Death By Interview – Another Stealth Killer Of Recruiting Results

Excess interviews frustrate candidates, but they don’t improve hiring decisions. Of course, most have heard about the candidate experience. However, few are aware of  “death by interview, “ a common problem that hurts the candidate experience. I classify it as a form of “candidate abuse.” Under death by interview, candidates are required to endure an excess number of interviews painfully. It’s also a stealth problem; most in recruiting are unaware of it and its consequences. The problem can occur whenever recruiting leaders fail to “treat candidates like investors” (these individuals have volunteered a great deal of their time to join your company). 

A quick definition – Death by interview requires each candidate to undergo more than three total interviews or unnecessarily stretch them out. So that applicants and candidates become discouraged with your interview process. To the point where your recruiting results are measurably lower.

You Would Hold Fewer Interviews If You Knew The Negative Impacts From Death By Interview

I have found that recruiting leaders will never even consider fighting this problem until they realize that death by interview has many negative consequences to the firm (beyond how it harms candidates). Those recruiting damages include tarnishing your employer brand image, discouraging new applicants, and increasing interview process dropouts. A final result of the problem is an unnecessarily slow time to fill (which means that your offer won’t be first). Next, everyone should realize that the number of interviews can easily get out of hand without scrutiny. For example, the CEO of a tech firm once required that every candidate applying to his large firm had to undergo an astonishing 17 interviews (many of which repeated the same questions). He required so many based on the premise that everyone on the team should have input into every hiring decision (even though there are better ways to accomplish this goal). This major company has since gone under. 

You Would Hold Fewer Interviews If You Knew How Inaccurate They Were

There is no legal requirement that requires even one interview. After decades of research, I have found that managers’ primary reason for requiring excessive interviews is their “fear of making a hiring mistake”. So they interview to the point where they believe there is almost no chance of making that mistake. Unfortunately, slow hiring and more interviews don’t result in hiring better employees. The interview is an extremely weak assessment tool. For example, Google research found that interviews are no better than a coin flip… and there’s no correlation between how well someone scored on their interview and their eventual on-the-job performance.

One way to determine if you require too many interviews is to survey your applicants and candidates to gauge their feelings about how you handle your interviews. Of course, you should also learn from previous research. For example, other Google research demonstrated that their hire/no-hire decisions rose to 80% accuracy after only two interviews for professional positions. Which means that two interviews are likely to be enough. Hiring decisions only improved to 86% after two additional time-consuming interviews were added. And after four interviews were conducted, there was no more significant improvement in hiring decision accuracy.

The line showing the % of improvement in hiring decision accuracy

Details On How Death By Interview Harms Your Recruiting Results

Even the best recruiter won’t likely get their hiring manager to reduce the number of required interviews until they are fully aware of the tremendous costs of each unnecessary interview. Those costs occur in seven distinct areas, with the most impactful ones appearing first in this list.

  • The quality of your finalists will go down when top candidates drop out – even though desperate candidates will likely accept a bad interview experience. Top candidates have multiple choices (including staying where they are), so they will likely drop out of the rest of your interview process after even a single bad interview experience. Negative experiences that will likely cause them to drop out include requiring more than three interviews without fully explaining why (including the telephone interview). Also, stretching the scheduling of these interviews over many weeks without considering the candidate’s current work commitments will likely be discouraging (especially if why they are required isn’t fully explained). Additional candidates are likely to drop out after they experience (during initial interviews) questions that they view as inappropriate (i.e., brainteaser questions). Also, repeating the same questions in subsequent interviews will make your organization appear to be disorganized. And finally, remember that a lack of quick feedback after each separate interview will also frustrate and increase your candidate dropout rate. 
  • Excessive interviews will lead to a slow time to fill and the loss of top finalists – because it takes a lot of time to schedule multiple interviews. When your interviews are stretched out over multi-weeks, your overall time to fill will be significantly lengthened. Your long time to fill, by the time you get around to making your offer, most top candidates will have likely already dropped out, or they would likely have accepted an offer from a faster-moving company. They may also act quickly to accept other opportunities if your slow hiring process and decision-making reflect the slow decision-making speed they will experience if they join your company. 
  • Interview stress will hamper a candidate’s interview performance – a stressed out or frustrated candidate won’t perform as they normally would during their interviews. And this lower level of performance may cause you to misjudge some nervous top candidates. You can reduce this interviewee’s stress by clearly explaining upfront how long the total interview process will normally take. Stress can be reduced by mapping out the complete interview process for them and fully explaining each step. Knowing who will participate and what interviewers will be looking for in each interview will also decrease stress. Fast, direct, and honest feedback from the last interview will help to reduce stress before the next interview. And finally, for currently employed candidates, realize that because they must attend so many interviews having to make multiple excuses (lies) to leave work will frustrate many candidates, which may make some drop out prematurely.
  • Those that “were almost hired” may be reluctant to try again – also remember that rejected candidates that were “almost hired” (i.e., silver medalists) may be less likely to reapply in the future after a single negative experience with your interview process. 
  • A degraded employer brand image that will reduce future applicants – the best potential applicants, will thoroughly research their top target companies in this Internet world. And as part of that research, applicants will search social media for information about the company and its interview process. You must know that one popular site,, even allows past candidates to write “an interview review,” which allows them to describe your interview process and any “interview difficulty” they encountered. Many specific negative comments covering the number of interviews, interview content, interviewee treatment, interview questions, and interview difficulty will discourage future applicants. In addition, their bad interview experience at your company may also cause some to extrapolate their negative interview experience. And to tell others to agree with their assumption that the entire corporation is indecisiveness, bureaucratic, and unconcerned about its employees. All easily discovered negative comments on sites like Glassdoor and Indeed will severely discourage future applicants.
  • Death by interview also wears out your recruiters and hiring managers – having to schedule and participate in multiple interviews will take up hours of extra time. This may cause recruiters and hiring managers to become exhausted or frustrated. Unfortunately, this exhaustion might negatively impact their hiring judgment. And the resulting delay in getting their needed talent may also make managers more reluctant to hire again in the future.
  • Using Zoom video interviewers causes unique problems – remote video interviews are superior because they cut down on candidate and interviewer travel. However, a remotely located candidate is experiencing multiple interviews on the same day (yours and interviews with other firms). They are much more likely to experience interview fatigue. And even though you won’t know about their fatigue, it will likely negatively impact their interview performance. 
If you can only do one thing© – visit your interview comments on and survey a sample of your recent applicants and candidates to find out if either of these groups is dissatisfied with your number of interviews or your interview process. 

Action Steps For Reducing Interviews And Shortening The Interview Process

Here are nine of the top proven action steps for shortening your number of interviews to consider. The most impactful ones are listed first.

  • Realize that speed and respect are essential in a candidate-driven market – top candidates have so many choices in today’s talent marketplace. You must set goals and develop processes for improving hiring speed and the candidate experience during interviews.
  • Begin collecting data – rather than guessing. It’s critical you know precisely how many interviews you should require before facing diminishing returns. So the process of determining the appropriate number of interviews must be data-driven. Also, use data to ensure that any changes you make in your interview process don’t adversely impact protected groups. Don’t forget to measure the performance level of your new hires (quality of hire) so you can statistically determine the optimal number of interviews that result in the hiring of a top performer.
  • Utilize 100% remote videos – because these interviews don’t require travel, they can more easily be scheduled either in a single day or over a short period of time.
  • Extend interview time when you find you are interviewing an exceptional candidate – when before or during an interview you find that you have an exceptional candidate. Extend the interview time so that you can find out more about them without having to call them back.
  • Improve your hiring accuracy by involving more teammates in the interview – instead of holding more interviews. In many cases, you can better improve the accuracy of your hiring decisions by getting more of your best performers on the team involved in the interviews you hold. You can facilitate involving more team members by holding more remote video interviews. Or by recording all interviews so that teammates that couldn’t attend can review them later.
  • Hold all interviews on the same day – the total number of interviews is less painful if they are held on the same day. So whenever possible, invite the candidate in for their face-to-face interviews so that they can all be completed in a single calendar day (this single day interviewing is common already for traveling candidates and college hires). If you use 100% remote video interviews, arranging this single-day interviewing is much easier. 
  • Drop preliminary phone interviews – a preliminary or phone interview counts as one of your interviews. Also, realize that others have found that scheduling and making these cursory “phone screen calls” take up a great deal of time while adding little value. So use data to determine if keeping these preliminary phone interviews is worth the delay that they cause.
  • Stop when you realize that you have a perfect candidate – rather than interviewing everyone that was scheduled. Pause your interviewing whenever you decide that you have interviewed a perfect candidate. And then see if they will accept your offer.
  • Rank the candidates and interview them in order – try to avoid interviewing everyone on the candidates slate by first ranking all potential interviewees from #1 on down. And starting at #1, proceed to interview those on the list in order. And then stop interviewing whenever you are satisfied that you have found an excellent candidate.
  • Select two tiers of interview slates – separate the possible interviewees into two tiers. Start by interviewing the first best tier. And only schedule interviews for the second lower tier if no one on the first was an excellent candidate.

Final Thoughts

In my view, it’s time for smart recruiting leaders to begin using data to dispel the myth that slow hiring results in more accurate hiring. In almost all cases, it doesn’t. The excessive interviews that cause this slow hiring will almost always frustrate top candidates to the point where many will prematurely drop out of your hiring process. And even if they are still around when it’s time to give them an offer. You may find that your unnecessarily long and bureaucratic interview process will have scared many finalists to the point where they won’t accept your offer. So instead, condense and focus your interview process so that it still contains the same amount of assessment rigor, but it is completed in at least half the traditional time.

Note: additional stealth problem areas that damage recruiting can be found here.

Author’s Note

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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