitty gritty of what makes you a qualified candidate for that position, what you’d achieve in that job, and how you’d mesh with the team.
While it’s sort of a tired cliché, think of it like dating. The first date helps you see if there’s any sort of chemistry and the second helps you learn more and build on that initial spark.
That’s the broad overview, but there are plenty of other potential differences between the first and second interview:
- Who interviews you: The first round interview might be done by a hiring manager, the leader of whatever team you’d be joining, or both. You might have your second interview with the same person or someone completely different. Since second interviews are more thorough, you can also expect a few additional people—whether that’s more company leaders or, if you’re applying for a management role yourself, maybe even some of your potential direct reports.
- How long the interview takes: You can expect the first interview to last somewhere in the range of a half hour to an hour. Second interviews will usually be upwards of an hour, depending on the complexity of the role. You might even have several second interviews. Some companies will have you do shorter meetings with numerous different decision-makers, while others might pull everybody together for one lengthier interview panel.
- How the conversation progresses: First interviews can feel a bit like interrogations. Questions are fired your way and you do your best to answer them in an eloquent and impressive way. That still holds true in a second interview. But, since you’re one step closer to landing the job, employers recognize that this is your chance to evaluate them as well. That means there will be some more natural back-and-forth and plenty of opportunities for you to ask questions too.
- Types of questions you’ll be asked: Since the goal of the second interview is to dig even deeper into who you are and what you can offer, expect to answer a lot of behavioral and situational interview questions. This interview will go beyond open-ended questions like, “What’s your greatest strength?” or “What are your career goals?” and ask those dreaded “Tell me about a time…” questions that require you to lean on real examples to prove why you’re the best fit.
To sum it up, expect the second interview to be more in-depth than your first. But, that’s no reason to panic—there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success.
6 Tips to Prepare for a Second Interview
Moving forward in the interview process is something to celebrate, but it’s not your chance to coast. The job isn’t in the bag yet and your second interview deserves just as much—if not more—preparation as your first.
So, what exactly does it take to get ready? Here are six steps to calm your nerves and be even more impressive in your next interview.
1. Ask for Details
How long is the interview going to take? Who are you meeting with? Is there anything specific you should be ready to share?
The second interview is nerve-racking enough without feeling like you’re completely in the dark. Here’s the good news: There’s nothing wrong with asking the hiring manager these questions ahead of your interview so that you can feel as ready as possible.
Plus, this gives you a chance to do some research on the specific team members you’ll be meeting with so you can build some better rapport.
2. Dig Deeper With Your Prep
When you were getting ready for the first interview, you probably covered the basics. You refined your introduction, researched the company’s history, values, and mission, and combed through their social media pages.
That will all serve you well in your next conversation too. But, now that you’re getting further in the process, your prep work should be deeper too. As you’re getting ready, make sure you also review:
- The notes from your first interview
- The detailed job description
Those will help you build on what you previously discussed, as opposed to feeling like you’re starting from square one.
3. Identify Problem Areas
As you review those notes from your first conversation, keep an eye out for things you think you dropped the ball on last time. Did you fumble through your introduction? Is there a specific skill that you think you glossed over or didn’t emphasize enough? Could you have done a better job of providing more examples or quantifiable results?
It’s never fun to spotlight your own flaws or shortcomings. But, the great thing about a second interview is the opportunity to redeem yourself. By understanding what you want to do better, you’ll have the chance to plug those holes this next time around.
4. Reflect on Your Career
Remember that the second interview is going to take a much closer look at your previous professional experiences and how they’ll help you contribute in this next role. That means a lot of behavioral (“Tell me about a time when…”) and situational (“What would you do if…”) questions will be thrown your way.
Those can catch you off guard—even if you know they’re coming. While you can never know exactly what you’ll be asked, it’s helpful to reflect back on your career to pull out:
- Memorable experiences
- Impressive achievements
- Notable pieces of feedback
Those highlights can be adjusted to answer a variety of questions.
5. Prepare Questions
You won’t just be answering questions in your second interview. You’ll need to ask some too. The last thing you want to do is stare slack-jawed when the interviewer asks what you’d like to know.
You can make yourself even more impressive by asking questions based on something that was previously discussed. Don’t worry—we’ll share some examples of questions you can ask a little later.
6. Be Ready to Talk Nuts and Bolts
You’ve probably been told that it’s taboo to talk about money or benefits in the first interview. But, with a second interview, you’re getting closer to actually getting the job.
These nuts and bolts might not come up quite yet, but in case they do, it’s best to be prepared to talk about things like compensation, vacation days, perks, and other factors that will be important when deciding whether or not this is the right job for you.
5 Second Round Interview Questions and Answers
Okay, so knowing that this second interview is going to “dig deeper” sounds scary. What are they going to ask you to determine if you’re the right candidate?
There’s no way to know with certainty, but we’ve pulled together five questions that are often asked in second interviews, along with some example answers to help guide you.
Keep in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list. Employers might also ask about your desired management style, why you’re leaving your current job, the type of work environment you prefer, and more. But, these starting-point questions will at least get your wheels turning.
1. Can You Tell Us About Yourself and Why You’re a Good Fit for This Position?
Wait…you have to introduce and sell yourself all over again? Yep.
You might feel like a broken record, but this isn’t a throwaway question. It’s important to give a thorough and impressive introduction in this interview too, especially since you might be delivering it to people who didn’t hear it the first time.
You can knock this one out of the park by tying your answer to some of the requirements in the job description. That goes beyond just touting your skills and accomplishments and actually draws the parallels between you and the role you’re applying for.
Example answer: “I’m Kat and I have 10 years of experience in sales, with six years as a sales development representative and four years as a sales manager. I’m a persuasive communicator, a committed leader, and a passionate relationship builder. That, combined with my writing skills and knowledge of sales techniques, has helped me and the teams I’ve managed meet or exceed every one of our sales targets. I know you’re specifically looking for someone to improve your cold outreach and that’s one of my areas of expertise. So, I’m excited to talk about this opportunity and how I could lead the Company XYZ sales team to close more deals.”
2. Is There Anything From Previous Conversations You’d Like to Revisit?
It’s entirely possible that you cleared everything up already and there’s nothing you need to return to.
But, if there is any topic that you need clarification on or you think you could do a better job of addressing, bringing it up here demonstrates your engagement and attention to previous discussions—and it also gets you any extra information you might need.
Example answer: “You mentioned that Company XYZ’s cold outreach hasn’t been all that successful so far. Have you and the team had any conversations about why you think that is? Do you have any assumptions to share?”
3. Can You Walk Us Through Your Priorities for the First Three Months In This Position?
Employers care most about what you can do for them. This question helps them get a grasp on whether or not you’re ready to hit the ground running and what things you’d like to tackle first.
In your answer, be thorough enough to prove that you’ve given some serious thought to what direction you’d like to go. And, if you can tie your response to any of the existing company goals they’ve shared, that’ll make you even more impressive.
Example answer: “My first step would be to get my feet under me. I want to get to know my team, understand the current sales process, and get a sense for where the frustrations are happening. From there, my top priority would be getting us on the right track to build trust and start working toward our sales targets. So, once those problem areas are pinpointed, I’d work closely with the team to brainstorm solutions—whether it’s offering training, implementing a new piece of software, revising a process, or something else—that will help us be more successful with our sales efforts.”
4. Can You Tell Us About a Time You Faced a Difficult Problem at Work? How Did You Solve It?
Ultimately, companies bring new team members on to help them solve problems. So, don’t be surprised if this type of question comes up.
This behavioral question goes beyond resume keywords and ambiguities and asks you to recall a specific experience. It proves to employers that you don’t just talk the talk—you actually walk the walk and can produce similar results for them.
Example answer: “In my current role as a sales manager at Company XYZ, we had several sales reps who were underperforming. They were behind on their targets for the quarter and it was frustrating to see that portion of my team falling short without an explanation. I connected with each of those employees individually to understand what was happening. All of them voiced similar concerns that our training program—a program I had inherited when I took the role—simply wasn’t up to par. I made developing a new training program my top priority and I had the entire team go through it and provide feedback. Those underperforming employees quickly caught up and we had a brand new, more effective training program to offer new hires.”
5. What Are Your Salary Expectations For This Role?
Cringe. Sigh. Groan. Like we mentioned earlier, it’s smart to summon your courage and be ready to talk money during the second interview.
Plenty of advice will tell you to avoid sharing anything specific in response to this question. That might hold some water in a first interview when you need to learn more about the job duties before sharing your desired salary.
But, when you’ve made it to the second interview, it’s time to start being a little more direct. After all, if you refuse to state a number, you could be wasting everybody’s time (including your own) when you eventually find out that your expectations and the company’s budget are far apart.
You can still incorporate some flexibility into your answer by providing a salary range (instead of a firm number) and stating that you’re open to a further discussion.
Example answer: “I’m open to a conversation, but I’m looking to receive somewhere between $90,000 and $97,000. Based on my research, that’s in line with my skills, experience, and the market.”
5 Follow-Up Questions to Ask the Employer After the Second Interview
As your second interview wraps up, your interviewer is bound to look at you and say something like this: What questions do you have for us?
While you might be tempted to say, “Nothin’—I’m good!” in the interest of getting out of there as quickly as possible, that’s not your best move. Asking questions will emphasize your interest in the role and your engagement in the process, and it will also give you some information you’ll need as you weigh your options.
Stuck on what to ask? Here are a few ideas you can keep in your back pocket:
- What is the biggest challenge facing the person who fills this role?
- What concerns do you have about my skills or background?
- What’s one thing I should know about working here?
- What is the salary range for this position?
- What are the next steps in the hiring process?
Those will help you end your interview conversation on a high note.
When the Interview Process Feels Endless
Sometimes it feels like the interview process is nothing more than nerve-racking conversations followed by even more nerve-racking conversations.
In some ways, that’s true—and you’ll probably never enjoy a lengthy interview process. But, each step is important. It’s not only a chance for the employer to evaluate you, but also for you to understand whether that’s a place you’d be happy working.
So, keep your chin up, do your best to tackle each interview stage with confidence, and keep your eye on the finish line: actually landing an awesome job.
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