The job search is challenging, and one of the hardest parts is interview preparation.
Where do I start?
What do I need to know?
How much interview preparation is enough?
How much is too much?
When navigating the job search alone, simple questions like this can feel crippling. At hirepool, we’re on a mission to share insights with job seekers and fresh perspective when it comes to how you prepare for interviews.
You may be spending more time than you need to prepare for each interview. We commonly see job seekers preparing disproportionately and especially in the case of their first interview with a potential employer.
Let’s break it down!
The first interview – general preparation
Remember the goal of a first interview is like a first date, to decide if you want to go on a second date. Keep it light, be interested, and try not to overshare.
To prepare for the first interview, we recommend you have a solid grasp on the following items:
- The company’s stage and state are relatively reliable indicators of priorities, business decisions, and performance management goals for an organization. The environment and expectations are wildly different between a Series A startup which just raised money, and a public company focused on quarterly profits. Spend a few minutes figuring out which stage and state the prospective organization is in before your first interview.
- The business model is something you need to research. Take a few minutes to read their corporate site to understand who their customer is, what their core business/service/product offering is, and how they make money. If you know this, you can continue to ask questions throughout the process which inform you how the job you’re applying for will impact the bottom line.
- The title of the job you’re applying for is worth looking into but don’t over-index here. The job title is a talking point where it helps to focus on what the job does within the organization more than what is written in the job description. Take a few minutes to understand how this job might fit into a specific product, department or team based on the job description. Title aside, take a quick minute to realize if this job is the first of its kind at the company, one of many posted, etc.
Fundamental interview questions to ask in my first interview
This job search is your search. You are in the driver’s seat. Drive.
Use these four questions to determine whether or not a second interview is a good use of your time:
Who does this job directly report to?
If a first interviewer can’t tell you who the job reports to directly, do not pass go! Do not collect $200 (we love games at hirepool). Open jobs without a direct hiring manager or champion to facilitate and complete the hiring process rarely complete at all. Job seekers who make it through a disjointed hiring process typically find a similar onboarding process, lack of career support for the individual. When you ask this question listen carefully and do not accept answers such as, “either Joe or Sarah,” “we still need to figure that out.”
Exception: in some larger companies they rely on an approach called “pooled hiring” where candidates get funneled into a placeholder pool of job applicants. The applicants then get pushed through a systematic screening process towards the end, until someone from the employer goes into the pool and hand-picks candidates for a specific team or job. In those scenarios, they tell you initially they can’t tell you until later in the process, and it’s your choice whether or not to proceed. Two cents from our team is that some companies have the experience, and resources to pull this approach off effectively (like Google), and some cannot (like all the rest).
Is this a new job or backfill?
As a job seeker, I have a right to know if this is a new job or if the organization is replacing someone who left an existing job. There is a difference between a newly created business need and an established business need where some level of expectation and investment is already defined.
If new, ask them why now. When the interviewer says “growth” ask what that means.
If replacement, ask what the organization learned from the previous employee that would set the next hire up for success in the same job.
If they say it’s a replacement but new, ask them to explain the difference and what caused the change.
How big is the team?
There is a big difference between joining as the first or second person on the team, versus joining as the 22nd person on the team. Namely, the amount of career support you get as an individual. The composition of the group also matters. If the team is made up of 5 people, are they all experienced folks looking for someone to mentor? All emerging talent looking for a mentor? Depending on the size of the team and associated resources/expectations, ask this question in hopes to find the right size and shape team which will set you up for success in the next job.
What is your typical interview process?
As a job seeker, you’ll likely be juggling many different opportunities so it’s important to understand what steps need to happen with each company and how long they may take so that you can set your expectations and plan accordingly. The complexity or simplicity of a company’s interview process is a pretty good indicator of the operations you’ll experience on the job. For example, a simple, concise process may indicate a lack of structure or thoughtfulness within the company. On the other hand, an overly complicated or drawn out process may mean a hefty amount of red tape or bureaucracy you’ll deal with on the job).
Fundamental interview questions to prepare for in a first interview
This career story is your story. Know it. Love it. Share it.
Use these three questions to set the tone for your job search:
What do you want out of this job search?
Think about the job you want in 3-5 years. Now think about the situation that will best position you between now and then, regarding the skills you’ll develop and experience you’ll gain leading up to your next career move.
What did you do in your previous job?
Fun experiment: ask your friends what they do for a living, and see how many of them share their job title instead of what they do for a living. When the recruiter asks you what you did in your previous job, let them know what your job title is/was but continue to expand with something like, “I’m a product manager which means I work closely between our engineers and our customers so that we build the right features in the future.” Don’t let them decide what your job title means. Tell them.
Why are you leaving your current company?
This question is a tricky one! The best approach here is, to be honest, and direct. If you are anything but that the recruiter will pick up on it and if they don’t someone will eventually whether or not they tell you this along the way.
Here is a framework to help you get started
Take time, think in advance about how you will respond to the questions below.
Was this decision compulsive or thoughtful?
What were the crystallizing moments along the way that resulted in your job search?
What did you do to resolve the situation?
Did you communicate with your leadership team?
Did you individually work to overcome the challenges?
Whatever your responses are to this set of questions remember there are always multiple sides to the story. How would your answer check out if they asked your former teammates? Manager? Because they will, it’s called a “back channel” or (more traditionally reference checks) and it happens all the time. Be thoughtful about your response, honest about your role in the transition. Avoid oversharing by focusing on what you did to move through the problem rather than continuing to describe the problem repeatedly.
Start practicing these questions in your next first interview. The idea of driving the discussion as a job seeker can be uncomfortable for some of our users initially, our job in all of this is to continually remind you this is your job search, your career, and your problem to solve.