After you’ve refined your resume and LinkedIn profile, put time into networking, and submitted a number of well-targeted applications to positions that fit your skill-set, it will only be a matter of time before you begin to get interviews. Before you learn about how to prepare for all the types of interview questions you will likely encounter, let’s take a few minutes to read through what the process is likely going to look like.
The steps from initial contact to job offer can range from place to place, but generally speaking this is what a typical job or internship process looks like:
1. Initial contact
2. First interview
3. Second, third, fourth interviews
4. Compensation question
5. Reference checking
6. Employment form & background check
7. The offer
Now let’s read on to see these steps explained in greater detail
The company or organization will contact you either by phone or email requesting your availability.
Respond with your availability, giving 2 or 3 days and windows of time that work for you. For example:
Thank you for contacting me about the position at [name of company]. I am available to speak anytime Wednesday through Friday of this week between 9am-4pm EST. Let me know what works best for your schedule. I very much look forward to speaking with you about the Financial Analyst position.
Once scheduled, you will have an initial conversation with either a recruiter or some type of administrator in the company or organization. As you learned in a previous lesson, in smaller companies or organizations, your first interview could even be with the hiring manager (i.e., the person who would be your supervisor were you to get the job).
Your Action: Prepare carefully for this call. Make sure you know to whom you will be speaking and be ready to discuss how your background fits the role. At the conclusion of the call, thank the interviewer. Shortly after meeting with this first contact, follow up with an email thanking them for their time and reiterating your interest in the role. (Note: You can find helpful templates, including for follow-up emails, in the “Tools, Templates and Other Resources” section.)
If all goes well, you will then move to an interview with hiring manager (person you would be reporting to) and possibly others on the team, who might join at the same time or be scheduled separately. Depending on the role and company, in other words, this could mean either a group interview or a handful (3-4) of individual interviews. These are likely going to be through Zoom or some other video conference platform like MS Teams, Google Chat or Skype.
Your Action: Prepare even more carefully for these interviews, conducting in-depth research on the company, department, and the roles of those who will be interviewing you. In the topics that follow and in your mock interview sessions, you will learn more about the types of questions you can expect and need to prepare for.
After the interview, you need to write a separate thank you note to each person you met with. If you don’t have an email address for each person, write to the primary contact or the recruiter and include a statement thanking the others involved in the interview. For example you could write something like:
It was a pleasure to meet with you, John, Mary and Erica to discuss the Operations Analyst position and learn more about the XYZ company. Our meetings increased my already keen interest in the position and I would welcome the opportunity to apply the analysis experience I gained during my internship to this role. I look forward to hearing back from you about next steps.
Usually the conversation about your salary expectations occurs in the initial screening call with the recruiter who wants to verify that your expectations align with those of the company. Once you have gone through several interviews, and if the company/organization is interested in continuing the process, it’s not uncommon for the recruiter or a contact in the human resources department to reach back out to you to confirm your compensation or salary expectations.
For some roles, especially entry-level position in smaller companies and organizations, the salary or hourly wage may be explicitly stated in the job description and there may be very little room for negotiations.
Your Action: You will want to give the recruiter a specific range or number.
Here are a few examples of good ways to respond to the question, “What are you targeting salary-wise?”
“I am currently interviewing in the $_____ to $_____ range. Do you have a compensation target for this position?”
“I am looking for a range between $_____ and $_____ but compensation is just one of the factors when making my decision.”
If the company or organization wants to move to final stages with you, they will request that you provide your professional references.
Your Action: Reach out to your the contacts you have decided to use as references with an email letting them know that you are a finalist at the company or organization, describe the role you are being considered for, and ask them if you can use them as a reference. Respond to the company with your list of references and tell them that you are excited to be at this stage of consideration.
At the same time your references are being checked, the company or organization may ask you to fill out an employment form, which is usually done online. The purpose of this form is to gather information that will be used to conduct a background check and that the human resources department will use to initiate the formal hiring process.
Your Action: On this employment form it is essential, I repeat, ESSENTIAL that you provide the completely accurate and verifiable information. This information will be used by the company to do their pre-employment screening, which typically includes a background check (usually outsourced to a third-party firm). What a company looks to determine or verify when conducting a background check varies from employer to employer, but most often includes:
1. Verification of previous employment history
2. Verification of educational credentials
3. Criminal record
So let’s say you called yourself a “Marketing Coordinator – Intern” on your resume because that is what you actually did. But the company where you worked used the simpler title “Intern” for the role. On your employment form you should enter the EXACT title used by the company or organization. Additionally, you’ll want to triple check your dates of employment. If you enter that you started your internship in June but it really started in July, this could send up a red flag that could stall or even jeopardize you receiving a job offer.
Sometimes the recruiter or hiring manager will make a job offer and then check references. More typically, they will check references first and then move the job offer. Every company has its own process and each is slightly different. It’s safe to say, however, that companies don’t check references unless they’re serious about a candidate. If you are at this stage, it’s likely you’ll get an offer.
The job offer will first be verbal (over the phone) and come from either the recruiter, the human resources department, or directly from the hiring manager. After you verbally accept, the company/organization will then send (usually via email) a former offer letter that should include the title of the position, start date, salary, and other details about the terms of employment.
Your Action: You should always respond enthusiastically to the receipt of a job offer (even if you intend not to accept the job). It’s also advisable that you not respond immediately to the offer but instead say that you are delighted to have received this news and will get back as soon as possible, after you have talked things over with your partner, family, etc. You will typically have anywhere between 48 hours to 1 week to accept or reject the job offer. *Some companies or organizations will tell you directly how quickly they want a response.
The first step you should take prior to ANY interview is to do research on the company or organization. Here is a helpful sheet that should be filled out before all interviews. Get in the happy of filling this sheet out each time you have a scheduled interview.
Now that you have a high-level view on what the process is going to look like, let’s break it down and go over the different types of interviews and questions starting with: The Phone Interview