As a former recruiter, I’m going to share all of the steps in the interview process so you’ll know what to expect and how to be successful.

Plus I’ll cover some key mistakes to avoid in each job interview step, so make sure to read until the end.

Key takeaways:

  • You’ll typically start the interview process by talking to HR or a recruiter, often over the phone.
  • In your second interview, you’re likely to speak directly with the hiring manager, usually in person.
  • The hiring process varies by company and you might meet additional team members/peers next, as well as executive leadership in a final interview.
  • You may also encounter reference checks, background checks, and more, which I’ll cover below…

Steps in the Interview Process

1. Phone interview with HR/recruiter

The first step in an interview process is usually a phone interview, also known as a phone screen.

This is often conducted by a recruiter or someone from HR, not the hiring manager.

The general idea of this interview is to confirm some basic details about why you’re looking for a new job, whether you’re currently employed, when you’re available to start, and whether you have the basic skills and qualifications for the role.

They may also ask why you are interested in this position, so ALWAYS refresh your memory on the company/job before hopping on the phone.

It’s embarrassing and awkward if you don’t know anything about the role when the interviewer asks why you’re interested.

Here are the common questions you can expect in a phone interview.

Note that recently, some employers have replaced the phone screen with a video interview. Always ask the exact format of your interview before it begins so that you’re ready.

2. Interview with hiring manager

If your initial interview with the recruiter or HR went well, you’ll likely be scheduled for an interview with the hiring manager.

You can expect this interview with the hiring manager to last approximately 45 minutes to one hour.

Most employers utilize in-person interviews for this interview step, but if you’re a long distance away or interviewing for a remote job, this may be done via Zoom/video interview.

If you’re unsure of the interview format, ask the company.

Throughout the job interview process, the hiring manager is looking to answer one question: Does this person have the skills and experience needed to step into this job and be successful?

So always research the position and review the job posting before your interview.

Be prepared to talk about their needs and how you can help them directly meet those needs in this role.

If you haven’t read the job description, this is going to be impossible, so don’t make this mistake.

Also, prepare to answer behavioral questions.

There’s another major factor that hiring managers look for in job interviews, too: whether you seem like you’ll enjoy the job and stay long-term.

So be prepared to explain your career goals, perhaps where you see yourself in 5 years, and why you want this particular job.

It’s also helpful to show that you’re applying to a number of similar roles. Whereas, it’s a red flag if you just applied to one position of this type.

For example: When I worked as a recruiter, we were interviewing new entry-level candidates to become recruiters in our company. One person came to the interview and said they were mainly looking for public relations jobs, and this was the only recruiting position they had applied for. This was a red flag.

It suggested that they may not know what the job really involves and may not be sure they want this career.

For this reason, hiring managers may ask, “What other companies are you interviewing with?”

3. Interview with peers and/or executive leadership

It used to be common that your interview with the hiring manager would be the final interview, but not anymore.

More and more employers are wanting each candidate to meet their potential peers/colleagues on the team.

And they may also schedule a final interview with the CEO or other executive team member, depending on the size of the company.

If you meet with a CEO or other member of the executive team, they’re looking mainly for motivation, attitude, honesty, integrity, work ethic, etc.

They’re also looking to make sure you fit the existing company culture and may ask about your ideal company culture.

They’re trusting the hiring manager to evaluate whether you can do the day-to-day work (or learn the work once you’re hired).

This article covers everything that employers look for in the interview.

If you meet with your future colleagues/peers on the team, it should be a more relaxed, friendly conversation, but don’t let your guard down. They’ll certainly tell the hiring manager about what you said.

Prepare unique questions to ask the interviewer about the job and company to show interest. This is your opportunity to learn a lot about the role and determine if it’s a good fit.

You could ask them questions such as:

  • Why did you join the company, and what excites you most about being here?
  • What advice would you give a new person here, in order to be successful?
  • Did you make any mistakes in your first 90 days here, and how can I avoid those same errors?

4. Reference check

After getting through each job interview in the company’s process, you’ll likely need to provide references.

It’s a good sign when employers ask for references and often indicates that you’ve completed your final interview.

However, if a recruiter asks for references when the job interview process is just beginning, that’s a different story and could mean that they have concerns and want to find out more information before starting any job interviews.

I explain this topic in detail here: When do employers check references?

Whenever you provide references for a job opening, always TALK to your references and ask, “Are you comfortable providing a positive reference for me and talking about the quality of my work?”

If someone isn’t comfortable speaking well of your work, and/or feels like they just haven’t seen enough of your work to be a good reference, it’s better to find out ahead of time.

You may think back to one or two fellow team members in previous jobs and feel they’d speak highly about you, but maybe they feel that they barely know what you did in that group.

The last thing you want is for that person to get on the reference call with the hiring manager and say, “I really didn’t work closely with this person, so I’m not sure if I recommend them or not.”

For more help with choosing the right references (and knowing how many to provide), read this guide on how to provide references for a job.

5. Background check

Next, some companies will conduct a background check before wrapping up their interview process.

Background checks cost the company money and time, so the employer typically saves this step until they know they want to offer you the position (but before an offer is made).

This article explains what employers can see in a reference check. Employers can see all of the following:

  • Work history
  • Criminal history
  • Court records
  • Driving records
  • Credit report

6. Job offer

After completing all of the above interview steps, the hiring manager or HR will call you to inform you that they’d like to offer you the job.

This is known as a verbal job offer.

They may ask about your salary requirements if they didn’t already discuss this with you in an interview.

The company may also just tell you the amount they’re offering.

As a former recruiter, I think it’s a bit silly for a company to spend no time discussing salary with a candidate and then just bring out an offer amount and hope it works… but I’ve seen it happen.

So if you’re excited about the role and job requirements, but don’t love the salary, you can certainly ask if there’s any flexibility in their salary range/budget.

Better yet, wait for them to send the formal offer in writing, review all of the details, and then respond.

You do not have to accept a job offer right away.

Once you have a written offer, you can review it carefully to understand the full compensation package and decide whether to negotiate.

Instead of responding to an offer immediately, thank the employer, tell them you’re thrilled to be offered the position, and then tell them that you always like to discuss important decisions like this with your family. Ask for 48-72 hours to review the details.

If you do want to negotiate, this article covers how to negotiate salary on the phone.

And for more info on the job offer process, read this article on how long it takes to get a job offer.

The Interview Process Varies by Company

Each employer is going to have a slightly different interview process in terms of steps and timing, and even how they communicate with you between those steps.

One employer might have you attend two or three phone interviews before asking you to come in to meet them in person.

Another might invite you on-site immediately and issue a job offer after just a second or third interview.

The best way to determine the exact job interview process with an employer is to ask: How many rounds of interviews are expected, and what are the formats of those interviews? (phone interview, in-person interview, etc.)

Example of how to ask about the upcoming job interview process when you’re invited to the first interview:

“Before we proceed, I was hoping to know a bit about what to expect in the overall process, so I can better prepare. What is your typical interview process in terms of the number of interview rounds and format of those interviews?”

Expect Delays in the Interview Process

Along with interviewing candidates, the hiring team needs to set aside time for discussing candidates after each interview.

On average, 6-10 candidates receive a phone interview and 2-4 candidates are invited for an on-site interview for each job opening.

So you may see long delays while moving through a company’s interview steps.

The hiring team also has to perform their regular job duties each day (they have full jobs to perform apart from the hiring process).

Even if an employer is talking to great candidates that they’re excited about, the job interview process can still take weeks until they reach a hiring decision.

Instead of simply waiting for your next interview, apply to more positions, up until the point that you’ve signed a job offer.

Also, to help you manage your expectations, finish each interview by asking:

“When can I expect feedback, and who will be in touch with me about the next steps?”

Then, you can follow up after the interview if you don’t receive feedback in the expected time.

If you already finished an interview and forgot to ask when you’ll get feedback, no problem. You can also send a thank you email after the interview. You can conclude that message by reaffirming your interest and asking when you can expect to hear about the next steps.

One final note on the topic of interview delays: You may also encounter additional delays in the interview process during holidays, especially in December.

These are the two best times of year to apply for jobs for a faster hiring process.

Conclusion: What are the Steps in the Interview Process?

If you’ve read the list above, you now know the general stages of a job interview process and key mistakes to avoid at these various stages.

As mentioned, every hiring process and interview process is slightly different, though, so plan for delays, and assume that the company is talking to many qualified candidates.

This means that you should:

  • Keep applying for jobs and interviewing until you’ve accepted an offer.
  • Prepare for your interviews by studying the job description, writing down great questions to ask, and getting ready to sell yourself and highlight your past work.
  • Finish interviews by asking employers about the next step(s) in their interview process, and follow up if you haven’t received a response in the time frame they told you.

That’s how to make the most of each step and use each job interview opportunity to get hired faster.

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Biron Clark

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