What to Do Immediately After an Interview

Derek Attig outlines steps you should take to set yourself up for success in the next stages of the hiring process and beyond.

October 22, 2018
 
 
Istockphoto.com/ivan-balvan

You just finished a job interview. Moments ago, you hung up the phone or arrived back at your hotel room. What should you do next?

Interviews are draining and stressful, so it might be quite tempting to follow an interview immediately with a run, nap or bowl of ice cream. (Tag yourself: I’m definitely a bowl-of-ice-cream person.) But if you do any of that right away, you are missing a vital opportunity to advance your job search and your career.

Taking just 15 to 30 minutes to follow the steps I outline below will allow you to use your interview experience to set yourself up for success in the next stages of the hiring process and beyond. This advice applies to any kind of job search -- whether in or outside academe.

Have you ever had the experience that, not long after an interview ends, all the details fade -- except for the bits you wish you could forget? If so, you’re far from alone. I advise hundreds of graduate students every year who are interviewing for jobs, and when debriefing with them after an interview, I can almost always predict what they’ll say: they won’t remember what questions were asked or answers they thought they aced, but they can definitely remember when they said the wrong word or couldn’t think of a strong response.

And while that’s totally natural, it’s also not terribly helpful as you look ahead to the next interview or a potential offer. One of the most important roles an interview plays is to give the candidate an opportunity to learn more about the position, the employer and their maybe-soon colleagues. Understanding more about them lets you predict future questions, understand their priorities and assess whether you actually want to work with them. But if all you end up remembering is your own mistakes, then you won’t have the data that lets you do that.

The solution? The instant you hang up the phone or get back to the hotel, sit down with your note-taking technology of choice (a Word document, a notebook and pen, a whiteboard, a voice memo app) and start writing. Spend at least 15 minutes -- and maybe as many as 30 -- recording everything you can remember about the interview.

You’ll want to take a lot of notes. Here are questions to consider:

  • What did they ask? This is especially important if another interview may take place in the hiring process. The questions they ask can tell you a lot about what matters to them, and it’s often the case that second- or third-round interview questions have a lot in common with questions asked earlier in the process. (If the first interview included questions about managing complex projects, for example, it’s likely that later interviewers will ask questions about your project and time management experience.) Write down each, as precisely as you can remember them.
  • How did you answer? What notes did you hit in your responses? Returning to and reinforcing themes in later interviews or in negotiation can strengthen your case. But also make note of the stories and examples you used. If you use exactly the same stories, and only the same stories, in later interviews, they might start to wonder how broad your experience really is.
  • What seemed to matter to them? Formal interviews over the phone and less formal conversations during on-site interviews can both give you invaluable insight into an employer’s priorities. What new initiatives did the dean seem obsessed with? What did the hiring manager tell you about the company’s strategic priorities?
  • Did you get any new information? Did the interview seem like it was for a job different from the one described in the initial posting? In what ways? Why do you think that was?
  • What was the vibe like? Interviews can tell you a lot about the culture of the organization, so pay attention to your instincts. Did you like the people you talked to? Did their interactions with you and one another indicate a work environment that is more rigid or more flexible? More hierarchical or more flat?
  • Whom should you thank? One of your next steps should be following up on the interview with a thank-you note, so make a list of the people who should get emails from you.

And, since interviews are a great learning opportunity, you should take notes about yourself, as well. Here are questions to ask:

  • What went well? What didn’t? Even if this interview results in an offer, it’s unlikely to be the last interview of your career. And an actual interview is the perfect opportunity to gather data on how you perform under pressure. Start with the positive. What did you do well? Did any approaches to structuring your answers work particularly well? Did a new strategy for setting up your computer for a Skype interview pay off? (Returning to these notes about how you rocked it can be a good idea later when your brain tries to convince you later on that the experience was all a disaster.) Then consider lessons learned. What could you improve next time? Did trying to tell a particular story trip you up? Did you get a question you’d never considered and need to prep for it in the future?
  • What do you want to emphasize in the next stage?: Whether the next step of the search process is another interview or an offer and negotiation, use what you learned in the interview to help you think about what you want your messaging to be. What did they seem excited about in your background? What didn’t seem to land in the way you had hoped? What skills that you have seem like high priorities for them?
  • Who are you interested in connecting with? If you don’t end up getting an offer, an interview can still turn out to be a great networking opportunity. Especially in an on-site interview, you may meet with a ton of people, some of whom you may want to connect or collaborate with in the future. Jot down those people’s names now, along with what you discussed. (Plan to wait until after the search process is finished and then reach out.)

Don’t worry about thinking too hard at the note-taking stage. Just get everything down as thoroughly as possible before your brain crashes. You can sort through the rich, detailed mess later on.

It may also be a good idea at this stage, however, to set an agenda for deep reflection in the coming days. That’s one of the reasons you want to take good notes. You might get a follow-up interview request or an offer soon, and once that happens, your prep time is often minimal. So think about the timeline of the search (you ideally asked someone about that during the interview) and plan to use some time before the next trigger to think hard about whether and under what circumstances you want this position.

Can you see yourself in this position, at this organization, working with these people? Based on what you learned in the interview, will this job help you build the career you want? Under what circumstances -- salary, start date and so forth -- would you accept this job? Thinking about those questions in the coming days will get you ready to evaluate an offer and move forward with confidence.

OK. Phew. You’ve finished note taking and agenda setting. Now the interview is actually over, and it’s finally time to rest and recover. Go for that run, or take that nap, or get a big bowl of ice cream. And be kind to yourself in the ensuing days and hours, as you wait for news and your ridiculous brain starts to tell you lies.

Bio

Derek Attig is director of career development at the Graduate College of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a member of the Graduate Career Consortium -- an organization providing a national voice for graduate-level career and professional development leaders.

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