How many is too many ?

When it comes to HR trends where the US leads we tend to take notice. So a recent article that drew attention to the increased use of multiple interviews peaked my interest. It appears  some companies are asking candidates to attend 5 or 6 even 7 interviews before they make a final decision! Appointing the wrong person can be an expensive mistake. A square peg in a round hole can be very disruptive and by the time it’s becomes clear that this was a poor appointment it can be a difficult and protracted process to rectify. So caution is understandable but this comes over as indecisive and surly risks losing strong candidates who simple become weary of the process. 

This belt and braces approach to recruitment interviews may be as a consequence of the particular area of business where due to the pandemic there are suddenly a large number of suitably qualified and experienced candidates chasing fewer posts.  Multiple interviews is a away of whittling down the numbers. Which would explain reports that when candidates asked HR how many interview rounds there would be they were informed it had yet to be decided!


 An alternative explanation for the use of multiple  interviews is a genuine attempt to recruit a more diverse workforce. If an organisation wants to increase the range of candidates applying for a post then one very effective way is to keep the person specification as general as possible. For example when I was recruiting for managers to run Residential Homes for older people instead of experience of working with older people I asked for experience of working with vulnerable people. If you subscribe to the view that management skills are transferable and applied this to the person specification you would dramatically increase the pool of candidates. Remove the desirable criteria, after all they are just unnecessary hurdles,  and introduce a guaranteed interview policy for underrepresented groups. And watch a tsunami of on line  application forms hit HR. With no way of reducing the numbers other than by interview. 

There is of course not much point in attracting a very diverse range of candidates if you then leave it to two white men to whittle down the long list. What you need is balanced interview panels. But how balanced? Gender and race? Most organisation are underrepresented at a middle and senior level by black and minority ethics managers. A balance interview panel in terms of race would end up being a full time job for this small group of BME managers. And what about disability, sexuality, faith and age? 



Managers will tell you they are far to busy running the business/ organisation to be sitting around all day interviewing people. So should HR do all the heavy lifting or should it be outsourced? Get a recruitment agency to do the long listing as many organisations do for senior posts. 

In my experience the standard recruitment process for senior posts  involves only two interviews. Based on their application form the candidate is invited to a long list interview and if successful is shortlisted and invited back for the final interview. However that second interview may take place over two days as part of an assessment centre involving numeracy and literacy tests, an in-tray exercise and even a role play exercise. These two day affairs often include informal interviews prior to the final panel interview. I have experienced so called informal interviews with the chief executive, other members of the senior management team and on more than one occasion a range of representatives from partner agencies. They are called informal because they take place whilst a buffet is being served in a sort of trial by sherry or because those asking the questions don’t actually get to make the decision on who is appointed. Despite the tests and the informal interviews traditionally the decision is made by the interview panel solely on the  formal interview. 

My only experience of calling candidates back for a further interview is not promising. Having interviewed three people for the post the panel was locked between two candidates. Both candidates performance was reviewed in detail but the hour was getting late and agreement couldn’t be reached. So it was decided to invite all three back for a further interview the following week. Of the two candidates the panel could not decide between one pulled out. The candidate who withdrew didn’t give a reason. Maybe they didn’t want to put themselves through what they viewed as another gruelling interview or  they lost patience and faith in the process due to our indecisiveness. 


Blair Mcpherson former Director, author and blogger 

Security level: Public

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