How NOT to interview someone who already has a job.

Answer:  Don’t Waste Their Time!


You can stop reading now since I already gave the answer. If you read on, I will talk about best practices for interviewing candidates whose time is limited, since someone in their infinite wisdom has already given this person a job.


Recruiters and hiring managers all want to hire the person who is currently working, yes? Why then do we waste so much of their time, and treat them like our company is God’s gift to their career? Hiring Managers, and their superiors, AND their recruiters, tend to take the attitude “Well if they want the job, they’ll make the time”. This is completely contrary to the attitude we should be taking toward these candidates. Maybe they don’t want the job, or they’re not sure; maybe they were referred by an employee, sourced by a recruiter, or have six other offers. I just don’t understand why we treat the prize candidates, the ones we claim we want above all others, like cattle.


I recently saw a job posting. You may have seen it. The company proudly boasted: “You will go through 6-8 interviews!” I thought: “YOU will hire a bunch of unemployed people”.


OK yes, this is personal, because it recently happened to me. I’m a Recruiter who was working on a finite-term contract, and I began interviewing for other positions. I was repeatedly stunned at the attitude these companies (and their Recruiters) took toward my scheduling parameters. A person can only have so many doctors or dentist appointments before it becomes apparent to their employer they are probably interviewing. Even when I simply say “I’m not going to be in for half the day on Thursday” it will raise suspicion after a bit.


Here is the worst example: I interviewed for a position in a city that was a 1-hour drive from home. This startup on the San Francisco peninsula conducted SEVEN interviews with me, including THREE separate visits to their office. They seemed to have no plan and no interview process. They just kept adding interviewers, like “Oh, the manager in London wants to have a say in who we hire now, so you need to talk to him”. On this particular day they dragged me back to their office so I could talk to him on the phone - something I could have done from home - while he was standing outside a conference he had just attended. This company also had interviewers bail on my in-person interview, and made me return to their office another day to meet with this person. They also called me on two separate occasions in the morning saying “Can you come to our office today?” Today? Are you smoking crack? What intelligent candidate would agree to go and interview, unprepared, at the drop of a hat? My conclusion was that this company wanted to hire someone stupid, desperate and unprepared, who would then turn around and disrespect future candidates by participating (as a Recruiter) in this inane process.


It amazes me how companies don’t put their best foot forward when hiring recruiters, and embarrass themselves with their own hiring process. The example above was the worst, but I have recently experienced several disorganized interviews, and processes, that were disrespectful of my time and made me wonder, 1) Am I going to be able to fix this when I get in there? or 2) should I decline this company because they are too large to accept suggestions or change anything?


My Mom taught me you don’t bring up a problem without proposing a solution. So here’s my solution:

ONE phone interview

Be on time, and be prepared. Remember the candidate is either taking time off from work to take the call from home, or they are taking the call in the hallway, outside, or in their car. Get the “info” you need as efficiently as possible. Decide from that phone call if it’s a go/no-go to proceed.

ONE on-site interview

Four interviewers are ideal. Length: 30-45 minutes per person. Do I have to say these are one-on-one interviews? Yes, they are. Don’t gang up on your candidate, unless it’s just a meet-and-greet where the decision does not lie with this panel (e.g., cross-functional folks, or direct reports to the position). The Recruiter doesn’t need to be on the panel: I greet the candidate and escort them to the interview room, stopping by to get them a drink or whatever they need. I get a feel for them during that time frame, and I can still provide feedback (was I more, or less impressed now that I’ve met them in person? Did they make a red-flag comment?) Each segment doesn’t have to be the same amount of time. Depending on the role of the interviewer, mix it up! Get the information you need and get the candidate on their way. Remember they are making excuses to leave work, and if they’re contractors, they are losing money every hour they spend away from their job. We should be mindful and respectful of that.

The End. Make a Decision. Communicate it to the candidate.

No second interview? No! Why? Just to make the candidate feel special? How much more special will they feel if you can make a decision from a single on-site interview? If your interview is organized, each member of the panel will know what qualities and skills they are probing for, the feedback will be meaningful and returned to the recruiter promptly, and there is no reason a decision cannot be made when you have 4-5 people meeting with the candidate. This is where the professional Recruiter comes in, guiding their business group regarding interview questions, feedback, timely responses, and a definitive yes/no vote whether to hire the candidate. This is also a place where the Company should defer to a veteran Recruiter’s guidance regarding this process.


Also, what’s wrong with going out and meeting the candidate for coffee? If there’s someone who is not on the panel, but who feels strongly about meeting the candidate, shouldn’t that person make the effort to meet the candidate (see above re: coffee, or breakfast, lunch, video conference, whatever)?


Companies who hire top talent are already doing the activities outlined above, with minor differences. I’m talking about the good activities! Not the 7-interview/3-visit one. This is really just a Golden Rule recommendation, after all, but the companies who are getting the best talent do it in an intelligent and efficient manner.


Cheers, and happy hiring of the top talent in your industry!

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  • Cora Mae Lengeman

    Well done!

    By the time some of these companies get around to FINALLY being done with interviewing the candidate s/he may already have a couple of offers from companies that recognize true talent. Sorry, you snooze, you lose.

    Don’t companies know that while they are interviewing the candidate s/he is also checking them out to see if they want to work there? Sure, who wouldn’t love to work for a company that wastes valuable time – candidate and theirs – during the interview process?

    Don’t they have any real work? Are they afraid to make a decision? How many other “meetings” do they have every week that takes people away from their true work at the company – helping the company make a profit just so one person isn’t blamed for making a decision.

    One reason I’m a solo recruiter.

  • Cora Mae Lengeman

    Right on Ken!

    Companies need to entice candidates!  That is why they are interviewing them, to try and get them to work there.  Yes, face-to-face meeting are important but let's not do a marathon nor take weeks (or months) to make a decision.  Companies sometimes appear to be clueless about hiring people - do they use the same process in regards to finding a new client?

    I tell candidates: "If you don't like them during the interview process; you will not like working there.  Companies trying to entice you should be at their best when interviewing you.

    It is during the interview process that candidates get to see how a company works through an issue/problem and come to a solution.  Companies need to put their best game in play - which they should be doing eveyday to keep the company healthy.


    I've had very large companies interview candidates in coffee shops on Saturday mornings, at 6:30 in the morning for breakfast on the candidate's way to work, and in the evening after the candidate got off work.  Most of the interviewers have all been in the same position - looking for a new opportunity - so they know what it is like to try to make time to interview.  i have no problem reminding my clients of this fact.

  • John Comyn

    Couldn't agree more. Plus the chances of one of the interviewers disagreeing with the rest is always on the cards (in golf we say theres always one in every 4 ball) so the process takes a lot longer & they run the risk of losing a great candidate. Typically, when you ask why all the interviews are necessary, they will say it's to see if the candidate fits in with the company culture. What's this crap that peers need to give their approval ??? No more than 2 interveiws I say. One with line management and the 2nd with the top dog (CEO). One of the 1st questions I ask is what is the interview process & if it is a drawn out process I tell them it is unacceptable. My wife recently got employed by a large financial services company. The CEO was lat in line. He offered to take her for a coffee to have an informal chat at a venue close to our home. Now that's what I'm talking about!