Guide to Successful Interviews

Interviewing is usually a very important part of the process of finding a job.

This is when both sides of the process have an opportunity to meet and evaluate “the other side.”

Employers try to decide if the person is qualified and seems to be someone who is suitable for the organization.

Job seekers evaluate the people they meet, the questions they are asked, as well as the locations, the commutes, and whether or not the jobs seem like good jobs for them.

Both sides of the process have an opportunity to evaluate the “fit.” Does this feel like a good match?

The articles in this Guide will help you understand what you need to do: help you be well-prepared for each interview, answer interview questions well, follow up appropriately (thank you notes), and succeed.

Asking Questions Before the Interview

Many factors influence whether or not accepting an invitation to interview for a job is a good idea.

Unfortunately, when employed, juggling work and interview activities may put your job at risk should your employer discover your job search. If an employer is uninterested in helping you cope with this issue, take that into consideration when you are deciding if you should accept the interview invitation.

Read 20 Smart Questions to Ask When Scheduling Your Interviews to help you ask the questions enabling you to gain a better understanding of the job and the employer before you respond to the invitation. This is an excellent opportunity to collect the information that will help you decide if this is a good opportunity for you — or not!

Learn as much as you can about the location and choose the best time for you to succeed, while protecting your job if you are currently employed.

Asking these questions when the interview is being scheduled enables you to appear at the right place and the right time for the interview. Being late is deadly.

Accepting or Rejecting the Interview Invitation

The job and/or the employer may or may not be a good fit for you. The interview timing may be good or bad. And, you may or may not be interested.

When you understand more about the job and the organization, use either of these articles, as appropriate, to compose your response:

Interviewing when you are employed makes you more attractive to employers than when you are unemployed.

Being Well-Prepared for Your Interview Is Required

Once the interview is scheduled, focus on getting ready for it.

Preparation is key to succeeding in your job interviews. Most employers have seen too many candidates who don’t seem to really be interested in the job or who think that getting a job interview is the same as getting a job offer.

Demonstrate your interest in the job (and figure out if you really want the job) by being well prepared for every job interview.

Also, develop your answers to the questions using recruiter Jeff Lipschultz’s Smart Answers to Interview Questions. You will impress them, and you will also have a better idea of whether or not you want to work for the employer.

The Interview Process

If a job seeker’s resume passes the resume screen, the job interviews are usually the next major step in the pre-employment screening process. The result can be, for the job seeker, like running through a mine field. One misstep, and you’re OUT – a very stressful situation.

The hiring process can vary widely depending on the size of the employer, the “culture” of the company, and the job being filled.

Hopefully, you will also be evaluating the employer in addition to trying to “make a sale” — asking good questions. But, millions of people are hired every month in the USA, even in tough economic times.

The process described below is typical of average-sized employers for an average job. Some employers and jobs will be more complex and difficult, and some will be simpler.

  First Hurdle: Basic Screening  

For job candidates who seem to meet the requirements specified for the job and have passed the online research, employers usually begin the interviewing process with a screening interview. Some employers have assessment tests for certain jobs that they want the candidates to take before moving on with the process.

This prescreening process hopefully saves everyone time and effort before moving on to the more stressful and time-consuming in-person interviews.

This step is usually comprised of one of two types of screening that typically take less than one hour:

  • Phone Screen Interview

    The first step is often a phone interview, also called a phone screen, where basic questions are usually asked to confirm that the job candidate is qualified for the job. Usually, the job seeker is the only “live” person involved, taking the interview at a pre-set time and interacting with an automated interview system.

  • One-Way Video Interview

    More frequently now, the first step is a one-way video interview where the job seeker interacts with an interview system that asks every candidate the same questions to confirm basic qualifications, hopefully eliminating any bias.

  Then, the First Round of “Real” Interviews  

When you have passed the initial screening and been asked to continue in the process, the first round of interviews may be what you expect — or they may not.

This step usually involves at least one and as many as three or four hours, or more, of your time interacting with the employer’s staff, often in a series of interviews:

  • In-Person Interviews

    The first of these interviews is often with the recruiter or a member of the human resources staff. Then, you may be taken to another room where the hiring manager and/or other members of the staff may interview you. These interviews may be one-on-one, as with the HR person, or you may be interviewed by two or more people at the same time (also known as a “panel interview”).

    Be prepare to answer the common interview questions. Typically, these interviews take place at the employer’s primary local location.

  • Two-Way Video Interviews

    Particularly if the job is “remote” (the worker works at home) or if employer’s primary location is a substantial distance from your location, this two-way video interview may enable both sides to get a chance to “meet” and learn more about each other without spending a lot of time traveling.

  Then, the Second/Third/Final Round of Interviews  

If the process continues to a second and third round of interviews, you will probably meet new people, those who would be co-workers or members of other associated departments who would interact with you if you get the job.

Typically, you will be asked the same questions in the second and any following rounds of interviews as you are asked in the earlier interviews.

You might be invited to a newer type of interview which can be more stressful. It is called a speed interview and you may not be the only interviewed. Similar to speed dating, several job candidates in the speed interview are in a room with several interviewers. Each interview is one-on-one for a specified period of time. Then, they move on to the next interviewer.

Different Types of Interviews

Interviews are conducted in a variety of ways, particularly using technology (phone or video) for the initial interview.


Some interviews are called “auditions” and you are expected to demonstrate that you can do the job.

How to Answer the Common Interview Questions

See the most frequently asked questions with sample answers plus the best strategies for answering effectively here:

Interviewers typically ask the same questions in job interviews. It’s easy for them to do, often working from a prepared list of questions. After the interviews are over, comparing candidates is also easier.

We have compiled a list of the common job interview questions with the best strategies for answering them, from what’s your greatest weakness to why are you leaving your current job (or why were you fired from your last one).

How to Follow Up After Your Job Interview

The waiting game after a job interview can be the most nerve-wracking part of the whole process. From writing a thank you note to figuring out why didn’t they get back to you when they said they would, the post-interview period can drive you crazy and can also, if not handled well, end opportunities for you.

For more details, read:

Be sure to check out the sample thank you notes and emails, too, including the thank you when you know for sure that you blew the job interview.

Remember, Interviews Are a Two-Way Street

While it is an important, even critical, part of the standard hiring process for employers, job interviews are an opportunity for each party to evaluate the other.

As part of your preparation process, pay attention to what you discover about the employer. Did any questions occur to you based on what you found? Evaluate the employer based on your needs and preferences.

Then, in the actual interview, notice the work environment and the atmosphere. Comfortable for you or not?

In the first interview, DO ask the questions that help you determine if this job with this employer really represents a good opportunity for you. Does the work sound like what you want to do? Do you like the people and the location? Is this really a place where you want to work?

Even in this economy, job seekers can use this face-to-face interaction, often taking place in the work environment, to evaluate the employer and the opportunity.

More About Succeeding in Your Interviews

Susan P. JoyceAbout the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.
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