Called Back for a Second Interview? Prepare to Answer These 10 Questions was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.
After submitting a polished resume and cover letter, you aced the answers to common interview questions during your phone screen and/or first-round interview and got invited back for the second interview—in other words, the real deal.
Second interviews can take many different forms, but there are a few things you can count on. You’ll likely be speaking with the hiring manager, either one-on-one or as part of a panel interview, and either as a standalone meeting or part of a series of interviews. Many phone screens are with a recruiter, so this could be the first time you speak directly with the person who will ultimately decide if you get the job and who might become your boss. A second interview might also involve meeting with other team members or even your future boss’s boss—or it might be your second conversation with the hiring manager after you’ve completed other interviews or steps in the process (such as an interview assignment).
How you do in the second interview is often what the hiring manager will base their final hiring decision on, so if there was ever a time to shine it would be now. Wondering what’s the best way to make sure you dazzle your future employer?
Be prepared. Practice answering questions you’ll likely get in a second interview. Or, in other words, read on.
So what exactly does being prepared involve? In short, reflect on what you learned from your first interview to help you prep for your second.
First, consider what caught your first interviewer’s attention. Was there a specific skill or experience of yours they were especially keen to learn more about? Generate “examples of how you’ve navigated challenging work scenarios in the past and what projects or accomplishments you’re proudest of” that are relevant to what you’ve learned about the role, says Shanna Hocking, founder of Be Yourself Boldly and the host of the career development podcast One Bold Move a Day. These are what you’ll use to help make the case that you’re the best hire.
Next, review what you learned about the upcoming goals or the vision of the team or company. How does this role fit into that picture? “Do your research on the company and the problems they’re working to solve,” Hocking says. Spend time thinking about ideas or potential solutions. How might your experiences make you uniquely equipped to solve this problem?
Once you have some good examples and ideas lined up, the next step is to practice answering sample questions aloud. “Preparing and practicing ahead of time will make you feel much more comfortable and confident when you’re face to face with the interviewer,” says Muse career coach Jennifer Smith, founder of Flourish Careers.
It can be especially helpful to go ahead and structure the examples you’ve prepped in a way that highlights the relevant parts of each story. “Outline your stories with the following framework: objective, actions you took, and result. And then practice them over and over,” Smith says. Knowing what details to include and what to cut before you go into your interview will help you make the points you want to make and sound more polished.
With all that in mind, here are 10 questions that you may be asked in a second interview—plus some pointers on how to best answer them.
No surprises here. A lot of interviews start this way. Interviewers want not only to find out who you are, but also to learn about you in the context of the job you’ve applied for.
In other words, this is your opportunity to introduce yourself to your interviewer and connect your story to the company’s needs.
How to Answer
My go-to strategy for this interview opener is to start with your present, talk about your past, and then finish with your future. Your present is what your current role is along with any specific expertise or interests you have. Your past is the previous experience you bring and how you acquired your skills (your education, for example). And finally, your future is how you’re hoping the rest of your career is going to play out, at least for the foreseeable future.
For a second interview though, you’re going to want to center your response a bit more on the company and what you’ve learned about the role from earlier interviews. The obvious place to pepper in what you’ve learned about the role is in the “future” part of your answer, but you can also add a bit in the “present” in the form of things you are currently working on or excited about that pertain to the new role or the “past” by highlighting relevant experiences or skills.
“I’m a product manager at Alpha Tech with an interdisciplinary background and a soft spot for the design side of things, which is why this role at Beta Tech is so interesting to me—since design thinking is the foundation that Beta Tech was built on. In the six years I’ve been at Alpha Tech, I’ve led teams, pushed products through to their launch, and kept communication channels clear. When I joined Alpha Tech, I did a rotational program where I got to see how several different teams worked before settling into my current role, an experience that I think would help me get up to speed more quickly at Beta Tech given how the role oversees many of the same kinds of teams I’ve worked on before. Before that, I got my bachelors and masters in EECS [electrical engineering and computer science]—which gave me a background in coding that will help me with some of the more technical aspects of this role that Sahil mentioned on the phone. Now I’m really looking forward to taking on a more senior product management role in a place where I can work with industry leaders known for thoughtfully integrating the design and tech sides of their business.”
More likely than not you’ve already been asked some version of this question in round one, but in your second round you’ll likely be talking to different people so there’s bound to be some repetition. A repeat interviewer may also be interested in knowing your answer now that you’ve learned more about the role and the company in earlier interview rounds and conversations. Either way, your interviewer wants to know how your qualifications connect to their job opening directly and to make sure that you understand what the role entails. So don’t short change this question just because you’ve answered it before.
How to Answer
Your goal is to respond in a way that is more specific to the role and company now that you know more about what the job is and what kinds of challenges the team or organization is facing. Find the intersection of what you have to offer and what the company needs. Hopefully at this point you have some idea what that might be. If you’re not sure where to start, Smith suggests leading with a “service mindset and enthusiasm for the job.” You want to get across to the hiring manager that you not only have the right skills and the right attitude for the job, but also that you’re intrinsically motivated based on the trajectory of your career. In other words, talk about what you can do for the company, not what the company can do for you.
“In our last conversation, we talked about how fast the company is growing. It’s definitely an exciting time to join, but I know one challenge will be the process of onboarding and training a lot of new account managers. Aside from having over a decade of experience as an account manager, I’ve spent a lot of time training and mentoring new staff—first because it was just something I enjoyed doing, but then later more formally as my supervisor noticed that it’s something I’m good at. I’d be thrilled to help formalize a thorough and supportive training program for new account managers in addition to being one myself.”
Here the interviewer is trying to suss out which candidate will hit the ground running. This question is intimidating, but also a truly excellent opportunity to show off all the research you’ve done about the role and company. That said, you obviously don’t know everything about the job, so your interviewer will also be interested in how you’d fill in those gaps in your knowledge.
How to Answer
Giving the interviewer an idea of how you plan on learning about the issues they’re working on and how you plan on acting on what you’ve learned is key here. Your goals are to show what you already know about the role, how you would learn the rest (including who you’d talk to), and how you’d contribute once you’re up to speed.
“It’s been exciting to hear about some of the new initiatives the company has started in our previous conversations—like the database project and the company-wide sync, but I know there’s still a lot for me to learn. The first thing I’d do is line up meetings with the stakeholders involved in the projects I’d be tackling to help me figure out what I don’t know and then go from there. Hopping into a database project halfway through can be tricky, but I’m confident that once I know what all the stakeholders are looking for, I’ll be able to efficiently plot out our next steps and set appropriate deadlines. From there, I’ll be focused on hitting the milestones that I’ve set for the team.”
When interview questions get specific like this, it means this is a critical piece of the job. The hiring manager is really trying to envision you in the role and how you might help them. So go into detail how you would tackle their immediate challenges. Do yourself a favor and answer as comprehensively as possible. Answering something like this poorly can be a dealbreaker.
How to Answer
It can be tricky to answer a question about a new initiative (or the like) at a company you don’t work for yet. Rather than diving into hypotheticals or specifics, you’re much better off talking about your own experience with a similar situation. Start your response off by connecting what their company is going through with something you’ve worked on in the past and then focus on what you did and the takeaways from that experience.
“It’s been interesting to learn more about the plan to give employees an opportunity to ‘share’ jobs to create more flexibility for working parents. I’d definitely like to learn more about how this initiative started and what work has been done around it already. From what I know though, it seems somewhat similar—in terms of execution—to my experience spearheading a new career track for administrative assistants at my current company. I led our people ops team in developing new training, creating new policies, and implementing new procedures. It was difficult to get something brand new off the ground, but ultimately this program not only improved retention, but also became something we started talking about when recruiting. Throughout the process, I’ve seen how important it is to get buy-in for any new program, not just from management but from the employees it’s supposed to benefit. The program itself was different from the one you’re working on, but I think there’s a lot of overlap in terms of implementation that I’d be happy to discuss further.”
Aside from using the second interview to see if you’ll be able to do the job, the hiring manager is going to want to make sure you’ll work well with the existing team. This question is an attempt to understand what kind of manager or boss suits you best and whether or not your preferences match up with their work style (or the work style of whomever the position reports to).
How to Answer
Be honest about what type of boss works best for you. You don’t want to work somewhere where you won’t thrive. Questions like this might seem like they’re begging for answers filled with platitudes and buzzwords like “lead by example” and “team player,” and it’s fine to include them, but make sure you take it one step further and give an example of a management style that worked well for you.
“I’m not really a ‘beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission’ kind of person. I really value clear, upfront communication with my manager and try to be as open as possible about what I’m working on. I’ve been lucky in my current role and have had a really great relationship with my manager. Even though she trusts me to do my own thing, she makes it a point to really lay out her expectations at the beginning of every project and make sure that we’re on the same page. Other than our weekly check-in, she gives me the freedom I need to work independently. She trusts my judgment, which I appreciate, but she also makes it clear she’s available for questions or to help out with any unanticipated roadblocks. So overall I’d say I work best with a manager who allows me to work independently because they trust that I’ll always keep them up to date on what I’m working on, but is willing to check in and answer questions when I need it.”
Similar to the previous question, this question also gets at how you’d work with the current team, but the interviewer is also looking for some additional insight into your problem solving strategies. More specifically, they’re trying to find out what kind of conflict resolution skills you have.
How to Answer
Don’t tiptoe around this by giving an example where there isn’t really a disagreement. Conflicts happen at work and by avoiding the question you’re showing that you might be the kind of person who is afraid to voice their opinion or, worse, is oblivious to conflict happening around them.
For most “Tell me about a time when” questions, you’ll want to tell a story and include a moral—or what the interviewer should take away from the story. You never really know what the interviewer is going to focus on in your answer, so you’re best off telling them what to focus on. You can do this either at the beginning of your answer or at the end.
“You’re probably familiar with the phenomenon that happens in all labs: Everyone needs the same piece of equipment at the same time. So in my current lab there’s a calendar system where you book time on a piece of equipment’s calendar to claim it. It works pretty well, but there’s an unspoken protocol where if you need to use something urgently enough, you can basically boot someone out of their slot. I did this once, when I was newer to the lab. I thought I was following the rules, but the person I booted was absolutely livid. I was not aware that there was another aspect of this loophole that involved seniority. When confronted, I tried to explain why I needed to use the piece of equipment and why it was time sensitive, but I also mentioned what lab rule I was following. That’s when I found out that lab members didn’t invoke this protocol for someone more senior than them. If I hadn’t gone back and specified exactly what rules I was following, my colleague would never have told me the bit about seniority. Once I figured out what I did wrong, I apologized. In general, when I’m dealing with conflict with a coworker, I try to really understand what the actual issue is—this one being an information gap on my end and not knowing where I was coming from on my colleague’s end—so that we can solve it together rather than talk around it and past one another.”
Don’t be alarmed. Second-round interviews tend to get a bit more probing than first-round interviews, so you should be prepared for interviewers to want to dig a bit deeper. The interviewer is going to try to find any red flags from your previous experience, including why you are leaving or have left your most recent role. Were you fired or are you just looking for a more challenging role? Was there something else you weren’t getting from your last job that this job will offer you? Or are you likely to leave this job quickly for similar reasons?
How to Answer
Try to be honest without going negative. Even if you literally only have bad things to say about your current or previous employer, keep your answer neutral to positive. It almost doesn’t matter what your story is, going negative only makes you and your own experience look bad. Instead, focus on what this job has to offer that your previous job did not.
“I learned a lot in my last role and I enjoyed the work that I did—it was really an incredible introduction to the publishing industry—but I’m also looking for ways to expand my understanding of the field, so I began searching for roles related to the marketing side of things. This role seems to be the perfect way to build on the foundation my last role gave me, while focusing more on marketing.”
Again, this is an attempt to figure out if your career path and the company’s goals overlap—one of the company’s goals being that this role stays filled for a long time. So it’s not surprising that they’ll be wondering how likely it is you’ll want to stick around for a while. Onboarding and training a new employee, even if they have relevant skills, is a labor intensive and costly process. Hiring managers are generally not that interested in investing in someone who plans on leaving in the next year or two. Goals that indicate a strong match and your willingness to stay put could be the things that give you a leg up over the other candidates brought in for a second interview.
How to Answer
You can be pretty specific with your short-term goals. And they should obviously align very closely with the role you are applying for. For your long-term goal, you can be a bit more vague. Go for something that implies an upward trajectory—like managing a team or leading a project—but you don’t necessarily need to say you want it to be at the company you’re applying for unless that really is your goal. In other words, be honest—just not so honest that you disqualify yourself.
“I feel like there is always more to learn in supply chain management. In the next couple of years, I’d like to continue learning the ins and outs of the field, pick a specialty, and really become an expert in that speciality. For that reason, I was especially excited about how large and varied your supply-chain management operations are. In terms of the future, one of the things I’m definitely looking forward to doing—hopefully within the next few years—is getting more management experience. I’ve only ever managed interns at this point, but I’d love to lead my own team one day.”
It’s likely you’ve already talked about salary in your first interview. Most hiring managers want to make sure they can afford you before bringing you in to meet the team, so if you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably more or less on the same page. Still, it may come up again—particularly if you didn’t really give a firm number—and you should have something ready to go.
How to Answer
Money is always a little awkward to talk about, but you can blunt the awkwardness and leave some room for future negotiation by giving a salary range. There are several online resources that you can peruse to get an idea of what your salary should be, such as the LinkedIn Salary Tool or PayScale. From there, take into account your own experience and current salary.
Don’t forget that you can always demur and ask the interviewer what the salary range for the role is first.
“Based on my previous experience in marketing and the job duties we’ve discussed, I would expect something around $65,000 to $75,000. But I know salary is just one component of a job offer—I’m definitely open to talking about this in more detail later on.”
Interviews are, in theory, a continuing conversation between two parties. The hiring manager isn’t just evaluating you, you’re also scoping out the company. This question is a way to continue the conversation from your first interview and is actually a nice gesture from the interviewer. They’re giving you a chance to lead the conversation.
How to Answer
It can be very tempting to just say, “Nope!” and call it a day. After all, interviews are generally nerve-racking and not fun. But I would encourage you to resist cutting your interview short and really consider if there was anything you could have answered more comprehensively or something that you forgot to mention entirely. This is one of those questions where you can really make it anything you want it to be. If you could say anything to the hiring manager, what would you say? This is another chance to make your case—or a second chance to say what you meant to say the first time around.
Remember when you were preparing for this interview and you came up with a few good stories to talk about that really represented your work and experience and skills well? If you haven’t already talked about all of them, semi-open questions like this one or “Is there anything else you’d like me to know?” are golden opportunities to share the ones you haven’t gotten to yet. You just need to find the right transition into the story.
“Since our first conversation, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way you spoke about the company’s commitment to diversity. I’ve been a co-lead of my company’s Asian American ERG for a couple years now and it’s really important to me that diversity is valued in the workplace. I’ve been really impressed to see how even the recruitment process has reflected this commitment. Given the opportunity, I’d love to help continue pushing the needle forward, whether it’s through another ERG or some other avenue at the company.”
Aside from being prepared to answer questions, you should also be ready to ask some yourself. “It shows you’re prepared and want to learn—and remember, you’re interviewing the company, too!” Hocking says.
Typically, you’ll be given the opportunity to ask at least a couple questions toward the end of the interview. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the role or team, but also to show off some of the homework you’ve done on the company since your last interview. Don’t be afraid to bring up what you already know—it’s a great way to further demonstrate how interested you are. Ideally, your questions can show that you’re already catching on to what the role is going to call for based on your previous interviews or even networking conversations. An excellent way to end the interview is for the interviewer to think you’d be quick to train.
Just don’t forget to also ask any questions you’d like to know the answer to before deciding to accept the role if it’s offered to you!
A few general favorites from Smith include:
- What is your favorite and least favorite thing about working for your company?
- Is risk-taking encouraged?
- What happens when people fail?
- How would you describe organizational politics?
You can also get specific with questions like:
- You mentioned [new project], what would this position’s role be in that?
- When I spoke with [team member], it sounded like the team is looking for someone who can [skill]. Could you tell me more about how you see this role interacting with the rest of the team?
Read More: 51 Great Questions to Ask in an Interview
Let’s assume you knocked that second interview out of the park thanks to all that prep work you did. Don’t mess it up now by forgetting this important final step: writing a thank you note.
The thank you note is likely the last bit of communication you have with the hiring manager before they make a decision about who to hire (or at least who to move to the final stages of the process). It can be tempting to just dash off a quick email or go the opposite direction and write a novel rehashing all the ways you are qualified for the job. Instead, try to strike a happy medium and write a note—an email is fine—that thanks them for their time, highlights the parts of the conversation you especially enjoyed, and concludes with how what you learned makes you even more enthusiastic about the opportunity. Or, you know, just follow this thank you note template.
That’s it. Now go prepare. Good luck!