One area of job search that is not discussed nearly enough, in my view, is the final interview. Human nature dictates that by the time the final interview rolls around, the focus is elsewhere. Candidates tend to anticipate the job offer rather than keep their eyes focused on the prize. It's an exciting time, after all. You have made it through a long and tedious job interview process loaded with competition and pitfalls and now, finally, your hard work, research, preparation, and skills will be rewarded. The position of your dreams is within your grasp.
Now is not the time to be over-confident, complacent, or too comfortable. The final interview trap has been set. Are you going to walk into it, an unwary prey? What do I mean by "trap"? I have seen far too many candidates handle interviewing and the process "like a star" only to destroy their effort by taking the final interview for granted. Taking anything for granted is a fool-proof way of risking the opportunity. Here's how to avoid that trap and increase your chances of getting the job offer.
A final interview can take many forms. In corporate America, it may be a trip into the company's headquarters where you'll meet a number of people and have multiple interviews with perhaps the Director of Human Resources, assorted department heads, or various Vice Presidents who manage the department you'll work in or aligned departments. You may also meet with co-workers and in some cases future subordinates. If you're interviewing with smaller companies or sole proprietorships, you may meet the President or the Owner. It's rare, but the final interview may even be handled by the person you have interviewed with throughout the process.
No matter what avenue has brought you to this point, you are now here and it's critical to take it seriously. Here are some words of warning.
You may not be alone:
Never assume that you are the "only" candidate they are bringing to the final stage. You may be, but never assume that you are. The more likely scenario is that you have competition. Generally, a company will bring at least two candidates to the final interview so they have a choice and it can also be the case that there are more than two candidates. The company's intent is to make the best hiring decision they possibly can. Therefore, they may have isolated two (or more) candidates with whom they feel equally comfortable and will choose after the final round. It's like test driving a number of cars before deciding to buy one.
"Don't worry, you've got the job.":
No matter how you get to the final interview, whether you're going through a recruiter or the manager you have been interviewing with throughout the process, there is no "rubber stamp" nor is it merely a "meet and greet". It is never a case that they just need to "eyeball" you before you get the offer. Even if you are told that is the case, if you buy it, you run a major risk of not doing well and losing the position.
Don't buy your own hype and be overconfident:
You may be the best choice for the position and believe that and even have had the interviewer tell you that you are the manna from heaven he's been waiting for. The people you meet at the final interview may not be in that same blissful state...yet. Be proud that you have made it to this point in their interviewing process, but don't be over-confident. Confidence is a wonderful thing and helps with poise, but being too sure of yourself leads to cockiness and arrogance, neither of which are attractive qualities.
So, what do you have to do to get the offer and not blow the opportunity you've worked so hard to have and within your grasp? It can be simple if you keep these things in mind.
Be the best "you" that "you" can be. Take nothing for granted. Just as you have been your best up to this point throughout the interviewing process, now is the time to be even better.
Never lose sight of the fact that a first impression can make or break you. Look the part and dress as appropriately as possible. Have extra resumes and copies of your documentation along with you. Be organized. Anticipate meeting and interviewing with many people and plan accordingly.
BE AWARE OF CENTERS OF INFLUENCE!
Treat every person you meet, from the receptionist, secretary and all individuals you meet and or interview with in between as potential sources of influence. What do I mean? They will either be your ally or your enemy depending on their impression of you. They do talk and quite often give feedback to their superiors who may be your bosses in a short time. If you make a bad impression on them the word will travel like wildfire. Be polite, courteous, personable, and respectful at all times.
THEY DON'T KNOW YOU!
Whether you meet with one person for the final interview or a cross-section of the company's management, either in a series of individual interviews or as a group and panel situation, they don't know you! Treat it as a first interview because for them, it is. Use your interviewing skills, and remember that no matter how many times you have answered the same question, to them it's the first time they have heard your answer. Keep your enthusiasm and your excitement level high.
ASK FOR THE JOB!!!
Closing the sale (they are the buyer and you are the product) at this point is essential! I have seen candidates lose the position at the final minute because they didn't "ask for the job". It is that crucial! Remember this piece of advice and you will help your cause immensely. After each and every interview that day, make sure that the person you just met with knows these two things: "I want this job and why" and "I can do this job and why". Also, ask for the position! If the person you just interviewed with isn't the direct hiring manager, at the very least get a commitment that he will recommend you as the solution to the company's problem (i.e. an open position) and that he will go to bat for you. With the final interviewer, who is usually the primary decision maker, do everything in your power to get a commitment and a start date. However, do not be disheartened or discouraged if you don't get the commitment. Often it takes a day or two to make that process a reality; however, managers generally expect you to go for the commitment even if they do have to conference with everyone else before extending an offer, so always make sure that you have left no doubt in this interviewer's mind that you want this job. Asking for it is the way to communicate that in no uncertain terms.
Always follow up and do it immediately. You should send an email or a snail mail to EVERYONE you just met, so make sure that you keep track of names, titles, and ask for their business card. In your follow-up letter reiterate the two points you've made which are: "I want it" and "I can do it". Make sure you once again close your letter by "asking for the job".
These tips will go a long way in helping you avoid the final interview trap and give you a great chance to win over the competition. After all, you want your destination on the interviewing trail to be a job offer and not the polite rejection letter.