How can I stand out in the final interview?

How can I stand out in the final interview?


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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How to start job hunting NOW

How to start job hunting NOW


I always look forward to your column, whether I’m looking for a job or sitting comfortably in one. You have a way of cutting through the crap on this subject. And you did it again very well in your column in the Seattle Times: “Why Can’t I Keep a Good Job?” You posed the question, “…will you choose your next job, or will it choose you?” Wow. That really sums it up. I took the wrong job. Now I’m stuck. Any suggestions on how to start job hunting now?

Nick’s Reply

start job huntingThanks for your kind note. You have hit on a very simple but profound idea, and I’ll take it to the next step for you. People need to be job hunting all the time. Not heavily, but persistently.

There is simply no excuse for needing to start a job search all of a sudden.

Start job hunting

By then, it’s too late, because it takes quite a lot of work and time to find the right job. You’ve heard me say it before. As I suggested in that Seattle Times article, most people who are job hunting are doing it because they took the wrong job to begin with… because they acted out of desperation.

Every day, everyone we meet and talk with is a potential source of opportunity. Pursue those opportunities! There is no need to be rude or intrusive about it. Practice discussing opportunities even when you are not job hunting.

Try this: Ask the next few people you meet, “So, tell me about your work. What exactly do you do at your company?” Then, let them talk. People love to talk about their work. Steer the conversation like this: “What’s your company like as a place to work?” Let them tell you.

If the answer is mostly positive, express your interest using your own version of the following:

How to Say It
“Your company seems to be one of the shining lights in the industry. At some point, I may be interested in making a career move. I’d like to learn more.”

You’d be surprised at what can come out of such a discussion. Please note that at no point are you asking for a job. If the company sounds really good, however, it may be time to make a gentle request for help getting in the door.


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New jobs come from people that know you

Asking someone for a job lead or for a job interview is awkward. Asking to meet other people who do the work you’re interested in is a different story. It’s natural to express interest in other people’s work.

How to Say It
“I work in [marketing or whatever]. I’m interested in learning more about your marketing department. I think it’s important to get to know people who are among the best in their field. Is there someone in your company’s [marketing] department that you think I should talk with?”

This approach is a great ice-breaker. If you get nervous, let it drop. Try again with someone else later. In time, you’ll enjoy talking with people about their work and their employers. When you need a referral, you’ll have a list “this long” of people who already know you are interested in their companies.

Start your job search now. Learn to hang out with people who do the work you want to do. That’s where good new jobs come from.

Are you always job hunting, or do you start job hunting at the last minute? When you meet people that you need to ask for help, how do you “say it?”

This edition is reprinted from Fearless Job Hunting. 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!

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You have 1000 LinkedIn connections? No, you have a phone book

You have 1000 LinkedIn connections? No, you have a phone book


Is there a trick to making LinkedIn connections pay off? I’ve got over 1000 LinkedIn connections, but it almost seems the more I have the less chance anyone is going to respond to my messages. I use the paid version.

Nick’s Reply

1000 LinkedIn ConnectionsA while ago I commented on a LinkedIn thread about this very question. It was another round of posts from people touting their 1000+ connections. In my opinion, nobody has 1000 real connections on LinkedIn. They have a phone book.

I think LinkedIn is the world’s best phone book, with pictures and resumes. Period.

What is a LinkedIn connection?

If a “connection” wouldn’t drop what they’re doing for a moment to help you out (because they know and respect you), then they’re not a real connection. You’re kidding yourself.

Meanwhile, LinkedIn’s main business is selling our “connections” to recruiters who know nothing about us — and who don’t care. Then we complain those recruiters wasted our time because they don’t really know us!

Duh. That’s how LinkedIn actually works. Or doesn’t. A LinkedIn connection is a database record of a person and a link to your record. Nothing more.

Professional network, or phone book?

What’s a real contact (or connection)? I think it’s someone with whom you’ve shared enough experiences that they will refer you to someone who trusts them. It’s someone who trusts that  you won’t misuse their name and recommendation.

Nobody has 1000 real contacts that they really trust and that really trust them. That’s why when Reid Hoffman launched LinkedIn, he recommended connecting only to people you actually know, trust and have worked with.

What happened? Hoffman cashed out by selling “seats” to recruiters who bought access to millions of people they didn’t know anything about. Recruiters that used to rely on phone directories. That’s when LinkedIn became just another job board. That’s when it turned into the world’s biggest phone book (with pictures and resumes ). That’s when LinkedIn stopped cautioning users to connect only to people they know.


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You have to earn a person’s trust

LinkedIn is a pretty good database of people that you can benefit from using. I love it when I need a quick rundown on someone. Some of the articles users post are pretty good; some are even very good. But it’s not the professional network Hoffman originally envisioned.

While some people seem to be able to “work their connections,” it seems many more go through the motions because they’re told LinkedIn is where you’ll find “connections” who will introduce you to your next job. But real connections are all about substance, about shared experiences. To paraphrase a famous old TV commercial, “You have to EARN a connection!” Just like you must earn a person’s trust.

Real contacts are people you’ve gotten down in the dirt with and with whom you’ve done something meaningful. Tapping the ENTER key isn’t a shared experience. Logging connection #999 is not a shared experience.

I don’t believe 500, 1000, 1200 or even 5000 connections are meaningful. Check your experience and the outcomes of using LinkedIn to find a job. I think you already have.

So, what’s the point? Having lots of “contacts” on LinkedIn and messaging them for help is not nearly as good as going out into the world and mixing it up — doing stuff together that reveals who you are and that you’re worthy of someone’s time. I think that’s where most jobs come from. You can find almost anyone on LinkedIn, but you’ll have to do a whole lot more to create the kind of trust that leads to a job recommendation.

How many real, meaningful connections do you have on LinkedIn? Do you accept all requests? When a contact messages you, do you always take time to respond helpfully? Can anyone really have 1000 meaningful connections?

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