5 Steps to a World-Class Second Interview

As the market tightens and candidates move through the marketplace faster than ever before, it is essential that recruiters tighten up their procedures. One point in the recruiting process that is often overlooked is preparing candidates for the second interview.

Recruiters can take a few actions between the first and second interviews to maximize the effectiveness of their final candidates and ensure that the organization gets a top hire. The most important first step in getting the most out of the second interview is simply to stop and think about its purpose.

There are two widely divergent kinds of second interviews.

The first type can be dubbed a “pass through.” This second interview happens when a decision has already been made, but the hiring manager wants a final blessing from peers, or to introduce the candidate to the team to build consensus. This kind of interview is usually a group event or “meet and greet,” and the job is often the candidate’s to lose.

The other variety is the “deciding point,” where the second-round interview is required to make a hire. This type of process is typical of corporations hiring department heads, for example, or universities where a search team presents three final candidates to a dean or other hiring authority.

In this case, the first interview is a usually a screen and did not involve a hiring manager. Obviously, this is the “money” interview and, unlike the “pass through,” this is not a time for a candidate to relax.

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Depending on which scenario a recruiter is facing, there are different aspects to keep in mind. If the second interview is a pass through, here are five pointers to make the best use of time and ensure a quality experience for all involved:

  1. Put only one candidate through the pass through. If the purpose of the interview is to get final approval from others in the organization, there should only be one candidate. Guide the hiring manager in this direction because other employees will not appreciate spending time with numerous candidates in this manner.
  2. Be certain that the interview is set up to achieve its purpose. Given that this type of second interview is used to build consensus or get approval, it should be conducive to casual conversation. Have the meeting over lunch and set an informal tone. This format will also prevent other employees from thinking they should grill the candidate.
  3. Advise the hiring manager not to let anyone else have the final decision. The recruiter, on behalf of the hiring manager, should be clear with the other employees who are meeting the candidate about their role in the hiring process. They should understand that this is not a decision-making opportunity, but a chance to give feedback.
  4. Prepare the candidate. Do not convey to the candidate that the decision has been made, but make sure he/she knows that this is a less formal situation. For example, if the candidate is a senior executive, let him or her know which influencers will attend. Tell the candidate that “Jill” would be a direct report and her perspective will be important, or that “Jack” would work for him part-time and his input will have less weight. Be frank about the tenor of the interview.
  5. Guide the feedback process. Provide a list of questions after the event for the attendees to answer. Questions could include: What did you like about this person? Did you have any concerns? How do you think this person fits in with our culture and why? You could also advise the hiring manager to send a simple email asking about their overall impressions.

If the second interview is a deciding point, here are five pointers that will help ensure a decision while making the experience positive for the candidates and interviewers:

  1. Let the candidate know they are one of the final few. Since the candidate has likely given up two paid-time-off days and possibly even traveled, he or she should know that this is worth the time. Give candidates every reason to believe they are progressing.
  2. Provide candidates with direct feedback on their first interview. Tell the candidate which aspects of the first round were strong or in need of improvement. Sometimes recruiters hesitate to give this kind of feedback because it feels like giving answers or scripting. That is not the case. The answers are still up to the candidate, but feedback can help to better understand the organization. For example, if a candidate dressed too casually in the first interview, a recruiter might say: “Your second interview will be with the vice president, so I suggest you come in regular business attire rather than the standard corporate casual.” Also, tell the candidate that anything said in the first interview will be known by the second interviewer. It’s important not to give conflicting information.
  3. Tell candidates the second-round schedule. Sometimes, the second round of interviews includes an assessment or simulation. If the interview will involve anything other than straight questioning (i.e., case interview), the candidate should be told. Everyone will perform at their best if they know what to anticipate.
  4. Ensure that the hiring manager will be ready to make a decision. Even if there is other data to be gathered after the second interview (i.e., psychometrics, assessment tests, simulation/presentations), the hiring manager must be prepared to make the final interview-based decision.
  5. Likewise, make sure the candidate realizes this is the final stopping point. The candidates need to have gathered enough information in the second interview to be able to make a decision on whether to join, and they should know that coming in. Also, ask them their preliminary decision right after the interview and let the hiring manager know where they stand. If the candidate says they are not interested, then the hiring manager need not waste more time.

In the past, recruiters did not need to consistently tend to these details. If the second interview didn’t go perfectly, there was another candidate around the corner or the candidate would wait.

Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Today’s candidates pass harsh judgments when recruiters don’t have the process nailed down, as do hiring managers. Recruiters can’t afford to make mistakes with final candidates; there is no need to when improvements can take little time and cost nothing.

Jill Zoromski ( contact at keith.swenson@capitalhgroup.com ) joined Capital H Group, a human capital consulting firm, in 2003 after 20 years in human resources roles in the financial services industry. She created the national recruiting practice for Capital H and runs the centralized recruiting center in Milwaukee.