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Standing Out in Second Round Interview

Posted on June 5, 2020


Ellie and Jill

This is a periodic series where members can anonymously ask our two anonymous experts (code names: Ellie & Jill…) about tricky #localgov topics. Want to ask them your own question? Email [email protected].


Hello Jill & Ellie,

I’m looking for thoughts on how to really stand out in the second round interview for a promotional position. I’ve thoroughly reviewed the position description, researched the city, and demonstrated my strengths during the first round. 

Unlike other interviews I’ve had, the first round was a panel with the Department Head, the HR manager, and a department manager (I typically don’t meet the Department Head until the second round). Curious about thoughts on how this second round could go and recommendations on how to prepare further?


First of all – congratulations! It’s a compliment that you are being considered for a promotion and speaks to your hard work and performance!

The level of engagement for the first round is interesting to us. Clearly, the “big guns” were present for that first review of applicants by including the department head and manager, plus HR. Take confidence from the fact that you interviewed with this panel and have advanced to the next round.

There are a couple of ways the second round could go:

It could be a more personal one-on-one interview with you and the person you’d be reporting to, to get to know each other better and start to learn more about how your work styles would fit together. These interviews often feel more like conversations, rather than a scripted question-then-answer format. If this is the format, it’s the perfect time to be yourself and imagine that you’re meeting in a scenario that you’ll encounter almost daily if you get the job. And while you should still take the interview seriously, it’s also a time to show your personality and how you engage and interact with people you work with.

It could be a bigger picture panel, where the “customers” (either internal staff or external community members, depending on the job)  participate. Additionally, if this position will have a supervisory component, it wouldn’t be uncommon for the panel in the second (or subsequent!) round to include all or part of the team that you would be supervising. This format is your chance to showcase how you work with the other people who will cross your path in the new role. It’s a time to share your subject matter expertise, but also the way you engage other people on complex topics and challenging situations.  Similar to the first scenario, this next step is your chance to inject your personality into the process, showing not just why your skills are right for the job, but why you’re right for the job too.

Regardless of whether this is a one-on-one or a wider panel interview, take this second interview as an opportunity to interview the employer as much as they are interviewing you. Don’t forget – interviews are a two-way street!

Try to get a feel for the office culture, workplace policies and norms, and how people treat one another. No matter how great the role seems on paper, if the cultural or personality “fit” isn’t comfortable, this won’t be a good move for you.

Come to the interview well informed about the role, and ready to ask insightful questions about challenges and opportunities that this position will encounter. Over many years interviewing candidates for positions in our communities, we have seen a lot of different approaches to candidate questions. The two examples below show different approaches to learning more about what the role will entail.  

  • Candidate 1: What are the biggest challenges that the candidate you choose will have to face in their first year on the job?
  • Candidate 2: I know that funding for the major capital project that this position would oversee was approved in the most recent budget. And I recall hearing that there had been some strongly differing viewpoints among members of the community that this project would serve. What challenges will the candidate you choose have to face to move this project forward successfully?

Both of these examples demonstrate that the candidate is proactively thinking about more than just landing the gig. However, Candidate 2’s approach differentiates them  as someone who has done their homework, understands the big picture, and also has a grasp on the subtle nuances that can define success in our sector. 

We wish you the very best of luck in this interview. You’ve got this!

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