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Interview Callbacks: Why an Employer May Invite You Back Multiple Times
by Chandra Prasad
Editor's note: This article is an excerpt from Prasad's book, Outwitting the Job Market: Everything You Need to Locate and Land a Great Position, Lyons Press.
It's not unusual for a company to invite a potential employee back for a second interview. Managers often request second interviews to clarify information on a candidate or to introduce him or her to other members of a department. Says a human resources manager at an information technology company headquartered in California: "At my company, usually there is a team of people interviewing. Some interviewers are [looking] for technical expertise, others for personality and fit. The second interview might be someone following up on a particular question. Or it might be someone on the team who wants to make a connection, to see if the candidate would fit in." Another reason for a second interview might be that the company wants to ask more in-depth questions or to provide more insight into its needs.
While second interviews are the norm, if you're asked back for a third or fourth, other factors are probably at play. In this article, hiring managers explain why you might be called back repeatedly -- and what you can do to prove once and for all that you're the right person for the job.
Confidence Versus Cockiness
Some candidates, in an effort to appear confident, actually overdo the role and appear egocentric instead. Susan Cheng, a manager at a major media entertainment company, says that she has encountered this type of interviewee. "There's a thin line between being confident and being prideful," she explains. "For example, there was one gentleman who had all the right qualifications. There was a moment in the interview when we asked, 'If you were in this position, what would be the first three things you would do?' The guy basically said, 'I would change everything.' He was trying to be very confident in his approach, but that came across the wrong way." What could this candidate have done to prevent himself from appearing arrogant? He should have worked on his delivery, using more diplomacy and tactfulness, Cheng says. "Word choice is important," she stresses.
On a callback interview, make sure not to overstep the boundary into arrogance. It's one thing to be sure of your abilities, but quite another to question the abilities of those around you.
A candidate may also be called in for multiple interviews because the various interviewers can't reach a consensus. Cheng says, "The person might come in and interview with six people. Ideally, [the interviewers] could decide [the candidate's suitability] at that point. But if one out of six interviewers says, 'No, it's not a good fit,' it's not a majority-win situation. So another interview might be required to get more data points on the candidate." The HR manager at an information technology company underscores this point. "I've seen people stumble because they might have had great interviews in the beginning, but they are now overconfident and under-prepared," he says. "They might think they now have a rubberstamp of approval, but that's never the case. One interviewer could definitely veto the process, because they're already on the team and they carry a lot of weight."
There isn't necessarily a simple cure for conflicting reports, since you may never know which of your interviewers -- if any -- is barring your entrance into the company. The best you can do is to treat each interviewer with civility and consideration. Be yourself, be prepared, and if your best effort isn't enough to earn a job offer, take solace in the fact you'll eventually find an employer that is a better fit.
Second in Line
Another reason a candidate might be called back multiple times is if he or she were second in line for the job, but the No. 1 person didn't come through. A hiring manager for an accounting firm in New York City says, "In this situation, we call people back in order to evaluate them as the preferred candidate rather than as a possibility."
As each interview represents a fresh beginning, it would be unwise to coast on the success of a previous interview. If you were previously second in line, you will have to prove that you are indeed the best of the remaining candidates, which means you should research and prepare not just for the first interview, but also for each subsequent callback.
A Nagging Concern
A hiring manager for a market-research company says that he would call back a candidate if he or another interviewer had concerns about one aspect of that candidate's qualifications. "In one instance, we needed a person who had both extensive programming skills and market-research capabilities," he explains. "We called back several candidates, but each one seemed to have either strong programming skills or strong market-research skills. When we finally found someone who possessed both, we were concerned that although he had some programming skills, these weren't extensive enough. And in fact, after three or four interviews, we decided against making an offer to this candidate."
If you suspect that your interviewer has a concern about you, it's best to follow the advice of David Wittenberg, a manager of technology planning, and to be upfront about the situation. Ask your interviewer what concerns, if any, he or she has about you, Wittenberg suggests. That way, you can address these issues directly during the interview process, rather than speculate about them after the fact.
In Contention for a Different Position
"Another reason [for multiple interviews] might be that the candidate was applying for one position, but we liked that person and his qualifications and thought he would fit another," Cheng says. In other words, your interviewer might prefer to place you in a position other than the one you are interviewing for.
Unless your interviewer is upfront about the company's intentions, it's impossible to know if this is a reason why you might be receiving multiple callbacks. The best thing to do is to continue to tout whatever expertise you have that is directly applicable to the position requirements, while also mentioning more universal skills.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Chandra Prasad has written on career issues in The Wall Street Journal's Career Journal, IMDiversity.com, and JobCircle.com, among others. She has been quoted as a workplace expert by Black Entertainment Television, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Finding Your Dream Job Online. She is the former editor-at-large of Vault.com.
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