by Paula Santonocito

Multiple interviews allow for better candidate screening, or at least that’s the theory.
The interview process

By allowing multiple people in the organization to meet a candidate, there’s an opportunity for a greater range of questions and more input as far as the hiring decision.

Yet, how multiple interviews are conducted varies greatly from organization to organization and from one industry to another.

The process can involve a series of interviews and/or one or more group or panel interviews. The number of participants varies as well.

Certain industries, like academia and health care, are famous for bigger group interviews, says Carole Martin, author of “Boost Your Hiring IQ.”

And there isn’t always strength in numbers. “I almost think of these as an inquisition rather than an interview,” Martin tells HRWire.

From the job seeker side, an interview with a large group demands a crowd performance, regardless of whether the job requires this skill. But it’s not only job seekers who run into difficulties when there are too many interviewers.

From the employer side, the situation creates obstacles. There are more opinions, Martin tells HRWire, but too many opinions make it harder to have a consensus.

Without a consensus, the whole purpose of the process is lost. “It’s a waste of everybody’s time and productivity,” Martin says.

According to Martin, the time would be far better spent upfront, determining who and what the organization is seeking.

Group interviews aren’t the only kinds of interviews that get mismanaged. A series of interviews with different individuals can also be unproductive. “Each person has his or her agenda,” Martin says. “So what does that really do to the bigger picture?”

As a result, she recommends that when key people get together to determine what is needed in a candidate they also decide on a focus for each interviewer. “Everybody gets a different set of questions,” Martin says.

Some of the same areas might be covered. For example, everyone might ask questions about communication skills or integrity but those questions would all be different.

The search
Although it sounds like a relatively easy solution, multiple interviews can still lead to differences of opinion.

“Introverts can be turned off by extroverts and likes tend to like likes,” Martin says.
That’s why she’s a proponent of doing more work upfront. “A lot of it is identifying who’s the dream candidate. It’s kind of like dating,” she says.

Randall Hansen, Ph.D., president of Quintessential Careers, an online employment resource, also equates hiring to dating. And he points out that, as with dating, there are two parties involved.
Because the employer controls the interview and the interview process, one side of the potential relationship often gets overlooked. “The other side of the coin is the job seeker needs to feel there’s a fit as well,” Hansen tells HRWire.

An employer is going to lose money if the person ends up leaving because the fit isn’t right, he says.

“You want to make sure the job seeker gets a realistic view of the company and the culture and a true sense of the work-life,” Hansen says.

In order to provide this, he favors multiple interviews.

Environment and structure
Like Martin, Hansen recommends preparing for those interviews. He also advocates changing the parameters.

He suggests a ride along interview for a sales position, for example. Or, if an employer holds large group interviews, he advises altering the structure; rather than quiz the candidate, Hansen recommends creating a discussion environment that can lead to broader topics.

Martin says she too has seen effective interviews that deviate from the norm. In biotech, for example, a job candidate might be invited to present scientific findings at a seminar.
In other words, group interviews and a series of one-to-one interviews have the potential to be highly effective.

What doesn’t work, however, is using the interview process to delay hiring. And it seems to be happening more frequently, according to Hansen.

“I think more employers, because of the job market and the economy, have more power and they take longer because A, they can make sure they have the right person, and B, budgets aren’t quite firmed up,” he says.

Hansen tells HRWire he hears of job seekers spending a full day at a company interviewing with as many as 20 people asking the same questions.

He also tells of another kind of interview overkill: “One person went on six interviews. Surely by the third, both parties should have a pretty good feel. In the end, he didn’t get the position.”
In this particular situation it might be that the company couldn’t decide, Hansen says. But he also questions whether the company was trying to string along people and then the hiring budget fell through.

Regardless of the reasons, the environment has changed. “There’s been a great lengthening of the job interview process,” Hansen tells HRWire. “Years ago, multiple interviews were conducted in a short timeframe. The interview trend I’ve seen now is that window has dramatically dragged on.”

He sees employers conducting the same number of interviews, but over a longer period of time.

How many
But what is the right number of interviews, if there is such a thing?

Martin likes the number three, for several reasons, including that it’s easy to get a consensus. Hansen agrees that three or four interviews are generally sufficient.

But, as both experts point out, it’s not only the quantity of the interviews, but the quality that counts.
And in the quality column is post-interview communication. Regardless of whether employers feel the current economic environment gives them an advantage, Hansen says it’s important to maintain best practices with regard to candidate communication.

“If they’re a top-quality person, they’re going to be snatched up by someone else, even in a bad economy,” he says.
What’s more, he points out that in today’s online world, lack of consideration for job seekers spreads via blogs and other communication tools.

Even as some companies are putting enormous effort into employer branding and creating elaborate corporate careers sites, they have bad practices, Hansen says.

Long term, this kind of strategy could lead employers to conduct multiple interviews, and not out of choice.

Contact: Carole Martin, author, “Boost Your Hiring IQ,” www.interviewcoach.com; Randall Hansen, Ph.D., president, Quintessential Careers, randall@quintcareers.com.

Online: “Boost Your Hiring IQ” by Carole Martin, available from Amazon.com, http://www.amazon.com/dp/0071477012?tag=wwwinterviewcoco&camp=15041&creative=373501&link_code=as3; Quintessential Careers, http://www.quintcareers.com/.