Death by Interview: Revealing the Pain Caused by Excessive Interviews

May 13, 2013

“Death by interview” is the harsh but unfortunately all-too accurate name that I give to the majority of corporate interview processes because of the way that they literally abuse candidates.

Death by interview is worth closer examination because harsh treatment during interviews impacts almost every working American, simply because each one of us is subjected to many interviews during our lifetime.

The hiring interview shares a love/hate status, where even though applicants initially hope to be granted an interview, once they are finally notified, they almost universally undergo a wave of stress and painful memories that causes them to stop looking forward to them.

“Death by interview” is the term used to describe the drawn out pain that job applicants suffer as a result of requiring an excessive number of interviews, repeating the same questions across multiple interviews. and the unnecessary uncertainty that is part of most interview processes.

Death by Interview Component No. 1 — An Excessive Number of Interviews

Every job applicant understands the need for interviews, so the pain point occurs when an excessive amount are required. The CEO of one well-known technology firm that I once advised dictated that every candidate for every job undergo an astonishing 17 interviews. Of course no one knew how or why he arrived at that outrageous number of interviews.

Google is another firm that has justifiably earned a reputation of demanding a double-digit number of interviews. Its justification was that because hiring impacts everyone that the new hire interacts with, “everyone at the firm should be able to interview a candidate.” Fortunately, its well-earned death-by-interview reputation forced Google to eventually conduct internal research that demonstrated that “after four interviews, you get diminishing returns.” And since Google is interviewing for positions that require advanced skills and innovation, it’s time to realize that for most jobs, any number beyond three interviews is probably unnecessary. Obviously when the optimal number of interviews is exceeded, not only does the firm receive little additional value, but each of the candidates must suffer unnecessarily.

Pain Points Caused by Excessive Interviews

An excessive number of interviews means that even though the candidate themselves may not literally “die,” the chances increase that their spirit, ego, and their feeling of self-worth will unnecessarily be crushed. Some of the problems caused by an excessive number of interviews include:

  • Stress — excessive interviews that are stretched out over a long period of time result in a long, stressful wait, which in turn places unnecessary pressure and discomfort on both the candidate and their family.
  • Forced lies — if a candidate is currently working or if they live in another city, going to multiple separate interviews requires them to make many phony excuses or even lie to their boss in order to get away for each interview.
  • Lost wages — if the candidate is paid hourly, each interview and its related travel time forces a candidate to lose significant wages. Even if they work in a salaried job, frequently missing work will likely hurt their career.
  • Firms suffer too — holding an excessive number of interviews will not improve hiring decisions but it will waste both manager and recruiter time. And when applicants post negative messages about your interview process on the Internet, death by interview will eventually damage the firm’s external image and future recruiting.

Why Corporations Frequently Require an Excessive Number of Interviews

There is no legal requirement that requires a firm to conduct a series of interviews with each candidate. Instead, fear is often the reason for so many interviews. This fear of a hiring mistake causes most to support continuing interviewing to the point where every doubt is minimized. Unfortunately, because interviews have a low predictive value, no number of them will guarantee that the individual is a perfect fit.

Death by Interview Component No. 2 — Repetition

The second major component of “death by interview” occurs when subsequent interviewers inexplicably ask the same question that the candidate has already answered during a past interview. Over multiple interviews, repeatedly being asked the same question is confusing to the candidate. One firm that had the wisdom to survey applicants about the interview process found that candidates were frustrated and even angry about repeat questions. The survey further revealed that the repetition gave candidates the impression that the firm’s management was uncoordinated and disjoined.

Pain Points Caused by Interview Question Repetition

Repeatedly asking the same question during subsequent interviews has a number of negative impacts both on the firm and the candidate. They include:

  • A feeling of failure — in addition to the obvious confusion and frustration, asking the same question over and over can make candidates feel like they answered the question incorrectly the first time. This could cause the candidate to change their answer when a question is repeated, which would provide hiring managers with contradicting information and that could make a hiring decision less accurate.
  • Appearing unorganized — repeating the same questions can send a message to candidates that the corporation is not organized. Another practice that may make the organization appear to lack organization occurs when interviewers ask questions whose answers can be clearly found right in the provided resume. Together these practices may create a negative image that may cause candidates to drop out of the recruiting process prematurely and if criticism of the practice reaches the Internet, it may also reduce future applications.
  • Less information provided — obviously repeating interview questions means that fewer new questions will be asked. Fewer questions means that less “new information” will be added that could improve the hiring decision.

Understanding Why Successive Interviewers Repeat the Same Questions

Different interviewers repeat the same question often because interviews are not structured, planned, scripted, or coordinated. No one in HR assigns specific questions to the different interviewers, based on their expertise, nor does anyone in HR track which questions were actually asked. Corporate interview manuals that suggest sample questions can also make it too easy for every manager to simply ask the first questions that appear on the sample list.

Death by Interview Component No. 3 — Unnecessary Uncertainty

The final factor that causes interviews to be painful is the amount of uncertainty that the candidate must endure. The abuse occurs when candidates are unnecessarily kept in the dark about the interview process and what is expected from them during it.

Pain Points Caused by Excessive Uncertainty

Some of the pain points that are caused by unnecessary secrecy and uncertainty include:

  • Uncertainty causes frustration — uncertainty surrounding what to expect during all aspects of the interview may cause the candidate many unnecessary sleepless nights. Areas of uncertainty that could easily be cleared up include: What are the steps? How long will the process take? What skills they are looking for? Which individuals will be doing the interviewing (and their role) and who will make the final hiring decision?
  • Transparency is expected — many candidates, especially those from the new generation, expect a high degree of corporate openness and transparency. As a result, failing to provide a great deal of upfront information may cause some candidates to prematurely drop out of the process.
  • Uncertainty in feedback — the high level of uncertainty is often continued when the firm fails to provide timely feedback to candidates. If an inquiry to find out their progress or how to do better next time gets an unsatisfactory response, they may permanently give up on the firm and advise their friends and colleagues to do the same.

Why Candidates Are Unnecessarily Kept in the Dark

There is no legal restriction that prohibits companies from telling candidates upfront about every aspect of the interview process. Instead, purposely keeping candidates in the dark serves the purpose of allowing unprepared hiring managers the opportunity to “wing it” throughout the interviewing process.

It turns out that if you promise nothing, there is little chance that you will be challenged for failing to meet your promises. This uncertainty is possible because most candidates are relatively powerless, so they have few options but to unquestioningly endure. When it comes to the issue of a lack of feedback, many in HR are adverse to conflict, so they routinely refuse to provide information that may raise further questions, conflicts, or even legal issues.

Final Thoughts

I’ve written extensively on “what is wrong with interviews” but the issues raised here are completely different. “Death by interview” is a hideous corporate practice that is worthy of a conversation during corporate recruiting meetings, simply because most of the pain is unnecessary.

If recruiting leaders are to understand and limit “death by interview” they first must gauge the problem and increase awareness by developing metrics covering total interview time, interview question repetition, and candidate frustration levels.

Some might mistakenly assume that death by interview and improving the candidate experience are less relevant today during a down economy. But it is a major mistake for corporate leaders to make that assumption, because if they do, their corporation will pay a heavy price after the “war for talent” returns and the power begins to shift over to the candidate. Using any customer service standard, the typical corporate interview process simply fails to make the grade!

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