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I want to know if there's any research out there on the optimal number of times you should call candidates in for an interview. Failing that, I'll hear personal opinions. One of my coworkers at the startup I work for has been tasked with the job of setting up interview procedures and guidelines for new hires, and they suggested we plan on typically holding three interviews per candidate. Frankly that seemed like a really high number to me!

My thought is that you'd probably already know whether you want to hire the candidate after the first interview, but a second one can be nice just to give people time to think over things and for the company internally to settle on a price point.

But then I'm not too familiar with how big corporate places work. Is it typical to have 3+ interviews at larger firms? Are there distinct advantages to that? It just seems like unnecessary overhead to me.

EDIT: To clarify, I'm asking about the number of times an individual candidate would be asked to visit.

  • I think you are thinking about this the wrong way. Nobody is going to say "three is the best number of interviews for all jobs". Read some books or articles on interviewing, work out what you want to know about a person, and who needs to talk to them to find that out. Also think about how much time you want to spend on a candidate. Then work out how many interviews you need to schedule to do that. – DJClayworth Apr 16 '15 at 14:38
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    Are you asking about number of visits or the number of people who should talk to the candidate? – Monica Cellio Apr 16 '15 at 14:39
  • @MonicaCellio - I'm asking about the number of visits. – soapergem Apr 16 '15 at 14:39
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    It really depends on the position. An entry level would be different from a VP. – paparazzo Apr 16 '15 at 14:40
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    Seems like the appropriate number is "enough to determine whether or not you want to hire the candidate." – Blrfl Apr 16 '15 at 14:59
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1 phone interview, 1 face to face interview.

Hiring the right person is a thing you don't want to mess up, for obvious reasons. So it can be tempting to think that the thing you need is more time.

"you'd probably already know whether you want to hire the candidate after the first interview, but a second one can be nice" - I will stop you there. You're right, after reading a cv, doing a phone interview you probably will end up knowing in the first five minutes of the interview. More time would be "nice", meaning it has low marginal value.

Your time is valuable. You should have someone from the team interviewing. This person has actual work to do, and it's unhelpful for them to stretch out the time they have to spend away from it. Incidentally, if you don't have this problem because no one from the team is at the interview (just HR say), cancel that interview, you are wasting everyone's time.

The candidates' time is valuable. To hire good people you must respect their time. People have to take time off work to do interviews. Unless you want to actively filter out competent professionals with a host of opportunities to choose from (presumably in favor of the desperate and inferior) you cannot ask them to take multiple days. This means no "evaluation days", you are not Google (I mean, unless you are google). This means no "nice" (aka low margin value) second interviews.

Moral of the story: Get good at interviewing so you can distil that first interview into something really useful. Respect both your employees' and your future employees' time. Also, as a general point, you don't need to actively try to catch up with the bureaucratic inefficiencies of large corporations.

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    Depending on the market you are in it is often, one interview to decide you want the person and then a second interview where you have them meet the team and the bosses and try and persuade them to work for you. – NobodySpecial Apr 16 '15 at 20:36
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    @Nobody:Why would anyone but the team and the boss doing the hiring be making the decision on whether they want the person or not? You can accomplish what you described in one interview. There's never a need to have a second in-person interview UNLESS you didn't get the job you were interviewing for but they thought you might be a good fit on a different team. Then the 2nd interview is with the other team. Otherwise, the employer is just demonstrating that they don't value the interviewee's time. – Dunk Apr 17 '15 at 19:05
  • @dunk - it's more about the interviewee making a decision on us. Hiring sw eng in this market against Google/Apple etc means you have to do as much courting as vetting. If you want to hire somebody a 2nd meeting for them to see what kind of work they would be doing, and what a great place to work it is - can be essential. – NobodySpecial Apr 19 '15 at 1:24
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    @NobodySpecial I can see that. If it's just a courting activity have you tried giving them the offer and inviting them for a look around and a chat, or do you feel you wouldn't get many takers? – Nathan Cooper Apr 19 '15 at 9:34
  • @NathanCooper, raw salary $, share options, benefits, the actual work, the work environment are all factors. The problem is that you aren't sure how they add in the candidates world! The problem for the employer is to avoid say $x and having the candidate think - Google is paying x+25%. It's a flip on the old - who ever names the salary first loses. – NobodySpecial Apr 19 '15 at 17:19
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I think companies should respect the fact that people often have to use their annual leave in their current job to attend inteveriews and sometimes travel long distances. 3 interviews seems excessive and even unfair. Although you could ameliorate this to some extent by doing initial filtering by phone interview outside of hours.

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How many interviews is "fair"?

That really depends on a lot of things. First, how big is the role? If you're hiring me to work a cash register for under 30K a year One interview is about the most you should expect. If I'm going to be the Chief Executive of Technology three interviews is not unheard of.

Another question is how long are these interviews? I've seen companies that do several small in person interviews (15 minutes to an hour) to one 4 hour interview and everything in between.

What's the market like?

So you're hiring a developer (Using that due to personal familiarity) intermediate level and paying a little better than what's normal for the area. The most common process is first have a recruiter, outside agency, HR or other resource contact to take two seconds to vet candidates. Nothing technical purely "is this person competent?" those who pass then have a phone interview with whomever is appropriate who try to gauge their personality and technical knowledge, after that the actual interview in person (just one) that lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to like two hours is pretty normal.

That way only the final step is disruptive requiring travel or the person to take time off, etc. It's usually best to have the final interview gauging how they would work with the team more so than knitty gritty tech questions, etc. You should already vet that during the phone interview.

This isn't a flawless process, but its pretty standard for this level of position. Again if you're hiring a higher role more time might be appropriate, a lower role this would creep into the excessive area.

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As a hiring manager for a lot of entry level tech positions, I did at least three total interviews for the positions I hired.

The first included the applicant meeting with HR - this was done by phone sometimes. This interview almost meant nothing other than (hopefully) verifying that their employment history was correct, that they were on time, and weren't wanted in our state. Sorry but our HR has never been good with technical candidates.

The second was with me. I basically looked at their skill level, education, and their personality fit for our team. I was very lax in how I judged a person's looks/attire/body language so often my input was the opposite of HR's. I found that some of the worst interviewers were some of my best employees.

The third was with a close colleague that I felt had a good amount of experience and knowledge of my group and their skills - this could be a senior member of the team if I had someone at the level of doing this. I would ask this person to focus on their skills and cross out any skills on their resume that they believe are not up to par.

I would then meet with my colleague and discuss what happened and their view (and if you have a good HR department include them too). Ultimately the call was mine but I often was pushed by feedback. Across three interviews we could see patterns of a person being late, not ready, inconsistent stories, and so on.

For more upper level positions (senior engineers, TAC, managers) the interviews would range between 3-5. If we were unsure about someone after 3 we may want to have an interview set up to clear up some of the uncertain areas which might mean bringing in someone else or giving them a quiz. Also if there were two candidates that were evenly matched there would be more interviews.

There are just a lot of factors involved. Have I hired people after one call with HR and meeting me in person? Yes. This is probably 10-15% of the new hires though. Have I had arguments (friendly) with my boss or peers about a new hire? Yes and we almost always bring 1-2 people back in after that. The norm in my area is three points of contact. I have given reasons for more and I personally was part of a process of getting a job as the chief trainer for our engineers that took 6 interviews, a "live demo", and flying across the country on a day's notice. I didn't think anything odd of it.

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    Just to clarify: when you say "3 points of contact," that's really only "2 visits," since the first is a phone interview. – soapergem Apr 16 '15 at 17:09
  • @SoaperGEM - yes but it is formal. Also some/a lot of candidates opted to come in for the HR interview. My company allows them phone or in-person. – blankip Apr 16 '15 at 17:15
  • Seems like you could handle your part of the interview via phone. Then have the colleague "in-person" interview and only if you want to hire the person does HR need to bother with verifying background. Thus, 1 interview. I don't see any gain on your side with your approach but a lot of unnecessary hoops for the interviewee. Sometimes it is difficult to get out of work for 1 interview, let alone 3 times. – Dunk Apr 17 '15 at 19:12
  • @Dunk I don't think showing up for 2 interviews for an hour a piece is a huge hoop to jump through. Also 70%+ of the people required to go to the second interview will get the job. Step 1 - weed out the people our company would never hire. Step 2 - weed out the people I don't want on my team. Step 3 - get a closer/unbiased look at the employee. We also do a lot of interviews after working hours or during lunch. Never had anyone complain about coming in twice. – blankip Apr 17 '15 at 19:16
  • Twice is borderline, 3 times is too much. But why can't they talk to you then if you are interested pass them on to the co-worker? Then they only have to come in once? – Dunk Apr 17 '15 at 19:40
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This depends on your industry, the type of position and on what you will be doing during an interview.

I can only speak for my own industry but for a position in software development or QA, I would want the candidate to speak with someone from HR, their department head, their prospective manager and one of their prospective peers.

If this stage is passed, I would invite the candidate to come in for an 'evaluation day' where I'd sit them with another prospective peer and have the two of them pair-program or 'pair-test' for several hours to see if the prospect fits into our culture and working methods.

Since the first stage can be difficult (managers and department heads can be very busy people) I would say it's not unreasonable to do these activities over multiple days.

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    Your plan works great....if the candidate is unemployed. – Dunk Apr 17 '15 at 19:13
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As others say - a common metric is 1 phone screen, 1 in person. More than that if the role is fuzzy or the company is hiring outside of it's normal hiring wheel house or trying for something particularly complicated. For example, I see more than 1 on site interview on first hires in a while at small companies, manager positions (especially if normally managers are promoted from within, or this is a new level of management/new role), or new jobs entirely (first UX person, first tech writer, first dedicated QA, etc).

1 - Know your needs

You'll end up dragging in candidates more often if you don't know what you are looking for. You'll save both your time and the candidate's if you have a clearly spelled out list of qualifications. The job skills are usually pretty easy - the people/team skills or professional qualities are often harder. Have an image of both. Don't let it be "a good fit for the team" - you'll debate on that endlessly and bring the candidate in too many times.

2 - Know the market

This is as much about how many different people you need to talk to in order to feel confident. Get at least 3-5 different candidates to consider so you can make tradeoffs and consider best fits. It's much harder to see if you have a standout candidate if you only look at 1.

This can mean letting one wait for a long time. That's probably better (but risky) than dragging the poor candidate in every week.

3 - Have a good pool ready on the first visit

It's harder to get good feedback from a group of people who all see things the same way - get a diverse enough group to get useful input and then book a full agenda. By "diverse" - I don't mean the categories HR is thinking of, I mean you want people in different roles, different teams and/or with different view points. I like having a hard quiz-giving guy and a guy who really wants a whiteboard debate on a meaningful piece of work. I want the guy who is annoyed by almost everyone, and the guy who likes everyone.

4 - Focus your energy on the quality of the interview and getting the best feedback as quickly as possible.

Interviewing is a huge cost and a huge distraction. Lessen the pain and get answers to fit as quickly as possible. Get a sense of what each round of screening should rule out. For example, a common format is:

  • HR/recruiter checks out simple stuff - employment eligibility, general interest for salary/work/title, basic background verification
  • technical phone screener - does this person have the basic skills, is there any reason to disqualify/not waste our time?
  • interview day - a diverse set of managers and peers, and hopefully adjgoining groups see if this person meets expectations.

If you hit that point and you don't know - ask yourself strongly - what will get you the information you need? Should it have been asked earlier? What can you do next time to get more efficient.

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