Interview questions and structured interviewing
Username: Password:

Death by Interview

Dr. John Sullivan

"Too much of a good thing is bad for you" is true for both "sweets" and for interviews.

I was at Agilent Technologies the other day when one of their many talented HR reps described "over interviewing" with the accurate and humorous phrase "death by interview." I laughed and I couldn't have agreed more!

Because of the threats of lawsuits, HR departments have become increasingly conservative in how they screen candidates. Physical ability, mental ability, personality and even skill tests have gone by the wayside as a result of this fear. All that is left from a once broad array of screening devices is the resume scan, the reference check and the interview. Now one can argue the point about the predictive value of interviews (as I often do) but the real issue here is that, in many cases, companies have increased the number of interviews to make up for the absence of these other screening tools. Unfortunately what has occurred is a dramatic growth in the number of interviews that candidates are subjected to before they can be offered a job. The number of interviews has proliferated like rabbits. Where one or two interviews used to be common, one firm I know now demands 5 - 10 while another averaged over 17 before realizing the disastrous consequences.

If a few are good ... more must be better - What's wrong with too many interviews?

Numerous studies have demonstrated that the top candidates for nearly any job are gone within anywhere from 1 day to 10 days. Although the interviews themselves might not be that long, the actual scheduling of them can in itself be a time-consuming process. During a time when almost all candidates are currently working at another job, finding time when both the manager and the candidate are available can mean days, weeks and even months may be necessary in order to schedule a series of different interviews. Unfortunately such delays will mean that all of the top candidates will likely be gone after only a few weeks of delays.

When candidates are unemployed they are more than willing to come in for a series of interviews because they are unemployed and are probably at home. However in times of low unemployment most people are at work and they are likely to find it difficult and sometimes impossible to come in more than once. Interviews that require long distance travel are getting increasingly impossible to schedule because currently employed people can't make up a "believable story" about why they will need to be away from work for multiple days.

When candidates are subjected to multiple interviews (at the same firm) it is quite common for different interviewers to ask similar or exactly the same questions in back-to-back interviews. This is often because interviews by different managers are not planned or coordinated. It is also partially caused by interview training manuals, which, by suggesting appropriate questions to use in an interview, can inadvertently cause interviewers to use the same questions over and over. One firm had the audacity (or intelligence) to ask applicants what they thought about the multiple interview process. The results were startling. The candidates were frustrated and angry about being asked the same question over and over. They found that by repeating the same question over and over that it gave the impression that the firm was uncoordinated and dis- joined! In addition, by repeating the same questions, the firm loses the opportunity to gather data in a broad variety of areas that might help to improve the value and accuracy of the overall interview process.

If you add up the multiple hours that managers and employees must spend in interviews, (which is multiplied greatly when there are team interviews) the costs of a series of interviews can easily grow into five figures. The amount of hours that are required can also lead to "management fatigue" which can cause managers to delay hiring and put off the interview process.


There are a variety of tools and techniques that can help reduce the number of unnecessary interviews. Some of them include:

* Educate the managers about the consequences of additional interviews and that more time actually decreases the quality of the person hired

* Set a target number of interviews (say at three) and suggests additional interviews are appropriate only in rare cases

* Encourage "one-day" interviewing by suggesting to managers (or making it a rule) that all interviews for a single candidate must be scheduled and completed in one-day

* Track the time to hire and reward managers for fast hiring

* Develop Web-based scheduling systems which allow managers and recruiters to more easily coordinate schedules to allow for same day interviews

* Conduct team interviews so that all of the managers and interviewers can answer questions during a single session

* Use teleconference, telephone or computer video interviews to eliminate the need for candidates to visit your site for any interview

The cost of excessive interviews is great both in poor candidate quality and in increased financial costs. By educating managers and HR professionals about the value of reducing the number of interviews, firms can increase the quality of their hires while at the same time decreasing the cost of the process. By limiting the number of interviews, by scheduling them all on one day, while at the same time assigning the appropriate interview questions to the right manager, HR can have a dramatic impact on increasing the quality of the hires at any firm!


Finding Candidates

Interviewing Basics

Interviewing Best Practices

Laws & Documentation

Line Manager / Recruiting Partnership


Pre-Planning & Retention

Reading the Candidate

Recruiting Basics

Recruiting Best Practices

Useful Links