Navigating the Multiple Layers of Interviews

By Dino Londis

Today, in IT anyway, the job interview has become the interview process, where applicants may speak with a company three, four or even five times.

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Not too long ago, a bit of enthusiasm and a certification or two could get you a decent IT position. A job glut will do that. In today’s economy, because we’re competing with so many more people for a fixed number of jobs, employers have the luxury to sift through every resume and stage an agonizingly long interview process. Larger companies, eager to hire the right person, may ask you to return again and again without covering your expenses. And, each step up the interview ladder brings greater risk of failure.

The reason is economics. Companies use multi-layered interviews to avoid the cost of training. Better to spend time making the decision right the first time than risk employing the wrong person.

In their book Interview for Success, Caryl and Ron Krannich say "the job interview is the single most important activity determining whom they hire… (so) you should spend a disproportionate amount of time preparing." Today that means being ready for the phone, in-person, video conference, and group or serial interview.

Phone Interview

Prepare for this just as you would for an in-person session. Dress up, right down to the hard shoes. Even if you’ll be working in a casual environment, you have to overcome that relaxed feeling of home. There are disadvantages to talking to an individual or group on speaker phone – such as not being able to read their faces, or hearing them talk among themselves – but there are advantages as well. You can consult your resume or notes with buzzwords, have a pad with some bullet points you want to get in. This will get you to the…

In Person Interview

This is the most critical interview, where you prove yourself and your skill set. "Many excellent resumes and phone interviewees don’t hold up in the one-on-one interview," says Robyn Avery, senior recruiter at Children’s Hospital Boston. "In addition to receiving hundreds of applicants for one position, the candidates that look excellent on paper and sound very knowledgeable over the phone are not making it through the in-person interviews and coding/whiteboard questions."

Video Conference

If you’re applying at a branch office and you’ve made it past the local HR administrator and IT director, the next step may be a sit down with – not at – the home office. Of course, this is good news: The branch won’t want to waste their directors’ time on someone they’re not keen on.

Although the technology has vastly improved, video conferencing over IP doesn’t have the immediacy we expect of television. The subtlety of any conversation is lost and miscommunication can derail the whole process. Delays can cause you to talk over your interviewer ("I’m sorry, you go." "No, you go…"

If you can, practice with a friend on Skype. Use a camera on both ends and you’ll quickly get a feel for the awkwardness. During the interview, don’t look at the screen because the timing and delay can be confusing, and you’re already walking a tightrope. Treat the conversation like a phone call, and look just above the screen. Your viewers won’t know the difference.

Serial Interview

A company might condense the interview ladder into one grueling day. This is where you meet all the vested parties, including your peers, usually in their offices. The process may last three to four hours as each interviewer makes their evaluation. The Kranniches suggest treating each serial interviewer as if it’s your first of the day. More than likely the interview is their first of their day, and you want to appear fresh.  

Not all interviewers will necessarily like you, so don’t take the positive energy from the previous interviewer as a sign everyone will feel the same way. Avoid repeating stories.  Although different people are interviewing you, they’ll meet to compare opinions, and if they find you’ve scripted a few stories they may conclude you lack experience. After the last session, be sure to say your goodbyes to everyone, calling them all by name.

If you have any specific questions, post a comment below, and I’ll get back to you.

Dino Londis is an applications management engineer in New York.

11 Responses to “Navigating the Multiple Layers of Interviews”

  1. bonzo jones

    It is and always been not what you know. If you have connections and networking on the inside, the chances of landing a job is almost guaranteed. I know because I worked at several companies and the director of the company would bring their friends in that have no prior IT experience whatsoever and make them lead programmers, engineers, project leaders, and directors. It is a sick pathetic joke when you work yourself to the bone to keep your job and you have to work for clowns like that because they are in cahoots with the boss. Truth is not stranger than fiction because it is the facts.

  2. Dean F Crawford

    I believe the job market is a much different place then it was. Like you said the interview process has changed dramatically. I would like to see more information on how to compete in todays job market. I am at a place in my career where I should be able to get a job easily but I have been looking for over a year.
    I need all the help I can get. I am either over qualified or the way they have ramped up alot of the experienced IT positions to the point of being ridiculous. I mean programing and networking have always been two different jobs now they want a desktop network gut who writes C++ as well. It is very discouraging right now. So like I said I would love to see some information regarding this. Your article was very good and accurate.

  3. I have seen two situations where the vice president mandated hiring someone. In one case it worked out ok. In the other it was a disaster. The bottom line is that those people who got those jobs knew someone personally. Maybe not well, but well enough. Network yourself and meet lots of people in your industry. DO NOT ask them for a job. But let them know what you do and a LITTLE bit of your experience. It lays a foundation for later.

    If you are going to interview somewhere, find someone who works there and ask them for insider information. With all the Internet services out there, someone you know may be able to introduce you to someone who works where you are going to interview.

    Be positive when you meet anyone. People do not like to help negative people.

    The interview itself is a mixed bag. There is no telling what some of these interviewers are thinking. Be as prepared as possible. Talk about what YOU know and did, not those who you worked with.

    Feel free to connect to me on Linked In.

  4. You have few good points mentioned above. But you have not even get close to what they call as “Structured Interview”. Those are hypothetical questions nothing to do what job description is. They actually wanted to test the person’s about his/her ability to understanding (ability to be able to narrate a story in clear short Explanation), a team player, working along with others, dealing with difficult people at work, example of use of field data and outcome as result, Out of box experience, Customer-client relationship understanding type of things etc.
    Please advice how to go through that kind of maze of an interview.

    Thank you

  5. @Tejpal, when I’m asked an “off the wall” question, I usually give the first response that comes to mind – doing so usually gives the interviewer a clear insight into “who I am” because the answer isn’t scripted or rehearsed. This way, they can better understand 1) my personality, 2) my way of thinking, 3) my sense of humor (depending on the question), and 4) my ability to “think on my feet”.

    For example, I had a question during an interview that I thought was quite enjoyable – the interviewer asked, “Why are manhole covers round?”

    Now, this is the first time I have ever been asked a “non-tech” question during an interview (I haven’t had too many interviews). I thought about why I would make manhole covers round and gave my honest answer.

    After giving my answer, the interviewer told me that if I was curious I could look up the question (and answer) on-line. Little did I know that this question is quite famous question for an “off the wall”, “outside of the box” question.

  6. In the real world I wonder how many coding/white board tests are administered? They might be relevant if you are interviewing for a job with MS or some other software producer, but in the real world there is a chasm between those who can write code on a white board and those who can navigate through a mish-mash of code, applications, and systems to trace why and how something “went wrong”.

  7. I do not have a problem with the interview process of meeting with several people or going through different stages of the interview process…

    The problem I have is that during the interview, a person is ask a series of technical questions to see if the person know what they say they know…I found that most technical interviewer’s will continue to ask technical questions just to see if you are going to get one question wrong, and if you do not, then they ask a riduculous question concerning a particular application like “where on the menu do you perform this action?”…I find questions like this to be ridiculous and notice that it is a sign of fear, or that the interviewer is no longer interested because they think that you are coming into their domain as a “know it all”…

    In addition, I found that a interviewer will advertise for a MSCE or CCIE, and then say to you “have you worked with linux or Juniper” or have you worked with this particular equipment; sorry, we are looking for someone who has experience with this equipment only…

    That is like asking a secretary if they know how to use MS Word, and then say “but we are looking for someone who has experience with Word Perfect”…

    The IT industry has gone from innovation to protecting their little domain where they are “GOD”…and if you happen to be a person of color, no matter how much experience you have, they find a way not to hire you by saying “we decided to choose someone who more closely fit our needs”…this bull…

    I have seen companies at all sizes hire someone that they know who is not qualified, instead of hiring the qualified person…

    One time, I was told during a phone interview that if I answered all questions successfully that I would be called in for a face-to-face interview…

    During the face-to-face interview, I was told that I will be meeting with six difference people, and if I make it through that process, that I will get to interview with the VP and if you make it that far, then you will get the job…I was informed in advance that the process would take two to three hours…

    Well, the process took five hours and thirty minutes; I made through all of the interviews and met with the VP…a week later, I was told that I was not qualified and that they choose to select someone who more closely fits their needs…

    Once again, this is bull, and a waste of ones time…because someone did not like the fact that you are an expert in your field or because of the color of your skin…

    Also, interviewers tend to ask questions that they do not know the answer to themselves, and when you answer the question correctly, they want to argue and say that your answer is not correct…

    During one interview, I met with two managers at the same time…one of them ask about ten technical questions and every time i answer the question, the person would say that is not the correct answer…the other manager kept saying the answer is correct, and the argumentive manager stated how do you know, the other manager replied by saying “I printed out the answers to the questions”…sorry to say, I did not get the position…

    This type of behavior has been going for years and it is getting worst not better…

  8. Mary McCollum

    I agree with all of you but I would like to have more strategic information in competing in the crazy market. I relocated in January 2009 to a new market in Las Vegas and I thought with my years of experience and knowledge I would get a job right away. I worked for the largest consumer goods company in the world. I am very passionate and enthusiastic and I think this has gotten me to the second and third level interview but I am not getting anywhere. I have beaten myself up but I know it is not me but how can you help it when you need to work and survive. The last company I interviewed with told me to my face that in this market they could afford to be picky and put people through the mill. The hiring manager really liked me but they came up with this weird “peer interview” where I was suppose to spit out all the details from a presentation. I thought they were testing me so I did not listen to all they said since I studied all day for these type of interviews and then it ended up being just about their presentation. I was floored. Then they told me I had lack of attention and focus!!!!!! I couldn’t beleive it and ended up feeling like an idiot. So…how do you handle these type of situations. Since I am new to the area, I have few contacts and am on Linked In where I feel people understand and give good advice. I had one guy who is an executive tell me if I got an interview, he would help me then. I think here it is alot of who you know but if you don’t want to depend on that, and skills don’t seem to work, what then? I am not giving up but forging ahead getting ready for an interview next week. What are your thoughts on the portfolio? I have found that if they like me, they really don’t want to see all that stuff but I have lots to show. It is a hassle carrying it all so how do you decide what is most important? Thank you!

  9. If you’ve ever flown in for an all-day interview, it’s grueling to go from one interview to another and try to sound fresh. You’re exhausted from a long flight and a short night of little sleep (worrying about the interview). It’s still grueling even if there was no travel.

    If they take you out for lunch, eat light so you can stay awake in the afternoon. After lunch, when you’re feeling good about morning interviews, be ready for someone to start asking questions the like “Tell me about the boss you hated the most…”. The HR person or the hiring manager may meet with you at the end of the day. Be ready to wake up and answer the harder questions about your strengths and weaknesses, why you hated your mother, or some questions that may take you by surprise.

    Finally, be careful about the Caffene intake. If the post-caffine-low hits in the middle of the afternoon, it can really undermine all the effort you put into the interview up to that point.

  10. I must have missed something here. Sorry, Dino, but
    there is so much more to the interview process than what is presented in this article.

    The article assumes that the recruiting manager is well versed in the interviewing process and executes it as it should be. However, that is not always the case.

    I recently observed the other type of interview process, that of an inept and incompetent hiring manager, totally inexperienced in the interviewing process. After two 1/2 hour superficial screening telephone interviews the consensus of the Hiring Manager and his underlings was to bring the candidate in for an in-person interview. He had the candidate fly in from a substantial distance away, at his own expense and requiring the investment of one whole day, and then allocated a mere one hour face-to-face meeting with an entire organization. He never properly set the stage describing what the nature of the group was, what its role was, nor how it fit in with the rest of the IT organization. He never discussed the technology the company used, either on the software or the hardware fronts.

    Due to his ignorance he did not first meet with the candidate one-on-one to set the stage and establish a personal rapport, but directly proceeded to let his 1/2 dozen pit bulls loose on the poor unsuspecting candidate. It was more of a criminal interrogation than an interview, and the only element missing was some waterboarding to make the tormenting of the candidate complete. Never offered him a cup of coffee, or better still a glass of water!!!

    Needless to say, the interview was a disaster for both parties, and yielded no positive results. Neither candidate nor Hiring Manager were pleased with each other.

    As a recruiting entity it is of utmost importance for the interviewer to put the candidate at ease, and make the environment as least adversarial as possible. Make the candidate be as familiar with the environment as possible within the available time so that his/her comments and replies are focused, directed, and pertinent.

    From a candidate’s point of view, if not offered the proper conditions for a successful presentation, then insist on it, demand it if need be. Accept the premise that not all interviewers are capable and experienced at hiring, and are either oblivious or untrained in the art. Don’t be concerned about raising these questions, they won’t disqualify you from the position, and will definitely make your remarks more appropriate.

  11. I agree with you all. I have taken the personality tests, IT Assessment tests which consist of questions you would never encounter in the real IT world. I also agree with Dean. It’s definitely an employer’s market. They want you to have networking skills, along with java, sql, while also being cisco certified. I think I remember seeing employers wanting people with a ton of certifications back in the early 90’s. I too have fell into the trap of being over qualified. I also have seen where they want a ton of experience with qualifications, but the salary is not compatible. But we must keep pressing on.