how to prepare for a second interview

If you received a call after your job interview inviting you to come back in for a second interview, congratulations! In most cases, an invitation for a second interview means that the employer is seriously considering you for the position. That’s good news.

However, if you’re like most job seekers, you might be uncertain about what to expect. Will different topics be covered? Will you meet with different people than in the first interview? Should you prepare differently?

There’s no one answer to this, because different companies and different managers do things differently. A second interview could be for any of the following reasons:

  • To have you meet with additional people who you didn’t talk to the first time. These could be higher-up decision-makers (like the boss of the person who you’d be reporting to), or potential peers, or even people you’d be managing if you got the job.
  • To probe more in-depth. While the first interview might have covered the basics, the second interview might be designed to probe more deeply – to ask more rigorous questions, probe more deeply into your background and past experiences, and to talk more in-depth about challenging aspects of the work.
  • To better assess areas where the hiring manager still has questions or concerns. If your first interview left your interviewer with some questions or worries, a second interview can be the place she’ll try to address them. For example, your interview might have realized that she needs a better understanding of your experience with X or your approach to Y.
  • Simply to get a better sense of who you are and what you’re all about. Sometimes second interviews are intended simply to get a deeper impression of you. In these cases, the conversation might be mostly light and without the rigorous question-asking you often find in first-round interviews.

It can be hard, if not impossible, to know ahead of time which of these categories your second interview will fall into – and it may fall into more than one category. The best thing you can do ahead of time is to prepare just as vigorously as you would for a first interview. Don’t make the mistake of thinking, “They’ve already asked the tough questions, so this is just to rubberstamp the decision.”

That means that in preparing for a second interview, you should:

  • Do the same sort of practice and preparation you did last time. Hopefully, that means making sure you’re very familiar with the company and the job posting, reflecting on common interview questions and how you’ll answer them, and practicing your answers to particularly tricky questions (like about salary or why you left your last job). This might feel unnecessary; after all, you already did all this for the first round. But you want to be just as prepared and have your answers just as fresh in your head as they were last time. You don’t want to perform worse the second time around.
  • Come up with new questions of your own. You probably asked some of your most basic questions in the first interview. But now you know the job and the company a bit better, and you probably have questions based on that greater knowledge. This is the time for more nuanced questions about the work, the culture, and the team.
  • Research anyone who you know you’re be meeting with, if you were given names ahead of time. This doesn’t mean compiling a detailed dossier; it just means that you want to know what their role is and how long they’ve been with the company, and in some cases what their professional history was before this job.
  • Dress as well as you did for the first interview. Sometimes people show up at an interview in a suit, see everyone else in jeans, and figure they can dress down for the second interview. But in most fields, interview dress is different than what you might wear day-to-day on the job. Most fields continue to expect job candidates to show up in suits. Don’t blow the second interview by showing up looking like you didn’t take it seriously.
  • Don’t be thrown off if you’re asked the same questions that you were asked last time. This might happen if you’re talking to new people, and it even might happen if you’re talking to the same person as earlier because people may have go-to questions and forget that they’ve already asked you them. Don’t sound annoyed or give an abbreviated answer on the assumption that they can get the details from someone else, and definitely don’t say “well, I explained that to Larry.” Answer pleasantly and thoroughly, the way you would the first time the question was asked.
  • Go with the flow. This is always a helpful attitude to take with interviews, but it’s especially true with second interviews, where there are a number of directions the employer could take the conversation and no way to know in advance how it will play out.

And remember, a second interview almost certainly means that you did well enough in the first interview that the employer thinks there’s a good chance that you could be the right hire. It’s not a guarantee and you shouldn’t take it as one – but it should boost your confidence to know that you did well enough the first time around to warrant continuing the conversation.

{ 8 comments… read them below }

  1. Triangle Pose

    Excellent advice! In my experience the second interview is heavily about the first and last bullet, but will at least minimally cover all of the bullets so you might as well prepare for everything.

    Alison, in the article you covered what the employer is looking for and how an interviewee should handle it – are there any specific things the interviewee should look for or ask in the second interview?

    I always think the second interview is a good time to get to know the culture a little bit better – now that you’ve already come in a first time, you can relax a little about travel logistics, checking in at the front, etc. and instead spend that mental energy on paying closer attention to small interactions in the environment (Do people chat in the elevators? Is everyone’s door shut? Are people nice to support staff? Is everyone’s expression frazzled or pleasant? etc.)

    I also think it’s a good opportunity to ask questions based on the information you might have gathered from your first interview – you might be better equipped the second time around to ask about collaborative work, as an example. “When I spoke with Fergus in my first interview, he mentioned working with Jane from another group on project X – do you often with other groups very often or would you say your particular role is more focused on internal projects? Would you say this role often collaborates with people in other departments?”

    Also, how fortuitous! I am having my second interview this week! I will be:
    -re-reading my prep materials (this prep document grew much longer as I started with it from the phone screen and added to it in preparing for the first in-person interview)
    -jotting down some notes on what I learned from my first interview in terms of information gathering and then writing some followup questions
    -re-reading the sections on interviewing from Alison’s book and this article

    Also, I’m going to have refresh my memory on all of the bullets from the job posting – oh what a long road!

  2. AnotherHRPro

    In addition to Alison’s great advice, I recommend doing a deeper diver on the company/organization. Especially now that you have had an interview, you probably have some new perspective. Read as much as you can about the company and try to make connections to the work of the position.

  3. Follow-up question?

    I’ve always done this with mixed results; but, is it okay to ask who I will be meeting with and what their role is before I meet with them?

    Most folks that I’ve asked this to don’t seem to have a problem; while others seemed to be taken aback by it. Is it a red flag if they cannot answer this, what I consider to be anyway, simple question?

    1. S.I. Newhouse

      That’s a totally standard question to ask before any interview, follow-up or otherwise. I’m very surprised any company would have any objection to that. If they can’t or won’t answer, I’d say that’s absolutely a red flag.

    2. Stopping By

      My experience with city government jobs is that they won’t tell you who will be interviewing with–somehow this keeps things more ‘objective.’ I was told the name of the principal person on the second interview, but not any of the supporting interviewers. And they refused to give any info all on the first interview.

  4. S.I. Newhouse

    Great article. I’m glad the point was mentioned about being asked the same questions. A few years ago, I was called for a second interview, and I got a different interviewer who asked me the EXACT same questions, in the exact same order, as the first interviewer. I answered the questions the exact same way, figuring that the two interviewers were going to compare answers to try and find inconsistencies. I chalked this up to a very strange interviewing strategy on their part, and felt kind of weirded out and on edge. (I didn’t get the job, and didn’t get any feedback and didn’t ask, so I’ll never know exactly what they were looking for.)

    1. Merry and Bright

      I came to say exactly the same thing. It happened to me too. I was not sure either if the questions were to catch me out. The factual stuff was OK but I didn’t know whether to use the same behavioural examples. Half the time I was trying to remember what I had said before. I didn’t get the job either. (Wrong team fit).

    2. Stranger than fiction

      I could understand some crossover, but that sounds like poor communication between the two interviewers or they had some sort of template they were going off of. Kind of hard to get a thorough assessment of they’re both asking the same 10 things IMO.

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