How to Get Through Second and Third Round Interviews

My new article, titled “How to Get Through Second and Third Round Interviews,” was recently published on and MSN Careers.

So, you’ve made it through your first round of interviews — congratulations — and now you’re on to the second and third round … the good stuff.

Business Dining

Many of these interviews will take the form of business lunches and dinners. Please note, these are less about assessing your business acumen — this has been solid enough to get you past the first round — than about seeing how you are able to interact with others in collegial and social situations. In short, this is where the smallest of small details is what separates those who receive an offer from those who don’t.

Given this, here are a few restaurant recommendations:

  • Don’t turn up smelling so strongly of scent they smell you, not the food.
  • Do not wear your sunglasses, either on your face or on your head.
  • While I have no objection to the flaunting of chest hair or cleavage on your own time, it needs to stay under wraps in a business setting.
  • Follow your host’s lead with regard to beginning with small talk versus diving into a business conversation.
  • Don’t drink, even if they do.
  • Order food that’s easy to manage. No one wants to see you playing cat’s cradle with the cheese on your onion soup.
  • Don’t discuss your dietary habits: Your feelings about protein, white flour or the conditions under which chickens are raised should remain yours alone.
  • Aside from the fact that my mother always impressed on me that salting your food before tasting it was an insult to the chef, I’ve heard that those in the business world view it as indicative of poor impulse control — you may make judgments without having all the facts.
  • Do not check your PDA in between standing up from your table in the restaurant and exiting the restaurant. You need to give your goodbyes the same attention you did your hellos.

Case Studies

Another way second and third round interviews are often conducted is with case studies — both group and individual — designed to prove that you are, indeed, the creative and logical thinker your résumé claims you are, or that you’re the “people person” your recommenders claim you can be.

A key thing to remember with all three types is that there is no “right” answer to the case. They are behavioral tests that check mental agility.

Group Case Interviews: These are more about not failing than wowing people. They have one goal: to find out which people work and play well with others. Are you collegial and can you make an impact in a tactful way in a group setting? So while you definitely want to demonstrate that you can contribute, you don’t want to dominate the group’s discussion or attempt to take charge in an aggressive way. One of my clients had the experience of being in a group of eight people tasked with deciding whether an American chain restaurant should expand into Asia. They were given half an hour and a white board and told to come up with a yes or no answer and a bulleted list explaining why. Of the eight, three failed: two because they didn’t speak and one because he couldn’t stop telling everyone why his idea was right. If you are in this situation, I recommend the following techniques:

  • Be the quiet organizer. Suggest that everyone take the first four minutes to read the case and offer to keep time.
  • Suggest something constructive or share any insights that you have.
  • If you have no insights, ask people clarifying questions about their ideas.
  • Be respectful of anything anyone else contributes, no matter what you may think of it.
  • Follow the directions. (I know it seems insane that I have to write that, but experience has shown me I do. For example, if they say, “Only use what you’ve got,” don’t offer to look something up on your BlackBerry.)

Bottom line: Be a team player who contributes respectfully to the goal and you’ll be fine.

Individual Case Interviews: In these you CAN wow. But, again, it’s not going to be because you got the right answer. Sometimes given in written form and sometimes out loud, they range from “big thinking” questions (For example, one of my clients was asked what he would do about the environment if he were president of a country. His first clarifying question, “On earth as a whole or are we considering space exploration?” At that point, he knew he had them.) to brain teasers (Another was asked why manhole covers were round. FYI: so cables don’t get caught on any corners) to practical tasks. When confronted with these, keep the following in mind:

  • Use all the time they give you.
  • Make notes and use paper, particularly if it’s orally delivered.
  • If they say you can ask clarifying questions, do, but don’t fish too much. Show that you can be content working with the facts you have.
  • As you lay out your answer, state your assumptions.
  • Stay cool, even if you make a mistake in the arithmetic. All is not lost; they are looking at logic flow.
  • Not all the information may by relevant, but don’t say, “That’s irrelevant.” You may be wrong. If you think it is, just don’t draw on it in your answer.

Again, the point is never that they are asking you the question because no one in their office can find out the answer — they want to see if you can think logically and clearly under pressure, making reasonable assumptions. Approach them like a doctor trying to figure out symptoms and you’ll be fine.