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.

{ 28 comments… read them below }

  1. Rob Bird

    It is a big red flag to me that they don’t know if they are going to get back to you by Monday, or if they are going to have people take a personality test.

    However, my biggest concern is they didn’t ask you questions; just told you to talk and then said they want to use a personality test to determine fit for their office. Really? Let’s not ask the applicant anything that might give us an idea about her fit. Let’s use a computer program.

    If you are in a position too, I would run and run fast.

    1. Jen M.

      I have to say I probably would also bow out at this stage. Employers don’t seem to take into account that there are COSTS involved for the applicant in this whole process: Gas, possibly parking, and most importantly, TIME.

  2. Wubbie

    Sounds like they might be overcompensating due to the bad hires they’ve made in the past.

    1. fposte

      But without a plan for what the corrective is. Granted, we’re seeing things through the OP’s eyes, but it doesn’t sound like this employer knows what exactly they want to have in order to decide.

    2. Kou

      Also sounds like they’ve made bad hires because they don’t really have a process and haven’t really figured out how to evaluate potential employees.

  3. yasmara

    To be clear, though, the first 2 interviews/meetings were with recruiters, so only the 2nd 2 “count” as interviewing with the people who would actually be hiring you. 2 interviews doesn’t seem that excessive to me.

    1. B

      They absolutely count. If she did not interview with them, and pass their interview, then she would not have gotten to the hiring manager.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yeah, that annoyed me. The first was with an external recruiter and the second was with an internal recruiter, and I can see why it happened that way, but then jeez, be extra respectful of the person’s time after that.

  4. Dorota

    I work for a retained executive search firm and this scenario sounds familiar. We typically have a phone screen (about 30 min), followed by a phone screen with the recruiter (1 hour). At that point, depending on the client, they will phone screen the candidate or bring them in for an interview. Usually there will be at least one more in person interview before the offer. But! we’ve had crazy clients that have insisted on 8 hour phone interviews, meeting with a psychiatrist (twice), personality tests, dinner with top management, you name it, there are clients that do it.

    Working with a recruiter definitely means that you will spend more time interviewing (if you are on of the top picks), but I would like to think that by hiring the recruiter, it means that they are doing a better job of hiring in general because the recruiter is doing the initial screening and generally finding better candidates.

  5. CAndy

    OP here, thanks for your reply Alison. I guess over the last week I have come around to separating how much I would like this role and how much I have concerns about the organisiation and the way they do things.

    They have not been in touch at all this week… and I would have expected contact through the original recruiter or at this stage even perhaps directly from them, but nothing.

    Maybe this is the personality test, seeing if I will take the initiative and contact them. Which I won’t do cos they said they would contact me.

    Maybe I’m just dealing with a bunch of people who are unbelievably unprofessional and can’t be bothered communicating a ‘no’ decision.

    Either way, I’ll find something better to spend my time and effort on. Extremely annoyed at the money, time and emotional investment I’ve made in this lot.

    1. bob

      “Maybe I’m just dealing with a bunch of people who are unbelievably unprofessional”


      1. Anon

        OP, my comment is also at the bottom.

        Depending on the job, yes they may want you to be assertive- send them an e-mail!

        But also concentrate on other things like you said. It’s so hard to know what people are thinking. Don’t worry about the nerves etc. I’m surprised people even mentioned that! I know I had one interview where they asked me to market a can of Coke to them on the spot. I was nervous.. BUT who cares. If they don’t know this is not how people would be with clients (when they get used to the job) then they are being overly cautious.

        From reading your follow-up, which I initially didn’t notice, it almost looks like what I said at the bottom and what you mentioned- they are afraid of the wrong fit- probably due to bad decisions. Sounds like they need a good sit down with a shrink.

        1. Anon

          I wanted to mention…

          A lot of the time they want to see if you will even DO what they tell you to do and speak etc… one HR person told me a lot of people just can’t get over the initial fear of starting to speak, that’s what “normal” sales/presentation jobs look for.

          Of course you would refine your presentations when you are comfortable and working- duh

  6. CAndy

    By the way, I also had an initial chat and then a phone interview with Recruiter1 before I even met HIM.

  7. Anon


    OMG… I’m sorry OP.
    I once applied and went to 12 interviews!!!!! And had 3 tests over the phone that were 45-1 hour each. I later found out that they paid $3 k per applicant for those tests at that stage.

    So it may be you are nearing the end and they want to make sure, then have a meeting and hire you.
    Or.. they are paralyzed from making a bad decision or 2

    I would say that for a middle – high level job 4 in person interviews and 1-2 assessments after the recruiter are NOT uncommon.

    Is this a sales job? They said Monday or not.. sometimes they look for you to say: Yes, Monday. Be assertive in a sense.
    The 12 interviews I had the one woman said she had a meeting in 5 min and looked at me all bored. I told her I’m sure she is going to be late to the meeting, because ……. she smiled, picked up the phone, postponed the meeting and we talked for a good hour.

    AGAIN this is sales… or any kind of presentation job, if you were nervous, they may be asking for you to be a bit assertive, because you may need to be like that

    1. CAndy

      It’s not sales and marketing, I’m absolutely rubbish at that stuff and as far as I can see they have a team who do that bit.

      It was for operations. I’m rather good at that stuff.

      1. AB

        I am glad you (and I) don’t work on sales or marketing and thus don’t have to be guessing stupid rules like “show initiative! call us if we say we will call you!”, or “close the deal! ask for the job to be given to you right there!” or whatever is their flavor of “personality test for salespeople”.

        On a side note, I friend just told me that a hiring manager just got back to him 6 months after a very demanding interview like yours, asking if he would be interested in taking a look at their new openings.

        At the time of the interviews, they didn’t even felt necessary to send him an email communicating they were going in another direction after all the time my friend spent interviewing! I’m not sure the position was frozen or they went with another candidate at the time, but regardless, they were entirely rude.

        I’m very happy that my friend had just accepted another offer — from the way he described it, the hiring manager was very disappointed for losing such a qualified candidate, which I think is a great lesson. Perhaps next time the manager will act like a civilized person and inform all late stage candidates of their final decision.

  8. HR Pufnstuf

    I had three interviews and three testing sessions for one employer back in 1986. It was for a lube technician. Yes, changing oil.

    I’ve since moved on in my career path.

  9. Vicki

    I’m concerned about the possible “personality test” – what does it entail, who will administer and “score” it, do they know how to use these things?

    I’m a big fan of personality tests – for self-learning and personal growth, for better understanding of group dynamics _once you’re in the group_, for better understanding of manager/employee dynamics. But _not_ for hiring purposes (and I am not alone in this). Too many people don’t understand what “personality tests” measure and/or are not training in proper use of the instrument.

    My advice: Do not pass Go.
    Keep looking.

  10. cncx

    Maybe I am superstitious or paranoid, but the absolute worst job I ever had made me do a million interviews so now I will not seriously consider an offer from a company who made me do more than three sessions. For me, it is a sign either HR or management doesn’t have their shit together if they can’t schedule candidates in a compact manner. Yes, hiring is a tough decision, but it is a waste of everyone’s time to spread stuff out like that.

  11. Lee

    I too am facing a similar situation currently.

    After being officially introduced to the Dept. head on email, I immediately emailed him my resume indicating my interest. And, although this introduction came via someone pretty high-up in his company, this HOD did not bother replying until my follow up email a week later.

    I then had an interview with his team member. Another week’s wait later, with the HOD in person. And both these interviews were splendid!!! Since they’d asked me to wait two weeks, I did. But then I emailed to follow up (you see, this WAS a sales job and I thought being persuasive will be helpful).

    To my email the HOD replied immediately telling me I’ll hear from the hiring manager soon. I went for the interview expecting this to be the last one, where the remuneration, my date of joining etc. will be discussed. But this was again the SAME interview once again… ‘your weaknesses’, ‘why are you right for this position’ etc.

    I have now waited two weeks. There is no reply. Even if it’s a NO, I wish there was some response.

    I wish employers like this would get their act right. This is a MAJOR firm and this kind of unprofessional behavior makes me so angry. I did not pursue my other industry contacts for this position and wasted over a month!!!

    1. Lee

      And, I just stumbled upon this blog and reading these posts and comments is making me feel so much better! :)

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