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Why You Failed the Final Round Interview

by THEA kelley | October 19, 2022

It seemed like everything was going well. You sailed through the HR screening, aced the hiring manager interview, jumped through all the hoops, and then: no offer. Feeling that you’ve failed the final round interview can be a crushing blow.

If this has happened to you, realize you’re not alone. Typically, five or six candidates are considered for a position, but only one can be hired. Congratulate yourself for having gotten that far, and let’s look at what to do–and not do–to succeed next time.

How do job candidates fail a final round interview?

The last interview in the process may involve meeting with one or more senior leaders, co-workers or your prospective direct reports. Although the senior management interview is often more decisive, it’s best to assume that any of these audiences can greatly influence your chances.

When candidates reach this stage without receiving an offer, usually they’ve made one or more of the following mistakes:

They burned out. Today’s interview processes often involve multiple interviews, presentations and time-consuming take-home projects. It can be hard to maintain enthusiasm, but you’re unlikely to get an offer without it. Figure out what you need to tell yourself in order to stay engaged and excited. For example, if you’re tired of answering the same questions asked by more than one person, you might tell yourself, “The more people who know about my skills and strengths, the better. It doesn’t matter that I’m repeating myself, because this person hasn’t heard my answer yet.”

They told the same stories over and over. Although  you may have to answer the same questions, you don’t have to use the same examples. Varying your stories is important, because the separate interviewers are likely to compare notes, and you don’t want them to get the impression you only have a few accomplishments. Prepare many stories, and keep track of which ones you’ve told so far.

They got cocky, assuming the job was theirs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a job seeker say, “I thought I was the top candidate!” Don’t rest on your laurels; keep bringing your best effort to every step in the process. Also, watch yourself for body language that could communicate arrogance, such as leaning back in your chair or making pointing gestures.

They were overwhelmed by the virtual onsite. You know those day-long interview processes at the company’s location? Well, this is the same marathon, but you’re looking at a screen all day. Find out how to succeed at a virtual onsite interview.

They didn’t ask for the job. The final interview is the time to make it clear you want the job. Candidates who do this will be seen as more confident and motivated. By asking for the job, you’re not necessarily agreeing to a certain salary or any other terms, but you’re saying something like, “I want you to know that I’m very interested in taking on this role, and I hope you’ll be making me an offer soon.” Read my post, “The Secret Test Recruiters Use Before Making an Offer.”

They didn’t make a good impression on senior executives. C-level interviews require a higher-level focus. You need to understand how the role contributes to the larger goals of the organization, including its profitability, and show the executive that you can help them reach those goals.

They failed to effectively neutralize concerns about a weakness. Maybe you’ve interviewed for a job that normally requires a technical background you don’t have. You could proactively counteract this by offering examples, stories, facts, and/or testimonials about how you’ve gotten up to speed on new features, given presentations or training on the company’s products, and collaborated effectively with engineers. For more tips, read my post about addressing negative issues.

They failed to win over a resistant team member. If one member of the interview panel is constantly frowning or asking confrontational questions, the first thing to do is to realize their manner may have nothing to do with you. They may have a headache, or maybe they believe that’s the best way to interview people. Nevertheless, take an interest in this person and strive to understand and reach them. You might ask them how the role you’re interviewing for interacts with them, how the new hire could make their life easier, or what skills they’d like the new hire to bring to the team. One situation where resistance can arise is when you’re interviewing with prospective direct reports.

They didn’t ask good questions. This is true of all rounds, not just the final interview. Learning more about the role, the organization and the people can enable you to do a better interview. So do your homework, then prepare to ask good questions at various points in the process.

They failed to correct bad impressions or omissions from previous interviews. Take detailed notes after every interview, including what went well and what didn’t. Reviewing these notes will help prepare you to reinforce the golden moments—“I loved our conversation about X, and I had another thought about that”–and subtly shore up any deficits as the process goes on.

They didn’t send effective follow-up/thank-you notes after every meeting. If some candidates send follow-up notes and others don’t, who looks more motivated and interested? Who is demonstrating greater follow-through and relationship-building skills?

Maybe they (or you) didn’t fail at all.

Maybe the interviewers were very impressed with you, but simply found someone they thought was even better. Or they had an internal candidate they wanted all along.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, holding your breath for one particular offer. Keep pursuing other opportunities until you have actually accepted a new job. Having other options builds your confidence and helps keep you from obsessing over any one of them.

Most people have failed a last round interview at least once in their working life, if not several times. If it’s happened to you repeatedly, roll up your sleeves and work on the skills described above, and consider working with an interview coach, so next time you can move on to accepting an offer. 

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