Here's how to make the most of the pre-interview phase before you dive into the interview process.
Depending on the size and structure of the company you’re applying to, the pre-interview may actually be part of the interview itself. I’ve separated the two concepts (pre-interview and interview because you’ll often have a pre-interview with a recruiter and the actual interview(s) with team members or the hiring manager. But sometimes you’ll just jump straight to talking with team members or the hiring manager; in that case, this section will apply to the interview directly.
The recruiter’s purpose for the pre-interview is to confirm that you’re a good candidate for the job and for the company and subsequently whether they will recommend you for a formal interview. Make sure to build rapport with the recruiter because they’re probably your gatekeeper. If they don’t like you, they may just drop you from the list of candidates and move on to the next one. They could also be your advocate as the interview process moves forward, and they may even find other opportunities for you at the company if it turns out you’re not a good fit for the specific job you’ve applied for.
The pre-interview is also an opportunity for you to vet the company and the opportunity. Listen carefully and ask good questions so you can decide if you want to continue investing time in the interview process with this particular company.
As for the content of the pre-interview, you’ve already prepared for this in the preparation step!
Here are some questions the recruiter may ask you during the pre-interview:
Listen carefully to the questions and give honest answers. Also, try to frame your answers so they apply to this specific company (this won’t be a problem because you’ve already read up on them before this conversation).
Most of the time, you’ll also have an opportunity to ask questions. This is your chance to figure out if you like the company’s mission and vibe, so just ask questions you want answered.
You may learn a lot by asking the recruiter some of these things:
The “career growth” question may be a good way to learn about the company’s salary structure. If people tend to stay in the role for a long time then the job may be in a wide pay grade, and you might be able to push for a higher salary during the negotiation process. If people only stay in the role for a year or two—true for many entry-level jobs—then the pay grade is probably narrower, and there may be less wiggle room when setting your salary.
Asking about career growth opportunities also shows that you are thinking about a long-term relationship with the company, and that may make them more interested in bringing you on board.
As you’re wrapping up, be sure to ask about next steps and how you’ll be contacted about them. That way, you can keep an eye on your inbox and spam folder, or you can be ready for their call.
Finally, you might want to ask if you should do anything specific to prepare for a formal interview if you move on to that stage. Most of the time, there won’t be anything, but occasionally you’ll find out there’s a short written skills test or something that you should mentally prepare for.
If the pre-interview went well, and if you still want to pursue the job, your next step will usually be the interview.
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I'm Josh Doody, a professional salary negotiation coach who helps Senior Software Engineers and Engineering Managers negotiate job offers from big tech companies. On average, Software Engineers and Engineering Managers improve their first-year compensation by $47,273 with my help.
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