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Going for the Gold: There are no awards for second best

Posted by Mary Ann Kelly

You’ve just completed the final round of interviews for your dream job. You really want to work for this company… this boss… this client.

It’s between you and one other candidate. On paper you’re identical: Same skill set, same years of experience, same salary requirements. So who gets the job?

Determining the next hire when the competition is so close requires hiring managers to move to softer metrics to help come to a decision. By softer metrics we mean interest, enthusiasm and follow-up. Showmanship! As in the Olympic Games, think about how the crowd sweetheart can edge out the more technically consistent athlete.

For example:

Who was better prepared for the interview? Who did their homework and conveyed enthusiasm for the company?

The company’s web site, social platforms and press releases are the obvious first stops for research. We love to check out the About Us and Our Work sections to see how the agency positions their services and the work they’re most proud of. Other great places:

LinkedIn: You can look at all the people you’re connected to that work/worked for the company. This provides good intel about where they hire from, how long people tend to stay, title structure and other hints about company culture and talent.

You should always check out the profiles of your interviewers. It makes it easy to recognize them when they greet you in the lobby, for one. Plus you can talk about the things you have in common, e.g. you both worked on Charmin, attended University of Michigan or enjoy photography. These days, there’s no excuse for not knowing what exists in the public domain, so don’t feel weird about checking out your interviewers Facebook page!

Blogs/Twitter/Facebook: Not so much the pictures from the last company happy hour – though that’s fun – but anything under the heading of Thought Leadership. Blogs are often a good forum for gleaning what’s important to the company right now, what their employees are talking about, what studies they have authored or conferences they have spoken at, etc.

Google, Glassdoor, AgencySpy: You should know what bubbles to the surface when you search on the company, your interviewers and their clients. Glassdoor and AgencySpy are more of the gossip/scandal channels. Remember to also check the major industry pubs and NY Times, WSJ, etc.

Who asked questions to demonstrate they thought about the company’s business and most pressing needs?

  • Understand the types of clients they work with and why. Do they have expertise in a particular vertical? What are their clients asking for?
  • Ask about their pipeline of new business. What are their growth goals and how would they like to grow? (e.g. new client categories or service offerings)
  • What’s likely to be on the mind of your interviewer(s)? What’s keeping them up at night? Why do they need to hire this role?

Who seemed most interested and sent a thank you note?


No, it’s not old-fashioned. Hiring managers look for thank you notes and interview feedback as a signal of interest. They send an important message about the type of person you are. It’s a small gesture that can turn the tides in your favor.

Make your follow-up thank you email short and sweet, but say something authentic and memorable versus cookie cutter. If you thought of one or two more questions, ask them. If you promised to send them something during your interview – a writing sample or an interesting article you read – include it. Give them a reason to continue the dialogue. You want to start building the relationship now. Follow them on Twitter, connect with them on LinkedIn, etc. Even if you’re not interested in moving forward, this could be a valuable contact for you down the road.

It’s not unlike dating. No reason to play coy or go dark. You’d be surprised how many employers come to us miffed about lack of follow-up or a thank you note.

All these things can put you way out in front of the other candidate. Not to mention they pave the way for more predictable decision-making and offer discussions. How much nicer is it to enter the home stretch knowing exactly where you stand in terms of the competition, timeline to decision and offer terms?

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