Job Interview Process Starter Guide: Learn the Basics

Interviewing for a job is almost always stressful for job candidates. Knowing what to expect throughout the job interview process can help you feel more prepared for whatever comes your way. This guide will lead you through the typical job interview process and offer tips for navigating the journey with confidence.

How the Job Interview Process Works

Every company has a unique job interview process, but most interview workflows pull from the same framework. Let’s break down what that framework looks like. 

Step 1: Job Postings

Much of the time, companies post open positions on their website and sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, and CareerBuilder. The job postings link to an application and give a date by which applications are due.

Screenshot of a job posting on LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a great place to find job postings that match your skills and qualifications.

Some companies might send applications straight to people in their talent pool—a database of people who’ve expressed interest in the company before, been referred to the company, or previously applied and nearly got the gig.

Step 2: Applications 

Job applications are an important starting point for a job search. For candidates, they offer a level playing field to kick off the job interview process. For recruiters and hiring managers, applications weed out unqualified candidates and help organize the job search effort.

Hiring managers can use the applications to create candidate profiles using their applicant tracking system (ATS), comparing candidates to see who might best fit the job. 

Screenshot of BambooHr's hiring dashboard note page.
BambooHR’s ATS makes it easy for hiring managers to keep candidates organized.

Depending on the type of position, the company may ask candidates to submit a resume or cover letter to supplement an application. 

Step 3: Phone Screen

After taking the time to study each application, hiring managers can single out the candidates they feel could be a good fit for the company. The hiring team may then reach out to the applicants to set up a phone screen. This type of early interview lasts just 10 to 30 minutes, and as a candidate, the goal is to get asked back for the next round of interviews. 

For hiring managers, the objective of a phone screen is to confirm that the applicant does indeed qualify for the job. Not all employers choose to conduct phone screens, however—some jump right into the first round of interviews.

Step 4: First Interview 

Applicants who pass the phone screen—or who stand out as ideal candidates in the eyes of hiring managers who don’t conduct phone screens—move on to the first round of interviews. A first interview gives hiring managers and candidates the opportunity to get to know each other better. 

This interview is usually conducted in person or via videoconferencing software. It all depends on the employer’s preference and the company structure. 

A fully remote company may solely conduct video interviews, for example, while a hybrid organization may choose virtual or in-person interviews depending on where a candidate lives. 

First interviews often last between 45 minutes to one hour. 

Screenshot of Zoom's home page.
Zoom Meetings makes virtual interviews a snap.

The hiring manager will ask in-depth questions about the candidate’s work history, job expectations, unique skills, and availability. Candidates who do well may move on to the next step.

Step 5: Competency Interview

While not every employer requires candidates to participate in a competency interview, many do. So what is a competency interview? In simple terms, a competency test measures your skills in real-time. If an employer is hiring a new developer, for example, they can use a Codility competency test to get tangible evidence of a candidate’s coding skills. 

Screenshot of Codility's overview dashboard with example data.
Codility is a popular competency testing platform for developers.

Writers or graphic designers may be asked to complete a test project before being considered for a second interview. Hospitality workers might need to prove their emotional and behavioral aptitude with an HR Avatar test. 

Step 6: Second and Third Interviews

Second interviews often allow candidates to speak with higher-ups and other team members for the first time. It’s common for anyone who takes part in the hiring decision to appear in a second or third interview—managers, staff members, and company executives, for example. 

These interviews help candidates get to know the people they might be working with soon. They also help the team make tough decisions. The reality is that if you’re called back for a second or third interview, the company definitely likes you—but it also really likes at least one other candidate. These late-stage interviews help the company decide who to cut and who to keep. 

Non-remote positions may also invite a top candidate to a social gathering where the candidate can interact with potential future colleagues in a more relaxed setting. This is an opportunity for you, the candidate, to get a feel for the company’s culture. It’s also a way for the company to see how well you fit within its ecosystem. 

Step 7: Final Interview and Background Check 

Once everyone on the employer’s side of things is almost certain they want to hire you, the hiring manager may conduct a final, short interview. Now is the time to take care of any questions you thought of throughout the job interview process but didn’t get a chance to ask. 

It’s also a final chance for the hiring manager to ask you any questions that pop up on their end. Some companies skip this step and go straight to the background check. 

Most employers require at least one type of background check. Depending on the industry you’re entering, the employer may order a criminal check, driving history check, SSN verification, drug screening, or credit check. Sometimes, employers run these checks after a job offer, not before. 

Step 8: Job Offer 

When the hiring team is satisfied that you’re the best person for the job, you’ll get a job offer. You should get a full breakdown of the compensation, benefits, sick leave, and vacation time. If you’ve been interviewing with multiple organizations and received more than one offer, you may want to try negotiating to get the best salary and benefits package possible.

But be careful to consider more than just your potential salary. 

Which company seems like the best fit for you? Which team has the most welcoming and collaborative culture? How do the benefits of one offer compare to those in your other offers? Is the compensation fair according to what other people with similar credentials make for the same position? Are there opportunities for growth within the company? 

If you feel good about joining the team, you’ll accept the offer and sign your contract. Congratulations! After all your hard work, it’s time to celebrate—big time. And the hiring team will be doing a happy dance, too.

Tips for Acing the Job Interview Process 

One of the most important things to remember when you enter a job interview process is that it takes time. Entry-level positions can take around 25 days to fill. Mid- to senior-level roles can take 40 days or longer. 

So get comfortable with the idea that you’ll need a healthy dose of patience to get through the job interview process. There’s a lot that’s out of your control. You can’t know what questions the interviewer will ask you. You can’t know if you’ll advance from one interview to the next. You can’t know if you’ll get the job. 

But what you can do is prepare. 

If a recruiter reaches out to schedule a phone screen or first interview, it’s time to start researching the company if you haven’t already. In the days before your interview, we recommend that you: 

  • Reach out to current employees on sites like LinkedIn to ask them what skills and traits a company values the most in its employees
  • Explore the company’s About page and social media profiles to get a feel for who the key players are and what they’re interested in
  • Find out what the company’s services or products are and what problems they solve for the people who buy them
  • Read the organization’s mission statement to understand more about company values and culture
  • Learn more about your interviewer—search for their name on LinkedIn and see if you have any common interests
  • Write down the reasons why you would love to work at the company based on everything you’ve learned
  • Identify what unique skill you’d bring to the team if hired

Next, you’ll want to study the most common interview questions and write down—or at least think carefully about—your answers to these questions. You can expect questions about your education, accomplishments you’re proud of from previous jobs, strengths and weaknesses, and reasons why you want to work at the company.

Most interviewers wrap up an interview by asking if you have any questions for them. This is a chance for you to prove your interest in the organization and learn if it’s a good fit for you. 

You can ask the recruiter questions about what a typical workday looks like, what types of projects you’d be working on, what challenges the position comes with, and what the employer would expect you to accomplish within the first 30 days at the position. 

Jot down some of the questions you want to ask and bring them along with you to the interview. 

The night before the interview—whether it’s your first or fourth—get a full night’s rest. Eat a nutritious breakfast. Grab copies of your resume for reference, along with a notepad and pen to take notes. Get ready for the day 15-20 minutes sooner than you normally would. Leave early for your interview if it’s in person. Give yourself leeway to get there 10-15 minutes before the scheduled time. 

Take a deep breath, remember all the strengths you bring to the table, and smile. You’ve got this. 

Avoid These Common Mistakes

Knowing what not to do in a job interview is almost as important as knowing what you should do. Here we dig into the 10 job interview process mistakes to help you avoid them before they ruin your chances of getting a new gig. 

  1. Showing up late: If you’re late to an interview, you’re telling the recruiter or hiring manager that their time isn’t worth much to you. Take every possible precaution—such as leaving early or mapping out the bus route ahead of time—to make sure you arrive on time. 
  2. Looking unprofessional: Always show up in your most professional attire, even if you’re on Zoom. Not only does this help you look career-ready, but it also helps you feel poised and confident. 
  3. Checking your phone: Under no circumstances should you look at your smartphone during an interview. Make sure it’s set to silent, and put it at the bottom of your bag. Bring a good old-fashioned notepad and a pen if you want to take notes. 
  4. Zoning out: Interviewers can tell when you’re not paying attention during the job interview process. Instead of letting your mind wander, focus on actively listening to everything the recruiter is saying to you. Use body language, like eye contact and nodding, to show that you’re engaged. 
  5. Forgetting key facts: If you haven’t dusted off your resume for a while, now’s a good time to reacquaint yourself with important roles and dates. Bring a copy along for reference to help you keep your facts straight. 
  6. Giving long-winded answers: Keep your answers short and sweet. Avoid going off on tangents. Answer the questions and give the interviewer a chance to respond to what you’ve said. 
  7. Bashing former employers: Whatever you do, don’t put other companies down during a job interview. It doesn’t make you look any better. And you never know—the interviewer could be your previous boss’s best friend from college. 
  8. Talking only about yourself: Yes, it’s true that the interviewer wants to get to know you. But they also want to find out how hiring you would benefit their company. Instead of focusing solely on your past achievements, show the interviewer how your skills match the company’s needs. 
  9. Failing to ask questions: When the interviewer asks if you have questions for them, be prepared to ask. This shows that you’re genuinely interested in the company and want to learn more about what it’s like to work there. 
  10. Forgetting to follow up: After the interview, send a short thank-you email or note to the interviewer. Reflect on something that makes you excited about potentially working at the company and thank the interviewer for their time. No matter the outcome of your job interview process, this email strengthens your connections within the industry. 

End Results of a Job Interview Process

Going through a job interview process without landing the job at the end can feel crushing. If you receive the bad news that you’ve been dropped as a candidate, step away from your computer. Take a deep breath. Give yourself time to process the emotions you’re feeling. 

When you feel calm, send an email thanking the company for their time. Let the interviewer know that you’d still like to be considered for any future openings, even if this one wasn’t a good fit. This may encourage the hiring team to add you to their talent pool. 

Ask the recruiter if they have any feedback they’d like to give, but don’t be surprised if they simply don’t have the time or energy. Instead, give yourself some honest feedback. Think about the job interview process you just went through, identifying the things you did well and the things you could improve. 

Then, get back out there because the perfect job is waiting. 

If you do get hired, make sure you give yourself a moment to soak in the good news. Go out with friends or open a bottle of champagne. Think back to the things you appreciated about your interviewing team and write them down. 

Who knows? You might just be part of the interviewing team for your new company in a few years. By looking back at the positive experience you had, you can apply the same techniques to your own interviewing process in the future. 

Final Thoughts About the Job Interview Process

Each company has a unique job interview process, but you can feel prepared for whatever comes your way by knowing the general job interview process framework. Just remember that the process takes patience and that you and the employer are working toward a common goal—finding out whether you and the job are a good match.

Try to keep yourself busy with hobbies or your current job while you’re waiting to hear back between interviews. If you can’t stop thinking about your interview process, focus your energy on preparation. Our five simple steps for preparing for a job interview can help. 

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