Have you heard the buzz about “never-ending interviews”? NPR, Slate, and the Wall Street Journal recently reported candidates going through upwards of six interviews, some reaching into the double digits. But research (and our experience) shows that more doesn’t mean better when it comes to interviews and hiring. So, why so many? And what’s the right number of interviews?

Why So Many?

There are many reasons why an organization might add more interviews than is necessary, but they all point to one thing—trying to fix an ineffective hiring process. A few include:

  • Hoping for consensus (which is nice but typically unrealistic) while involving too many people in the hiring decision.
  • Insecurity about the risk of a bad hire in a highly competitive job market.
  • A lack of the planning and structure needed to gather the most useful information in fewer interactions.
  • The misguided perception that remote interviews require less preparation and time from candidates (so adding more doesn’t negatively impact their experience—it does).
  • Looking for the “right” answers from candidates—context that may be more specific to your industry or organization than an outside person could reasonably know—rather than evaluating how they think and work.
  • In some cases, all of the above and more.

While these are real problems, more interviews aren’t the solution. And with many candidates (and hiring managers) increasingly feeling interview fatigue, the small amount you might gather from additional interviews isn’t likely to outweigh the costs.

From your first interaction with them, top performers are trying to figure out if you are a risky choice. A fast-moving and transparent interview sequence signals that you respect their time and are organized with a clear vision for the role.

Is There a Magic Number of Interviews?

Google looked at interview data over five years and found that four interviews is the sweet spot —that number is widely considered a current benchmark. Through hundreds of successful executive searches, our team has found that three work best for our nonprofit and association clients.

But three isn’t a magic number. It works because of the skills-based framework behind it.

The goal is to gather information from candidates in different contexts so you can accurately evaluate their skills, abilities, and working styles. And that requires pre-interview work. Before talking to any candidate, you must first determine the business results you hope to achieve with the new hire, the 3-5 job competencies needed to achieve them, and what your organization’s culture is and how a candidate might add to it.

It’s also important that all decision makers agree to the key competencies upfront to ensure interview feedback can be fairly and consistently evaluated using the same criteria. This may not lead to perfect consensus, but it usually leads to agreement that a candidate can do the job.

The Structured Interview Sequence We Recommend

1) Initial Screening Call and Writing Prompts

Staffing Advisors conducts these for our clients by phone, but many organizations use video. These calls should be brief (no more than an hour) and focus on determining whether a candidate meets the basic qualifications for the job and likely has the right match of skills and experience.

Following the call, we give every promising candidate a short set of written prompts asking them to share job-relevant experience and illustrate their competency in the same key areas agreed upon beforehand. The set of prompts should take no longer to complete than a custom cover letter (perhaps an hour).

2) In-depth Interview and Work Sample Test

During the first in-depth interview, you will explore the competencies you identified in your pre-interview work through a predetermined set of questions prompting candidates to talk about their abilities in measurable, concrete terms. (Do you see a trend here? Competencies drive the entire sequence.)

Following this interview, we recommend giving your top choice candidates a small sample of work to do (no more than two hours) in preparation for the next interview. For guidance on this step, including examples from association and nonprofit executive searches in a range of functional areas and career levels, read SA Perspectives: Work Sample Testing. (You might also like How to ChatGPT-Proof Your Work Sample Tests.)

3) Second In-depth Interview

During the second in-depth interview, remain focused on the competencies that will drive this person’s impact and ask questions that dive deeper into topics from the preceding interviews. You will also discuss the work sample test to evaluate how the candidate demonstrates those competencies in a simulated real-world context.

All the Context You Need Without Wasting Anyone’s Time

At each stage, make sure you allow time for candidates to ask questions. They need to learn about the job and your organization, but importantly, the questions they ask provide another lens into their competencies and experience. Is it clear they did their research? Do they ask insightful questions that show they really get what the work is about? Do their questions make you think?

By the end of this sequence, you’ve heard each candidate talk, write about, and demonstrate how they work. In just three interviews with under three hours of additional work from candidates, you should be able to gather enough information to make a well-informed hiring decision. Because every interaction is structured around the key competencies needed to succeed in the role—the most accurate predictors of job performance—you’ll be able to fairly compare candidates’ strengths and weaknesses side-by-side.

For a complete guide through every step of the interview process—from pre-interview work and who to include in your interviews to determining what to discuss and how to debrief afterward, read the Staffing Advisors Employer Guide to Interviewing.