is it better to be interviewed first, last, or in the middle?

A reader writes:

My husband was recently invited to interview for a position he applied for. He was told that they were conducting two sessions of five back-to-back 30-minute initial interviews. Since he was the first one they contacted, he was able to pick his time slot. In a situation like this, is there an any difference or advantage in picking the first slot, or the last?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 43 comments… read them below }

  1. Tricia

    Okay, I’m back from reading the responses, and I would disagree about interview scheduling not being of concern. I would recommend NOT going first, because the interviewers won’t quite have their act together (at least not in academia, my arena for 40+ years). In the scenario presented, I’d opt for the first interview on the SECOND day. The interviewers will be fresh and also better with a few interviews under their belts.

    1. Charlotte Collins

      I personally prefer interviewing when I feel I’m at my “best.” And the time when I’m least likely to be worried about what might be going on at home or in the office.

    2. LawPancake

      Eh.. I hire legal interns twice a year and usually bring in 5-7 to interview each time. I’ve found that when I’m looking at a really strong candidate the timing doesn’t matter at all but if I’m dealing with a few “pretty good” or “just fine” candidates then the later in the process the less engaged I am. As long as I have at least two that are acceptable I kind of go on autopilot. That said, the interns are pretty low stakes hires and for perm positions I don’t think timing effects my decision or interview style at all.

      1. Dangerfield

        I agree. If nobody’s really great the first good candidate stands out most, even if they’re just as good as the rest. A great candidate stands out no matter when you see them.

    3. Anonymous Educator

      If the interviewers are being thoughtful about the interview process, it shouldn’t matter what order you interview in.

      For one of my former jobs, I applied the instant the job was posted. They phone interviewed me right away. I got another quick follow-up interview. Then I didn’t hear from them again for over a month. I thought I was out of the running. Then they came back around and did more interviews with me and offered me the job.

      Later, when I actually started working there, the hiring coordinator shared with me that I was the absolute first person to apply, and they liked me a lot, but they wanted to do their due diligence, so they spent some time interviewing other people just to be sure they weren’t just jumping at the first person who was good. After looking at everyone else, they realized I was definitely the best for them, so they came back around.

      Interviews are not a one-shot. If the company/school/org likes you, they will bookmark you in their minds for a follow-up interview later.

    4. SevenSixOne

      I agree. I like to go second or third because it seems like every time I choose the first time slot, the hiring manager isn’t fully prepared or hasn’t quite decided what she wants and needs for the role– there are the usual “tell me about yourself” and “why are you interested in this job?” questions, but nothing much deeper than that.

    5. Cris Craft

      Behavioral Economists beg to differ. Read this link below, though your first response may be to say that being granted parole isn’t the same as a job interview, I absolutely disagree. The job the parolee is applying for is contributing citizen. Anytime that anyone other than yourself is making highly important decisions about your life, its worth understanding the biases involved. Cognitive biases rule us all, people who believe they don’t only believe this because of their cognitive biases :-) Also not said, a tired mind defaults to the “safe” decision – which is “NO”. It requires little thought. Who would want to be responsible for hiring a bad employee or turning loose a serial felon?

      This is HARD DATA – not opinion, not I think or not I feel. It’s scary if you think about the fact that the person you are interviewing with wasn’t trained to be objective.. but judges are. Perhaps the order isn’t important, but the time is hugely important.
      http://www.economist.com/node/18557594

      1. L White

        Thank you for sharing that link. Valuable knowledge in the article, and you make very good points in your comment.

        In reading the study’s conclusion, there the difference that the individuals being considered for parole are not competing against each other as individuals are doing during the interview process. However, after reading the article about the study, I find my own bias changing toward a desire to NOT be the last interview before lunchtime or toward the end of the day.

  2. Jake

    I always go with the earliest convenient slot because it reduces the chances of another candidate locking up the spot before I even interview.

    I’ve never seen it happen, but I have seen a manager say that the last candidate doesn’t have much of a chance because a previous candidate was amazing. I don’t think that manager could really give the last candidate a100% fair assessment when that determination was already made.

    1. 42

      Don’t’ see how it matters. The amazing candidate will still be amazing even if they go dead last.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger

        This. With presentations it’s the same — the order you go in really shouldn’t matter to the audience/evaluator, and if it does, it might be different every time anyway. Do what makes you feel most confident. For me, that’s often going first, because I don’t like having the extra time to fret and dwell. For you it might be going last, because it makes you feel more prepared. If it gives you an edge, go with that rather than trying to use a crystal ball to gain a slight edge.

        1. Stranger than fiction

          In addition, some people are morning people and others are more alert in the afternoon. Don’t pick a first thing in the am because you want to be first if you’re not at your best early in the morning.

      1. Jake

        Then the candidate will be hired, but when the interviewer is already going into the interview planning on hiring somebody else, how can the interviewer remain truly objective?

        1. 42

          Because the amazing candidate who blew the interviewer out of the water will still blow the interviewer out of the water even if he went last and regardless of who interviewed prior. The interviewer is basing the decision on the pool of candidates as a whole.

        2. fposte

          I think being delighted with a candidate isn’t the same thing as planning to hire them, though. I often find more than one candidate a joy to consider working with during the process–I’m not going to mentally commit to the first one. What does happen with that first one is a sense of relief–oh, good, we have somebody in the applicant pool that I’d be happy to hire. But that doesn’t mean I’ve decided to hire her in advance of seeing all the candidates, because that wouldn’t get us the best person and would mean I’m wasting a lot of time interviewing people I didn’t mean to hire.

  3. Gene

    Keeping in mind that I’ve been in local government for well over 30 years, and our interviewing procedures are “different”.

    Given the choice, I’ve always opted for the first slot after lunch for a few reasons:
    I don’t have to worry about fighting morning commute traffic
    The interview panel has the previous candidates to compare me with
    They are fresh back from a break, so more relaxed
    They aren’t fatigued form a long day of asking the same questions over and over.

    I don’t know that it’s made any difference, but I’ve had successful interviews (as in gotten an offer) in 6 of my last 8 interviews. That’s likely because of many other factors, a major one is that I haven’t interviewed in about 25 years. :-)

  4. Felicia

    I interviewed for my current position last , one person we hired not long after me interviewed 1st, and one person we hired recently interviewed 6th (out of 8 total interviews), and was on our last day of interviews. It really didn’t matter. So i think it’s best to pick the time where you know you’ll be at your best and not worry what the interviewer thinks of it – e.g. if you work better first thing in the morning, pick that, if you take a while to warm up in the morning, pick afternoon. If you’re not sure how to get to the place, try not to go during rush hour. If you have something stressful one of the days offered, pick another day. When you have a choice of day/time, it’s good to pick whichever would help you to feel the most confident and be able to perform the best.

  5. Security SemiPro

    The idea of having a bunch of back to back interviews with different candidates is really foreign to me. Every time I’ve hired, and most of the open jobs I’ve been near, have such small candidate pools that the hiring decisions are made as candidates come through the process. In a fast process, you might phone screen 2-3 candidates a week, and bring 0-1 of them in for an interview as soon as schedules allow – usually the next week. After the interview panel, the interviewers get together and discuss feedback and the hiring manager makes a go/no-go decision. If go, offer goes out. If no-go, the process continues. Continue until you find a candidate that works, or conclude that you’re chasing a unicorn and retool the job.

    My last open position I looked at about a dozen resumes that met my requirements after HR screening, phone screened about half of them, interviewed three. There just isn’t a wide enough pool to be able to batch process candidates.

    1. Stranger than fiction

      Yeah I mean, shoot, all the hassle for a half hour, and no chance of it going over cuz the next guy is coming in? They’d be better off doing the first round by phone, then bring the remaining in for a longer second.

      1. Reader

        I currently have to pick two times for an interview just like that. It is daunting to see they are interviewing back to back in 30-minute segments, all on one day. I’ve also heard it is better to be first or last but never knew if that was really true. I’ve been selected for positions as the one interviewed first, somewhere in the middle, and last. I try to schedule when I think I will be at *my* best, because if I mess up it won’t matter if I was first, last, or in between.

  6. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.

    #2 – I’d take this warning with a grain of salt. The outgoing admin thinks these people are difficult to work with, that’s their opinion. It could be s/he is the difficult one to work with and those two people are lovely. I have twice supported two different people who had a reputation for being difficult to work with and/or high maintenance. I didn’t have a problem with either of them. Now if the HR person had said that they had gotten complaints from the outgoing AA and every other AA in the company and the ones previously in that position, that I would definitely take notice of.

    1. SMG7

      Definitely agree. Personality blends are so important in an administrative support relationship. I’ve worked with people who others hated supporting, and I’ve disliked working with individuals with whom others got along swimmingly. It very much depends.

    2. Stranger than fiction

      If still definitely probe for more specifics before taking that job though. HR presumably wouldn’t say that if it was just one admins word, there must be others in other roles that think the same thing.

    3. Decimus

      I also used to work for a woman who was believed by most to be difficult to work with. I got along with her really well. It was more she had very specific requirements for some things and liked to edit documents for style before they went to the client. But that was fine with me and we ended up working well together. Sometimes it just depends on the personalities involved.

  7. MissGirl

    I met with a woman who works in HR at a Fortune 500 company. During the interview process, a vice president said some disparaging remarks about another person she interviewed with earlier. When the recruiter from the company called her the next week, the woman was honest about the VP and said she wasn’t comfortable working in that kind of environment.

    The recruiter said the situation was actually a set-up and that they wanted to gauge reactions. She was offered the job because no one else mentioned it. I guess their reasoning was if you’re going to work in HR, you need to be able to hold your ground and speak up when dealing with difficult people.

    1. T3k

      That was kind of clever actually. It reminds me of the religious exam story where students were in a hurry to their exam and were stopped by a beggar looking for help, not realizing it was an actor and that was their actual exam, to see if they’d go out of their way to help them.

    2. AFT123

      I’d be curious to hear Alison’s take on this – personally, I hate these kinds of “gotcha” type personality tests.

    3. Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks

      I had an interview once and they made me wait for almost an hour. When I got to the lobby, security called the person I was supposed to interview with to let her know I was downstairs. I was given the ok to go upstairs. when I got there, no one was there to greet me (the waiting area was out on the landing). I was out there for almost an hour before the assistant FINALLY came out and told me that the person I was to interview with was finishing up a phone call. I’ve often wondered if this was some kind of test. If it was, I think it was really tacky.

    4. CM

      Ugh, no. Even if I still wanted the job after the interview where the VP was disparaging another employee, which is unlikely, I would run away from a company that thinks it’s a good idea to test people like that. That’s even worse than the “ask the candidate to open a nailed-down window” type of test because it hints at major dysfunction.

    5. MissGirl

      I know she loves the job and the company. I think it could potentially backfire but it made her feel comfortable speaking up in the position itself.

  8. Aphrael

    In a first round interview with a relatively large pool (10+), I’d recommend aiming to be in the middle. I think Alison’s advice is totally accurate if there’s an amazing candidate, but often in the first round we’re just looking for 4-5 pretty good candidates to look more closely at, and if you interview after we’ve already seen that many, the bar is higher for you to displace one of them.

    Not saying that’s fair, but in an arena where you don’t yet have much information about the candidates, and you’re making a first cut, it can happen.

  9. Laura B

    Re #4, I’m married to a coworker, and we work closely with a lot of clients (I’m in sales, he’s a lead tech, and we work on lots of projects together). If you’re changing your last name (as I did) it just comes up naturally with new clients – usually there’s a moment when you can see that they’re realizing the last names match and they’re trying to put together the relationship. So I jump in then and explain that we’re married.

    That’s it – I don’t provide any more personal details other than that. We also never share anything with clients about each other than we wouldn’t about our other coworkers (like no complaining about leaving socks on the living room floor; my ability to pass out after one shot of tequila). Basically, no funny spouse stories. He has to maintain professional relationships with all of the people I have to maintain professional relationships with, so we make sure we don’t share any details about each other that would harm those relationships.

    It is really, really is not a big deal. The only time it’s ever even a “conversation” is when one of our older clients thinks he needs to bother us about having kids, which I don’t imagine would happen if he didn’t know both of us so well.

  10. Lily Evans

    My sister worked retail at an Abercrombie store and they actually call their employees “models” in order to skirt the rules about nondiscriminatory hiring. They want employees who “have the right look” more than they want capable workers.

  11. Kelly F

    During OCI at my law school, people have 20-30 “screeners” over four days, with each firm having at least one interview room with slots open all day, and in that environment, it seems that early (first two interviews) = better, based on the data of me and my friends. I think it’s easier to make a good impression. BigLaw interviews are mostly about “did the screener like and remember me” because everything else is pretty much standardized (all firms are the same, people with similar grades bid the same firms, etc.) If the interviewer sees 20 people, number 15 better be AMAZING to stand out, while number 2 just has to be pretty good.

    1. Megs

      Yeah, this is a pretty unusual situation, but I agree. This is also the only time I’ve showed up to a scheduled interview only to find that they already offered the job to someone else.

  12. Pam Adams

    I was recently on a search committee for an academic position. We had about 40 apps that passed HR screening, and we then planned to interview 6-10. (There were three positions to fill from this pool) We actually reached deeper into the pool and interviewed more, as some of our picks decided the job wasn’t for them. The hires wound up being candidate #3, #6, and #15 on the lists.

  13. NolongerMsCleo

    #5, I’ve had someone tell me they were wanting to leave their previous position because there was so much downtime there, and she didn’t feel right getting paid to just hang out. She wanted to work for her paycheck and enjoyed being busy. So many people would love the chance to get paid to do nothing, but she needed to earn it, and feel proud of what she’s earned.
    I ended up hiring her (not just because of that answer of course) and she’s been a dream! She is such a hard worker and is happy to be here. I would love to have an entire team of people just like her!

  14. EvilQueenRegina

    My ex manager used to admit that she would interview people in order of how she rated their applications, lowest first. Her argument was that those who ranked lower would have to work harder to impress her and those who ranked higher were better seen when she was tired at the end of the day. She very often employed someone at the lower end of the scale anyway.

  15. Playing The Long Game...

    It’s really a rock and a hard place situation. With some companies, you don’t get a say in when your interview is scheduled for, because the HR department have designated that time for you, but I also think being interviewed too early means you’re likely to be forgotten, so I tend to aim for the second day of interviews where possible. My latest upcoming ‘gig’ has been scheduled for a very early time slot, which, on the one hand, I approve of because I prefer early appointments as I have less time to be nervous, as cited by a previous poster, but, the early time slot tells me I’m the first to be interviewed overall, which worries me as I could be a practice or token candidate. The establishment I’m interviewing for has a tendency to advertise job postings that are already earmarked for internal candidates, so I could be on a hiding to nothing. Woody Allen said something along the lines of ,’eighty percent of success is turning up’. Not always. Especially when the odds are already stacked against you. Some say it’s good experience, but it still costs money to travel to these non existent jobs. It’s qualifications that’ll get you the interview, but the best personality gets the job offer.

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