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How to Get Further in the Interview Process

Business.com’s Director of People and Culture shares the difference between candidates that get an interview and those that don’t get a…

As the Director of People and Culture in a growth company, I have my hands in every stage of the employee life cycle, including the recruiting and hiring of employees at Business.com.

In 2014, I personally held approximately 372 phone interviews and 67 in-person interviews for roles ranging from sales to engineering and everything in between. We are expanding our sales team this year, and I expect those numbers to dramatically increase in 2015.

For the past three years in a row, Business.com has been named one of the Best Places to Work in San Diego, and a big part of that is the emphasis we place on our people and the role they play in our culture.  As part of my process in evaluating talent, I look for patterns and over the last year have observed some pretty stark differences between candidates that get hired and those who do not get a call back.

Here are my tips to help those who may have been out of the interview market for a while, or those of you who are new to the process.

Prepare for the Phone Interview

I am often surprised by how many people do not prepare for a phone interview, this is your opportunity to make a first impression and get yourself to the next round of hiring! Do not misread the purpose of the initial call; this is the time for you to qualify yourself for the position.

Take time to research the company, re-read through the job posting and know who you are speaking with going into the phone interview. If you are applying for a position in a new industry and get to the initial phone interview, take some time to get a working knowledge of that industry and business model.  You can do this by spending time on the company’s website, reading articles or blog posts they may have published and researching anything you don’t understand.

This will show the interviewer that even though this may be a foreign industry to you, you have initiative and are not afraid to spend your own time trying to learn about the business.  This is a crucial trait for anyone who wants to successfully transition into a new space, especially digital media. This goes without saying, be sure to prepare a list of questions that will help you better understand the expectations of the role and how the role fits into the broader strategy of the company.

Related Article: You Are Your Best Asset: The Importance of a Personal Brand on Social Media

Ask Questions

This leads me into my next point, ask smart questions. I can forgive a lot of faux paus in the interview process, but not asking thoughtful questions is a huge no-no. Asking relevant questions showcases your hands on experience and how your thought process works. It also shows your interest and preparedness in an interview. I think it’s important to ask broad questions like “What is the culture like?” and “What is the vision for the company over the next five years?” because it will help you determine if the company culture may be a good fit for what you are looking for.

However, when you ask questions specific to the role like “What platform are you using to manage key words?” or “How long is the typical sales cycle and deal size?” this illustrates your familiarity with a role and helps you put together final thoughts on whether you are a good fit for the position.

Don’t Trash Your Former Employer

Think of this as a first date, if you go to dinner with someone new, you don’t immediately start to bash your ex for not picking up their dirty socks or not going to brunch with your mom. If you did not see eye to eye with your former employer, that is okay, it happens. Most new employers don’t want to hear you complain about your former employer, really for any reason. There is a classy way to say it just didn’t work out and still illustrate the value you added at that company.

Related Article: 11 Entrepreneurs Weigh in on the Cover Letter vs. Résumé Debate

How Can You Add Value

If you are looking to get hired into a growth company, it is not enough to just meet the requirements of the position. You need to give specific examples of how you added value in your last company and how you supported the overall strategy. Even though you may have optimized paid traffic, your ability to tie that into your former company’s strategy shows that you lean into the organizations you work for and understand the levers that will drive the business.

Once you have gotten further into the interview process, you should have a solid understanding of this role (because you asked thoughtful questions- see above) and be able to demonstrate how you can add value to the organization you are looking to join.

Follow Up

It seems as though sending a thank you note to interviewers is a dying custom. I consider it a best practice to send a note to those who took time out of their busy schedule to consider you as a candidate.  Sure it may seem a little old school, but it shows you have great follow up in your communication and are genuinely interested in the opportunity.

In our digital media industry, an email is sufficient, but in a more traditional environment a handwritten note may be more acceptable. I would also recommend mentioning something specific to the conversation you had with that interviewer versus sending a blanket message to everyone you met with.  This is also the time to reiterate your excitement at the prospect of joining the company and why you are a fit for the role. Sending a timely follow up note will likely never get you the job, but it will certainly help you stand out against another similarly qualified candidate.

Working in a growth company requires a team of people that are dedicated and passionate about what they do because every single hire has the ability to impact the business. If you have interest in joining a growing company, you need to make yourself stand out from other applicants by demonstrating your superb communication skills, how you can add value and your thoughtful preparation and follow up throughout the interview process. With a few simple steps, that is easily done.

If you have interest in joining our growing company, be sure to check out our careers page and check out a short video on life at Business.com.


Vanessa Johnson

Vanessa joined Business.com in 2012 as the Human Resources Manager of Talent & Culture. In this role, Vanessa has led a number of initiatives including the development and implementation of Employee Engagement Surveys, Quarterly Employee Performance Ratings, Non-Harassment Training, and an Employee Handbook to name a few. Vanessa currently manages an HR Department of “1” and balances the day to day management of Business.com’s HR function with strategic initiatives that are aligned with business goals to drive our company forward.

Vanessa has been in HR for over 8 years, specializing in digital media companies unique cultural environments and hiring needs.

In her spare time, Vanessa enjoys getting outside and enjoying San Diego’s coastal region and beautiful climate with her friends, family and pup!

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