All of life's a stage: A winning interview in 3 acts

Whether you’re a hiring manager or a job seeker, a good job interview consists of 3 Acts:

Act 1: Discovery – really open-ended and a chance for the interviewer to learn about the candidate or the candidate to learn about the job

Act 2: Specifics – specific questions about the candidate qualifications or the requirements of the job

Act 3: Connection – Selling the job to the candidate or the candidate to the hiring manager

Interviews are a small window of time to build a relationship and assess fit. That’s a lot for 30-ish minutes, so we have some suggestions on how to maximize your interview time.


For Interviewers:

Act 1: Discovery

“Tell me about your career narrative.” – This is a good opener because it helps provide a framework from which you can ask more specific questions. Part of your job as an interviewer should be to understand a job seeker’s path/trajectory/motivations. What’s their story? What led them to this point career-wise? “Tell me about yourself” is too broad – you may end up with a dissertation on knitting, which has nothing to do with the job.

This question is the blankest slate possible – there’s no leading involved. You should ask a follow-up question or two (“why” questions are good here). In a 30-minute interview, this question could take up to 10 minutes depending on what you hear, especially with someone who’s switching careers or if you have a specific role in mind for someone.

Don’t start an interview with the specific needs of the job and ask if the interviewee can do that – it’s too leading. You’ll get answers that are skewed to your questions. Don’t talk about what you need, ask about who they are, what their goals are, what they want, what their performance has been.


Act 2: Specifics

“How were you measured in your last position and how did you deliver on that?” – Your goal as an interviewer is to find out how “good” a potential employee is. Ask about annual, quarterly, or monthly goals, and about KPIs in specific time periods. Avoid asking leading questions, such as, “Do you think you’re a good salesperson/marketer/etc.?” You want data here, often to support a more intuitive conclusion you reached in Act 1.

For example, if a candidate’s resume contains roles with short tenure, does that mean they’re a poor performer, or that they’re a rock star who loves working with high-risk startups and is in high demand?

Always have a policy of “show, don’t tell.” If someone says, “I was the top salesperson in my last position,” what does that mean? Were they the top every year? Every quarter? Every month? Were there thousands of salespeople or was it a team of seven? Make sure any claims are substantiated by data (not that you can verify the data, but you can hear inconsistencies in a story and the candidate could struggle with facts if it’s inaccurate data).


Act 3: Connection

Moving into Act 3, the segue is either:

  1. “I think there may be a fit and I would like your feedback.”
  2. “I don’t think there’s a fit here but I will keep you in mind for other opportunities.”

Present the opportunity in the context of what they’ve laid out as their desires and qualifications. “I saw a match, do you see a match? What’s our next step here?” Always schedule the next step immediately if you can. Tell the candidate what the process is unless you’ve ruled them out.

If it was not a fit, keep the relationship positive because you never know when you will cross paths again.


For Job Seekers:

Act 1: Discovery

When you interview for a new position, you should be asked about your work history and career-related story right off the bat. The interviewer will see bumps and lumps in your resume and your career and, just like with mashed potatoes, your story should be as smooth as possible. Make sure your career narrative flows and makes sense, even if your path wasn’t linear. Check out our post on how to best structure your career narrative.


Act 2: Specifics

A good interviewer will ask you about your work success. How were you measured? What goals did you meet? How did you achieve your KPIs? Make sure you have some of these numbers and stories at hand. This is why we suggest printing your resume (which should include these metrics clearly) and keeping it next to you during the interview. Avoid making things up – the interviewer will be able to tell if you are winging it.

This is essential. We can’t count the number of times a hiring manager has said an interviewee lacked specific details about their career and performance narrative so they passed on hiring that candidate.

If you have the opportunity, this is a good time to ask questions about the job, the organization, and the market.


Act 3: Connection

As you wrap up the interview, the hiring manager may think you’re a good fit for the position, or they may not. If you both feel it may be a good fit, what’s the next step?

Realize that at this point you can also ask questions of the interviewer. If they don’t offer (they should), ask if you can ask a few questions. This is your chance to make things more personal and relational, as well as to learn some things. Ask questions such as:

  • “Why did you come here?”
  • “What do you know now that you didn’t know when you were interviewing?”
  • “Why is the position open?”
  • “What’s the history of the position?” (if it’s not a new expansion/hire).
  • “What will it take to be successful in this job? What defines success in this role?” A surprising number of candidates leave a job interview without knowing this, and an equally surprising number of hiring managers have trouble answering this question.
  • “What’s the process look like?”
  • “What’s your sense of urgency?”
  • “What do you think? It looks like a fit to me. Do you have any concerns?”
  • “Is there anything that you think I should know? Are there other questions I should be asking?” You don’t know what you don’t know, so this gives the interviewer a chance to fill in the blanks.

As a job seeker, realize that no company is completely accurately represented by one conversation with one person. Try not to dismiss a potential opportunity as a “bad fit” too early in the process.

Keep interviewing with as many companies as you can until you get an offer or, preferably, multiple offers. You may love a company but get a bad offer. Keep selling yourself until you feel like you can make a decision that supports your overall career objectives.

After the interview, make sure to send a thank you note!


In Summary

The onus on an interviewer is to ascertain if there’s a fit with the candidate. The onus on the candidate is to persuade the interviewer that you’re the best person for the job and to get an offer (or get one step closer to an offer!). Normally there are more candidates than there are open positions, so it always feels like an interviewer’s market. This shifts with different markets and cycles, but this tends to be the case more often than not.

On both the candidate and interviewer sides, decisions are often made based on the relationship built in the interview. The interview is your chance to build that relationship and find that fit, so make the best use of your time.

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