How to approach a sign off interview
Is a sign off interview ever really just a ‘rubber stamp’?
The theory goes the final sign off interview should be a formality, a walk in the park, however experience tells me it is often far from it. It is very rare that a final interview really is just a sign off, more often than not it is very much part of the selection process. If it really is just a sign off then why waste everyone’s time? If positioned incorrectly by the recruiter or client and not prepared for effectively by the candidate, there is a good chance the opportunity could be lost. There are a number of factors to consider as part of your planning and preparation for what is often a very different type on interview.
Who will you meet?
Depending on the level of the role and the size of the organisation, the final interview may be conducted by a senior manager, members of the senior leadership team or potentially the CEO. Sometime called a “grandfather” chat it may be you are meeting the Line Manager’s, Line Manager. In the final interview, you may also be asked to meet a number of people in the business, including prospective co-workers, and you may even have multiple interviews. It is critical you establish who you are meeting so that you can best prepare yourself.
What typically throws candidates when being interviewed by these senior leaders is not necessarily the questions they ask, but the style of the individual and the way in which they conduct the meeting. As part of your preparation it is worth considering some of the interview styles you are likely to face. This meetings are likely unstructured, non-competency based about and focused on the senior leader getting to know you. How they do this may differ considerably!
Possible Styles of interview
Domineeringor Argumentative: this style is used by some senior leaders to put you on edge. This may be to test how you react under pressure or to see how you cope in challenging environments. Just remember, don't take it personally or let it throw you off – that is what they are trying to achieve. Stick to your plan and if you have prepared you are less likely to be caught off guard.
Friendly: this overly casual style is just as dangerous for candidates. You need to be aware it might make you lose focus or make you feel so comfortable that you let things slip that you had no desire to talk about. However comfortable they make you feel, keep it professional, on-track and remember at all times that it is still an interview.
Distracted: I have often had feedback that from people suggesting the interviewer appeared distracted or disinterested. Although it may feel like they are just going through the motions, it is worth remembering that a busy executive wouldn't spend time in an interview for no reason. It may well be that they have other things on their mind or are under time pressure so stick to your plan and try not to let their style distract you.
Stone faced: This can be very difficult for the candidate and certainly unnerving but arguably one of the most common interview styles at a senior level. When you can't "read" the interviewer it is difficult to know where things are heading and some people struggle with the lack of acknowledgement and positivity. This could be a deliberate strategy to unnerve you so, stick to your message and don’t let it distract you.
It is worth, where possible, identifying the style of the person conducting your final interview. If you have been successful in winning over the hiring manager and they want you on board, they may be willing to provide you with some counsel and support to guide you about what to expect at that final stage. In the absence of this it is about mentally preparing yourself for the different types of interview, making sure you have a clear plan and then sticking to it.
Previous interviews: It is likely that you will have been through a number of interviews before you get to the final stage. It is really important when preparing that you review previous interviews and recall what you discussed and the names of the people with whom you've interviewed and interacted. Being able to recall this detail shows interest and commitment and it is likely that topics from previous interviews will be discussed.
Questions: this is an area where candidates often under-prepare. It is normally the last part of the meeting and therefore may be the lasting impression you leave the interviewer with.Intelligent questions show you've prepared for the interview and have knowledge about the position and the employer. If you've already asked many questions during the other interviews, you can ask the same questions during the last interview if you have a different interviewer to get another perspective. Show both your enthusiasm and your curiosity about the employer, the position and the business in general.
Be Yourself: this is important. Throughout the process people have bought in to you. In that sense it is more of the same, being yourself will come across as engaging and genuine. Being somebody you are not may sometimes allow you to secure a role but will it be a good fit?
It is important that during this interview that you sell yourself and the experience that you have. Everyone wants to know what they’re getting for their money. Present your background in a confident yet modest way. Demonstrating how it would add value to their organisation.
As suggested above, unless the final interview is coming after a formal job offer and is simply for negotiating pay or benefits, you cannot presume you already have the job. If this is not the case then it really isn’t a sign off. Don’t let the hiring manager, internal resourcer or recruitment consultant lull you into a false sense of security. Failing to take it seriously as an interview and as part of the selection process may lose you the position. It is worth establishing if you are the only candidate left in the running however it is important that this doesn’t affect your approach. You will still need to present yourself as the best candidate for the job without appearing arrogant or overconfident. The interview may very well be more than the "final nod" of approval. This final crucial encounter could make or break your success in landing the position.