how many interviews are too many?

A reader writes:

I applied for a job that I thought I’d be a good fit for. It turned out that I was applying to a recruiter, and he phoned me the next day and wanted to meet. We had a coffee meeting at one of the outlets the company I was applying to is running. I clicked with him immediately, and he said he wanted to introduce me to the client, which would involve a meeting with a recruiter who was working for the company and charged with recruiting for this position.

When I met the second guy, he said he would definitely like to introduce me to the owner/director of the business.

I met with the owner/director, who was really cool. We talked for over an hour, and half an hour after I left, the original recruiter was in touch saying how much she liked me and wanted to meet up again.

An email heads-up from Recruiter 1 said that she would like to hear me explain what I can offer the company and how my skills can help move it forward. I decided to compile notes on all areas… sales, communication, people, costs, then round off with talking through the words people have used to describe me in feedback i’ve had throughout my career. I thought we had covered this already and in detail.

I got to the interview this morning and there was another man there, who the owner had worked with before with huge success. When I sat down, they said, “So, talk…”

This threw me completely and I started talking with a voice I’ve never heard myself using before, just pure nerves. I talked through everything I had prepared and they both said I had covered everything. They did comment on my nerves at the end, and I tried to explain that I am not always like this in business meetings, but this being about all me and at such a late stage… yeah, I was nervous.

The reason my head is on fire just now is that at the end they said, “We’ll get back to you on Monday, we think… we might need candidates at this stage to complete a personality test. We’ve hired badly in the past and we don’t want to make mistakes again.”

Meanwhile I’m thinking, “Christ, this is the fourth interview I’ve had regarding this… I’ve been very open and honest and I think I’ve given a full picture of who I am and what I can do.”

They kept talking about avoiding a bad fit, but as far as I was concerned I had decided I really wanted to work for them after interview #3 and told them that. So I guess my quandary is… getting a second interview is a signal that they’re really interested, getting a third one should be even more positive, right? But a fourth or a fifth? I just do not know what to make of this; my head is buzzing.

Getting the right fit is important — and while you’ve decided that you’d like to work for them, that doesn’t mean that they’re sure that the fit is right on their side.

And sometimes it does take multiple interviews to be sure that the fit is right. And after all, it’s better for both of you to invest time at this stage than for you to end up struggling in the job and quitting or getting fired later.

But when an employer is doing this many interviews and asking for a lot of a candidate’s time, it’s really important for them to ensure that they’re organized and strategic about it — so that they’re not using someone’s time irresponsibly. And that’s what worries me about this company. They had you do two separate interviews with recruiters before you actually talked with a hiring manager, and when you finally did talk with a hiring manager, they apparently didn’t bother to ask you how your skills could help them (since they needed to ask for a later meeting for that), and then they had you return for a fourth meeting without explaining why that was necessary.

Moreover, in that fourth meeting, it sounds like they weren’t especially warm or collegial (“So, talk…”), which is concerning at any stage, but especially in this context.

What we can conclude is that, at a minimum, this is a company that doesn’t quite know how to hire well and isn’t especially concerned about being considerate of you.

So, what can you do? You can certainly say, “I’m very interested in working with you, but before we go any further, can you tell me what the rest of the process is likely to look like and your timeline for filling the job?” That might get you some useful information, or it might not. It also might nudge them into thinking about how this is all coming across to you, or it might not. But it’s worth asking.

You should also do some serious probing into their culture, and how they make decisions, and how they operate in general — because those are things that will have a major impact on your quality of life while working there, as well as your ability to succeed in your work for them … and right now there are some red flags going up around that stuff, so you should really do some due diligence there.

To be clear, it’s not the number of interviews that concerns me on its own — sometimes that really is warranted, for some jobs (although I don’t know if this is one of them or not). What concerns me is their haphazard approach to it, and you want to see if that approach is typical for them in other areas.

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