How to improve your interview-to-offer conversion rates

A recruiter’s take, July 2023: There are a ton of job applicants in the market today, but we (both us at Omna, and also hiring managers we chat with) are finding that the overall quality of junior-level applicants is generally lower (people aren’t interviewing as well). This could be because candidates are spreading themselves too thin, and/or just not seasoned enough in interviewing. Either way, I’m penning some thoughts on how to think through some common first-round interview questions in the hopes it can benefit some of you.

Read this post if:

  • You are a candidate with 2-5 YOE
  • You are applying for your 2nd job out of college (aka. this is the first time you are applying for a job as an experienced hire)
  • You are struggling to get past recruiters or hiring managers into later stages of the interview process, or just want to improve your overall interview-to-offer conversion rates

How to answer: “What are you looking for?”

If you are talking to a 3rd party recruiter (i.e., Omna) -

  • Common mistake #1, your response is too vague and lacks thoughtfulness. Junior candidates are often afraid of closing themselves off from certain opportunities, so they try to keep their preferences as open-ended as possible. The downside of this is that (a) as a recruiter, I have learnt very little about your preferences to help me set you apart from the thousands of applicants out there, so (b) it’s unlikely you will ever be top of mind for a select opportunity
  • For example, if I have a role in sustainability, I’m going to look for the folks who were most vocal about wanting something in that space, because I know they will most likely be interested in interviewing, they will most likely put in effort to prep for interviews, etc.
  • Examples of vague answers, and how to make them better:
  • “I want to work in-house at a role where I can continue to leverage the skills I’ve learnt to-date”
  • What skills specifically? (Not everyone likes every single aspect of their jobs today, so it is helpful to double-click on aspects you really enjoy and want to build on v.s. things that perhaps you aren’t as interested in … for example, I love analytics but dislike client interaction)
  • “I want to work with a strong team”
  • What does a strong team mean to you? A founder with a successful prior exit? A bunch of MBAs? A team comprised of really hungry / scrappy individuals?
  • “I want to join a startup or fast-growing company in NYC”
  • Is there a specific size / stage? Industry you feel strongly about? Companies you’d consider ‘dream companies' to work for? The more you can share about what you like / don’t like, the better we can help guide your search
  • Common mistake #2, thinking you need to have all the answers in place before you initiate a chat with a third-party recruiter. I know this might be confusing especially after you read #1 above: Whilst it’s important to try to narrow down your preferences (self-awareness / self-reflection and general thoughtfulness being skills you demonstrate in doing so), it’s not necessary to ‘know’ what you want or need in every capacity — after-all, part of a recruiter chat with us is so we can help you work through some of the unknowns. Some of the most impressive candidates have just been the most thoughtful; not necessarily the ones that are most confident or explicit about their wants / needs.
  • I really liked working on this consulting project where I got to do heavy analytics as well as some transformation work — what other jobs / functions / exit-opps would you recommend where I can be exposed to more of that?
  • “I’m not really sure how to think about compensation yet because whilst I really want to go early-stage, I do know I want to maintain at least $XXX in base salary… What do you think?” is much better than “$200K and above only” (without context), and “I am not comfortable sharing anything there” (again, doesn’t help us in terms of whether it’s going to be worth our time sharing a job paying $100K with you)

If you are talking to the hiring manager directly -

  • Use this as a chance to demonstrate your alignment to and interest in the job, but be honest - you don’t need to misrepresent your interests and hesitations in order to get hired. Often if your response matches the company / role a little too perfectly, a hiring manager will naturally be skeptical of your answer. Instead, be honest as to what you found attractive about this opportunity (i.e., strong team, love the type of work, want to work for something in X space). And — in the instance where you have no good response to the above, then maybe reconsider why you applied in the first place. There are few things worse than having to show up everyday to a job you feel little excitement for. It also reflects poorly if you end up quitting early / start ‘job-hopping’.

How to answer: “Walk me through your resume.”

  • Be succinct. The #1 mistake candidates make is they go through their whole work history in chronological order. You need to summarize and prioritize what you share / tailor your response to the audience.
  • Use this as a chance to show how deliberate and thoughtful you are about your career. For example, why did you suddenly go from X field / role to Y? How does this opportunity you’re interviewing for tie into your career goals? If you can demonstrate that you’ve been thoughtful about your career to-date, a hiring manager is that much more convinced that you’re likely also being thoughtful about the choice to interview with them (i.e., that this is something you really want v.s. applying just for fun)
  • Use this as a chance to explain any anomalies / assuage any potential concerns. For example, why have you been at 3 jobs in 2 years? why were you only at a job for a short period of time - did you get laid off? provide some context if so —> It’s always better to be upfront than ‘shady’ or try to skirt around somethings, only to have an employer discover later (usually ends negatively)
  • Use this as a chance to highlight your fit to the job description. For example, if you’ve used SQL everyday and this role is looking for proficiency in SQL - make sure to call it out. If you’re worked extensively with clients in the same space; if you’ve done similar responsibilities before, etc. Make it easy for the hiring manager to understand how and why you are qualified for this job.

Your overall goal with these two common questions is to (a) show that you have put thought into applying, and (b) make it easy for the hiring manager to understand why and how you could be a great hire for this role.

Looking for more tips on how to interview? Our colleague Aaron wrote a pretty helpful blog post a few years ago that you can check out here.