Winning the Interview when you’re 1 of 2 Final candidates

2 job interview dogs staring at each otherRefresher on the Interviewing Process

Almost all corporate interviews end up coming down to 2 candidates, with potentially one extra “tie breaker” interview cycle occurring to help the management team decide who will get the job, and who will be going home. As a refresher on the overall interview cycle, remember that most white collar “professional” job interviews are structured as follows:

  • Hiring manager creates a job requisition, it goes through an internal approval cycle, and an HR resource is assigned to assist.
  • The manager creates a job description for the position – key responsibilities, objectives, and qualifications for applicants to meet, and aligns to a job profile to determine salary and overall compensation ranges.
  • HR resource (“recruiter”) markets, or posts, the position on both external web sites as well as internal. In my experience it is rare any more for HR to also post the job in a printed newspaper or similar job source. Most postings occur on various job boards as well as the internal company career site.
  • Typically over a 2 week period, the recruiter receives hundreds of resumes, which are screened to see if they meet the job description requirements.
  • If they do, the recruiter will schedule a telephone interview to further assess the candidates skills, personality, culture fit for the company, and get some basic alignment around salary expectations and reasons why they are looking for a new position.
  • A percentage of these candidates will then be scheduled for either a telephone or in-person interview with the hiring manager.
  • Another percentage of these candidates will then be passed through for interviewing with the “full interview team”.
  • In the high tech companies I’ve been in, the ratio’s tend to look like like this: If 100 resumes are received by HR, perhaps 50 will pass the paper screen, and out of these 50 maybe 20 will be passed on to the hiring manager for review and possible telephone screening. Out of these 20 typically 5 will be selected to come in and interview with the full team.
  • Assuming the process has worked, out of these 5 the hiring manager will narrow it down to 2 final candidates after the full interview cycle has taken place. At this point he/she make make their decision based on all available information, or they may bring both candidates in again for a tie breaker decision.

Ensuring You Are the Last Candidate Standing

Congratulations – you’ve done your homework, learned the various interviewing tips and tricks (including the key essentials from my Hiring Manager Secrets book on Amazon), and are now 1 of 2 candidates for the position – at this point your odds are 50/50 that the job will be yours. Pat yourself on the back, and take a deep breath. You’ve made it down the to job end game, and beat out 90 other people who may have originally applied for the position (if not more).

So now how do you increase your odds of landing the job to 100% – or somewhere north of 50%? What exactly is going to make a difference at this point in the hiring managers decision?

I’ll give you my informed perspective, as I have interviewed and help fill hundreds of positions as a manager throughout my 20 years in the industry. At this stage in the process, here is how we are viewing the final 2 candidates:

  • Both job candidates have the necessary skills to do the job we need
  • Both candidates have a strong background and related experience and proven success doing a similar role at another company
  • References and background checks have come back clean
  • The interview team thought there was a culture fit for both candidates

So how do I make the final decision? For one, I do not re-hash prior interview topics or points, as these have been covered and I feel confident we have matched the job criteria based on the above areas of focus. At this stage here is how myself and my colleagues make the final decision (which may require one more interview for each candidate) – pay attention as if you focus on these areas you will dramatically increase your chances of getting the job whereas the other candidate will be sent home:

Passion – which candidate was genuinely excited about the company and the position. This should come across clearly in their body language, tone of voice, questions and excitement that show through their questions and answers. If you aren’t good at demonstrating passion and excitement – then practice. This one attribute will count heavily in your favor in the final selection process (and you wouldn’t have made it this far if you didn’t display some of this previously).

Career Path – this position is CLEARLY on your desired career path, and is a stepping stone to your future roles and responsibilities. Often candidates will come across as being able to do the job, and may even show passion, but if they are unsure of their future career path and I get any sense that this is a “filler” job it will be a determining factor. We want people who will grow and expand in the role and at the company – not someone who will be looking for a new role in a year as the current one isn’t aligned with where they want to go.

Communication Skills – At this point each candidate will have nuances in their verbal and body language communication skills. We don’t often assess written skills or ask people to demonstrate their writing skills – we assume if they have made it this far they are good at presenting their ideas and driving discussions with colleagues, customers, etc. However, some nuances will often be looked at now – is there constant eye contact during a conversation, is someone short and concise versus rambling, can they summarize key thoughts and perspectives based on information being discussed, does their body language indicate strong engagement or does it lean more towards apathy?

Team Player – this also covers interpersonal skills. Who is demonstrating the better personality fit for working in a team environment – non-defensive, is objective, doesn’t let emotion or personal agendas color their answers to approach to questions, and is confident both in themselves, as well as in handling inevitable personal conflicts that occur in any company. Are they more interested in career advancement or  playing politics, or genuinely engaged and passionate about delivering value to the company. Nuances typically show up at this stage in terms of motivation, and these can be key in offering the job to one person over the other.

I hope this has helped – making down to the final 2 is a huge accomplishment, and you need to be sure and focus your interviewing style and approach on the areas above, versus on your skills as they relate to the job. These softer attributes are what we use to make the final cut.

Best Regards,




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