After more than two decades in the Executive Search
business, I have learned a lot about what goes into a
successful hire. I try to impart my knowledge to both hiring
managers and candidates. Nevertheless, at many job
interviews I find myself listening to questions that make me
cringe and answers that make me want to cry.
Now it's my turn to talk.

Monday, September 26, 2011

How Long is Too Long?

Category:  Tips for Hiring Managers

You dial the cell phone of Paige Turner, aka Candidate #4 in your company’s quest for a regional sales manager.  She picks up on the third ring.  You happily advise Paige that she has been chosen to participate in your next round of interviews!  Unfortunately, Paige has just celebrated her one-month anniversary with your largest competitor, a position she accepted after receiving no initial interview feedback from you.

QUESTION: If you are an employer, what is an appropriate length of time to spend making a decision regarding a candidate you’ve actually interviewed? 

First, let me modify the question.  It has been my experience that a vast majority of decisions regarding candidates, particularly negative decisions, are made during the interview when the candidate is seated across the desk.  Either you are satisfied with the candidate’s answers, or you are counting the minutes until the interview can come to a welcome end.  So, the question of timing is often related to communicating hiring decisions rather than making them.

In my book on interviewing, I advise candidates to wait at least a week following an interview before making contact with their interviewer.  Similarly, I would recommend that my client companies try to provide follow-up information to each candidate within a week of that candidate’s interview.

Based on my own personal observation and a wealth of anecdotal evidence, I can assure you that this does not always happen.  I know one young woman who waited well over a month before receiving a rejection letter from a company, only to be invited to interview again for the same position several weeks later.  In a separate case, a family friend interviewed with one company four times with several weeks between each interview before being ultimately rejected.  It seems an unfortunate sign of the times that some companies NEVER feel it necessary to provide negative feedback.

Several years back, I took an assignment from a company looking for a controller.  As is my practice, I established a relationship with the client, visited the company premises, recruited candidates based on a mutually established position description, and sent several to the company to interview.  At this point, I never heard from the company again.  My candidates called me repeatedly; I called the hiring manager repeatedly; no one returned my call; no one provided any feedback.  Finally, after over a month, I released my candidates, advising them to seek other opportunities. 

(An unlikely ending to this story:  several years later the president of this company contacted me to perform another search.  I was stunned.  And unavailable.)

Of course, there are many circumstances which may require a lengthy interview process or delayed decisions. These include scheduling conflicts with multiple candidates; out-of-town trips by hiring managers; or difficulty bringing a necessary participant in from out of the state or the country.  All of these are legitimate reasons for delaying decisions related to a successful hire.  In these cases, my advice is to:
·         release all candidates who have been eliminated as quickly as possible (but no earlier than the next day following the interview);
·         advise the selected candidates of their status and communicate the reasons for any holdup in the process. 

It sounds like a well-worn cliché, but communication actually IS the all-important factor.  A candidate who has been advised to expect a long wait generally will appreciate the update and demonstrate patience in waiting for further feedback.

Timely communication to both selected and rejected candidates indicates respect for the individuals who have given their time and effort to interview with your company. A little common courtesy to those who seek employment with your company will ensure your company’s reputation for professionalism in hiring, as well as the satisfaction of the person who is ultimately hired.

And of course, early feedback to a candidate of interest will increase the odds that you do not lose that individual to a competing company.

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