Interview Timing


The act of the job interview, in terms of timing, is a little bit like baking a cake. Too much time, and the cake is overdone—burnt. Too little time, and the cake is raw—unfinished. In both cases, the final product is unsatisfactory and, potentially, inedible. The same rationale applies to the time required for candidate interviews. On the one hand, sufficient time must be allotted to ensure that the fundamental job requirements are thoroughly assessed. On the other hand, too much time has the potential to leave both the candidate and the interviewer with an unsuccessful and, potentially distasteful, result.

In this video clip from the Canadian HR Reporter, we are provided with the view that extending the job interview beyond a typical one-hour time frame should be a recommended practice. From an HR perspective, Shane Creamer, the associate vice-president of talent acquisition at TD Bank Group, advises that a lengthier interview provides more insight and a broader understanding of a candidate’s future potential and level of talent. In particular, he advocates for this lengthier approach when considering candidates for positions that are at the senior leadership level.

While Creamer speaks to the valid need to invest the time to ensure proper candidate selection in the form of an extended interview, the application of a two- to three-hour interview process comes with some significant risks. If candidate responses to behavioural questions are “canned,” as noted in the video clip, it is up to the interviewer to probe appropriately to seek further insight. When there is nothing provided by the candidate beyond the canned responses, then they may not have anything more to say. There is nothing more awkward than sitting in an interview with a candidate who is flailing about trying to fill the empty interview silence with irrelevant information. One would argue that this may not be the fault of the candidate’s preparedness; rather, it falls on the skilled interviewer to know when and how to guide the conversation.

There are additional risks that arise from a lengthier, freewheeling, or unstructured interview approach that comes from the ‘let the candidate talk’ school of thought. Extending lengthy interviews to allow for a possibly intrusive personal evaluation goes beyond the idea of a reasonable assessment for cultural or organizational fit. If not handled well unstructured approaches end up being almost excruciatingly painful for all of the parties involved. Many candidates will ramble on incessantly if there are no cues from the interviewer to make them stop talking. This results in the risk of unexpected bias if the interviewer becomes annoyed by or with the candidate, and it has nothing to do with the job at hand.

Do we really need to have a deep understanding of the candidate’s personal characteristics that may come from an extended and lengthy interview process? What if the result is that the candidate is perfectly suited for the job, but based on an extended (and annoying) interview, the interviewer just does not like them? The consequences of poor timing, which comes from poor planning, on the part of the interviewer, can be disastrous for all involved.

When it comes to the end result, a successful interview has to be based on the premise that a ‘just right’ timing is, indeed, everything.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Identify three possible HR benefits and risks of engaging in a lengthy unstructured interview with a candidate for a senior-level position.
  2. Do you agree or disagree that an interview focusing on organizational fit is the best determinant for candidate selection? Explain your rationale.
  3. How would you prepare yourself for a lengthy (more than one-hour) interview with a potential employer?