I just had a series of second interviews for a management position. Feedback was very positive and they came back pretty quickly to ask me to meet with my potential boss’s boss. I sent thank-you notes last night, reiterating some points that we discussed. I also sent one to the original person (my potential manager) who arranged the interviews. I feel good about this position and I think it shows in my confidence and attitude. I believe it’s down to two other candidates and me. What should I expect and how should I prepare to stand out from my competition in the final interview round? Thank you!

Nick’s Reply

final interviewCongratulations on taking it this far. Now, don’t over-analyze it. Whatever you did in the first two rounds worked very well. Do more of it.


Due diligence is necessary before accepting a job, and it also helps pave the way to a job offer. For example, meet key people in departments that are connected to the department you would work in. That’s how to get the inside story about whether a company is worth joining. But everyone you meet within a company is also a potential mentor, and they can all influence the company to hire you.

That’s why the more insiders you meet, the better you’ll be able to compete against those other two candidates. It takes more than thank-you notes. Let me explain.

Be that candidate

In the throes of the interview process, job hunters often lose sight of a simple fact: The employer wants to hire you. The boss wants you to be the best and final candidate so he can end the interviewing process and get back to work himself. While the hiring manager wants to quiz you, he also hopes you will take the initiative to stand out and reveal that you are the blessing the company has been waiting for.

Consider this: Would a manager rather conduct 20 formal, contrived interviews with ten candidates, or go for a long walk with one capable, articulate, motivated person who understands the business, asks insightful questions, presents well-thought-out ideas, and demonstrates the initiative to put those ideas to work? Imagine what that dialogue would be like for the manager. Be that candidate. Step out of the conventional interview process and talk shop with the boss.


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Prepare to meet the big boss

Here’s how to stand out in the final interview with the boss’s boss. Forget about sending any more notes. Instead, call the boss who already interviewed you and thank him for the stimulating meetings you just had. Then explain that you’re preparing for your meeting with his boss.

How to Say It
“The more I study your business, the more engrossed I become. I’m looking forward to meeting [your boss], and I’m glad to answer any questions she has so she can evaluate me. But I’d like to make the meeting more profitable than that. I’d like to get into the heart of your business and discuss how I think I can help. But I don’t want to be presumptuous and I certainly don’t want to seem like I’m trying to commandeer the meeting.

“May I ask for your insight and advice? Would your boss welcome a mini-business plan about how I’d do this job? Or, how would you suggest I demonstrate my value?”

Then be quiet and listen.

How to influence your final interview

If the boss encourages your approach, show off your initiative:

  • Explain that you would like to outline to his boss a brief business plan about how you will do the job.
  • Ask the boss to confirm the assumptions you’ve made.
  • Ask for any additional business- and work-related information you need to develop your presentation for the big boss.

If he responds positively, you’ll have all you need for your upcoming interview, and you will also have a new advocate. You can make similar calls to other team members and managers you’ve already met. Each not only becomes your advisor — each might influence the decision to hire you.

Role of influencers

When I schedule a candidate to meet with my client to talk about a job, I try to schedule multiple meetings with key influencers in the organization. I explain to the hiring manager that this will provide more data points on which to assess the candidate. Then I prep the candidate along the same lines I’m prepping you — emphasizing that if the candidate can attract one or more “mentors” in the process, then the odds of a good job offer go up dramatically. (For an extended discussion of the parameters of influence please read Robert Cialdini’s excellent book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.)

The larger the web of people you talk shop with, the more you influence the big boss to hire you. If you can pull this off, you will truly stand out from your competition. Is there a risk in this? Sure. You might find out that you’re dealing with people who don’t value initiative. The boss may not be willing to coach you. That suggests how he treats his employees, too.

Stand out in your final interview

On the other hand, if you play it safe and don’t make this effort, you risk being just another indistinct job candidate. In my opinion, a candidate who takes the initiative to engage the boss and his team should score big points, or look for a different employer.

It’s up to you, because the risk is yours to take. My advice is to stand out in the final interview with the boss’s boss by getting all the coaching you can from other insiders.

How many times have you made it to the final interview — but no job offer? What 3 things could you have done in advance to influence the hiring manager’s decision? How do you prepare for a final interview round?

This edition is reprinted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6 – The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, pp. 19-21. Learn how to overcome the daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks — and get 50% off on all Ask The Headhunter e-books!  Enter discount code 2022XMAS at checkout. Limited time offer. Happy Holidays! Order now!

NOTE: This is the last edition of Ask The Headhunter for 2022. See you next time, after the holidays, in the January 10, 2023 edition! Happy Holidays!

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  1. Nick, overall I agree with you if everyone is honest and upfront on both sides. What I’m finding now in the market (aside from a lot of marketing positions being put on hold or morphing into junior spots) is something that is like this, but done far earlier.

    For a recent position, after a second screening by a ‘SVP Talent’, I was told I would be asked to prepare 1) a project on patient journeys and 2) a 30/60/90 on what I would do in the position. This would be before meeting with the actual hiring manager and would be judged by a panel. As you can imagine, the red flags started flapping here.

    It’s moot right now as they’ve tabled the position until a new VP joins the team in Q1 (who may or may not be the HM) to review the specs for the position which weren’t frankly ideal for me nor for, as I saw it, their business–and I have 3 years with a direct competitor.

    Games like this seem to flourish in hard hiring times–post 2008 I was asked on interviews to reorganize departments and do 30-60-90 plans, all what I believe were information collections.

    Nick, would you be able to expand upon the bright line between what you propose and requests like these? What, for instance, prevents a company from actually using your business plan?

    • @Dee: The line between demonstrating what you can do and consenting to do free work is indeed pretty bright. In the thick of a job search, it might seem blurry. But your example highlights what should always be obvious: Don’t put any skin in the game until the employer does, too. I think I was pretty clear: We’re talking about a final (or at least 2nd or 3rd) interview where you’d do this. Prior to meeting the hiring manager, or even knowing who that is? Nope.

      Nothing prevents a company from using any work you provide without pay. The application process is voluntary.

      It seems this is an organization that has codified getting an applicant — you’re not even a candidate at this juncture! — to do the work of assessment without the employer doing any!

      I’d tell them you’d be glad to play if they will ante up first. An HR recruiter’s time is not an ante.


  2. Many job seekers fail to shift gears after the scheduling of an initial interview. The game has changed. You have been selected based on your credentials out of many others. Now you need to ensure that you “fit in.” As Nick suggests, asking good questions is key. Again, as Nick suggests, meeting as many key players is also important for two reasons: one, do you really want to work here? And two, you have the opportunity to learn what your peers expect you to do for THEM. Are you a good listener? As Yogi Berra might say, “You can hear a lot just by listening.” In this way, as Nick points out, your future peers will lobby “the powers that be” to get you hired. Nick, as always such sage advice. Regards, Matt Bud, Chairman, The Financial Executives Networking Group

    • As always, Matt–good advice. Best for the holiday! (Note to Nick–Matt and I worked together a while ago at an ad agency that’s part of history)

  3. I would just look at kununu, glassdoor or google to see if the company is any good or if they can do something with NewWork, NewHiering or NewLeading. Otherwise it’s a waste of time to invest in it…life is too short. We live in a turning point in work culture ? and different rules apply to the recruiting culture: the new king is your own employee or applicant! Because today’s job market is a consumer goods market: the applicant is the customer, the job is your product that you have to market and position. (The job product is reinvented every day) That’s the world! And that’s good. The whole procedure is/was always humiliating enough by sharing private and very personal information with someone you didn’t know and who was only out for humiliation/confrontation without eye level in this blatant imbalance of power. Today, the power lies with the applicant/employee! (I don’t like that word «power», but in the end it’s unfortunately still about not living on an equal footing and without transparency.)

  4. I think people here are assuming that the hiring manager is acting objectively in the hiring process. Depending on the position the amount of personal opinion involved can vary quite a bit. If they’re hiring some front line position then the manager’s personal opinion of the candidate is relatively insignificant (but still makes up most of the hiring position). If the employer is hiring for something like an executive position then the personal opinion of the hiring manager (which in this case is probably the CEO or owners of the company) is the ONLY thing that matters, really. Of course things are personal in the hiring process; there is no such thing as it being ‘just business’ in the so-called business world. How you stand out in the final interview will be a subjective factor, not an objective one.

  5. A subjective factor always plays a role. But I can think of 2 stories that led to a job without much fanfare (and could lead again today when Worker-lessness): after the World War you went to the employer and asked for a job. And he said come on Monday and we’ll see if it fits. After the Second World War in Munich, employers also fought over university graduates with very bad grades. And in Denmark today you start without diplomas/certificates: you let people work and prove in 3 months whether they have what it takes. But ok, in the end it’s also about sympathy.