Tactics of selection: the second interview

By the second interview stage the odds are beginning to swing in the candidate’s favour. The focus is more on what the candidate can offer the company and expect from the job. But the competition will be steep and a small number of factors may swing the decision

Typically the second, or final, interview stage will tend to consist of panel interviews and group work, as well as one-on-one interviews. Each of these elements has a purpose and put together will allow employers to select the successful candidate.

Group sessions typically include up to three activities. First, there are discussions where topics are introduced and debated within the group. Usually these topics have an element of confrontation so as to assess a candidate’s contribution, testing their ability to put and defend a case and win others over to their point of view.

In a group of six or more this environment can be fun or hostile, depending on the group and a candidate’s knowledge about the topic. Having a leading role in these discussions is the best way of raising profile, but quality of content and ability to argue your case will be viewed favourably.

Tips for group role tests

Another common test is problem solving in a project format, working against the clock. Group dynamics are observed, as are the final results of the project.

Personality traits are assessed by observing the roles adopted and the ways in which people interact. The roles can include leader/manager, sales, entrepreneur and technician. These functions are broad descriptions for traits which individuals display when working in a group, particularly in an environment where there is fierce internal and external competition.

A very easy mistake for ambitious people to make is to think that the role of group leader is the only one worth having. As so much work is team-based and requires colLabouration, a candidate should work out which skills the group as a whole needs to be effective, and fit in accordingly.

R Meredith Belpin’s work has shown that everyone can play more than one team-role, although most people have usually no more than two significant role strengths. So spot the role that the group most needs, and if it is suitable, play it up.

Tips for presentations

There is also scope for individual work followed by a presentation. These presentations may be to the candidate’s small group, the combined group or an interviewing panel.

There is not much which can be done to prepare for these types of session beforehand. The best approach is to be well read on current events, get public speaking and presentation experience, and do some research into last year’s sessions. The content of the exercises may change, but the format will stay the same if it has been successful.

The two best ways of acquiring inside information are speaking to people already in the company and asking for it at the first interview. Often the best information, on anything from exams to share options, is from an insider. As the saying goes, ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’. So ask – the worst that can happen is that someone will say no.

Tips for panel interviews

Panel interviews are always harrowing. In one graduate interview, the candidate sat on a swivel office chair facing a panel of five people who were sitting in front of a huge window looking out onto a busy railway square.

The candidate had a tendency to fidget and get easily distracted so this was a big test. The hardest thing was not to swivel too much when talking to the people at either end of the panel. Managing to sit still for an hour helped get the job.

Panel interviews are usually made up of a human resources specialist and divisional managers, who may be competing for graduates or looking to make a joint decision. Some panels may also include senior management and or psychiatrists. These interviews allow a number of different directions to be pursued, in an environment where not everyone will agree with the interviewee’s viewpoint.

Good cop, bad cop

Some panels have a designated ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’. These interviews are a test of thinking on the spot, making judgements on why questions are being asked and where they are going to lead.

Do not expect to get on with everyone and have your view shared: explain and give reasons, but be careful not to become argumentative. Also beware of the silent person: they are likely to ask left-field questions.

Sometimes questions may be trite or obscure, to flush out contradictions between the candidate’s second interview, psychometric test, or first interview responses. But a panel interview can also be easier than a one-on-one because a panel may not be that well co-ordinated.

Tips for one-to-one interviews

The one-on-one interview will often be more micro focused, based on the hiring manager’s style, views and departmental needs. As a result the exercise often focuses on specific skill matching and therefore time may be spent testing or looking back on the candidate’s analytical or language skills.

There can be some difficult questions that may require the candidate to call on knowledge learnt during their degree, or problem solving. Other questions will be scenario-based, designed to test the candidate’s approach to handling particular situations. In many cases these will lead on to a resulting scenario which will need further solutions.

A third major element of the interview will be a discussion of the specifics of the department and the job. The interviewer will want to determine knowledge, level of interest and reasons for applying to that particular area of the company and for that job.

Both the first and second interviews have sections where the company will sell the benefits of coming to work for them, as opposed to the competition, to candidates and expect them to ask questions. Prepare questions and always be ready to respond to unexpected ones that arise in the interview.


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