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How to Navigate Multiple Job Interviews

A walkthrough of each stage in the process

It is hard to let go of a job prospect when you have prepared for multiple job interviews and can already imagine yourself as part of the team. But when interview three stretches into interview seven without an offer, red flags should be flying. The process seems to get more lengthy the higher one goes up the ladder, especially for people working in tech, finance and energy. 

According to Glassdoor, the average length of the hiring process in the U.S. is about 23.8 days. However, companies have different hiring timelines and some job searches could go on for months, especially if a role is tied to a funding contract or governmental budget. I was once offered a position with the state over a year after my interview process was completed. They were surprised when I turned the position down, but I had already moved on to my next position.

It is frustrating to take part in an extended application process when you don’t know where you stand as an applicant. Multiple interviews can be exhausting and hard to manage if you are currently employed. 

If you have not yet been through a multi-stage interview, here’s what the process can look like for an upper-level manager:

  • Preliminary Recruiter Call: this is typically just screening to see that you meet the minimum qualifications for the job.
  • Phone Interview: Your first real interview, usually with HR staff. Be prepared to highlight your strengths compared to the needs of the position.
  • Video Interview: The supervisor for the position usually conducts this interview. Besides your job strengths, this is a good time to bring up soft skills, such as communication and team collaboration.
  • On-Site Interview: Do you fit in with the team and corporate culture? This meeting will give the company a good indication, as well as your competency for the job.
  • All-Day On-Site Interview: Get plenty of rest and eat well before this day! Prepare to be passed around to different related departments and possibly meet with a C-suite executive or person with hiring authority. Stash a protein bar to eat at midday. While each department may only spend a few minutes with you, you will have to be “on” and attentive every moment of the day. 
  • Project Completion: This is where the rubber meets the road. Can you really do the things you said you can do? Many companies will give you an on-site skills test or a take home project to complete.
  • Final Interview: If you have made it this far, the company should be at or near the point of discussing salary and making a job offer. Protocol dictates you do not bring these topics up. However, as the meeting draws to a close, you can ask what is the next step in the process, and when they hope to make a final decision.
Woman being interviewed by a board of people

Why companies use a multi-stage approach
Some companies use a multi-stage approach to see if a candidate will be a good fit because making a poor hiring decision at a high level can be costly. This concern is overly compensated by forensically trying to glean a massive amount of information about a candidate up front. In theory, if the right candidate is hired, they will be more successful in their job and stay longer. In practice, much of this may be a wasted effort. 

A recruiter for International Workplace Consulting says the number of required interviews should always be in line with the level of the position with a maximum three to four rounds for top managers. Google, who applies data analytics to its hiring practices, agrees four interviews is enough to make hiring decisions with 86% confidence in the outcome. This reflects a change from past processes at Google. Their research showed less interviewers working in a streamlined process over a shorter period of time could achieve the same outcome as a dozen interviews in the past. 

Companies need to hire efficiently or risk losing prospects
You may have heard of the Great Resignation, where people are quitting en masse to recreate their lives. Companies are scrambling for employees, putting job seekers at a bit of an advantage. The majority of those still with the same employer are open to new opportunities with another company, according to a TopResume survey

Employers should understand that these candidates are likely involved in multiple interviews and could be evaluating other job offers. It is recommended that companies set and stick to a recruitment and hire date to frame the process. When companies prolong the interview process, they could lose out on hiring the best person for the job. 

HR firm SHRM advises companies that while a hiring process should not be prolonged, don’t rush in either. The key to making the right hiring decision is doing enough advance preparation. Think through the job description and envision a successful candidate’s traits and skills. Also keep in mind the company culture and the environment the person will be working in. 

When is it ok to put the brakes on future interviews?
As a former executive job coach for a global talent management company, I found there were situations where it is ok to diplomatically decline another in a long series of interviews. Even though you don’t want to burn any bridges, there are professional ways to bow out while maintaining a good impression when you are faced with these three circumstances:

1. When you’ve been invited on multiple final round interviews
If you have gone all the way up the ladder and already met with the final decision maker, the company should have enough information about your candidacy. If you get called in again, and no job offer is discussed, this is a sign. Either the decision maker or someone of influence is not convinced you are the best candidate. There are myriad reasons why and many have nothing to do with you, so don’t take it personally. This could include the company is waiting for an answer from a candidate they already offered the job to and they want to keep you on the hook, or there is pressure to hire an internal candidate. It could also be an internal battle over the focus of the job, or trying to incorporate more diversity into the team (though to hire for the last reason is illegal).

I’ve seen where different factions in a company value certain top qualities that are not in agreement, such as some seeking a more managerial candidate versus one with scientific credentials or technical skills.

If you’ve met with the decision maker for a final round interview, only to be told there will be another “final” round, it is okay to ask what is the motivation for this extra interview. Continue to show interest, but state an additional interview would be difficult due to a challenging work schedule. Offer to answer any follow-up questions by phone or email.

If you go this route, be prepared for one of two things to happen. The company will make a decision or they will let you know you are not the right fit and you can move on. 

2. You’ve been invited in to meet with the team informally on more than one occasion.
Spending time with people you might be working with is beneficial to both sides—you get a good feel for what it’s like to work there, and they get to know you a bit better. But if you have had coffee with the same group or different groups of subordinates more than twice, something is wrong. 

Letting the team have a voice in hiring their own manager was popular a few years ago. Companies are moving away from this practice as it is too hard to avoid biases.

Again, this could be a problem that has nothing to do with your strength as a candidate, but it is something you can gently curtail letting the decision maker know it would be difficult to schedule a third in-person group meeting during the day, but you would be happy to answer any questions directly or meet with him/her one on one towards the end of the business day.

3. Another interview is requested after a month or more has gone by
You would be surprised at how bad so many companies are at maintaining communication through a recruitment process. I’ve already mentioned a couple of reasons a candidate might get a call after time has gone by, including another candidate dropped out or funds for the position were not fully in place. If you are still in the market, take the meeting. But while you are expressing your enthusiasm to discuss the role again, it is ok to ask if anything has changed with the company or position to hold up the process.

You are interviewing the company, too
Remember that you are evaluating whether the company you are applying to is a good next step or long-term fit for your career. If there is a clunky recruitment process, that may be an indicator of poor policy or management. 

Throughout the process, try to stay as flexible as you can, and definitely keep a professional and upbeat tone (never show your annoyance). But, if you are beginning to feel like a hamster on an interview wheel going nowhere, then continue sending your resume out to more companies and work your network. Most of all, don’t pass up other interview opportunities or a great offer because you’re waiting for a job that may never materialize.

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