You’re probably doing too many interviews

The M50 arts district in Shanghai, China

Take a second to think about your company’s interview process. How many people does each candidate have to talk to? On how many occasions?

Choosing how many interview rounds to hold for an open position can feel arbitrary if you don’t know where to start. You want to vet each candidate thoroughly, get input from key people they’ll work with, and make sure you get differing opinions to balance out your own. But too many interviews can make your hiring process onerous.

So how do you find the right balance? I’ve always recommended a maximum of four (often ideally three) rounds of interviews for most roles. That is, each candidate who makes it all the way to the end would need to participate in a maximum of four interviews. There are a couple exceptions, like a company’s most senior roles (CEO, CFO), for which more interviews can be appropriate, or internships and temporary or contract roles, where just a couple can suffice—but three to four is a solid standard.

The politics of your organization may have a lot to do with how many interviews you’ll be expected to hold for a role on your team. For instance, if your company is consensus-driven and makes all decisions by committee, you might have to accommodate more interviews than you’d like.

Other organizations fall into the “just in case” trap, thinking that more interviews mean more thoroughness mean better hires. But however intuitive that assumption may feel, it doesn’t seem to be true (more on this in a moment).

If you have control over the number of interview rounds you’ll do, or you want to guide your organization toward a more efficient process, here are a few arguments for why you should limit your interviews for a given role to four per candidate.

What’s the harm in doing a bunch of interviews?

1. It doesn’t help you make better decisions

Recent research by Google’s People Analytics team has done a lot to dispel the notion of “lots of interviews = a thorough and accurate hiring process.” They concluded that, on the contrary, conducting more than four interviews had diminishing returns.

They “found that four interviews were enough to predict whether someone should be hired at Google with 86% confidence” and “after the fourth interview, the accuracy… increases by less one percent.” In other words, any interview after the fourth would have a negligible impact on how confident the hiring team would be about hiring someone.

Google also found that extra interviews beyond the fourth almost never changed the hiring committee’s decision: “94% of the time, the exact same decision would have been made,” a result they’ve since replicated. So conducting more than four interviews doesn’t, contrary to what your intuition might tell you, make your hiring process better.

2. It wastes your company’s time and resources

Interviewing is time-consuming. If you account for scheduling, prep, the interview itself, and follow-up you might ask of your interviewers (notes summaries, questionnaires, etc.), each of your interviewers can easily spend one to two hours on each candidate. So if you have four finalists and you want six people to interview each of them, you’re looking at upwards of 50 hours total just to get through all the finalists. And you, the hiring manager, will easily spend even more time.

Yes, getting a range of perspectives is important, but think about all the other things those people could have done with their collective 50+ hours of work time. It’s unlikely that interviewing job finalists is any of these people’s full-time job. Suddenly, your hire has become a lot more expensive.

3. It wastes the candidates’ time

It’s easy for hiring managers to think they have the upper hand over their candidates; after all, they have something the candidates want and they decide whether the candidates get it. This attitude can make hiring managers less conscious of the candidates’ experience of the hiring process and thus less considerate of their candidates’ time. But candidates are (or at least should be) evaluating prospective employers just as much as they’re being evaluated. Don’t forget that your candidates also have something you want: skills, experience, connections, availability, etc., so make sure your hiring process doesn’t deter them.

Even if it seems normal within the context of your company’s hiring process, and even if you insist you have the upper hand in the employer/candidate power balance, it’s inconsiderate of candidates’ time to demand excessive interviews. Think about the last time you interviewed for a job. You probably had to duck away somewhere private to take phone screens and surreptitiously take time off your then-job to interview in person. Interviewing for that job pulled you away from your other obligations and took up a good bit of your time. If the company had kept piling on interviews after you’d already dedicated several hours to them, you might have reconsidered your interest in the job.

And that’s just it: when companies demand too much time of candidates, the competitive ones cut their losses and apply elsewhere. Providing a crummy candidate experience like this can cost you more than just a handful of candidates; it can harm your company’s reputation as an employer. You don’t want to be known as the company that puts people through eight interviews just to reject everyone and repost the job. That will not make you look like a company that has its act together—a company where good candidates would want to work.

4. It drags out your hiring process

A long hiring process makes for a poor candidate experience; good candidates won’t wait around for employers who take too long. Instead, they’ll get snapped up by companies that move faster, even if they were more interested in your opening.

How do I keep my interview load reasonable?

1. Share this info with your colleagues

You may have limited latitude to influence your company’s hiring practices. If you’re unable to call the shots on your own, try some of the arguments I shared above to see if it might nudge them.

2. Use panel interviews

If your company is consensus-oriented, panel interviews can make your hiring process faster: you can get multiple opinions in one go without having to hold as many separate interviews. So if your company culture dictates that, for example, every future direct report of this new hire needs a chance to talk to the finalists, lump them together in panels. Just don’t make your panels too big or it’ll freak out your candidates and make it impossible to conduct effective interviews.

3. Schedule interview blocks

This is a good one to check with the candidate first, but it can be helpful to schedule the interviews in a back-to-back block. If the powers that be at your company insist on 1:1 interviews, your best bet may be to schedule a full onsite interview day. It can be a lot to ask of candidates, but at least they’ll know what they’re committing to and can plan for it. Ultimately, you’re showing a willingness to be efficient with each candidate’s time.

What does this look like in practice?

Here’s a sample series of four interviews. Ideally, each step of the process would eliminate candidates until you arrived at a small handful of finalists.

  1. Phone Screen – an introductory call, usually with a recruiter, to slim down the candidate pool and get candidates excited about the position
  2. Technical Screen – a conversation with a subject matter expert who does a deep dive into the candidate’s technical skills in a software, technology, etc.
  3. Team Panel Interview – three to four of the candidate’s future team members meet with the candidate to evaluate how well they’d all work together
  4. Hiring Manager Interview – the final interview where the hiring manager speaks with each finalist

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