How to Ace The Preliminary Interview

How to ace a preliminary interview?

Most job seekers prepare for less than 10 minutes before their first interview with a recruiter.

With an average of 1 in 4 candidates moving to the next round, that’s a mistake. Nothing is worse than getting shot down fast and then regretting that you didn’t take the interview seriously.

The trick is to understand that a recruiter’s questions may seem basic or simple but the way you answer them can mean the difference between moving onto or getting a rejection email.

Based on my own years of experience recruiting, and the insights of a dozen top recruiters I reached out to, here’s the skinny on how to make or break your first interview.


QUESTION #1: What makes you want to leave your current (or last) job?

BEST ANSWER: Recruiters are looking for people who want to improve their careers, continue growing and learning, and make a bigger impact. Focus your answer on what motivates and excites you about the prospect of both the role and the company. Talk about the contributions you want to make and how you want to stretch yourself. Spend 10% of your answer talking about what’s not working in your current/most recent role and 90% on where you want to head in your career.

If you were laid off, be honest about it. There’s no shame in being laid off as it has nothing to do with performance. Even high performers get laid off.

WORST ANSWER: Avoid indicating that you’re only interested in how “hot” or high profile the company is, that your last job bored you, or that you’re looking to escape from your awful manager. These responses will give the impression that you’re more interested in fleeing your current employer or are not very thoughtful about your next career step.

QUESTION #2: Why do you want to work for us?

BEST ANSWER: The recruiter wants to hear you sell back to them the company’s value proposition in a genuinely excited way. Make sure you can clearly articulate how they are positioned in the marketplace, what you like about them that has them stand out from the competition, and why you want to be a part of it.

WORST ANSWER: Anything that indicates you have very little clue as to who they are and what they do. Also, focusing too much on how awesome the perks are is a sure sign that you don’t really care about the company or how you can make impact and more interested in the direct benefits to you. Total turnoff!

QUESTION #3: If I ran into your current boss, what would they say about you?

BEST ANSWER: Recruiters are looking to see how acutely aware you are of your strengths and areas of professional development in addition to how you think you are perceived by others, especially your manager. Lead in with your top 2-3 strongest attributes and also include one area for development. Make sure the development area is something real, not a strength in disguise. For example, “my boss would say that I could do a better job of empathizing with other team members and to ask more clarifying questions when I’m unsure of what’s being asked of me.” Authenticity is powerful.

WORST ANSWER: I was constantly shocked by how many candidates would share strengths that were not applicable to the role for which they were interviewing. What’s the point of learning about strengths that won’t make you successful in the role? Conversely, bringing up a development area that would be detrimental to your success in the role will raise a red flag. However, hiding development areas shows a lack of self-awareness and will reduce your credibility in the eyes of the recruiter, so make sure you’ve thought this through in advance and can articulate something insightful but not damaging.

Overall, the recruiter’s goal in this first interview is to unearth the “real” you, determine if you are worth taking a chance on in terms of presenting you to the hiring manager, and whether you’d be a good culture fit for the company. The more articulate, authentic, positive, and well prepared you are, the greater your chances of moving onto the next round. Above all else, BE YOURSELF!

If you’re not spending an hour or two doing your research, teasing out your answers to these questions, and rehearsing them a few times in the mirror, then you aren’t doing everything you can to win the advocacy of the recruiter. And you can’t be surprised when your get that disappointing email.

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About the Author

As a Career Stylist, Kelly Studer has been transforming careers for ambitious professionals and executives at Fortune 500 companies, start-ups, and everything in between.