Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Interviews Should Always Be One-On-One, Not Multiple People Grilling One Candidate

This is a subject I have never seen written about.  And it deserves attention.

Many companies think they are doing a candidate a favor by having two or three people interview them together at the same time.  It saves both the candidate and the company time.  But, they are actually doing both themselves and their candidate a disservice.

For a company, the purpose of an interview is to get to know a candidate – strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and their ability to do a defined job.  For a candidate, it is to gather information about the company and about the job.  When a candidate interviews with two or three people at one time, It does not produce the intended results.

Many companies like to conduct group interviews. For them it is more efficient and insures that everyone gets the same information.  And it is often far more convenient to set up. Unfortunately, while it is efficient, it generally produces skewed results. Human nature being what it is, one person tends to dominate the interview; generally the senior most person, controls the session. Not only does this skew the interview, but it prevents each individual from being able to question the candidate at length about their individual preferences and needs.

Two or three people interviewing one person is also actually unfair.  Whether intended or not, multiple people who know and are comfortable with each other tend to gang up on one stranger.  It isn’t intended, but it is what happens no matter how friendly they are to the candidate. Two or three against one is always a grilling.  As a result, it actually limits the free flow of information. The give and take that takes place during a one-on-one interview tends to be missing, so the company never really gets to know the candidate.

From a candidate’s point of view, it is always intimidating, no matter how comfortable and at ease that person is and no matter how friendly the group is.  It also doesn’t allow the candidate to digest and process information to be able to ask good questions.  It is much easier for the candidate to assess and question one person at a time. 

Now, I know that some companies believe that candidates like to come to visit them only once – it certainly is more convenient for the candidate.  And, while going back multiple times, especially when a candidate is employed and busy, can be an annoyance, in all my years of recruiting, I have never had a candidate complain – unless they have to go back seven or eight times, which does happen (my record is seventeen interviews, probably twelve visits). Most candidates accept the idea of multiple visits as being part of the interview process.

Serial interviews, one following another, are a better idea, but not by much.  I never recommend that a company allow more than two or three in one day, at most. (Sometimes this is unavoidable, especially when a candidate is flown in from out of town, however, in that case, the pacing should be leisurely.) More than three in a day is exhausting for a candidate.  Interviewing should not be a marathon.  Many times, candidates are not even given business cards are not sure who interviewed them.  I have had candidates say things like, “I met a person whose name was Bob and then I met someone else, I think her name was Susan, but I am not sure and I don’t know who they were or what they did and neither gave me business cards.”  This is a frequent occurrence. And also happens when several people see them at one time. (If a candidate must see multiple people, at the very least they should be provided with an agenda containing names and positions in advance.)

How can a company expect a candidate to assess and like them  when the interviews are too fast and too frequent?  Bing, bang and they are over.  And, under these circumstances, the company's  assessment of the candidate can be flawed as well.

I once had a candidate do seven interviews in about five hours, starting at 11am.  He was not offered lunch.  By the time he got to the final interview, the feedback I got was that my candidate seemed to lack energy.  Seriously?

It is much better to measure a candidate over multiple visits.

It allows a candidate to collect his or her thoughts between visits, it produces better questions from the candidate and allows the company’s people to compare notes and ask more thorough questions on subsequent interviews, producing better information and more thorough evaluations.

Being relaxed – both the company and the candidate – surely produces better results.


  1. I have to say that some companies do a good job with serial interviews. I once interviewed at large consultancy where they had me scheduled down to the quarter-hour including breaks in between a few interviews for food/drink/bathroom.

    Not a bad option if you can be organized about it.

    1. Thanks, Ben. It is very rare in all businesses, especially advertising. But I am happy to know that there is one company out there that cares and does it well.

  2. Candidates who say things to you like, "I met a person whose name was Bob and then I met someone else, I think her name was Susan, but I am not sure and I don’t know who they were or what they did and neither gave me business cards.” should never be sent on another interview. When introduced, a candidate should assert her or his side of the table. Ask the person's name. Write it down. Ask if they have a business card. Give them yours (your personal one, not the company you're currently working for). Ask their title/job at the company. If the candidate doesn't even do that, they're going to be back on their heels and will bomb the interview every time.

    1. Steve, you are right, of course. But the reality is often different than the theory. Companies should provide candidates with a written agenda for multiple interviews, but they don't and many really good candidates don't do what you suggest, even though they should. I have seen this happen even at a presidential and EVP level. What is worse, I have seen companies do an agenda and then substitute a person and the poor candidate thinks he saw one person but instead saw another.

  3. It's so reassuring to hear that companies run their HR departments the same way they run their marketing efforts

  4. That happened when interviewing for my current position! I met with 5 people at once, one of whom dominated the conversation and was very antagonistic. I found out after I took the job that she had interviewed for the position, and was extremely angry that she didn't get it. Once I started she made it explicitly clear that she didn't think I should have been brought in, that she should have had the promotion, etc. Fortunately she found another job and left after a month. But her attitude during the interview almost made me turn down the job.

    1. Sometimes I don't get companies and how they recruit. I hope the job you got is a good one and you are happy. Thanks for sharing the experience.

  5. Lots of good companies and agencies schedule “multiples” … definition I’m using meaning, meeting with many people consecutively, not all at once. In the former case it’s just an efficient process that usually saves the candidate a lot of travel and time. In the latter case, it’s typically a “gang bang” where the candidate first gets mugged by the gang leader, with his or her cohorts then piling on. In both cases, the candidate rarely ever gets a chance to say what THEY want to say about selling themselves because all the time is consumed by the interviewers’ agenda and un-ending questions (which are usually more like personal speeches.)

    My advice to anyone in either situation is to take charge of your interview! Like any productive business meeting, thank everyone for attending; briefly summarize its purpose; propose your agendum; ask for buy-in or approval; with that, recap your background for those who haven’t yet read your resume or CV; and be prepared to address all likely questions with focused and concise answers. The clock is ticking and self-indulgent ramblings get you nowhere. That said …

    One-on-one is always best, but the same rules still apply. Hope this helps some, Bill Crandall


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