Master the Third Interview

career Photos by Getty Images Ask the Expert Career Blog By: Barbara Mitchell

Don’t assume that the purpose of a third interview is for a higher-up to rubber-stamp a decision to hire you. Prepare for this meeting as thoroughly as you did for earlier rounds. Here are some tips specifically for this step in the interview process.

Q: I've been called back for a third interview for a job I really want. I've already interviewed with HR and the hiring manager—this interview is with the department VP. I hope this is a good sign that they're about to offer me the job. What approach should I take with this interview?

A: This is indeed good news. Usually the third interview is for the department head to "rubber stamp" the hiring manager's decision, but you can't assume anything. Each organization and each hiring manager does things differently, so you have to prepare for this interview just like you'd prepare for the very first one. In a way, this is the most important interview of all.

Of course, you had to interview well with HR or the recruiter to be passed along to the hiring manager. And you had to ace the interview with the hiring manager to arrive at this point in the process. However, the third interview—whether it's the last one or not—can be a deal breaker. You'd be smart to prepare well.

You'll want to showcase your business knowledge and specifically what you know about this particular organization.

Start by learning as much as you can about the department head you'll meet. Use LinkedIn and the organization's website to find key information about his or her title, job duties, and years of experience. The more you know beforehand, the more comfortable you'll be when you meet this person face to face. Depending on your rapport with HR or the recruiter, you may feel comfortable asking for tips on what might happen at this interview. Sometimes you'll get someone to share typical topics or questions you may be asked.

By now, you've learned a lot about the job and the organization from your interviews and research, so you should be able to share stories or examples that demonstrate your valuable skills. You also want to be as warm, friendly, and engaging as possible, as the department head may be evaluating how your personality and soft skills would match up with the team.

Prepare a few thoughtful questions for the interview. This is a good time to ask about the challenges facing the organization or department. You'll want to showcase your business knowledge and specifically what you know about this particular organization.

Finally, this is not the time to ask about benefits or compensation—save that for HR, the recruiter, or the hiring manager. At this interview, your goal is to position yourself as someone who will make a serious contribution to the organization's success. That's what the department head wants to hear.

Barbara Mitchell

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer? Send it to