Important Notice:
This site has moved to, please update your bookmarks. If you were looking for a specific post, you can use the site search option, archives, or categories at the new domain to find it. Thank you!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

what's the goal of multiple 30-minute interviews?

A reader writes:

I recently applied for a support position at an academic institution. The phone interview went well and I was invited to come in for an in-person interview. The interview is scheduled for 2 hours and 15 minutes and consists of two thirty-minute interviews with high level researchers, two thirty- minute interviews with HR staff, and one 15 minute interview with an Executive Assistant. 

A succession of five interviews with five different people crammed into two hours and fifteen minutes does not seem like enough time to have a thorough, two-way conversation with each person. In my experience with job interviewing, the interviews have always been for a longer amount of time and with fewer people. Can you please tell me a little bit about what is expected from rapid, thirty-minute interviews and what the goal of these conversations should be?

Yeah, they're not going to be able to do an in-depth assessment. They're just going to be able to have five people get a general sense of what you're like, whether you seem initially crazy or not (which is always more of a concern than you might think), and whether they have a generally positive response to you. They're not going to learn much about your skills or experience that they haven't already learned from your resume.

This isn't that uncommon though. In fact, I'd say that more employers lack rigorous hiring processes than have them -- which is why so many employers end up hiring the wrong people.

Your goal in all this should be to be pleasant, to be prepared to answer basic interview questions multiple times, and to ask your own questions so you can get enough of a sense of the job and the culture that you can determine whether you'd be a good fit -- since they're probably not going to be equipped to do that for you.


Harris Silverman- Business Coach said...

Sounds like good advice. The reality is that, for all the information about proper interviewing available from all kinds of sources, most people just hire the person they like the most and who seems the most sociable. In this case, it sounds like the employer just wants to make sure everyone likes the interviewee.

Harris Silverman

Anonymous said...

My former employer used to do that. The way you got hired was, either a lot of us liked you and fought in the after-meeting to get you, or one person thought you walked on water and promised they would provide you full chargeable hours.

Our interview process consisted of about 7 hours of one hour interviews, plus a one hour lunch.

It was pretty hard to get hired, but we really had wonderful people.

Jamie said...

AAM has done recent posts about employers sending rejection letters after an interview, and some who don't. Reading anonymous 1:15's comment all I could think is that if I interviewed for seven straight hours you don't owe me a job - but you darn sure owe me an email.

I've interviewed where I knew it wasn't a good fit for me early on - but I let the interview run it's course as quickly as possible. If I had to do one of these all day marathons and I wasn't interested I would most likely cut it short as not to waste everyone's time.

I wonder if that would be considered a courtesy or if it falls into the unprofessional bridge burning category?

Anonymous said...

@jamie, anon115 here. Our "interviews" were more a mutual show and tell; do you like our work environment and us as much as do we like you and you qualifications. And, honestly, if you didn't have at least an MS with honors, you wouldn't be dropping by anyway. More importantly, those who were disinterested by a marathon interview would not have fit in. It was a company run by geeky kids, back when geeky was not at all cool. Best job I ever had. But now I am old and value going home at 5pm more than a fun work environment!

PS we never emailed, we phoned that evening and followed it up with a letter.

Richard said...

We had a similar procedure at the last place I worked as a 12 month intern, and I got to be on both sides, as interviewee before I was offered the job, and as interviewer when we were hiring a replacement intern.

In our case, we had people from different departments; my manager, the current employee (myself), HR, and a member of the IT department (it was an IT job, but not part of their department, although it was not uncommon to work with them). This meant that in each interview, we were asking different questions that allowed us to get a more rounded idea of the candidates. It also presented an opportunity for the candidate to ask each department questions specific to them. For example, asking me about my day to day routine or favourite aspects of the job, asking IT about what tasks they'd be expected to help with, or the systems on site, asking HR about any contract specifics, or my manager about how the department functions as a whole.

We marked each candidate as the day went on, and met up at the end of the day to discuss their suitability. There was actually very little argument involved and everyone had a very similar order of preference.

Try not to see it as a case of duplication of effort, or a waste of your time: Instead try and see the opportunity in the situation, and plan some questions for each staff member you may talk to based on their role and department. Another benefit is that you can actually use your experience as the day continues; you know when you leave an interview, and kick yourself because you didn't ask a specific question that you KNOW would have upped you a notch on their list? When you have a day of interviews, you actually have an opportunity to improve your interview technique as the day progresses: I actually thoroughly enjoyed my interview day, as it meant that I could properly take in the company as a whole and had ample opportunity to put myself across to the company as someone that they wanted to hire.

Best of luck in any future interviews!

Cassie said...

I once applied for a position where I was to be interviewed by a panel (4 people) - but I was going on vacation for 1 week and when I returned, one of the panelists would be out. So I ended up with two separate interviews - one with the panelist (HR person) who would be out and then another one after I returned with the other 3 (2 managers, and 1 person who incidentally would be my staff). And then they had me meet and interview with the CFO of the organization - I think just to have her vet me.

Maybe this was because it was a management position (I would be supervising 2 career staff) and was the top accountant in the dept. But I think for any other positions (especially one that isn't a management position), having more than 2 interviews just seems excessive. If it's a secretary/admin support position, basically all you need is for the person who will be supervising you and the person that you will be supporting (if it's not the same person) and maybe an HR rep.

I don't think multiple short interviews are effective - people who are great at talking and selling themselves (without being too obvious) will get a lot of positive feedback. A lot of the people our dept hired in the recent past have been those types of people - talk a good game but aren't very good at their eventual positions.

Ask a Manager said...

I agree, Cassie -- it becomes more of a contest of whose personality people like the most, because it's not enough time to really probe in-depth on skills and experiences!

Kimberlee Stiens said...

I think interview processes like the one's we've been discussing definitely COULD be really good, if well planned and well executed.

For instance, if a group of 5 people all doing separate interviews got together beforehand and assigned out the basic questions, so they just get asked once during the interview, and then got together at the end to compare notes, that would be really good for both candidate and interviewer. Even a half hour is enough time to get into the good stuff if you only have 1 background question.

And the candidate would be at advantage for reasons others stated, such as honing your interview technique and being able to self-evaluate between each session, plus you get to spend like 2 hours talking about your qualifications and telling stories about your previous positions, rather than a half hour.

But done badly, its five 30 minute interviews that are all the same interview. Repetitive, boring and uninformative.

Jamie said...

I didn't mean to imply that I would be put off by a marathon interview - just that if I were involved in one and I knew early on that I wasn't interested in the job I would cut it short to keep from wasting everyone's time.

My only point about the email is that as rude as I think it is if an employer doesn't notify rejected candidates after an interview it would be much more egregious if there were no notification after taking up an entire day of someone's time.

Ask a Manager said...

I remember reading once that some large company that does a full day of interviews (I think either Google or Microsoft) cuts the day short as soon as an interviewer vetos the person (they give each interviewer veto power). While that's probably awkward in a lot of cases, I think it's also kinder not to waste the person's time (and certainly makes sense not to continue wasting the time of the employees who would otherwise continue interviewing the person after they were already out of the running).

I would want a candidate to do the same, for the same reason.

Liz said...

I've been on the other end of this. I have a quiet personality and after a grueling hiring process, they hired someone much louder, with closer ties to the non-profit community.

I think I would have been better at the grunt work the job actually entailed. But with the nature of the working conditions, it makes sense for them to pick someone who will fit in really well.

I think it worked out well for the organization. And I always like my coworkers, but I think I would have been kind of worn out if pressured to perform a demanding job AND be best friends with everyone after hours too. I like just doing the job. I like building something and documenting concrete accomplishments. But they work in an atmosphere where morale probably matters more to them. The interview process fit in with that.

Anonymous said...

This odd interview schedule is probably not the fault of the department you are applying to. It's most likely that someone at HR decided this was a great idea and made it the new standard. I worked in research administration at a major university; I know. We had to deal with our fair share of questionable requirements from HR when it came to interviews.

As for a SEVEN HOUR interview? I don't think so! The longest I ever had to suffer though was four hours and the people interviewing me were beyond apologetic for taking up so much of my time. Seven hours is a farce and screams "this company is high maintenance".

Anonymous said...

Well, just for the record, I have been on both sides of the 7 hour interview process, and I'd say that it was the #1 reason that the large company I worked for had such good people. I have also used the 1/2 hour process too.

It works well when each interviewer has a specific interview task. For example, one person may ask "tell me about a time when..." behavioral questions, one asks technical questions, one is a "blue sky" interview, etc.. It's a far more complete/accurate interview and gives both the interviewer and the interviewee a more well-rounded view of each other and the possible future relationship.