Congrats! You just heard back from a recruiter, HR member, or hiring manager that you’re being invited to a call to discuss a position you’ve applied for. Your resume stood out from the rest, and you’re excited to move forward with the process. And then…the panic sets in.
Okay, “panic” might be a strong word, but for many of us, that first conversation with a potential future employer can be at least mildly stressful. That’s why today we’re going to break down the two types of initial calls or meetings you’re likely to encounter during the interview process, as well as how you can prepare for each so that you feel confident and relaxed for this step.
Often conducted by an outside recruiter or a member of the HR team, an initial conversation (sometimes also known as a “screening call,” although we prefer not to use this term) is the organization’s chance to ensure there’s alignment between the resume and the real person. In other words, they’re looking to see that you have the basic requirements they are looking for.
Folks conducting these interviews aren’t out to trip you up, but they are looking to get more details about your specific skills and qualifications. As such, you’ll want to prepare in two ways:
- It might seem obvious, but have your application materials in front of you. Come prepared with examples for the requirements they are looking for that you meet.
- Review your research about the organization so that you can demonstrate excitement and any personal stake in the mission, and always be prepared to ask at least three questions of your own. In addition to asking questions that relate directly to the position, we also recommend asking about things like:
- What is the anticipated timeline for filling this position?
- What are the steps in the interview process and when are they looking to have someone start?
- When should I expect to hear from you one way or another?
Two important things to keep in mind! First, know when your call is supposed to end and honor that timeframe. Second, if you’re speaking to someone other than the hiring manager, that individual may not be able to answer all of your questions, but typically they can follow up with additional details via email. View these initial conversations more as a two-way conversation, as it’s your first chance to get to know if you really want to work there.
Whether you made it through the initial conversation phase, or the interview is your first conversation with the organization, now’s your chance to dig deeper and get to know them better. Do even more detailed homework on the area for which you’re applying. For example, applicants for communication and marketing positions should review social media posts and press releases; organizing folks should look at the active campaigns that organization has going on. Again, this may seem obvious, but in our experience, many candidates don’t take advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate they’ve done this type of research in advance. Even a brief mention such as “I loved the social media post about your last campaign and how you used reels and stories to connect with your audience,” or “Coming from the community your mission focuses on, I felt a connection immediately.”
When answering questions, make notes as you go and take your time in responding, particularly for long or multi-part questions. We firmly believe that it’s always okay to ask your interviewer to repeat or rephrase a question. If you’re a visual person and the interview is done via video conference, ask them to put the question in the chat. Although you’re the one being interviewed, slowing things down a bit and using communication tools and technology can help you feel in control and confident that you’re providing a thoughtful response.
Be prepared to explain anything in your resume that you think might raise flags for an employer, such as gaps in employment or a series of short stints at successive employers. There are often perfectly reasonable reasons for these occurrences, so feel free to explain them to the extent that you’re comfortable doing if the questions come up.
For the interview, we recommend having three additional questions prepared. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- What are some key challenges the person in this position will be faced with Day 1? Week 1?
- Can you tell me more about the staff culture at this organization from the perspective of the staff?
- Can you say more about [any aspect of the position description that you’d like clarification or additional information on]?
- What is the organization’s approach to professional development of staff?
- When are you anticipating reaching out to candidates about next steps?
Finally – always, always send a thank you note! Email is perfectly acceptable; in fact, these days it’s preferred over dropping something in the mail, as you can’t be assured who will actually receive it. If you’ve interviewed with multiple people in separate conversations, send individualized messages and be specific in addressing something from each interview (e.g. “I appreciate your insights into the departmental culture around hybrid work”). If you talked to multiple people in a single interview, one note is totally fine. Even if you’re sending the thank you note to a recruiter or HR person, they will often forward that message along to the interview committee.
At Movement Talent, our goal is to prepare candidates (and employers!) for productive initial conversations and interviews that are informative, engaging, and relatively stress free. We offer training and coaching to help you achieve your goals during the application process. Learn more here.