Dealing with Trickier Interviewing Situations

By Ellis Chase

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I started to notice around 10-15 years ago that many organizations were taking much longer to hire. It was especially noticeable right after recessions in 2001-2002, and again in 2008-2009. 

The big investment banks were an exception to that change--long, involved interview situations have been part of their hiring process for years. 

In general, though, what used to be 2-3 rounds of interviews at most organizations somehow has evolved into 5-6. Gradually, more hurdles have been introduced into the equation. Assessments. Interviews with potential subordinates. Group interviews. Initial phone screens (more and more common). Delays. Lack of response. All resulting in a much longer process.  

I'm not sure that the increased hurdles have yielded better results, but one thing is certain--organizations are afraid of making hiring mistakes, and want to try to guarantee a successful hiring process. Yes, it's expensive to hire the wrong candidate, but it’s not yet clear whether the new, extended interviewing has guaranteed the desired results.  

Unfortunately, job seekers will encounter these labyrinthine processes more often than not, and it's important to try to get through them by avoiding some of the pitfalls.   

Let's take a look at a few possible steps you might face in a protracted process: 

Group interviews 

Group interviews are tough. You never know whether to address the questioner or behave as if the interview is supposed to be a performance for an audience. 

I always think it better to address your answers to the person who asks the question. That way you can avoid the anxiety of having to perform for a group; the others in the group will hear the response, too. Responses to individuals are also more personal.

Interviews with potential subordinates 

Interviews with potential subordinates are tricky. You're always wondering whether the subordinate has already applied for the same job and been turned down (and may be a political problem later on). Or, you're thinking you need to impress with your command of the situation. 

I think the best way to handle this kind of interview is to treat it the same way you would treat any other interview situation. Be prepared with those war stories that are addressed in the interview chapter of The Fun-Forever Job ("Would You Please Remove Your Blouse?"), to demonstrate that you know what you're talking about, and you've done your due diligence on the organization.

Phone screens

I recommend what my senior sales clients have suggested, which is to have some scripted bullets in front of you, so that you don't go too far off target (time is limited and you want to make best use of it). Use a headset, so you can gesture, which adds energy to your phone manner. Stand up and walk around, which will add some depth to your voice. Don't worry about not getting much feedback; few phone screens yield any significant feedback, and you can't read the body language. Just accept that, and realize it's more typical to walk away from the interview not knowing anything than feeling optimistic about it.  

Delayed response

I think it's an unwritten law that hiring managers and/or human resources professionals will not respond when they say they will. 

I can think of many reasons for this, but it's important to understand it's not usually about you; it's about not being able to get a decision together from many decision-makers. Or a requisition signed. Or funding secured. Or a person terminated (sounds awful – but that's frequently the case). So the applicant ends up reading tea leaves, endlessly ruminating and interpreting the signs, which is rarely useful, while sitting by the phone or at the computer. 

My general thinking is you never let more than 5-10 business days go by without reaching out. A simple email or phone call restating your interest, or restating what a great fit this job is--and why, and a request about the status of the situation. At this point, I love to ask my clients or students, what do you have to lose? Ego can’t be that important anymore. You just want an answer. 

Years ago, when I was doing heavy recruiting at a large bank, if I didn't hear from a prospective employee, I would assume the person had lost interest, or found another job. So what's the harm in expressing interest, in a low-key manner? No desperation, of course, and no accusations of "You said you'd call me…"  Bottom line--be proactive.   

Here's where you'll need to do some juggling. Be proactive but don't try to "close the deal." Closing the deal means a change of behavior. That's the exact opposite of what should be done. If you've been asked back several times, that means they're interested. Why change your tactic? Be the same adorable, charming, brilliant person you were all along, because that's the person they've asked back--not the person who changes tone and becomes someone different (the deal closer). There is an old baseball adage that applies here: Dance with what brung ya. In other words, use the same strategy that got you that far.   

Assessment seems to be gaining some traction in some companies. That's a topic for a whole other blog. Tricky issue.  

You need to stay steady through all these steps, maintaining a consistent tone and building your value by showing what you can do for "them." I hope most readers won't have to go through all these steps, and can get to a decision with maybe two rounds. But it's always good to be prepared.  


Image courtesy of Ambro /

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