Optimal Number of Job Interviews and the Cost of Not Getting it Right

There’s a perplexing trend currently playing out in corporate America. 

With the national unemployment rate hovering around 3.5%, and for those with a college degree as low as 2%, companies in a variety of industries are still struggling to hire for critically important open positions. However, many organizations are making the common mistake of running interviewees through a gauntlet of screenings and tests, rather than focusing on improving the way they find and hire quality candidates. 

It’s tough to pinpoint why companies are taking so long to make decisions when so many jobs remain open. Maybe it’s uncertainty about the economy or lower-than-projected revenues. Or, perhaps, interviewers aren’t asking the right questions, or the hiring manager is afraid of making the wrong decision. 

Regardless of the reason, something needs to give. 

The Rule of Four

Several years ago, Google analyzed its internal hiring practices and determined that four interviews should be sufficient to thoroughly vet a candidate. The company now adheres to the “Rule of Four,” a recruiting mandate that has streamlined the hiring process and improved outcomes for the company. 

Even though there’s no other organization quite like Google, every company would do well to follow the tech giant’s lead and streamline their interviewing strategies. Prolonging the process often produces less-than-optimal results and may even create unintended consequences. 

Putting a spin on Google’s popular HR approach, here are four ways inefficient hiring practices can undermine your business—and a few tips to improve your outcomes:    

  1. Wasted time. Whenever members of your leadership team step into an interview, they step away from their primary responsibilities. Multiply the minutes or hours they’re not focused on their core duties by the number of interviews they conduct, and the total amount of “wasted” time quickly compounds. If the interviewer happens to be in a leadership or sales role, the bottom-line impact of that time becomes even more tangible.    

Solution: Limit the amount of time your senior leaders spend in interviews by bringing them all together for one virtual video call rather than scheduling separate meetings. This approach saves time and money for everyone.  

  1. They complicate the process. The adage about having too many cooks in the kitchen certainly applies when interviewing candidates for a critical sales, management, or leadership role. It’s difficult lining up two or three people to review resumés and participate in interviews, so imagine the logistical challenge of getting 10 or more individuals to agree on who’s the best fit for a position.

Solution: Appoint one person—ideally the hiring manager — to own the overall recruiting and interviewing process. Your point person can then invite up to three additional people to provide input that informs decision-making. Having more than four voices contributing to the conversation creates unnecessary noise that further complicates the process.

  1. They surrender ground. The longer a key position within your company remains unfilled, the greater impact it has on your business. When you put candidates through a two- to three-month interview process, you’ll almost certainly suffer opportunity costs from lost sales, lose market share to competitors, and extend the period your company operates at reduced capacity. 

What’s more, the longer you take to hire a quality candidate, the more opportunities your first choice has to change their mind, get promoted at their current job, or receive an offer from another company. Bottom line: Inefficient interviewing practices can prevent you from adding superior talent that helps you gain competitive advantage. 

Solution: At some point, you have to pull the trigger and make a decision. Ideally, you should be able to post a job, engage a trusted recruiting partner, vet applicants, schedule and conduct a maximum of four interviews, and extend an offer to the best candidate within 30 to 45 days. If you don’t have enough internal resources to coordinate and execute a search in a month or less, you may need to outsource some or all of the process to a specialty recruiting firm. 

  1. They alienate (passive) candidates. Generally speaking, passive candidates are often the best candidates for any job. Employed individuals who aren’t actively seeking new employment are also the hardest people to recruit for open positions because, by and large, they’re happy in their present role.    

Passive candidates who are top producers in their field may consider an opportunity at another company, but the interview process needs to be extremely efficient. The tolerance for long, drawn-out hiring processes is much different between an active candidate and a passive candidate. 

Why does that matter? Time is valuable, and passive candidates generally aren’t willing to waste theirs going through a 12-step interview process. You’ll probably lose out on top-tier, currently employed talent if you spend too much time interviewing and vetting rather than making a decision to offer a job or move on. 

Solution: Despite what many companies apparently believe, we’re not in an employer’s market. The best candidates—especially currently employed passive job seekers—are more risk-averse than ever, so you need to make the experience as smooth as possible to recruit them to your company. They’ll often just pull themselves out of an interview process if they feel it includes too many steps.  KSG’s recommendation is for hiring managers to ensure interviewing is a two-way street and that they strike the right balance of courting/recruiting while also interviewing/vetting out candidates.  

When Less Equals More

Although it’s generally a good idea to truncate your hiring practices, resist the temptation to shorten the process simply to make it shorter. Instead, try to identify and correct the underlying causes of your inefficiencies. Streamlining your process with a targeted approach can yield better outcomes for everyone. 

A colleague of mine experienced this firsthand while working with a client that was taking an average of 92 days to fill positions. After discovering it cost the company $1,200 each day a territory sales position remained vacant, the company initiated a Six Sigma project to overhaul its hiring practices. 

The methodology revealed that managers were taking as long as 10 days to review résumés and inform the recruiter whether they’d like to move forward with an interview. Making matters worse, hiring managers were slow to schedule interviews or provide the recruiter with times they were available to meet with candidates. 

Project leaders corrected the first issue by mandating that hiring managers had to inform recruiters if they wanted to interview a candidate within 24 hours of receiving their résumé. To address the second problem, recruiters were given access to the hiring manager’s digital calendar and allowed to schedule interviews on behalf of the manager. 

It didn’t take long to see results. Once recruiters received faster responses and gained control of interview schedules, the average time to fill open positions dropped to 31 days. Simply cutting down on hiring times, in turn, saved the company more than $73,000 in a short period of time. 

Suffice it to say, knowing how to conduct a better candidate interview process and when you need to update your hiring practices can yield more productive experiences and results for everyone involved. 

Lee Kester is the CEO and founder of Kester Search Group LLC a consultative talent acquisition firm that specializes in executive search and commercial expansion projects for diagnostic, dental, medical device, oncology, and healthcare technology companies throughout the United States.  Lee can be contacted via email at lee@kestersearch.com