It hasn’t been unusual these past few years to hear of people attending 20 interviews before getting a job. That’s a lot of grilling — probably two or three days in total — but these are straitened times and good jobs are scarce.
But what are we to make of news relayed to the Standard recently that a London high-flyer had to go through 22 interviews at one internet company in pursuit of a top job. It’s an extraordinary tale that shows just how far the pendulum has swung towards employers’ needs during the downturn, when well-qualified candidates are legion.
The £25 billion recruitment industry never seems sure how best to match people to jobs, with “extreme interviewing” (asking silly questions) and “data-driven hiring” (using algorithms and sites such as LinkedIn) both being common. But “super-recruitment” might better describe how some big employers are now filling their most senior roles — forcing candidates to spend more time being questioned and assessed than ever, often over months rather than weeks, typically over several platforms and sometimes in more than one country.
And while the pace of departures and hires at financial companies has stepped up recently, at the top of the chain scrutiny is seemingly greater than ever, with one executive hire at a top European bank recently going through 12 interviews.
Joe Wiggins of Glassdoor, a jobs and careers site that produces an annual list of the hardest companies to be interviewed by, says change has been noticeable, and not just in the highest-ranking jobs: “When we studied this back in 2010 the average interview process took 12 days. By 2013 it had almost doubled to 23 days.”
The number of interview phases has increased, according to Wiggins, with six stages now typical. “What we see is more phone and group interviews, and more interviews at different levels in the company, from team members to board level.”
Rolls-Royce’s rating in Glassdoor’s survey went up because it had added extra layers to its hiring process, including online tests, on-site exams, patent recognition tests, group exercises, and an interview process of about 40 days.
A leading recruiter who asked to remain anonymous says companies have become more aware of the costs — reputational and financial — of hiring badly, adding: “Any senior recruit who goes actively wrong can cost the company millions of pounds — a multiple of their salary. The instances where you hear of lots and lots of interviews are often when you have two or three competing candidates. We’ve had cases of boardroom appointments when the chairman wants one candidate and the chief executive wants another, so the other members of the board have to meet the candidates one by one.” What about 22 interviews though? “Yes, that’s heavy, but it isn’t extraordinary,” he says.
Claire McCartney, from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), says declining trust in top executives is focusing the minds of chairmen and recruiters. “Our surveys have shown falling trust in senior leaders, and we are looking at how companies can combat that,” she says. “A lot of organisations are having the debate about whether they are just looking for people with the skills or if values are also important in new recruits.”
But will super-recruiting survive the economic upturn? “We are in a different cycle now than we were last year — recruiting is up about 30 per cent at the very senior level — and companies can’t continue with these extended searches that go over lots of rounds,” says Lim.
A CIPD survey has already found 35 per cent of firms reporting they had lost candidates because of the length of their recruitment process. Lim says she is advising companies to compress their processes. That will come as a relief for ambitious jobseekers whose extended lunch hours and repeated doctors’ appointments are stretching credulity back at the office.
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