Few people are as knee-deep in our work-related anxieties and sticky office politics as Alison Green, who has been fielding workplace questions for a decade now on her website Ask a Manager. In Direct Report, she spotlights themes from her inbox that help explain the modern workplace and how we could be navigating it better.
Most people who are looking for a job welcome an invitation to interview and are pleased if they’re invited back for a second round. But what happens when the process extends to third, fourth, fifth, and even more interviews? Increasingly, that’s what job seekers are encountering, and it’s leaving them frustrated and exhausted.
In the past, companies typically held one, two, or maybe three interviews with a candidate before making a decision. But in recent years, many more rounds of interviews have become common, sometimes stretching into the truly absurd. This account is typical of what frustrated job-seekers send me:
I’m currently interviewing for new jobs, and the entire process is remote. I’ve noticed that the number of interviews for a single position is way higher than in previous years when I’ve looked for a job. In one position, I’ve been through seven rounds of interviews, with no indication that a decision is coming soon. A lot of these are just repeats of the same questions that others have asked. I’ve been asked “What’s one word that describes you” and “Why do you want to work here” by almost everyone I’ve been interviewed by, and my answer doesn’t change, so I doubt this is an effective use of their time. For another position, I’ll be in an interview later this week and have already been told there will be at least two more.
All of this interviewing is becoming very time-consuming, even though it is remote. I have a demanding full-time job, a family, and obligations outside of meeting every member of a company. Taking four hours a week to interview and several additional hours to prepare is not sustainable.
Here’s another one:
I’ve been in an interview process for a job, but every time we reach the point where an offer should be made, the process is extended by yet another lengthy meeting with the senior staff. To say this process has been long is an understatement. The first interview was relatively straightforward and lasted an hour. The second was somewhat nontraditional, included a lot of “getting to know you” questions, and lasted an hour and a half. The third, which included two managers and the head of the organization, was scheduled for 7 p.m. and began after 7:30 p.m., and lasted 2.5 hours …
Following the long evening interview, I was brought on for a paid trial work day (which actually went fine). After that, they scheduled another long evening interview to discuss revisions to the original job description. That interview began 45 minutes late and ended at 11 p.m. with questions about when I can start and promises to send me the official job offer the following day.
Just when I thought I had finally reached the end of this process, I instead received a request from them for ONE MORE meeting, again slotted for two hours!
This person is even wondering if they can bill interviewers for their time:
A friend recently sat for 29—yes, 29—half-hour interviews for the position of senior director. The interviews included the CEO, president, COO, CFO, etc. The company’s hiring manager called her two references, both of whom are highly respected in the field, and both of whom attested to giving her stellar reviews. In addition, she has an unblemished record, excellent credentials, etc. Regardless, she was not hired and the position remains unfilled. Considering the fact that the company took it to the end (i.e., by calling her references), should she bill the company for her time? If so, how would she go about doing so, a simple request by mail? Attorney?
Sadly, she cannot bill for her time after the fact—but the impulse to do it should be a message to employers that they’ve gone overboard.
In part—or perhaps entirely—the increase in interviewing rounds can be attributed to the rise in remote work. Employers assume it’s less of a burden for candidates to do a Zoom call than to make time for an in-person meeting, without considering that it’s often easier for people to block out one afternoon for a half-day interview than it is to block out five hour-long time slots on different days. Breaking a half-day of interviews into five different blocks is easier on the employer’s end—whereas previously they might have organized an afternoon of back-to-back interviews with, say, HR, the hiring manager, the hiring manager’s boss, and some would-be peers, and would have to find a day when all those people could be available, now they can just schedule the candidate for remote meetings at whatever times work on those people’s individual calendars. The problem, of course, is what it means for the candidate’s calendar:
On the company side, they’re just arranging half-hour meetings with 5 or 6 people, so some places will just grab any time that’s available on each person’s calendar the way you would any other meeting instead of viewing it as a coordinated block of time the way you would if someone were coming to the office to interview. But for the person interviewing, these aren’t just any other meeting. It’s terrible and exhausting.
When I was interviewing for my current job a few months ago, the second round (out of five!) of interviews was six 30-minute Zooms with each person on my main team. They wanted me to do a series of half-hour calls throughout the week. I was like, can we at least get these all on the same day? It’s unreasonable to expect people to be in the interviewing mindset every day for a week even if only for 30–45 minutes each day. And it is just asking for the interviewee to not be on their A-game because something blew up at their actual job just before they have to hop on to the interview.
Most candidates are also interviewing with multiple companies, which means they may be juggling multiple six- or seven-step processes at the same time. That adds up to a lot of time to block off from work, with excuses for why they’re not available each time.
It’s not just interviews, either. Companies also are asking for increasing amounts of work from applicants even before they get to the interview stage:
I’m applying for a director position that I was recruited to apply for. The process is: cover letter, résumé, four-question response (one-pager), behavior assessment, cognitive assessment, five work samples, six questions on culture/climate as it relates to the company’s mission and how the candidate fits (they stated they expect candidates to spend one hour at least on it), and re-creating a work sample project based on one of the company’s core competencies/beliefs/plans, then emailing the project sample and asking questions, getting feedback, and re-tweaking as needed.
This, to me, is asking lots for a candidate before the interview. Am I off-base, or is this the new norm as companies have less face-to-face time with folks they hire? (This is a remote position.) Maybe I’m old-school, but cover letter, résumé, interview, and even work samples seem adequate.
Candidates with options are even choosing to drop out of some of these endless processes:
I ended up pulling out of selection processes for several jobs I would’ve loved to take simply because they had 6–8 touchpoints for positions that definitely don’t need that many touchpoints. (I’m 28, and still relatively early-career, but verging on mid-level roles, not managing anyone.)
One org’s process started with an hour-long video interview, followed by an assignment (that would only take “five hours to complete”) due a week later, then another interview with a different person after they’d reviewed the assignment, then another assignment due a week after that interview, then a panel interview, then an hour-long executive director “meet and greet,” then “a chance for me to interview them” at another 45-minute meeting, followed by one more hiring manager interview. Another org wanted a phone screen, individual interviews with all five members of their team, an assignment, and another panel interview with the same five members of the team.
Thankfully other job offers came through and I was able to pull out of these intensely long processes, but it’s definitely not a candidate-friendly system—especially while working full time!
To be clear, companies do need to be rigorous about assessing job candidates! It’s reasonable to meet with applicants more than once, and finding ways to see them in action, such as with exercises or work simulations, can dramatically improve hiring decisions. But employers seem to be getting more and more cavalier with candidates’ time, pushing well beyond what’s reasonable. At some point, they’re likely to lose their best applicants to organizations with the foresight to streamline what they ask of people.