Calming the second-interview jitters

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison suggests the right prep work and mindset to help quell anxieties and deliver a great second job interview.

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry. He is the author of Advance: The Ultimate How-To Guide for Your Career and Lose the Resume, Land the Job. For more information, see

You nailed the first interview for a job you really want, and now you’re being called back. A million competing thoughts race through your mind.

First, the adrenaline burst: They love me!

And the delusion: Nothing less than a 50% increase.

Then reality sets in: Wait, how many other candidates are they calling back?

Mix in some self-doubt: How do I compare?

Add in some fear: What new hoops do I have to jump through?

Now you’ve got a full-blown case of second-interview jitters.

The good news is you’re being brought back. It’s not uncommon for hundreds or even thousands of people to apply for most jobs. Of that group, only a dozen or so get called for an interview. After the first round, it’s more than likely that at least half the candidates are cut. So congratulations—they liked you and you proved that you’re qualified.

Just don’t assume the job is yours, whether you’re headed for a second interview … or the final one. As they say in sports, you’ve got to play to the whistle.

Overconfidence is a killer. I’m reminded of the time our firm was filling a senior executive position for a well-known global company. The finalist had an impressive background. He had gone through multiple rounds of interviews, and it looked like the offer was at hand. The last step was lunch with the CEO. Everything went great—until dessert. When the waiter set down a dish of ice cream topped with whipped cream and a cherry in front of the CEO, the candidate reached over with his spoon and dug right in. As for the job offer, let’s just say I hope that ice cream was worth the cost.

No matter where you are in the interview process, you can’t afford to leave your emotional intelligence at home.

As you prepare for the follow-up interview, know that you’re up against other qualified candidates—people whose resumes and backgrounds look very similar to yours. What will make you stand out are your right-brain skills: how well you connect and work with others. You need to make that all-important connection—don’t skimp on your homework:

  • Who else are you meeting? Find out the name and title of every person you’ll be meeting in this next round. Google them and read their LinkedIn profiles to uncover commonalities that will help you break the ice in the next interview. Where did they go to school? What other companies have they worked for? What interests do they have that you (genuinely) share?
  • Keep it fresh. After you answer “Tell me about yourself” for what feels like the hundredth time, it’s natural to wonder—didn’t I say that already? I can remember this feeling from my days in investment banking when I was part of a road-show team doing investor presentations. Sometimes we’d meet with eight different investment groups in one day, fly at night to the next city, and start all over again in the morning. No matter how repetitive it felt to us, we had to make each presentation fresh—as if it were the one and only. The same lesson applies to you when you’re in the third or fourth (or more) round of interviews. Who cares if you repeat yourself or tell the same story again to a different person? Don’t assume you can skip the preamble, thinking that the various interviewers have already traded notes. Answer every question like it’s the first time you’ve heard it.
  • Lead with your ACT. In every interview and interaction—whether you’re sitting down with the CEO or meeting a junior member of the team—lead with your ACT: be authentic, make a connection, and give others a taste of who you are. Be genuinely focused on getting to know others, especially if you are meeting with a team member who is more junior than you are. Sometimes this comes as a surprise to more experienced individuals who don’t understand why they are meeting with someone who could be reporting to them. Yet the hiring company often arranges this to determine culture fit as you interact with people at all levels. Keep in mind: everyone you meet will compare notes about how you came across and treated others.
  • Prepare to be assessed. As the selection process continues, you may have an assignment such as giving your thoughts about the role or a strategy. This may require you to present a written document, give a presentation, or both. Eventually, you may take a formal assessment to determine your strengths and areas for development (some sophisticated companies use assessments to tailor follow-up interview questions). While this can feel uncomfortable, as if you’re being studied under bright lights, embrace the process without pushback. Feedback is only meant to help you succeed—and if you’re not what they’re looking for, you’re better off knowing before you take the job.
  • Have patience. After every round, you’re going to have to wait. It will probably take the company a week or more to meet with other candidates, and for multiple interviewers to share their thoughts. And face it: these people are busy, too! So, while all you can think about is hearing back from them, they are not similarly obsessed with getting back to you.
  • Don’t put your life on hold. The competition is stiff, and no matter how much you might want the job, a great deal of the process is beyond your control. Continue your networking, keep pursuing other opportunities, and talk to other companies. Stay positive and be discerning. You’re not just looking for “a job”—you want the right job.