Looking for signs that your interview went well? Here’s what to consider. [TWEET]

Candidates usually report one of two opposite reactions after walking out of their first job interview. They either feel they did extremely well – or failed completely. Then, they spend a few hours (or days) mulling over every small detail of the interview in their minds, reading into what happened. This can turn into something that my old mentor referred to as “R&R: Review and Regret” – not a constructive use of anyone’s time.

If your mind is spinning after an interview, take a deep breath. According to a survey by Management Recruiters International, it takes the majority of candidates three interviews or more to get the job offer. However, the first interview is a big step in the right direction.

It is easy to feel confused as you think through what happened in the job interview. Human communications are inherently messy – add some jitters, and you get a recipe for misreading the situation. Did the hiring manager frown because she did not like your answers – or because she was not feeling well? You have not heard from your recruiter in over 24 hours – is that a bad sign?

Can you ever get an accurate read of how well you did in that critical first interview?

Interviewing is not a perfect science. It can be difficult to predict the outcome with 100% accuracy. However, as a coach and a recruiting manager, I have noticed some common trends among the successful job interviews - the ones that ultimately lead to an offer. Read on to see if you can spot one or more that apply to your situation.

1. Your interview ran long.

Recruiters and hiring managers do not like to waste their time. If they feel that you are not the right fit for the position, they may cut the interview short.

Keep in mind that sometimes there is more than one possible explanation for a situation. If your interview ended sooner than you expected, perhaps an urgent issue demanded the hiring manager’s attention immediately. Despite best efforts, work emergencies do happen – whether it is a glitch in the payroll system, an urgent update to the Board presentation, or a system conversion gone wrong. As with all these indicators, try not to zoom in on any one of them – look for trends instead.

2. The recruiting manager looked like he was enjoying the conversation.

Pay attention to the hiring manager’s body language and overall demeanor. If he looks relaxed, immersed in the flow of the conversation, and focused on you, you have some good signs that the interview is going well.

Try not to read too deeply into the reverse of that experience. If the hiring manager seems distracted, it is possible that he has already made up his mind, and is simply going through the motions to check the box. It is also possible that job stress, deadlines, or illness is a factor. Stay professional, and do your best to focus on the conversation.

3. You got some tough or unexpected questions.

In my past interviews, hiring managers have asked me to solve puzzles, describe myself in three words, do a budget-to-actual analysis across 20+ subsidiaries, and write a mock-up report to an imaginary client. If the hiring manager asks you some technically difficult (or even oddball) questions, remember that she is not trying to trick you. The intent is usually to gauge how you approach an unexpected situation. Your response to a tough question can give the interviewer insight into your creativity and ability to deal with pressure – something that your resume, no matter how polished, cannot do as effectively.

If you dislike oddball questions, you are not alone. Handling an unexpected question with poise can be difficult. This little trick may help. Remember that the interviewer probably does not care whether you get the right answer to how many gas stations there are in the United States. She is looking for insight into your logic and problem-solving patterns, not for perfect knowledge.

Here are some strategy points on answering logical or oddball questions in a job interview.

  • Throwing up your hands is the single worst thing to do - remember that you get points for effort and creativity.

  • Being quiet for 45 seconds, and then blurting out “75 million!” is probably not your best strategy either.

  • Instead, make sure you understand the question (this also buys you time to think). Then, take the problem from the top, and talk it the entire way through. It is OK to make assumptions, even if they are off. Define your assumptions clearly, and focus on demonstrating your thinking and communication skills – not on getting to the holy grail of the right answer.

For the record, my track record of getting the perfect answer to oddball questions is 50% or less. I got the job offers anyway.

4. You got the office tour, or met other professionals who work there.

A routine tour of the office by an internal recruiter carries less meaning than an impromptu one done by the hiring manager as he walks you back to the reception area. If the interviewer took the time to walk you around the office and make a few introductions, chances are he can see you joining the team. Use this opportunity to make a good impression, and to get a feel for the company culture and your would-be co-workers.

5. The interviewer was trying to sell you on the company and the position.

When the manager goes into detail about the company’s benefits, pay, perks, and its great culture, she is trying to sell you on the position. This is a great reminder that while the hiring manager is interviewing you, you are interviewing her, as well.

6. The interviewer asked specific questions about your transition.

The hiring process does not end with the job interviews. Depending on your situation, there may be background or medical checks, training, non-compete agreements to consider, and references to check. If the recruiter or the hiring manager wanted to know the details of those, or your available start date, you have some good signs that they are seriously considering your candidacy.

7. The interviewer or the recruiter discussed specific next steps – with timing.

The best sign is if you have the next interview scheduled before you leave the first one! The next best thing is if the manager was specific about expectations.

Did you ace the interview?

As you consider these observations, keep in mind that it serves you best to take the interview process at face value. Regardless of how confident (or not) you feel, your guess is only a guess until you have an offer in your hand. Continue to prepare, show up, and do your best in every interview.

Finally, remember to observe what you can about the company and the hiring manager, and pay attention to any red flags that may be there. If the hiring manager spoke badly about the person you will be replacing, could not explain the job clearly, or kept checking her phone during the interview, consider what it would be like to work with her. Do not get so caught up in analyzing your performance and whether you had a successful job interview that you lose sight of everything else.

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