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Sunday, May 9, 2010

How Long Should An Interview Last?

An interview should be as long as it takes to determine the nature of the person you are interviewing. It could be as short as twenty minutes if you feel no connection, but it could last well over an hour if there is a good give and take. 

Hiring managers make a huge mistake by not allowing enough time to get to know the person they are seeing.  When that happens, candidates, who are rarely in control of the interview, don't learn enough about the company and people they meet in order to make a proper career decision.  And sometimes they actually get offered jobs despite the short interview.

Last week I had a senior candidate (General Manager) on an interview. I was a little surprised when the firm he was interviewing with scheduled six interviews at half hour interviews over three hours. Aside from being exhausting for the candidate, it is unfair to both parties. The individuals he met couldn’t possibly have found out enough about him to know if they liked him or not.

The purpose of an interview is for both people to get to know each other. The interviewer needs to learn about the qualities of a candidate that would make him or her right for the job. The interviewee needs to determine what the job is about and whether he or she likes the interviewer, the company and the job. Half an hour is enough time to tell if you don’t like someone, but it is generally not enough time to truly find out someone who you like is right for a specific job.

I have developed a very effective interview technique. I make a judgment about the candidate within a minute or so of meeting him or her and then to spend my interview time proving or disproving my initial judgment. My initial supposition is often based on dress, demeanor, handshake (yes, handshake), posture and presence. But I remain open to the idea of reversing my initial impression.

Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.

While I believe in first impressions, it is important to get to know whether someone is right for a job. In order to do that, interviews should be a chat. A good rule of thumb is that the interviewer should talk about one-third of the time. Establishing a dialog is critically important to the process since it enables the free flow of information. Peppering a candidate with questions merely elicits quick responses and rarely enables either the candidate or interviewer to delve into the reasoning behind an answer.

I don’t believe in speed dating. I certainly don’t believe in speed interviewing. If you are too busy to conduct a proper interview, the meeting should be cancelled or continued at another time. I have lots of clients who see a candidate two or more times in order to get all the information they need to make a final decision.

It is important to remember when you are interviewing someone that you may be the only executive a candidate ever meets from your company. The impression he or she leaves with will be the impression they form of you and your company. So even if you really feel no connection, at least give them twenty minutes.

Interviewing is at least part public relations.

Overly scheduled interviews, like the one my candidate had, actually work against both parties. The candidate goes through such a whirlwind process that they aren’t sure who they met or what was discussed. And the interviewers barely have time to delve into the candidate before they have to move him or her on to the next interview. The process becomes more important than the results.

(As an aside, it is now more than a week later and despite repeated calls and emails, I have no feedback whatsoever for my candidate. The candidate, however, lost interest because of the process.)

While determining skills may be an essential part of any interview – if you are a hiring manager, you need to be sure that a candidate is able to do a job based on training and skills – in the long run, determining cultural fit is far more important. That’s why a dialog is so important to any interview. This manifests itself particularly in creative hires. Art directors and writers are often hired based on their portfolios. And when they start work, agencies discover that their personality is all too wrong for the culture.

Short interviews only result in a perfunctory determination of personality. Poor hires are often the result. Candidates chose badly because they never got to know the person who they are reporting to and companies end up disappointed with their hire for the same reason.

I would love to hear your experiences with too short or too long interviews.

9 comments:

  1. Couldn't agree more. I've worked in staffing and have also been on these long/multi-person types of interviews before. I've also always referred to them as "speed dating" and they definitely leave a lot out for the candidate and employer. The candidate may be there for a couple hours, but there is a repetitiveness of information covered by those doing the interview. It is also detrimental for the candidate to ask any questions about the job responsibilities, etc. In my experience I was meeting with one of the hiring managers for 30 minutes. He spent most of the time asking me about my experience and I just started to ask detailed questions about some of the job functions. I thought it was going really well and then the next person to interview me came in the room telling the person I was with his 30 minutes was up. Not only did it not allow me to find out more about the job from one of the people I'd be working most closely with, but it also didn't leave the best impression of the company with me. Many employers don't realize that interviews should be strategic and it's also a chance for them to make/ruin their impression on a candidate.

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    1. I agree, thanks for the information. I was just interviewed for 2 hrs last Wed, first he didnt read or ask for my resume. and then he told me all the negative things about the company, that you get burnt out, long hrs, work all holidays, that he was spends time with his kids, and talks to his sister on the phone alot, that he parents died and then he got tearful. took off his company ring on his left hand, subtly fliriting with me and ( to me he was letting me know he was not married) just intuition. and tells me he has an open policy with his employees that they can come and talk to him anytime with the door shut. at the end of his share, he rarely asked me anything about my past work history, or what I thought were my strenghts etc, told me to get back to him if I wanted the job.

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  2. Livingston MillerMay 10, 2010 at 9:53 AM

    Paul,

    Here's something of a side issue to the amount of time devoted to the candidate. We look for writing/thinking skills first and foremost in hiring account people, but everyone really. Of course, there's no real way to test that besides asking for samples which may or may not be authentic or revealing as to how a candidate might summarize a meeting and next steps. I'm considering asking people to sit down at my computer after we've talked and write a three paragraph summary of the interview that just occurred. Fair Ball? Effective strategy? What say you?.

    Best, Livy Miller

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  3. Livy: I hear you and understand where you are coming from. Unfortunately, too many schools turn out people who cannot write. Your strategy is not wrong, but it isn't right, either. Depending on the seniority of the person you are interviewing, it could be very insulting. A better thought is to ask for writing samples and then to check them out during reference checking. I had one client years ago do something fabulous. He asked for a writing sample which was a letter to a department store or somewhere else asking for a specific action - taking back a return, a cover letter containing a check, etc. He felt that this kind of letter would be completely unedited and allow him to judge a candidate's ability to write. Interesting idea, no? Paul

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  4. A very interesting read indeed. I do agree with your view of approaching the interview as a chat and having a dialog. I actually employed this very technique when I got of graduate school back in 2005. It worked splendidly with Saatchi & SaatchiX (Fayetteville) and sought of back fired with Arnold Worldwide (Boston). The feedback I got from the recruiter for Arnold was that - the team (all female)- thought i was too aggressive (because I asked them questions). In summary, I think the concept has merit but should be applied only if it is a fit with the culture of the organization.

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  5. I would like to add that both interviews (Arnold and Saatchi) involved speaking with about 5-6 people one after another - which was quite exhausting. I felt a huge redundancy since the Arnold interviewers were asking me the same/similar questions and I found myself parroting the same dialog from the earlier session. I found it to be very templatized (if that's even a word).

    The SaatchiX interview was more diverse as each interview was like a chat and the interviewers asked me about different subjects which tested my domain knowledge, attitude, work ethic and my interest in the field of shopper marketing.

    My POV on Livingstone's post: Not completely fair since the candidate might be nervous and would be under some stress after just coming out of the interview. Also, I question the merit of forcing the written piece to be 3 paras. Wouldn't it be more interesting to ask the candidate to merely sum up the interview and then see how it turns out. It might reveal some aspect of the candidates personality that didn't surface during the interview.

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  6. "An interview should be as long as it takes to determine the nature of the person you are interviewing"

    In other words: the company can take as long as they want to interview a candidate then reject the candidate. There should be a limit on the number of hours and subsequent rounds to interviews. Not multi-hour, multi-round interviews followed by a summary rejection. Or in some cases no rejection, but a wall of silence.

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  7. Several years ago I was interviewing at a large company in Arizona. They had me booked for several hours, and told me I would be meeting with a number of people, and I had that concern of multiple short meetings. Instead, they brought me into a conference room, provided coffee & water, and then a group of 6 folks came in and sat around the conference table. They asked a lot of questions, but also left time for a significant amount of back and forth dialogue. Rather than an inquisition it felt like a detailed conversation. I walked out of there feeling like they had obtained a good sense of me, and I had learned a significant amount about them, and about the company. While I didn't end up getting the job, I actually enjoyed that interview process.

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    1. Helen: I am glad you liked it. Mostly, I think that group interviews are like focus groups: one person can tilt the entire group and control the conversation. However, I guess there are times when it works. The disadvantage of a group interview is that it doesn't allow for any time to reflect and ask follow up questions.

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I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

 
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