An applicant had gone through three interviews when he was asked to attend six more. At that point, he backed out of the race. HRM unpacks how too many job interviews could backfire on your company.
Having made it through three rounds of interviews for a director-level position, the candidate’s prospects of securing the job looked promising.
The pay matched his expectations, he loved the sound of the role, and he believed in the company’s mission.
But soon after the third interview, he says the company contacted him to schedule another six interviews.
That’s when he decided enough was enough; he wasn’t going to hang around for another six rounds with no guarantee that he’d even be selected for the job at the end of it all.
Jaded and frustrated by what he deemed to be an unnecessarily long-winded process, the candidate took to LinkedIn to air his grievances.
“It should not take nine interviews for any role. You have trial periods,” he wrote.
“Companies think they are building processes that ensure picking the right candidate. I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s due to fear of picking the wrong candidate. I think it’s fear they will not find the next unicorn. I think it’s fear of wasting time that ends up wasting more time.”
His post subsequently received hundreds of comments from fellow job-seekers, who were equally aggrieved by similarly strung out interview processes.
“I just had a very similar experience,” a LinkedIn user wrote in response to the post. “Six interviews involving six different people, IQ Test, Personality assessment – the process took over three months to complete… I can’t even count the number of times I’ve started the interview process and been ghosted after being told they would like to move forward.”
HRM has previously reported on the phenomena of companies ghosting and breadcrumbing employees, but the situations mentioned above indicate that breadcrumbing and ghosting in a professional context aren’t just confined to those who’ve already been hired.
Rebecca Houghton, Founder of BoldHR, and Jessica Bilston-Gourley, Founder and Director of Positive HR, weigh into the topic and explore how employers can conduct a comprehensive interview process that ensures candidates want to stay in the running.
How many is too many job interviews?
There’s no magic number, but Bilston-Gourley recommends aiming for 2-4 interviews.
“Interviewing does not have a one-size fits all approach,” she says. “The number of interviews should be dependent on the nature and seniority of the position. Anything above four interviews could drag out the process, creating a poor candidate experience and you’ll be guaranteed to lose great candidates.”
Houghton similarly recommends aiming for 3-4 interviews.
“One is too light – you’ve hardly got to know them. Two will validate what you thought you knew from the first interview, and the third will enable you to discover some new things you didn’t know already,” says Houghton.
The fourth interview might entail a peer interview, technical assessment, or be conducted in a more informal social setting that allows an employer to see how a candidate interacts in a more relaxed environment with the wider team.
There’s research to support Bilston-Gourley and Houghton’s recommendation to cap interviews at four.
When Google’s staffing team analysed five years worth of interview data, they concluded that four was the golden number needed to predict a candidate’s future success with an 86 per cent confidence level.
Once the number of interviews starts climbing higher than four, the company likely isn’t presenting itself in the best light, and it isn’t fair on the applicant either, especially if you don’t outline it upfront.
“You start to present to your candidates as being unplanned, and it sends them a message that you are unsure. They will read it as you being unsure of them,” says Houghton.
Because we are hardwired to protect ourselves – particularly in situations that might lead us to feel vulnerable – Houghton warns that a disorganised and long-winded interview process will likely trigger a heightened emotional response to a perceived threat.
“The candidate might start to wonder, ‘What will they be like for my promotion, for my performance review, or if I want to take parental leave?’ You are beginning to set the reputation that you can’t find your way out of a paper bag.”
The trigger might also lead a candidate to turn inwards, and hamper their confidence levels.
“They might start asking, ‘What’s wrong with me? Why can’t you make a decision about me? What do I lack?’
“They start to self-doubt and they will probably opt out of the job.”
This means your company runs the risk of losing excellent talent, or if the candidate decides to keep their hat in the ring, their confidence may have been dealt a blow and they might not perform at their best in subsequent interviews.
Best practice for interviews
While assessing a candidate’s skills and expertise for a role and their overall fit in a company, is a company’s primary reason for conducting interviews, it’s also important to create a seamless interview experience that will leave a candidate feeling motivated and inspired to nail any future interviews and secure the job.
With this in mind, here are some tips from the experts to follow:
- Signal your expectations. “Say at the start of the interview process that this will involve three stages, and after that we will be taking references, for example,” says Houghton.
“That’s the least you should do because this individual needs to plan and balance their offers. You need to give them the courtesy of telling them what to expect.”
It’s okay to stray from your plan, says Houghton, provided there’s a good reason for doing so. For example, if the candidate has made it through three rounds of interviews but one interviewer is unsure about their fit in the company, then explain to the candidate that they want to conduct another interview to ensure they’re the right cultural fit.
- Don’t wait for the unicorn, says Bilston-Gourley.
“Understandably, you want to pick the most qualified person for the role, but even experienced professionals will have flaws. Don’t hold out for a flawless candidate – they do not exist. You will lose strong candidates in the meantime.”
- Prepare, and then prepare some more. Houghton has observed that interviewers often “go along blindly to interviews” by turning up to the interview and asking some open-ended, unstructured questions without having gone through a thorough planning process. This unplanned approach might mean interviewers leave an interview feeling they haven’t built the detailed understanding of a candidate that they require, and it’s more likely to mean further interviews are needed.Expanding on this point, Bilston-Gourley suggested that interviewers have an interview guide with questions or themes prepared to help make sure you ask all the necessary questions,” says Bilston-Gourley. “But also make sure you leave room for a real conversation.”
Tipping the scales
In decades gone by, an employer might have been able to conduct six or seven interviews without turning an applicant off the role.
But in a tight labour market with a shifting balance of power that’s tipping further towards employees, the “era of the 10 interview process is coming to a close”, says Houghton.
“In Australia, now that we have closed the borders, we are in a talent tight marketplace… So the concept that someone will put themselves through 10 interviews and feel lucky, engaged, motivated and inspired through that process is getting gazumped by the fact that they can get as good a job in one day because other employers have moved more quickly.”
“Recognise that the go slow movement is no longer competitive or appropriate,” says Houghton.
“It may come back in vogue but that will be a labour market shift. If you’re not on top of that, you aren’t listening to your talent base.”
Are you seeking to fine-tune your interview process? AHRI’s short course on Effective Interviewing and Selection Skills can help you out. Book in for the next course on October 18.