Are more interviews better?

Interviews are one of the most common hiring rituals with good reason. A well-prepared interview can be a gold mine for valuable information, but how many interviews should a typical hiring process contain?

Tõnis Arro

One of the most damaging myths in management practice is the idea that hiring decisions can be made quickly. The more experienced the manager is, the better they usually think of themselves as decision-makers. And they don’t think people decisions being anything special.

This reminds me of a story about the shortest interview by a legendary startup founder:

Founder: Hi, thanks for coming. How long have you been using our product?

Candidate: Well, actually, I have been planning to start using it, but haven’t started yet.

Founder: Goodbye.

It took me some time to realize that this is a good example of bad management practice. First, let’s assume that having personal experience with the product was a key requirement to be considered for the job. If that is the case, why was the candidate invited to the interview at all?

And while it’s true that the founder didn’t waste her/his time, the candidate’s time was still wasted. And what would the candidate tell her/his friends about the company afterwards? Nothing good.

Leaving wasted time aside for a minute, is product usage even a reasonable hiring criterion? The product was new, hardly anyone had used it for more than a couple of months, and the candidate could have obtained personal user experience in days.

Anything that can be learned in days is never a reasonable hiring criterion. Specifying the right criteria is not an easy task, but there are good tools that help in making it easier.

Do you really need five interviews?

It is a well-known fact that hiring mistakes are expensive, and therefore, certain measures are used to reduce the risks. Sometimes these measures include different tests. They will help the decision-makers feel better, but not improve the quality of hiring decisions.

Another widely spread practice is doing numerous interviews. I have heard companies proudly talk about having five or even more interviews with candidates, or have the final candidates meet all the key people before the decision is made. It nearly sounds like a majority vote makes the hiring decision!

There is no clear rule on how many interviews should be held with candidates regardless of the seniority of the position. The only rule to follow is that when selecting someone to a role with more responsibility, you would most probably need to gather more information before the decision is made. That might mean doing more than one interview, but it’s not a necessity. According to widespread opinion, the reasonable amount of interviews is up to three.

In my experience, I have hardly seen the third interview being anything but a formality giving a higher-level executive or an HR-person more peace of mind of making the correct decision. If the point of the interview is to gather facts or assess certain qualities, then what can you do with the third or even a second interview that you were not able to achieve with the first one?

Interview ≠ free-floating chat

The usual way of interviewing does not make much sense and according to research, it may even make the hiring decision worse. Job interviews are often nothing else than a free-floating chat combined with the usual waste of time like making a lengthy company presentation, often a routine part of the hiring ritual.

The result of this is an interviewer’s general impression about the candidate leading to a decision if it seems reasonable to go forward “to the next step.” If “the next step” is a job-related task that has measurable outcomes and enables decision-makers to compare the candidates, then there is some hope that the decision is based on data.

Unfortunately, “the next step” is often just another free-floating interview ending up with impressions of the candidate without any hard data. Combining or comparing the feelings or impressions of several people does not make the final decision any better.

General rules for interviewing candidates

While it’s impossible to have a list of questions that are guaranteed to give reasonable input into hiring decisions, there are general rules that will make the process better:

  • A good interview is well planned and does not include unnecessary elements (e.g. a company presentation);
  • Ask the same questions from all candidates. The questions have to lead to recovering new information that is necessary for candidate evaluation and comparison;
  • Candidate evaluation, preferably done using a balanced scorecard, has to be done immediately after the interview and before any discussion between evaluators can take place to avoid groupthink.

Following this process, and as long as you go through it with all the decision-makers, you can gather all of them for the interview and let one of them be the lead interviewer who asks all the questions. This ensures that all the needed questions get asked.

After the interview, everyone rates the candidates separately, and discuss the ratings only if there are meaningful differences in the scores. With a platform like Teamscope, all this is easily achieved as it includes candidate evaluation and comparison functionality out of the box.

In general, it’s good practice to have one interview for assessing the candidate against the hiring criteria and another for business-related discussions for which the candidate is given background information and time to prepare.

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