The Recruitment Process at Big Companies, Step by Step

A human figure in a tie holds a sign that reads "Hiring"

You found a job opening that sounds like a great opportunity, and you're getting ready to submit your carefully crafted cover letter and resume on the company's website. You're feeling excited about the recruitment process and the possibility of landing a position that will help advance — or begin — your career.

But once you click that Submit button, you start to feel some of your enthusiasm slip away. You feel like it's now all in the hands of the company and the hiring manager, and you're not sure what you can do to influence the decision any further.

It's a normal reaction; when you're a job candidate, the hiring process can seem like a mystery, one that's sometimes frustrating. But a basic understanding of the steps that most big companies follow when they're hiring can take some of the stress out of the situation. It can also give you clues about what to do at each stage to give yourself a better chance of landing the job.

Here's a quick rundown of the typical recruitment process:

Step 1: Human resources evaluation

At most big companies, a computer program scans your resume for keywords and phrases after you submit it. Typically, the words and phrases it's looking for are those in the job ad. If you can include in your resume some of the language from the position description (assuming these words accurately portray your skills and experience, of course), it's more likely your resume will make it through the scan.

Step 2: Phone interviews

Next, an HR representative goes through the resumes flagged by the scanning program and picks ones that are the best fit with the position's requirements. That representative then calls each chosen candidate for a short phone interview. If you get one of those calls, answer the HR rep's questions with professionalism and enthusiasm. He or she is not only confirming what's on your resume; the HR rep is also gauging your communication skills and interest in the job and deciding whether to pass your resume on to the hiring manager.

Step 3: First interviews

Once the HR rep has discussed each candidate's qualifications with the hiring manager, the manager chooses which ones to bring in for a face-to-face interview. He or she will already be familiar with candidates' skills and work history, so in this meeting, this manager will be evaluating personality and fit with the position and corporate culture. If you make it to this round, prepare to be asked a range of common questions about your skills and experience and how they match up with the requirements of the job. Also be ready for situational questions, which focus on how well you understand the process for certain job requirements, and behavioral questions, which are designed to gauge your interpersonal and judgment skills.

Step 4: Second interviews

After the first round of interviews, the hiring manager generally narrows the field of candidates to two or three. Those candidates are then asked back for a second interview, often with another manager, potential coworkers or the department head. In this round, let your personality shine through but maintain your professionalism. This interview is designed so the interviewer can get an even better sense of your working style and your character.

Step 5: Decision and job offer

Once the additional interviews are complete, departmental managers get together to discuss their impressions of each candidate. Together, they come to a decision, and the HR rep makes an offer to the selected candidate, bringing the recruitment process to a close.

If you make it to the final stage of the recruitment process and get the offer, congratulations! If not, don't be discouraged. There's often a very thin line between the candidate who gets the job and a finalist who doesn't. You were clearly a strong candidate for the position, and if you maintain your focus on your job search, another opportunity will soon arrive.