Congratulations! You made the short list of applicants and received an invitation to interview. Take a moment to breathe a sigh relief and maybe dance a little jig before buckling down to the work of acing the interview. To master that feat, you should understand the interview process.

The interviewer’s responsibilities

The obligation of advance preparation does not fall solely upon the job candidate. The interviewer must also understand and fulfill his or her responsibilities, not the least of which is doing one’s best to help a candidate relax. There’s no denying interviews are stressful.

The interview process entails treating the candidate like a human being deserving of courtesy and respect. Frankly, if a company can’t bother to do that, then seriously consider whether you really want to work for them.

The process begins with greeting the candidate and escorting him or her to the location where the interview will take place. If the interviewer does the job correctly, the interview begins with low key chitchat, such as “How are you doing?” or “Nice weather we’re having, don’t you think?” These conversational preambles help establish a common understanding, a social bond. They don’t threaten.

It’s often stated that one never has a second chance to make a first impression; however, interviewers are discouraged from making hiring decisions based on first impressions. Already anxious, the candidate may be further flustered by events occurring beyond his control, such as a traffic accident that may have delayed arrival or a family matter that required some urgent reassignment of childcare responsibilities. Writing for Monster, Louise Kursmark reminds interviewers to withhold judgment until they’ve taken the time for thorough evaluation of the candidate’s capabilities and potential.

Once the social niceties are dispensed with, the interviewer should then launch into a description of the job. This may vary from the official job description and should include direct reports, key challenges, and performance expectations. The overview will help the candidate focus his or her thoughts upon the job and offer anecdotal evidence of related or transferrable experience. Questions by both parties follow the overview, with candidates being encouraged to ask for clarification or additional information.

The job interview resembles a dance between two unfamiliar partners. The interviewer leads the dance, but remains responsive to the job candidate and ready to change direction or alter the steps so the candidate has the opportunity to shine.

Continuing the process after the interview

The interview process does not cease after shaking hands and heading out the door. Although the interviewer may have many more candidates to evaluate, they also retain the obligation to inform candidates as to the follow-up process. After all, if someone’s qualifications were good enough to merit an interview, then that someone is good enough to merit the application of good manners. Interviewers who value the candidates’ contribution of time and funds—especially if the candidate must travel long distances and secure overnight accommodations—have the obligation to respect that contribution and show appreciate for it.

Failing to contact a candidate after the interview with either a note or phone call that he or she will or will not proceed to the next phase in the process is, quite simply, rude and inconsiderate. A candidate with good job prospects may indeed decide to decline any forthcoming offer because of the company’s lack of courtesy.

The application of good manners falls upon the candidate, too. You may consider it old-fashioned, but a handwritten thank-you note addressed directly to each person who interviewed the candidate goes a long way toward impressing hiring personnel.

Multilayered interview process

Due to the multitudes of applicants for many jobs and the lean operating structures of many companies, interview processes have evolved to incorporate a series of steps. Many begin with a screening phone call. The initial phone interview determines if the applicant has the qualifications needed to perform the duties the job requires. These are similar to hiring events and job fairs where company representatives conduct short, open interviews. Primarily used as a first step in the interview process, the phone interview may be combined with an internet-based video conference (e.g., Skype, Zoom, Join.me, etc.) to make the hiring decision. Companies hiring remote workers most frequently use online video conferencing in lieu of bringing a candidate into the office.

In most circumstances, an in-person interview follows a phone interview. This may occur in a one-on-one scenario or the candidate may be seated before a panel of decision makers. Questions will delve in-depth into the candidate’s suitability for the position and require the candidate respond with thoughtful, well-articulated answers.

A candidate facing a panel interview has reason to feel nervous: they’re intimidating. Companies often engage in such practices for two reasons: 1) to save time and 2) to ensure a comprehensive battery of questions is asked.  A panel interview, says Hiregy, “requires a great deal of planning in advance, developing the interview questions and determining which ones will be asked by which panel members — and the roles to be played by each one in general.”

A second in-person interview often follows the first, which hiring managers use to narrow the list of eligible candidates to a handful of top contenders. The second—and sometimes third—interview typically takes hours rather than a brief 30 minutes or so. The Balance Careers notes that an invitation to a second interview means the company strongly favors that candidate. Acing the second interview may result in a job offer or lead to a subsequent interview in which the job is offered. The job offer usually entails salary negotiation. Books, articles, and blogs on that topic abound.

The final interview

Don’t dismiss the importance of the final interview. Until the job offer has been extended and accepted, you’re still under evaluation. As always, conduct yourself with professionalism, dress appropriately, and bring your A-game to the table. The hiring manager may revisit topics or questions addressed in previous interviews. This is not the time ask, “Didn’t we already discuss that?” Nod, smile, and respond with care thought and detail. Use the final interview as an opportunity to review company information you can’t extract from the website and other sources. If appropriate to the field of work, bring your portfolio. Bring a copy of your references—having made sure ahead of time that those people agreed to serve as your references.

According to Indeed, Final interviews may include more personal and personality-based questions; however, don’t be lulled into thinking that illegal questions suddenly become permissible with a presumed offer pending. After the interview—if you still haven’t received a job offer during the session—make sure to send a thank-you letter right away. Reiterate your appreciation for being considered, restate your enthusiasm for the job, and once again remind them why you’re a great fit.

The company’s responsibilities

During the interview process, the candidate evaluates the company as much as the company evaluates the candidate. Therefore, the company bears the burden of ensuring that the person hired understands what the position entails, meets the qualifications—or has the potential to be trained to meet those criteria—and will fit within the corporate culture.

The Muse notes four impediments to the interview process that hinders a company’s performance in the interview process: 1) the person interviewing you may not be comfortable conducting an interview; 2) hiring personnel may not fully understand the role to be filled and its responsibilities; 3) the interviewer may judge you based entirely on a first impression; and, 4) the job may be offered to another candidate who’s not the most qualified.

The job candidate can ameliorate each of these obstacles, although much remains outside the candidate’s control or influence. For instance, adopting a polite and amiable manner will put interviewers at ease, even if they dislike conducting interviews. If the position is new to the company and not fully defined, then your skillful presentation may help them clarify that position as tailored for you—or it may go entirely the other way and help hiring managers decide that they need something you don’t have. You can’t do much to correct a mediocre or even negative first impression, but that does not give the candidate license to behave in an abominable manner. Finally, the most qualified person may not be the best match for the corporate culture. Managers want new employees to be happy working with the company and stay. The hiring process is expensive and time consuming, so a candidate with the best-fitting personality willing and able to learn the work may be favored. That candidate might be you.